Tuesday July 6th 2010

Stone Town – Mombasa

Rob Stringer RIP

Nearly a year ago on August 7th, 2009 at 12noon, I arrived back at
Camara’s workshop in Dublin to be met at the door by Hester Jackman,
our Volunteer Coordinator. She asked me to come up to her office where
two other members of staff were waiting, and she told me that Rob
Stringer had been killed the previous day. Rob was a Team Coordinator
for Camara in Tanzania last year and at the end of the Africa09
training program had been travelling in Zanzibar where he was
attacked, robbed and murdered. Those few minutes will remain etched in
my memory for ever – the death of one of our volunteers was a
possibility that I had thought about, but an actual event I had never
expected to happen. The impact that Rob’s death has had on Camara, a
volunteer-driven organisation has been profound. Losing one of our own
has caused us to consider carefully the mission of Camara and how this
is carried out, and we thank Rob’s family for their encouragement in
continuing this mission, one that Rob whole-heartedly supported
through his selfless work.

This tragedy was the reason for my trip to Zanzibar. Nearly one year
on, a suspect for Rob’s murder lies in prison, two more are still on
the run but no court date has been set and a lot of questions remain
unanswered. Lack of progress on this case has made it harder for the
family to reach some closure on Rob’s death so Josephine and Keith,
Rob’s parents, had asked if I would interview some lawyers (Advocates)
in Zanzibar and see if any would be suitable to act as a local
representative for the family. The Irish Embassy in Dar es Salaam had
supplied me with a list of lawyers and it was these that I was meeting
this morning.

In the afternoon I flew to Mombasa to visit the Camara Kenya Hub and
to assess its progress and meet some of its directors, staff and
volunteers.  Since we sent out our first computer to Kenya in 2006,
Camara’s history in this country had been volatile – ranging from an
‘apocalyptic end-of-the-world’ relationship breakdown with our local
partner to the Phoenix-like rebirth of our new Hub shortly thereafter.
I was quite interested to see which Camara I would find this time.

Travel Tip. If you want to eat at one of the best Indians in Kenya you
could do a lot worse than visiting Singh Punjabi restaurant on Mwembe
Road in Mombasa where dinner for five plus drinks this evening set us
back around €45 in total.

Wednesday July 7th 2010


Camara Kenya


Camara Kenya is our second attempt at a Technology Hub in Mombasa.
Our first, called SKOMARA ended in failure nearly two years ago when
our local partner locked us out of the workshop in Sheikh Khalifa
School following disagreements over money and management controls.
Undeterred at that time, Farid Ali (now our African Technical
Director) and David ‘Daudi’ Morara (now Camara Kenya’s CEO but then
just a volunteer) decided to start again in a new location in Mombasa
Industrial Training College (MITC), close to the original Hub.

Where before there had been empty space now stood a workshop, store
room, training centre and offices.  The Hub was bustling and full of
energy with young volunteers actively processing computers and
training teachers.  MITC had also benefited considerably – the Hub had
upgraded its toilets, had planted colourful scrubs in wasteland,
cleared the basketball court, and painted several of their buildings.
Daudi, the volunteer-turned-CEO had also changed.  His previously life
as a Chemistry teacher had been left behind and that raw untapped
potential, that everyone had seen in him as a Camara volunteer, had
been unleashed.  Over the last 18 months he had taken that empty
warehouse and band of disillusioned volunteers and moulded an
home-grown organisation capable of delivering the Camara model
effectively to the Kenyan education system.   There still remains lots
of challenges facing Daudi and his team (not least that Zambia may
well claim to be top Hub of 2010) but the transformation was striking.
The Hub’s progress was illustrated further when I was introduced to
one of their potential customers, the Hon. Alfred Khang’ati
MP and Assistant Minister who wanted to buy 500 computers and provide
Camara training for schools in his area in the Bungoma District of
western Kenya.

On a more negative note, in the afternoon we went to see one of our
Computer Labs in operation at Bamburi School, a relatively poor
government-run primary school situated beside the largest cement plant
in East Africa, Bamburi Cement (www.bamburicement.com).  In 2006 it
was one of the first schools in Kenya to receive computers and
training from Camara, and I consider it a litmus test in seeing how
our program is actually working.  The school has approximately 1,000
students each paying the school €2 a year to use the Computer Lab and
with this revenue, close proximity to our Hub and its relationship
with the nearby cement plant you would assume that it had the
resources to sustain a successful ICT program.  Unfortunately our
visit showed that it continued to be a failing Lab and after speaking
to the Principal in some depth it was very clear why this was the
case.  I’ll let you figure out the reason for this yourself but my
view was that no amount of resources thrown at this school was going
to make a material difference.

Thursday July 8th 2010

Mombasa – Nairobi – Kisumi – Eldoret

eWaste in Africa

I was flying to Nairobi in the afternoon but wanted to spend the
morning investigating how Camara was resolving our own, and Africa’s
growing eWaste problem
Each of our Hubs has a policy that, any obsolete Camara computer can
be brought back to us and recycled in an environmentally appropriate
manner.  In order to encourage schools to do this (generally they are
reluctant to throw away even the most dilapidated equipment) we commit
to replaced the machine with a comparable computer at the same price.
Over the 2 ½ years since our Hubs have been established we have seen a
small but steady amount of equipment being returned in this fashion
and our Kenyan Hub now held seven tonnes of this eWaste in their
container.  We have spent a considerable amount of time looking for
reliable Computer Recycling companies in the region but had not been
able to identify a suitable partner whose standards we felt
comfortable with.  As a result we have decided to set up our own
company, the East Africa Computer Recycling Company
to handle our, and third party eWaste.

In an initiative led by Eoghan Crosby, Camara’s Dublin-based Technical
Director we had reached agreement with Hewlett Packard in South Africa
to establish a small pilot electronic waste recycling plant in Mombasa
– initial funding to be provided by them and technical expertise and
staffing provided by us.  The plan was to have 100 tonnes of eWaste
(from Camara and others) processed by this facility by the end of the
year.  Eoghan had written the business plan, brought in the partner
and had then identified a number of potential sites for the facility
that I was going to visit this morning.  We were all very excited
about this new venture and believe it has huge potential, but Camara
still has a number of questions to answer about the project:
What relationship should it have with Camara Kenya, given that they
are in the education business not the waste recycling business?
Should it be a not-for-profit or a commercial enterprise?
What should its shareholding look like and What will happen to any
value it creates?
Where should it look for additional funding?