Today as we entered our final full day of training, we stopped to reflect on the first nine days of the workshop and to look forward to our deployments. The discussion was great at points and centered on topics ranging from a critical anaylsis of different learning styles to the most practical security questions. At other times the discussion drooped to the standard interview question, "What do you feel will be your biggest problem going forward?" To this I answered, "That we will bee too successful."
My time in Kigali has been radically different from what I anticipated and included much more technical learning, cultural understanding, and friendships than I could have expected. The technical sessions were truly great and Ruben Caron is an outstanding teacher as well as teechnical expert. Also, Paul Commons and Bryan Stuart as well as the whole OLPC staff did a great job organizing such as large conference in Kigali, Rwanda in such a short time.
The OLPC technical understanding that I am leaving Kigali with in addition to the educational ideology is incredibly valuable, but I feel now that the most important learning experiences for me have been in and around the lobby of the motel that I have spent the last week. Some see the culture of a foreign land in art and artifacts, others in fine dining, yet I find the most value in conversations that are dificult for me to follow even though they rarely advance past an American third grader's vocabulary. These are the conversations with people that live and work in Kigali and work in Kigali and work in Kigali. By the way, my keyboard is made of rubber, but it is not stuck.
Scovia, the receptionist at Hilltop Hotel, is a great person with many interesting stories. She is great to talk to espcially because her English is the best of the hotel workers. She has told me of growing up in Uganda during the Genocide and of her current life working and in the local university. It was a few days after we started conversing that I realized that she was at the hotel in the morning when I arrived at and in the evening the folloing day.
Other people at the hotel such as Emmy have helped to advance my understanding of life in Kigali. As an orphan, he works during the summers and will start at the university in January. Through many broken conversations I have begun to understand how MTN the largest cell phone carrier in Africa, has controlled the continent of Africa through their commision based business model that makes it extremely tough for anyone besides their corporate empire.
With regard to the actual implementation of the program, I spent two days in the school, one teaching teachers and one with the whole class there. I was incredibly encouraged by the capacity for individual teachers and students to learn quickly especially with a strong language barrier. For political reasons President Paul Kagame switched the public schools to teach in English in the last year or two. Even so, most Americans would have a hard time conversing with the majority of teachers and some students, at least in my experience.
Looking ahead I swing between excitment, optimism and concern. Our deployment will have its short comings, but I now know the immediate impact that the four of us can have in Mboro, Senegal. What causes some of the concern is the one size fits all model to educational policy. OLPC is an organization composed of many incredibly smart people with great ideas, however it may have missed many of the pracitcal issues with the deployment of their eduacational tool. Would $200 worth of books would have a greater impact? I don't think we will ever know the best method of changing educational policy or exposing young children to the vast world around them, but I feel that more investment in the future is good and if it is easier to motivate educational policy-makers about a cool technology rather than some other idea then I strongly encourage that investment.
Idealism and hope aside, Rwanda from my own observation and many other countries and regions of Africa from conversation, are vastly differeent from the West. This divide is best understood by lawn mowers and hardware stores. We routinely drive by workers on the side of th road bending down to cut the grass with nothing more than a glorified scissor. While most Americans successfully moved their 5 horsepower mower from Home Depot or the Lowes that is likely across the street, to their home, in Kigali the mower sits in a nice display in the hardware store.
I now see that it is nothing more than luck and circumstance why I and the people that I grew up with will go to work at 9 and leave at 5, while across the ocean a few new friends will work the other part of the twenty four hours. Oh yea, and weekends too.