Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Once upon a time

I apologise that it's taken a little (a lot) longer than anticipated to get some updates going. Internet access was tough in Rwanda, and well.. time has gotten the better of us since we've been back. Anyhow, here's an attempt at a back-story.

So, how and why did I get involved in this in the first place? Fate, serendipity or fortune could potentially be words to explain how this has all crazily come together. I'd like to think it's just been one tremendous blessing after the other, so let me begin to share some thoughts.

During my senior year, I'd been taking my time deciding what it was exactly that I'd like to do with my years out of college. I was looking for a service opportunity that was akin to the Peace Corps, but one that I could apply to as an international. I knew I was keen in the larger goal of poverty alleviation, but I wanted the opportunity to be immersed in a place where I could serve and also learn a tremendous amount about social justice issues. The best resource I found to begin this tedious search was idealist.org, an online resource which has anything and everything to do with public service within the US and around the globe. I'd been getting daily digest updates, with anywhere from 30-50 little descriptions on potential jobs and internships catered to my interests. I was real busy one morning, the 27th of Feb to be exact ;) , but something made me want to sift through the idealist email. Sure enough, i read 3 little lines that seemed almost too good to be true. "Intern in Africa, deploy 100 laptops to kids ages 6-12, One Laptop Per Child Corps Africa" and a hyperlink. I recognised the name OLPC from it being in and out of the news, so my interest was piqued and i hurriedly checked up on it. Needless to say, i couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the morning. Too good indeed, but I immediately knew it in my bones that the grant would come through.

Why it especially means so much is this. Back in 2007, i spent a semester abroad in Grahamstown, South Africa. While I was on my semester exchange, I volunteered a good amount as well. One place was St Mary's Daycare, and I grew to care deeply for these children. Just before I'd left, some of the kids asked if I'd forget them; and I most certainly assured that that I never would. Since then, I'd been thinking of multiple ways to try and give back, but nothing really jumped at me. But as soon as I read the opening lines of the grant application, i just knew this had their names on it! With the faces of the children in mind, I excitedly shared this idea with my roommate Megan, and Anna who had studied in South Africa with me. Right away, I found the Director of St Mary's online (good ol Facebook!), and got cracking on getting our project proposal in order. In time, all the components of our project came together:
- focus on kids ages 6-12
- find a local partner willing to support you
- plan for longevity

That's when I checked in with Rebecca at Off Campus Studies. I wanted to prove that since a good number of Gettysburg students study in Grahamstown every semester, there'd be a great way of establishing a long-term partnership between our 2 towns. In time, we got the support of the Center for Public Service in Gettysburg, and the Centre for Social Development in Rhodes, and they suggested a second afterschool care program, Mariye, so that we had 100 children in all.. it was all coming together! On that first day itself that I read the grant application online, i put on my brass south african bracelet and promised to only take it off only after I was back from SA. (I'm still wearing it... It reminded me to think positively and pray hard for it to all happen! hah). Things just kept getting better. Caroline Hartzell, my advisor and prof at college (and most helpful grant-editor!), informed me that one of her old students Drew Stinson was going to grad school in Rhodes Univesity, back in South Africa. Thanks to that tip, I got in touch with him and learned that Stephanie Bonnes was there too. How perfect - 2 Gburg grads and current Rhodes students IN SAfrica already! They were just as excited about being a part of the project, and were the perfect people to be there and help us coordinate so many things on the ground. So, in a flurry, Megan, Anna and I put our proposal together and got it in right on time. To cut the next bit short.. we waited anxiously only to find out that we were narrowed down to a group of finalists out of over 250 proposals that had come in from around the world! We had to sit tight for another week :\ Then, we get an upsetting (now unimportant!) email that they sadly could only choose a few teams, and we were not selected. We were absolutely devastated, but knew that something good was still going to come out of it - like I said, I was so sure in my bones that we'd get it! Sure enough, 3 days later we get an email saying that more funds came in and we were a part of 30 teams that were selected. The circumstances didn't matter, we were shouting and dancing in the streets when we found out at 1 in the morning! (yes, that was us.. hah)

So, it all came together. And while I'm beyond thrilled that this has happened for the kids, I'm beginning to see how it's been planned all along. See, in 2003 while I was in 11th grade (JC1) in Singapore, I was a leader for the local youth delegation that attended the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva. It was one of the most incredible experiences that I'd been privileged to be a part of. Along with my first visit to South Africa (on a school trip I did with the Drama Society), i knew that I wanted to get into the field of internatinal relations and public service. The summit was where I learnt about the Digital Divide, and also the potential of ICTs and open source products in creating a more equitable playing field. I'd heard talk of the beginnings of an 'affordable laptop for children' based on all the principles being talked about at the summit. Sure enough, at the UN WSIS in Tunisia 2 years later, Nicholas Negroponte revealed the XO along with OLPC. It made sense that my experiences from then and through college were all coming together!

Phew.. I'm probablty boring all of you, but I can't stop smiling thinking about how this has all progressed :) Life is full of the most amazing opportunities. Dream big, and blessings will abound!

Tomorrow, we're having the Community Presentation Ceremony. I promise we'll have that up soon, along with the phenomenal experiences we've taken away from Rwanda. Till the next time!

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