CORMAC’S AFRICAN DIARY

JUNE/JULY 2010

One of my main objectives in writing this diary is to give people,
unfamiliar with the developing world, some sense of the realities
faced by Camara in trying to deliver our educational program to
schools in Africa.  Occasionally the problems we face, and that I
describe in all their gory detail, might paint Africa (and by
association Africans) in an unfavourable light.  I hope this is not
the case as the majority of these problems are self inflicted. Which
leads me to the second reason for this diary, which is to catalogue
and remember my mistakes and hopefully continue to learn from them.

As always, comments are welcome and there is a very simple unsubscribe
button at the bottom of this email if you have better things to do
with your time.  Thanks.

Saturday June 26th –  Sunday June 27th 2010

Dublin – London – Addis Ababa – Harare – Lusaka – Ndola – Kitwe

Outward Bound

My adventure starts with a visit to six airports in just under 30
hours.  I left my house in Ireland at 1pm on Saturday afternoon and
arrived in the BP Guest House in Kitwe, Zambia at 5:30pm (Irish time)
on Sunday evening somewhat shell-shocked.  On the way I met up with a
number of Camara volunteers in Heathrow airport who were travelling
out as Team Coordinators (TCs) for our four ‘Africa10’ training teams.

Each year we send out a group of trainers to provide computer courses
to teachers in the schools receiving our computers.  This training
program which started in 2006 is a key part of the Camara model and
last year we sent out 82 volunteers to seven countries.  This year our
program has shrunk dramatically –  with 32 trainers travelling to four
countries. This fall in numbers has been caused by a number of
factors:
1.A change in training focus, where we now look for more technically
competent teachers who can provide more advanced ICT courses rather
than the basic computer literacy skills we had been offering before.
With stricter selection criteria we had found it much harder to
attract suitably qualified people to give up four/five weeks of their
holidays to fulfill our training obligations.
2.I suspect however that the biggest reason for drop off in numbers is
that the economic down turn has made it much harder for interested
volunteers to raise the €2,500 required to cover the cost of the trip.

That being said, we still have four exceptionally strong teams with
high levels of technical skills and passion, strong course content and
the world famous Camara training certificates ready to descend on an
unsuspecting African continent.

My travelling companions were: Frank Neenan and Elaine Clarke, off to
Rwanda,  Alex Bacik and Grace Duffy, to Uganda and Susan Stewart who
was going to Zambia. Typically we send out two TCs – one female and
one male – with each team, and as Susan’s other TC was flying out a
week later I was travelling with her as far as Zambia. Susan is a
Montessori teacher from Dublin and used to dealing with stroppy 5 year
olds – a perfect background for this job!


Monday June 28th 2010

Kitwe

The Good News – Camara’s Zambian Hub

My wife tells me I don’t get excited enough about the work that Camara
does, and she is partly right – I tend to focus more on what we are
doing wrong than on what we are doing right.   Today she would have
been proud of me, because when I walked into the Zambian Hub for the
first time I experienced this huge sense of pride about what Camara
has done over the last five years. I wish I could ‘bottle’ that moment
– the feeling that this is what Camara should be about, that we had
built something really special.  The five years of mistakes and
learning, all the efforts that have been made by volunteers, staff and
supporters of Camara were today encapsulated in the beauty that is the
Zambian Hub.  This is what I found:
A building complex all painted green and white.  Clean and organised
rooms which 12 months ago had been dilapidated space full of rubbish
lying abandoned at the back-end of Kitwe Teacher Training College
(KTC). In the driveway was a school bus waiting to pick up 20
computers from the Hub – having already passed the Hub’s School
Suitability Assessment and sent their teachers in for training. In the
reception area I met three Headmasters who had travelled from
different part of Zambia to hand in their application forms for
computers and training to be brought to their schools. In the
workshop, 10-15 young volunteers (all wearing white coats) and busy
refurbishing computers. They were mainly school leavers who could not
afford to go to college but had agreed to volunteer in the Hub in
order to learn some technical skills from which to earn a livelihood.
And in the front a packed, networked training centre where two
volunteers were training teachers in basic computer literacy skills

I could go on, but each new thing I observed left me more speechless
than the last.  But the most incredible thing about the Hub was that
at the centre was a young Zambian women who we had hired straight out
of college nine months ago to be its first CEO, Rachael Kabale.  While
Rachael has had a lot of help from Camara people (Trisha Olsson, Farid
Ali), from her local Board (Marie Doyle, Fr Nicholas, Fr Kelly,
Francis Chilufya) and from the Principal of KTC (Mrs Mulwe) she was
the glue that held everything together and it was her strength of
personality that had brought the Hub to where it was today.

As I said, I lack the necessary literally skills to fully describe the
impact that today had on me, or to really convey how extraordinary
Camara Zambia really is.  But for all those people who have supported
us through the ups and downs of our first five years please take a
quiet moment to reflect on what you have helped bring about and give
yourselves a well deserved pat on the back.

Tuesday June 29th 2010

Kitwe – Ndola – Lusaka

The Bad News – The Loss of a CEO

Fr Nicholas, a diocesan priest and one of the Directors of Camara
Zambia drove us to the International Trade Show in Ndola to look at
the Camara stall that was being erected.  This is the biggest trade
show in the country and a superb opportunity for Camara to market its
computers and training as many government minister (including the
Minister of Education) and educational institutions will be
participating.

With all that positive news you might expect that I was happy to be
leaving Zambia with Camara in such good hands, but nothing is ever
easy in Africa.  Rachael has told me that she is leaving in September
to enrol in a post-graduate course in NGO Management at All Hallows
College in Dublin.  Her fees are being paid by a charitable
organisation (thanks a lot!) and it was just too good an opportunity
for her to turn down.  Through clenched teeth I wished her well on
this journey and thanked her for all she has done for Camara over the
last year.  Our success, or otherwise is completely dictated by the
people we have working in Camara and a lose of some one of this
calibre is no small set back for us.  My wife will be happy to know I
was equally emotional when I heard the news but not is a positive way!

That evening I flew to Lusaka and stayed the night with Maurice
Sadlier and Ceire McCaul, two class mates of mine from my Development
Studies days in University College Dublin.  Maurice is the Assistant
Country Director for Concern (an Irish NGO) in Zambia and for dinner
they had also invited Val Duffy who works for 80:20 another Irish NGO
in the country.  Apparently there are around 500 Irish working and
living in Zambia at the moment – mainly as Missionaries or with NGOs –
but few however working in the business sector.  Therein lies a much
bigger debate on ‘Does Aid Work?’.

Ceire and Maurice’s house is dominated by three dogs one of which is a
beautiful Rhodesian Ridge-back called ‘Iwe’ (which means ‘Hey’ or
‘You’).  A dog for the African grasslands as was demonstrated when our
pre-dinner drinks were rudely interrupted by Iwe catching and trying
to eat a lovely Africa Barn Owl who had mistakenly flown into his
yard.  Unfortunately the poor bird did not survive the attack and poor
Iwe was banished to the veranda much to his disgust.