Used computers sent to Africa are revolutionising children’s lives. Waitrose Kitchen editor William Sitwell visits Ethiopia to find out how

BEST IN CLASS Schoolchildren like these from Jerusalem Primary School in Addis Ababa are benefiting from e-learning

BEST IN CLASS Schoolchildren like these from Jerusalem Primary School in Addis Ababa are benefiting from e-learning

Half past 10 in the morning and in a crowded classroom a teacher calls for quiet. One girl – a 16-year-old – stands at the front and starts to speak, clearly and with great confidence.

‘My name is Geaeteleawlmesai,’ she says. ‘Welcome to St Lalibela Secondary School. My favourite subject is physics. One day I would like to be prime minister of Ethiopia. I work hard in this school and so do my friends. We want to achieve and to make our country a better place, independent of help from the rest of the world.

But we need your help. We have very few books and not many teachers. But now we have some computers and I want to thank you for that but ask you if you can help get us some more.’

Among those in the classroom are a group of British businessmen and women who are visiting this school, high up in the hills of northern Ethiopia, to witness the work of a charity they are supporting called Camara.

The computers the young girl mentions have been installed by Camara. These give pupils digital literacy – essential skills for the modern world – as well as the resource of Wikipedia in a school with almost no text books. The computers are also loaded with mathematical and literacy games which enable pupils to be tested and get instant results. Something that would otherwise be impossible when there can be up to 75 students in a classroom with just one teacher.

‘Education is the best tool to remove yourself from poverty’

And, remarkably, these computers could once have been used by you. Camara acquires used computers – of which there are plenty due to our obsession with upgrades and the latest IT – ships them to countries like Ethiopia, loads them with software and then installs them in classrooms, providing training for teachers.

John Fitzsimons, CEO of Camara, is among those in this school in Lalibela. ‘Poverty is unacceptable,’ he says, ‘but education is the best tool to remove yourself from that situation. And technology has the ability to transform the lives of these children.’

Geaeteleawlmesai then shows me her computer skills, searching for some complicated physics facts on the offline Wikipedia (we’re a few steps away from broadband). Then we’re all treated to some delicious Ethiopian coffee and fresh bread.

The school is in what was once Ethiopia’s capital city and lies 2,500 metres above sea level. A few days later in the present capital city, Addis Ababa, we visit another, Jerusalem Primary School, one of just 10 schools in the city now with computers. Pupils and teachers welcome us to their new ICT room, a dusty classroom with a bank of old Dell screens.

I sit with a group of beaming pupils. ‘Computers are important to us,’ says one. ‘They make the world a smaller place.’ He then scribbles on a piece of paper and hands it to me. ‘This is my email address. Will you write to me?’

To find out more about Camara and how technology can change lives, or to donate money or computers, visit camara.org

Credit: First Published in Waitrose Weekend ‘Food for thought’, 23rd January 2014. Article by William Sitwell.