WHEN CARLOW MAN Frank Neenan found himself at a loose end after becoming unemployed, he didn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself. Instead, he travelled to Zambia for five weeks with volunteer organisation Camara, to help teach computer skills in two schools.

‘If you can leave your preconceptions, and your spa treatments, behind for a while, it is an eye-opening experience,’ Frank says. ‘I tried to take back with me the positive “can-do” attitude a lot of the Zambians seemed to have. People there lead much more difficult lives than we do, with very low wages and standard of living. But they seem better at being able to be grateful for what they have that is good, like family and health.’

Camara Education Ltd. takes in secondhand computers from Irish and UK businesses, refurbishes them, packs them with educational materials and sends them to schools in Ireland and several African countries, where they are reused. Every year, a group of volunteers are selected from Ireland, made up of teachers, IT professionals, students and others who want to share their computer skills to make a difference. Volunteers travel to hubs and schools labs in either Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Lesotho or Rwanda to help to train teachers in IT skills.

Having worked in a variety of jobs for over twenty years, Frank found himself unemployed last year, and he and his wife Áine wanted to do something to help other people. Each Camara volunteer is required to raise €2,500 for the trip, but Frank was astonished that he and Áine were able to raise the money within a short space of time. With huge support from Áine’s colleagues in IT Carlow, they reached their fundraising target.

Prior to departure, Frank had to spend approximately fifty hours in preparation for the trip; helping to refurbish PCs in the Camara workshop as well as undertaking technical and teacher training. He also attended a pre-orientation weekend where he was briefed on volunteering in development, motivations and expectations about Africa and health and safety.

Frank travelled to an area of Zambia known as ‘the Copperbelt’, which is a densely populated region where the copper mines are. They worked in two schools there in the cities of Ndola and Kitwe, for two weeks each. Frank says, “I found the teachers to be very enthuastic about getting their hands on computers finally, and were always trying to get more training! The Zambians are very friendly and outgoing, quite like the Irish in many ways.”

Camara volunteers always have enough free time to allow them to explore their host country or community, and Frank learnt a lot about life in Zambia.

Volunteers are still needed by Camara so if you’re interested in taking a trip and making a difference to people’s lives, the closing date for applications has been extended to April 7.

By Elizabeth LEE
Tuesday March 30 2010