One of the places that has become special to me and has influenced my sense of purpose in recent years is Meru, Kenya. I've been serving on the board of Technology Partnership - which provides computers, computer maintenance and training to schools and teachers in Meru - since 2009. I visited our partner schools that year while I was working in Nairobi for UN-HABITAT and was inspired by the enthusiastic leadership of our Kenya Director, John Kamwara, and the schools' partnership in building computer labs and matching our donations. Technology Partnership is making Meru a place where technology is within reach of all - a place where educational and entrepreneurial dreams can come true.
Meru is the sixth largest urban area in Kenya and one of the country's major centers of education, being home to Kenya Methodist University (the country's largest private university) and several vocational colleges, including the Meru Technical Training Institute. It is a beautiful lush, green district situated on the slopes of Mount Kenya, where coffee, tea and other crops thrive. Meru is home to many remarkable and ambitious people, but because average incomes are less than $5,000 per year, their potential is often limited by the fact that they can't afford some essential modern tools for communication and learning.
Smartphones, computers, modems - everything we use here in the United States everyday - are common in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, where a substantial middle class enjoys livable wages and opportunity for advancement. In Meru, though, the technology we take for granted remains out of reach of many of the city's residents, about 25 percent of whom live in poverty. It costs just as much - if not slightly more - to buy a desktop computer in Kenya than it does here in the U.S., which means a teacher in Meru would have to spend nearly 20 percent of her annual income to have a computer at home.
Technology Partnership works with 35 primary and secondary schools in Meru, where students and teachers can use computers to learn, teach and explore. About half of students in Meru do not complete their secondary education, but having computers at school is an incentive to attend. Our U.S. Director, Barbara Bates, brought back this story from her teacher-training trip to Meru this year:
Our big challenge now is to ensure that our schools have reliable Internet access so students, teachers and community members can access online courses, communicate with their peers here in Colorado and create content for the web. Most of our schools don't have the capacity to wire their computer labs with high-speed Internet and pay for ongoing access. There are alternatives, however. When I was in Nairobi five years ago, I often used a flash-drive modem sold by Safaricom, one of the country's major mobile communications companies. The modems plug right into a computer and are connected to the cell network; users typically pre-pay for a certain amount of data, like buying minutes for a phone card. They are great little devices, but the data usage costs can be prohibitively expensive. Technology Partnership wants to ensure that each of our schools has the capability to buy and replenish Safaricom modems for students to use.
There are exciting technologies being developed in Kenya that we hope to be able to use in the future, such as Ushahidi's BRCK portable wi-fi device. That would be a boon to our schools, but it is not widely available yet. In the meantime, Safaricom modems will help our partners connect to the global community.
We take connectivity and access to technology completely for granted. Let's help ensure the next generation of leaders in Meru can, too! Please make a donation to Technology Partnership today. Thank you!
* This is the first of 6 #TPTuesday posts focusing on Technology Partnership, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, on whose board I serve.