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Intel Education Service Corp: Day 4 - Walter's Story

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Note from the Blog Manager: Follow Donna, one of the Co-Program Managers for the Rotation Engineers Program, as she serves as part of the IESC in Uganda. The Intel Education Service Corp, a program that allows Intel employees to work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing countries all over the world. Catch up with her first post and second post before you read on below.

We arrived at the Kawempe Youth Centre (late, as usual!) to find that the tents, tables, stools and that rat’s nest of power strips, power cords and mouse wires had all been untangled and set up AND all 20+ students were already there and waiting for us! That’s what I call motivation.

You’ll be glad to know that Walter was there—front and center. We launched into our Word ‘curriculum’—a rather glorified description of three little exercises I had created last night (a letter to a pen pal, a CV/resume and an invitation to a birthday party). We were making good progress—bolding/unbolding, using the tab key, changing the font…

Then Ruth, one of the Centre’s paid staff—their Head Start teacher, pulled me aside to share information about Walter. OK, first, his name isn’t Walter—it’s Ishmael. When I asked why he had been wearing a name tag with Walter written on it Ruth said he had just found the label and since all the older ‘real’ students had name tags he stuck it on his chest. Ruth then went on to tell me about his family: he has an older brother (who had also been hanging out at the Centre all day yesterday) and his father abandoned the family when Ishmael was born, which explains why neither he nor his brother have ever attended school. Ruth then asked me if I would like to go to meet their mother. After some consultation with Centre staff I was advised that a visit would be welcomed by both Ishmael and his mother so off we went.

We walked about a block from the Centre and started down a narrow little lane—muddy water everywhere. We arrived at a simple door opening with a cloth curtain across it and Ruth called out to announce our arrival. After handshakes and introductions, Edith (Ishmael’s mother) invited us to come in. The space this family occupies was maybe 4’ x 6’—I’m sure many of us have larger walk-in closets. It was extremely dark and hot. There was a platform that I assumed served as the bed for the family. There was a sort of shelf on which there were a few dishes and cups. I was invited to sit on the only ‘chair’—a tiny stool. We spent some time talking about how bright Ishmael was and how quickly he had learned to work through the software exercises the day before and had ended up coaching the older students on how to work the mouse and solve the puzzles. Ruth had told me that the way Edith supports her family is by making bags out of recycled paper and some of them were on the platform beside her so I asked if she could show me how she did it. She took out a sheet of paper and in a flash of hands and fingers quickly had a bag finished. So then I asked if she would show me how to do it. What a catastrophe! We all laughed and laughed as I struggled to fold the paper properly, get the incredibly sticky glue in the right amount in the right place. I kept my pitiful effort as a reminder.

When we left I was feeling extremely emotional…and just telling you about this experience has started the tears again. I asked Ruth what I could do to help Edith and her family and without hesitation she said—buy food. So with 20,000 Ugandan shillings (about $9) we hit the neighborhood provisions shops. We bought 2 kilos of sugar, a bag of salt, several boxes of matches, laundry soap, lots of tea, four kilos of some sort of grain flour (used to make a sort of gruel), a box of milk powder and three hard candies. Ruth thought this would be food for the family for at least a couple of weeks. We immediately headed back to Edith’s room and when she saw the two bags…she fell to her knees and started thanking us. I’m afraid we both were in tears.

I guess this is why I came.