All entries for Tuesday 17 April 2007
April 17, 2007
Macs Join the Masai Tribe
By Barbara Gibson
The new school in the Masai village of Oloolaimutia in East Africa runs day and night now, even though the majestic tribe lives without electricity or running water in its nearby compound of mud houses.
More than 400 children attend the new school—those who tend cattle during the day go at night—thanks to new classrooms and solar panels that provide light and deliver power to three new laptop computers.
“Come Walk With Me”
Retired tech executive Patrick O’Sullivan, who launched the effort to improve the school after visiting the village in 2004, returned this year with a team of former Apple employees and 14-year-old Sean Riordan, son of one of O’Sullivan’s friends. Carrying PowerBooks and high-definition digital cameras, the volunteers shot 16 hours of digital video in the village and region for a documentary designed to raise awareness and funds for education in Africa.
“Come Walk With Me” premiered in July 2006 and will be shown in universities and foundations that specialize in Africa. Riordan, who helped train village teachers to use the laptops, also made a documentary—“The Making of ‘Come Walk With Me’”—that captures the laughter and fun of working with the Masai people.
Masai tribe members pose with the “Come Walk With Me” crew.
The Problem of Piecing a School
O’Sullivan hadn’t planned to spearhead the school improvement project when he first visited East Africa. “But,” he says, “I saw these adults tying pieces of trees together, and I asked them what they were doing. They said they didn’t have a classroom, and I said ‘How long will it take?’ And they said ‘Well, about three to four years.’ I said ‘What happens to the children meanwhile?’ And they said ‘Most of them will never go to school.’”
Moved by their plight, O’Sullivan decided to build a school for them—and even supplied three laptop computers. Dickson Mutaiti, O’Sullivan’s driver and tour guide, handled the arrangements and sent contractors with three trucks full of bricks, stones, doors and tin roofing materials to the village. They built the new school in six weeks, and a U.S.-based solar company in Nairobi installed four 120-watt panels on the school’s roof.
In the new school, students investigate the world maps plastered on the wall, study the science of solar power that provides their light and watch video of an ocean on the laptops. “They’ve never seen the sea,” O’Sullivan points out. “Never mind the fish. Their eyes were bigger than the screen.
“It was amazing to watch the children use the new tools with such ease,” he adds. “They were intuitively touching, feeling, laughing and investigating. It became clear to me that it doesn’t matter whether you’re from the north, south, east or west of anywhere on this earth: people are naturally curious and once they see a tool, they want to see how it works.”
Door to Opportunity
O’Sullivan, an amateur historian who has followed politics in Africa from the time he was a student in Ireland in the 1960s, is sensitive to the Masai people’s need to preserve their culture in the face of a modern world. He sees the role of education and computers as a crucial door to opportunity.
“When you look at the continent of Africa,” he observes, “it’s no coincidence that there’s never been a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates or a Larry Ellison from Africa. There are millions of them there, but they never got the opportunity to learn. Yet education is the key to choices, to personal freedom. It’s everything.”