January 7, 2007 I woke to the sound of roosters calling, birds singing, and ladies washing, a ballad of water and animals mixing synchronously to form one song of life in Africa. Today was a special day for those around me. A gift of a computer, monitor, scanner, and all the peripheries required to run one computer workstation in Uganda was being given to the Foundation for Development of Needy Communities by Designers Without Borders, the US-based non-profit dedicated to aiding such organizations through design and education. This particular gift fell into the education area, in which teachers at the FDNC school would be taught to use the computer with which they could then teach their students, giving them what most Western students have, the knowledge of computer-based software, and an edge in obtaining gainful employment upon graduating. The hustle and bustle around me was pure excitement. We were staying with the Executive Director of FDNC, Samuel Watalusu, a bright, visionary, and energetic man who is not afraid of hard work and long hours in order to make his organization successful. He was almost giddy at the prospect of what his organization was about to receive, calling all his available workers to the school to greet us. They met us with rounds of introductions outside of town at the rural school, complete with vegetable garden and four modest buildings that house offices and classrooms. We signed their guestbook, not knowing quite what to say.
Setting up the computer station and giving a quick computer lesson to the top administrators were the first steps toward a complete up-to-date computer lab for the school, with the anticipated addition of ten more workstations through a grant written with the combined efforts of DWB and FDNC. The total cost of the current computer workstation was approximately $1,200. A sizable gift, particularly for this area, but one that was well worth it when considering the potential impact it would have on the local people, providing needed access to modern technology through the school’s programs. In an economy that made a mere $280 per year on average in 2005 and predominantly still cooks with charcoal, one could ask if technology is really necessary. But with the modern world creeping in at every turn, the better question may be how, not if. Providing any way to keep the playing field level is a promising and needed venture for these students and their communities. Cell phones are prevalent, Internet cafes are in every township, and the dependency on both, including the electricity needed to use them is in high demand, even in rural Uganda. One computer for one rural school is a small step, but as they say, nothing comes from nothing.
Sydnee MacKay, co-founder of Designers Without Borders, designs for the Public Relations Office at Central Michigan University.