The day my life changed

3rd June 2011 at 01:00
Rugambwa High had 1,000 pupils and 25 PCs. I thought of my own school's ICT suites

I never contemplated doing anything other than teaching. I had been in the profession, on and off, for more than 30 years. But one day I was approached by the founder of a charity called Computers 4 Africa and all that changed.

They asked if I would like to become education liaison manager, take unpaid leave from my teaching job and travel to Tanzania to see what happened to the IT equipment the charity sent out there. Me and three others would visit a university and a number of schools. Our first port of call was Zoom College in Dar es Salaam, where students study IT and also learn how to mend computers so they can visit schools and carry out repairs.

I resigned myself to being hot and sticky all week, fighting off mosquitoes and lake flies plus other creepy crawlies.

We stayed in a house in the region of Bukoba, by Lake Victoria. Silence on the first night was pierced by a colleague's screams as a mouse that had nested in her bed came out and ran across her face. It wasn't long before a second mouse emerged, which led to more screaming.

The toilet facilities (a hole in the ground) were interesting, shared with lizards and giant ants. I made sure I didn't drink before bed as the thought of going out in the dark with no lights was a little daunting.

I woke up to amazing sunshine and the sound of a snorting pig, which was kept near the house. Having never travelled on African roads before, I was glad that I had not eaten much at breakfast.

Arriving at Twayambe Secondary School, we were met by the headmaster who took us on a tour of his school. It was like going back in time to when I was at junior school in the late '50s, early '60s. There were desks with ink wells and green boards with white chalk. Textbooks that had seen better days years ago and would have been thrown away in my current school were being used by staff. But all the pupils were focused and well behaved.

Another school we visited, Rugambwa Girls' School, had about 1,000 pupils. We were treated like royalty, given presents and the girls acted out a play for us. It was a truly humbling experience. We were there for the opening of their computer suite. However, it had not been finished and they were using a narrow room which housed about 25 PCs.

I thought back to my own school, which had seven IT suites to be shared by roughly the same number of girls. Our chair of trustees is Tanzanian by birth, but was sent to England by his parents to study for A-levels. His goal is to equip schools with IT so that young people can acquire a skill to raise their families out of poverty. He recently persuaded a Masai family not to exchange their 14-year-old daughter in marriage for 40 cows. She is now in school learning IT along with other skills.

I came back from my trip a different person, knowing that I would be leaving teaching, but could still help young people by making schools aware of how they could contribute to a child's education by donating their redundant IT equipment.

I now visit lots of schools, often taking an assembly to demonstrate what life is like for a young person in Africa. I would be lying if I said I didn't miss the classroom interaction, but my former colleagues keep me up to date with all the school news and I get to attend faculty meals at the end of every term.

I wish our young people could see how the other half live; it might make them value what they have and change them as it changed me.

If you are interested in donating your school's used IT equipment to schools in Africa, visit www.computers4africa. org.uk. If you have an experience to share, email features@tes.co.uk.

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