Before writing this, I reread the “My Turn” essay from ’The Book’. I can think of a couple of ways I could embellish that essay.
First the power problem. Tanzania’s electricity isn’t as reliable as ours in a couple of ways. First of all, the power is frequently off because of grid problems. When it comes back on, it surges. It’s like that here in the USA, except that it isn’t ‘down’ nearly as frequently. I have a breaker between my house and the grid to protect me from surges after an outage. Where I live, power is less reliable than closer in to Boston. A regular power strip would quell any problem with a surge. But surges weren’t our only problem.
In Tanzania with frequent unpredictable power outages, there was a significant likelihood that we’d lose power right in the middle of a hard disk writing operation. That would be bad and could corrupt the disk. So each computer needed to be plugged into an uninteruptable power source, or UPS. This is essentially a capacious battery with some small amount of circuitry to charge the battery, and then kick in, once it detects that the grid has gone down. We provided enough UPS boxes for each machine to have one.
What really threw me was the fact that the voltage coming over the lines varied widely. Here in the USA, nominal wall voltage is in the 110-120 volt range. There in Tanzania, it might be as low as 100 volts or as high as 300 volts. To remedy this, there are boxes for sale in stores called “voltage stabilizers” which are just real time variable transformers. These accept Tanzanian current from its grid, and “adjust” the output voltage to become what’s considered normal in that region: 240 volts (AC).
At the time, the older Apple Macs I’d brought in were capable of handling either American (110-120 AC volts) current OR European (240 AC volts) current. At a rural school where I’d donated about 15 older Macs, and tried to instruct the teachers how to use them, I strove to have the school and village have a “buy in”. They needed to have some skin in the game. I’d given them the computers and the UPS boxes. I asked the school to finance a single voltage stabilizer for the entire classroom installation. This amounted to about ten cents from each of the 1000 students at the school. I figured that if they “owned” the voltage stabilizer, and realized its importance to having the lab running properly, they’d try to keep things running. If I’d provided all of the equipment, they’d just wait until something broke, and expect the next “donation” from some good meaning foreigner.
You can guess where this is going. The summer after I brought and installed these machines in a village primary school, all of my Macs, were piled in a corner, dead as door nails. It turns out that they found out that the Macs would run just fine without a voltage stabilizer, UNTIL a voltage spike came down the line, frying the Mac on the other end. Essentially they found out that they didn’t “need” a voltage stabilizer until the Macs all died irrevocably.
So when I tell the story, as well intentioned as I was, it failed on several fronts.
Second, my time with a non-profit:
(See the photos below, including Dick meeting Obama's Grandmother.)
Most of my time in East Africa was spent on behalf of a 20 year old non-profit called “Growth Through Learning” (GTL). I paid my way 90% of the time. This outfit hires local coordinators (4W, 1M) to find, encourage, and track bright but poor young women and pair them up with a nearby secondary boarding school.
It is important, as background, to note that in East Africa, while primary school is said to be free (not really - students need to supply uniforms and school supplies), secondary school always has a tuition fee attached. A young woman bright enough to go on, but too needy to find the money for fees etc. is likely to remain home in her village, and soon be sold by her father to a rich villager for two cows. Usually this villager has several other wives, and the new one will be bearing children before she is fifteen years old. The cows are of more use to her father than she would be, because of the culture in the region. When a young woman gets married, she leaves her home to live with her husband or her husband’s family.
It is for this reason, that a father would rather pay for the education of every son before paying for a daughter’s education. Money spent on educating a son is seen as an investment which will return to the family when the son marries whereas educating a daughter is seen as lost money, because she’d leave her family to join her husband’s family.
It is this particular injustice that attracted me to GTL. Women, I feel, are the backbone and transmitters of civilization and culture, and to deny them an education feels like cultural suicide.
Our five GTL coordinators live in Tanzania (1), Kenya(3), and Uganda(1) and are the heartbeat of our organization. Each coordinator feeds our scholars to a small number of schools in their region. They filter out promising applicants and help them to apply to GTL. Up to this point we’ve seen more than fifteen hundred young women graduate from secondary school, and right now we support about 300 in the region. During my visits with GTL board members we’d visit our students at their schools, interview them, their teachers and headmistresses and take photos to report back to our American donors about the work we were doing.
I served as president of GTL from 2012 until 2014 and retired from the board in 2017 to make room for new blood.