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UAE teacher distributes solar-powered laptops to Africa

UAE teacher distributes solar-powered laptops to Africa

DUBAI – A South African teacher is on track to realise her dream of helping thousands of African children access the internet by distributing solar-powered laptops.

Tamin-Lee Connolly, a geography teacher at the Emirates International School, will begin a year-long road trip this summer to distribute 5,000 computers in rural schools in Mozambique, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Namibia and South Africa.

Her plans have inspired students, parents and corporate houses in Dubai to help her raise funds for the green and white laptops, which are packed with educational information. She may even exceed her goal after a recent Dh70,000 donation from students and parents.

“Providing laptops in rural areas, where education prospects are limited, will be great for children who may otherwise not stand a chance,” said Ms Connolly, 30, who began her campaign in March last year.

“I’ve always wanted to make a big difference. I’m very excited. It’s all happening so fast.”

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a non-profit organisation that designs low-cost computers for the world’s poorest children, is assisting Ms Connolly in her campaign. The group will identify communities and schools in need and pay shipping costs so the computers are on site when she arrives.

The funding lines for the campaign will be kept open so more children can be reached. Donations of Dh740 per laptop can be made via Ms Connolly’s Facebook page, Everything Except the Horn.

Ms Connolly is scheduled to leave Cape Town on July 1 in a 4×4 purchased specifically for the occasion. Money from students, parents and some companies went directly to pay for the laptops, while other firms donated between Dh5,000 and Dh30,000 each towards the costs of her expedition.

Ms Connolly dreams that her students in Dubai may one day visit the countries she will be travelling to.

“One day if they want to make a difference they might go visit a school where the laptops have been,” she said.

She will cover about 60,000km on the journey, surpassing her previous longest trek of 25,000km in Australia eight years ago.

The demands of the journey have required extensive planning. The main challenge will be to juggle the logistics involved in co-ordinating with OLPC volunteers when consignments of computers reach each country, Ms Connolly said.

“There is a bit of a time scale for me to rush and get to places,” she said. “They [OLPC] will keep me informed and we will relate to each other if shipments get there before me.”

She will join OLPC volunteers upon arrival in each location in helping teach children and teachers how to use the laptops.

The group announced a focus on Africa in February to promote strategies in the education sector to improve access to computers and connectivity.

The commitment is aimed at a “world in which the children become agents of change – making things, teaching each other and their families and affecting the social development of their community”, said Matt Keller, OLPC’s vice-president of global advocacy.

Travelling thorough Africa will not be without perils, and Ms Connolly is currently seeking advice about areas she should avoid. Her vehicle will be fitted with a tracking device enabling her location to be pinpointed as she progresses.

“I have got in touch with the UN and I will get UN warnings about areas I should avoid,” she said.

“The trip is pretty much booked for the first four months by my friends and family.”

She will have company for at least part of the journey. Justine Wedge, a colleague at the Emirates International School, will be among the first to travel with Ms Connolly.

“She has worked on this for so long and so hard,” said Ms Wedge. “The children look up to her. They know they can dream big.”

Ms Connolly’s pupils, who must watch her journey from afar, say they will miss a teacher who has made their geography class come alive.

“Students are always talking about her expedition,” said Laila Nasr, 13, a Palestinian who helped Ms Connolly compile telephone numbers of supporting companies. “We will miss her, but following her route will be really interesting.”

The road ahead did not always look so clear, said Ms Connolly. She finally secured commitments for just over 2,030 laptops in November last year.

“It was such a battle and I thought at one point that I was going to have to give up on my whole dream,” she said. “The thing is never to give up.”

Ramola Talwar Badam

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