Much of my Peace Corps service here in Botswana has been focused on IT education and service.
One thing I do here is to help organizations manage their computers. Soon I will be helping Stepping Stones International (where Tish works) with the 20 computers that were donated to them. They need to be networked together and set up, people must be trained, and acceptable use policies must be put in place. Another organization, BOFWA, soon will receive some new computers that I will help with. Whatever I do for any organization must be sustainable, so I must find a counterpart in the organization to train so they can continue to manage the computers when I am gone.
Teaching people to use computers is also part of my service, and my favorite part. On Tuesdays and Thursdays at the local library I teach the staff from 8-9 am. Then at 9 am, when the library opens to the public I teach for a few hours more. People young and old just drop in to learn about computers. Sometimes the same person will come back several times, but often the person I am teaching is someone I have never seen before.
I enjoy teaching. Every individual comes to me with a different background and different ideas about how they want to use computers. I always ask them if they have ever used a computer before and if they know anything about them. Quite often they have never used a computer, never even touched one, and so I have to start with the basics, “This is a mouse…this is a keyboard… this is a monitor…etc”. If the individual knows a little something about computers I ask them what they would l like to learn or if they have any specific questions they want answered. In the library setting there is no real continuity. With only a few exceptions, sudents come and go and I never find out if they continued on to use what they were taught.
In addition to teaching individual students at the Mochudi Public Library, I also teach individuals at my office, at the District Admin offices, and at NGOs such as Stepping Stones International and BOFWA. These are the places where there is some continuity. I see the same student or students at certain prescribed times and days for a period of weeks or months. I see their progress and I hear what they are planning to do with the things they are learning.
A few months ago Tish told me that one of the kitchen staff at Stepping Stones International, named Lebo, along with two other ladies, wanted to learn about computers. My first thought was that I didn’t want to start classes with them because I didn’t understand how kitchen staff would really need to learn to use computers. I wanted to concentrate on teaching people who might use what they learn in their jobs, to get better jobs or be more productive in school. I agreed to meet with the ladies anyway, and am very glad I did. We meet every Tuesday at 2 pm. My student’s names are Lebo, Warona and Rebecca.
Lebo is a cook at Stepping Stones. She is a single mom with four children. Lebo lives in Mochudi in the same house with brothers and sisters. Warona also is a single mother. She has two kids some of whom attend Stepping Stones. Rebecca also is a single mother who has three kids, some of whom attend Stepping Stones.
Lebo’s only income is from her job as an SSI cook. Warona and Rebecca are unemployed and have no income. The three met at Stepping Stones and became friends. Together, they decided to start a small company to try to sell some things and make some much-needed income. The United Ladies Company was born.
Their products would be necklaces and earrings fashioned from beads made from paper and varnish. They also decided to make bracelets and traditional skirts. They have been doing this for over a year now.
The craft of making beads from paper is not new. It has been used in developing countries as an income-generating project for some time. You can even do it yourself if you want to (how to do it). The beads are very pretty and buying them from someone in a developing country means that in addition to getting a souvenir you are helping someone who could really use the money – a win win.
Lebo told me that she wanted to learn about computers with the intention of using compuer skills to help manage the United Ladies Company. We all talked a little before our first lesson and discussed some things they might use the computer for. A few ideas immediately came up such as: price lists, customer list, letters to suppliers, letters to customers, email, signs, posters, flyers, resumes, a web page, and the list goes on. I could see them get excited the more ideas we came up with.
I started teaching them the very basics of the computer, then went on and introduced them to MS Word and then to MS Excel. They are still beginners but are starting to become comfortable with the computer. Lebo seems to be catching on fastest which is a big help to me because her English is the best and she can help me teach the others.
When I teach new things I try to teach it in the context of the United Ladies Company. Last week I taught them how to create tables and insert pictures in a Word document. To teach about tables, I had them create a United Ladies Price List using a table. I taught them how to insert a picture in a Word document, and showed them that you could insert a picture right into a table cell. I said, “Next time we get together, I could bring my camera and we could take pictures of some of your products and insert them into your price list. Just let me know whenever you want me do that.”
The words were barely out of my mouth when Warona let me know. She enthusiastically said, “Ok, next time you come, please bring your camera”. We all laughed. So I brought my camera next time and took the pictures you see in this post.
I have been teaching IT here for about one year and I have gained a lot of respect for teachers. Teaching is very tiring, but when the students “get” something and their faces light up it makes it all worthwhile. The United Ladies are enthusiastic, are having fun, and are excited about the prospects of improving their business using computers.
It is a pleasure to work with them. This is the kind of work that I signed up for!