Spreading the Light of Camara

Camara Kenya Guest Expedition 09 by Mitchell O’Gorman (Newmarket Consulting)

It wasn’t easy getting there, as I had to suffer the worry of waiting for my passport to make the trip to Dublin and back to London without me as we waited for our Kenyan Airways connection in Heathrow, but it was well worth the anxiety. The warm breeze that met us on exiting Nairobi airport whisked away all memories of the pandemonium that I had unwittingly started in London by leaving my passport on the plane, and it was good to finally be in Kenya.

Myself and my travelling companions, Barbara Dooley from UCD and Barbara O’Callaghan from State Street, were the very fortunate beneficiaries of a decision by Irish charity Camara to send some of those that were involved in fundraising activities during the year to Kenya, to witness some of the fruit borne by their fundraising efforts. And I’m pleased to report that what I saw in Kenya exceeded my expectations and gave me great hope in the future of Africa, and the significant role Camara has to play in facilitating that future.

I had been aware of the work of Camara since they won the David Manley Emerging Entrepreneur Awards in 2008. The decision made by Cormac Lynch in 2005 to send a couple of Irish computers, destined for the skip, to Africa for use in education has inspired the development of a social enterprise that in early 2009 saw Camara ship their 10,000th computer to Africa. What greeted us in Africa however was not just an organisation putting recycled Irish computers to good use, but an organisation providing a key to unlocking a bright new future for Kenya.

Kenya is a stable nation, relative to some of its east African coast neighbours, but it still bears the hallmarks that blight many African countries, widespread poverty and crippling corruption. What really defined it for me though was not the extent of its problems, but the relentlessness of its positivity and ambition. Our week-long jaunt brought us to the coastal cities of Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu and introduced us to some of the most joyous and passionate people on Earth.

We began in Mombasa, visiting the hub that Camara have established there. Not only do Camara clean and refurbish computers in Ireland, but they have also established a number of hubs in the countries they provide to in Africa; Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Lesotho. The hub in Mombasa relies, as does the entire Camara organisation, on volunteers and the quality of volunteers that the work of Camara attracts was a real eye-opener.

Barbara refurbishes a Camara computer

Barbara refurbishes a Camara computer

Hugely motivated and passionate about what Camara is striving to achieve, the task of uploading the Linux operating system, and installing educational software (including information on HIV Awareness and Gender Equality and Camara’s very own version of Wikipedia) falls to some of Mombasa’s best and brightest. We were each assigned a teacher, to run us through the procedures carried out once the computers arrive in their containers from Ireland, to ready them for installation in schools. My teacher, a 19-year-old girl who had never even touched a computer as recently as 5 months ago, delighted in the task teaching me about the Ubuntu operating system, while explaining to me the opportunity her involvement with Camara offers her. As well as the practical experience she gets, she also undertakes the teaching programme Camara provides for its volunteers. She tells me that it will be of huge benefit to her, as she wants to become a computer teacher. And she’s well able for it. After her in-depth tutorial, I manage to upload an operating system and all of the required educational software by myself, and I record the tracking number Camara assigns to each computer to see where it will eventually be sent. Delighted by what I had learned, I bade farewell to Pilli my teacher, wondering whether I should give her my postal address or e-mail address for keeping in touch. “Neither”, she replied, “I’ll Facebook you instead”.

Having visited the nerve centre of Camara in Mombasa, we were transported up the coast to Malindi, with our guide (and dedicated Camara volunteer) Chiku and our driver (and dedicated Camara volunteer) Joshua. In Malindi, we met up with a local student teacher, and Camara volunteer, Mujahadid. Speaking with Mujahadid was a treat, he was keenly intelligent and had great knowledge to impart on the state of current affairs in Kenya. At the end of our tour of Malindi he asked us if we would visit a school that he was involved with, which had also benefited from the receipt of Camara computers. “Involved with” didn’t quite explain the situation. As we arrived at the school Mujahadid was met with deferential greetings of “Hello Mr. President” by the kids playing outside and the school’s caretakers. He explained that the school was established by an English woman a couple of years ago, and the man she had initially hired to run it had grossly mismanaged all of the funds she had supplied for running of the school. Mujahadid had been recommended to her, and now he finds himself in the situation of running a school while studying to be a teacher at the local University.

Freed toys in Kenya

Freed toys in Kenya

He informed me that he is treated with mild distrust in his community, as he maintains meticulous records of his use of school funds and never profits himself. He told us the story of how, the week before our visit, he had gone down to Malindi port to collect a container that had arrived from England with toys for the school. Port security, however, wouldn’t release the container without receiving a hefty kickback first. Mujahadid had to ask his fellow University students to pool together their money in order to have it released. He explained to me how corruption was endemic in Kenya, and needed to be erased for the country to progress. I asked him how the cycle of corruption could be broken. He stated, “education is the key” before adding, “that’s why Camara is the key”.

Final part now available here