After a long-delayed flight from New York, we finally arrived in Accra, Ghana! I was greeted with "Akwaaba," which means welcome. English is the national language of Ghana, but over 80 different languages are spoken! Most of the people I have met speak English, Fante, and Twi. After picking us up from the airport, Kathryn informed me that the chargers we were meant to pick up for the IIAB batteries were unavailable at the store from which we had planned on purchasing them. In fact, the man at the store said that we were unlikely to find them anywhere in Ghana. I soon realized that this experience was simply the first of many instances in Ghana and the rest of Africa when even the best-laid out plans can quickly fall apart. Once again, patience and the abilities to go with the flow and act on your feet are critical here. Fortunately, we were able to solve our problem relatively quickly, as we located the necessary chargers at the Goal Zero office in Accra. It was very interesting to hear about their work in Ghana, which focuses on installing lights and solar panels in schools. They were also very interested in my plans and seemed eager to hear of my results. We finally drove to Cape Coast, which is where we will be staying for our first two weeks in Ghana, and it gave me a chance to do a bit of sightseeing from the car. All of the buildings here are very colorful, and goats and chickens run around freely. Many street vendors walk among cars and along the side of the road selling products ranging from candy to fabrics, and they all carry buckets or boxes of these items on top of their heads! I can't even imagine the balance required to maintain that hold while weaving between cars, and the women somehow make it look easy. We arrived at Kathryn's house in the late afternoon, and she showed us all of the beautiful African art she has inside the house. Kathryn has taught a course in African art, so it should come as no surprise that her house in Ghana is so appropriately decorated. The house also has quite a few chickens and roosters, the latter who seem to be slightly confused on their role. These roosters make noise at dawn, as expected, but they begin making this noise around two in the morning. I may have to have a talk with them about their very loud interruptions in the early AM.
The last few days before leaving Ohio were full of nervous energy, excitement, and last-minute testing of the technology. On theWednesday before I left, I spent hours individually and on the phone with Tim trying to re-flash an XO-4 laptop so that it could play Khan Academy videos. I have to admit that it was quite frustrating and discouraging at times when our attempts continued to fail again and again, but we finally got it to work! Only then did Tim inform me that my XO-4 laptop was only the second in the entire WORLD to be able to play these KA videos, his being the first! This success gave me the extra confidence I needed before leaving and taught me that patience is key! Sometimes trial and error is the only way to achieve something great. After my success with the first laptop, I was able to re-flash the other three that I had with me with no problem. On Thursday, our last day in Ohio, my dad and I did a full test-run of the equipment, including the Internet-in-a-Box server, router, and modem. We even used my car battery to power the devices in my own garage. We encountered a few problems that truly put my dad's electrical engineering schooling to the test, but, with the help of Adam and Tim over the phone, we managed to solve the issues. I was very glad that we tested the equipment in Gahanna, Ohio because panicked phone calls are a luxury not as readily available in Ghana! After a couple hours of testing the voltage of different wires and switching up the connections, we finally got the server to work. Now we could only hope that our first official run would be a little smoother with our practice. We added the equipment to our packed suitcases, wrapping the more delicate servers in clothing and taking them in our carry-luggage, and early Friday morning we were off!
The first order of electronic devices arrived last Wednesday, including the three Internet-in-a-Box servers! Tim Moody of XSCE has designed the school server, which gives access to Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg, TED Talks, Khan Academy, OpenStreetMap, and much more. I have successfully hooked up the server with the help of Adam Holt of Unleash Kids, and I have been able to access it from various XO laptops, Android phones, and my own personal computer. Adam and I spent a good deal of time going through the server over Skype and adjusting it to the needs of the schools in Ghana, and Tim has made all of our requested changes and more to make sure that the server is exactly how we want it by the time my dad and I leave for Ghana. Adam has worked tirelessly with the schools and people in Ghana to help organize my stay there, order everything that we will need to set up the servers once in Ghana, and connect me with Anansi Education and Ghana Together, two non-profit organizations founded by Kathryn Roe and Maryanne Ward, respectively. The last person who I need to mention and thank is Christine Murakami, the teacher of my One Laptop Per Child Service Learning course at Columbus School for Girls and the person who inspired me to start this mission! Mrs. Murakami introduced me to service learning through technology and taught me all of the computer skills and knowledge that I plan to pass on to the students in Ghana. She has served as my teacher and mentor and spent countless hours teaching me the ins and outs of XO laptops, the computer program Scratch, and teaching in general! For years, Mrs. Murakami has taught computer science as a means of service learning, culminating with an annual service trip to deliver OLPC's XO laptops and lessons to elementary school students in St. John. It goes without saying that her experience and input was invaluable to my preparation and lesson planning, and, without her help, my dream of traveling to Africa to teach computer science to girls at all-girls schools would have never been more than a fleeting thought. None of this work would have been possible without Mrs. Murakami, Adam, and everyone else's help!
My initial fundraising goal was to raise at least $3,000 for technology that I could leave behind at the various schools at which I will be teaching in Ghana. These funds would cover eight XO-laptops (one for each girl at the boarding school in Cape Coast) and an Internet-in-a-Box server for each of the three schools. However, thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of all of my donors, I surpassed this goal in a matter of hours on my GoFundMe page (http://www.gofundme.com/technologyforghana) and was able to raise my goal to $5,000! After I reached this new goal, people continued to contribute to my cause, and, as of today, I have raised $8,850 for these girls and schools in Ghana! I am so excited to not only have been so successful in raising these funds, the excess which will be used to provide additional technology and related services to the students I teach, but also with the incredible responses I received to my efforts. After so many months of lesson planning, early morning and late night Skype calls, and more, it was wonderful to hear and see how much people supported and appreciated my efforts. I can't wait to put all of this fundraising and planning to good use in less than a week - we leave for Ghana on June 19!