Today was my first day of teaching, and it went great! I taught the students at Edinaman from 7:30-9:30 and the teachers from 10-12. The students were all extremely attentive and eager to learn, so they made the teaching easy for me! I gave them a general overview of the databases available on IIAB and briefly explained the technology that we had installed. Then we dove deeper into Wikipedia through some fun little challenges. I gave them various questions, such as "What is the population of Cape Coast?," and the first person to give me the answer for each question round would win. Some of the questions proved to be a bit trickier, such as trying to find the national sports of Canada, but they all did very well. We had a slight delay at the beginning of class because Internet Explorer was not able to run the server properly and not every laptop had Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox installed, but we solved this problem quite quickly. In fact, the students used some of the flash drives that I had given them the day before to install Google Chrome on those laptops! It was great to see all the technology being put to good use so quickly. Several of the students are actually very tech-savvy, and they helped me a lot in trying to get all of the computers working properly. Teaching the teachers was also very fun, and they asked me some good questions that I hadn't thought to teach to them, such as how to save web pages to their computers so that they could access them without connection to the IIAB. I didn't have time to show them this tool today, but I promised that we would go through it on Friday. After teaching, my dad and I decided to take a tour of the Cape Coast Castle. Ghana was largely involved in the Triangular Trade, and Cape Coast Castle was one of the places where slaves were held before being loaded onto ships and taken to the Americas on the Middle Passage. Standing in these dark, hot cells were thousands of slaves were held at a time was surreal, and the stories of the conditions were horrific. The first Anglican church in Ghana was actually started directly above the men's cell, so Heaven existed above ground and Hell below. The door leading from the dungeon to the ocean and ships was referred to as the "Door of No Return," as the slaves were beginning a new life of servitude and suffering. However, the opposite side of the door now reads "Door of Return," as the descendants of these slaves can now return to the homeland of their ancestors as free citizens. Cape Coast Castle was a very difficult place to visit and learn about, but it exists as a very important part of a tragic history.
On Tuesday we went back to Edinaman and replaced some of the wires in the IIAB system with more reliable cables that we had purchased in Cape Coast. We also delivered twenty new laptop chargers to the headmaster, who accepted them and thanked us on behalf of the school. The headmaster and the teachers were so grateful and appreciative, and these small moments are why I have come to Ghana and worked so hard over the past few months to provide this technology to the schools. Later in the day we went back to the Anansi Abura house and installed the second IIAB. This installation went even more smoothly than the first, and we were in and out in no time at all. After getting back to the house, I reviewed my lesson plans one last time and prepared myself for Wednesday's big day of teaching!
Monday morning we went to our first school, Edinaman Senior High School, to install the Internet-in-a-Box. The installation went better than I ever could have expected, and we got the server working with hardly any bumps along the way! The teachers were very appreciative of our efforts and very excited by what the IIAB has to offer. In fact, one of the teachers was already asking when we could install a second one in a different area of the school! Later that day, we had planned to install the IIAB at the Anansi girls' boarding house in Abura, but the electricity was down. Instead, Kathryn, Maureen, and I spent some time at the house just talking to the girls and explaining what I would be setting up for them in the next few days. Maureen works for Anansi with Kathryn back in Washington and has been to Ghana and these schools on previous trips. She is extremely global - name a country, and chances are that she has lived or visited it! The time we spent at the Abura house was great for me to meet the girls and introduce myself, and they had several questions about my schooling back in the United States. I also brought along one of the XO laptops for the girls to play with. They were quickly engrossed in its programs, and I was sad to have to take it back from them, even if only temporarily. However, I promised that I would be back later in the week to bring each girl her own laptop. The eight girls range from 15-18 years old, so I am the same age as several of them. I look forward to teaching them more and getting to know them better in the couple weeks!
We woke up our first morning in Ghana to the sound of loud chanting and singing. The house is surrounded by nearby churches, and religion is taken very seriously in Ghana. In fact, the sides of all the roads are covered in posters promoting various churches. After breakfast, my father and I visited Kakum National Park. Many species live in the park, including monkeys, elephants, and antelope, but sadly we did not get the chance to see any of them. However, we did get to go on the canopy walkway, which consists of six connecting bridges in the treetops. The rainforest and distant scenery were absolutely beautiful. Afterwards we stopped at Hans Cottage, which is known for its "friendly" crocodiles! It was a great day to see just a small part of what Ghana has to offer.
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!