Since I started work here in CAR/Cameroon the most common question I get is, “Will you help me learn to use the computer?” (OK, to be honest, this question might be second behind the comment, “Teach me English,” which is an indirect question…)
People want to be part of the digital age – despite the fact that they don’t have a computer – or even electricity! They understand the advantages computers can bring. And, they want to communicate on the Internet.
Partners of EEL-RCA (French initials for the Evangelical Lutheran Church-Central African Republic) have provided money for programs and institutions to have computers. Some programs/institutions have also put money in their budgets to buy them. Some training was provided when the first wave of computers arrived, but computer use is still low. Some programs have gotten new leaders who missed the initial training. Also, do you remember when you started using a computer? Was one training session enough to enable you to do all you wanted to do? Did you even have a clear idea of what was possible (let alone how to do what you wanted)? Here you can’t buy an Apple/Macintosh and then run town to the Apple store for lessons! (You can buy an Apple product, I think, in Yaoundé, but PCs are much more prevalent.)
EEL-RCA has started a capacity building program sponsored by Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) and East Liberty Lutheran Church (Pittsburgh, PA) that is teaching basic computer skills. A leadership committee was formed that found Sani, a qualified trainer in Baboua, CAR and response has been strong.
What initial capacities are we trying to build? Principally, communication and planning. Programs and institutions formally communicate with the EEL-RCA administration and partners through narrative and financial reports. (Yes, they also meet in person and talk on the phone, but written summaries and explanations are critical.) Now that humanitarian aid has been arriving in CAR through EEL-RCA, reports and management of data is even more important. Some leaders have the needed skills (the church administrator, accountants located in each center, etc.), but now more leaders are becoming comfortable with Word (for narrative reports that includes charts) and Excel (for financial reports). As leaders become more comfortable with software, the hope is that their planning and reporting will be more thorough and clear to those outside of the program for which reports are written.
Another goal of the program is less tangible. We want to help reestablish positive contact and interactions among all groups in Baboua: Christian, Muslim, and animists. So, this short-term project is not just for Lutherans. In fact, the trainer is a Muslim. Anyone with a computer is welcome. (This last requirement has received some push-back; even those without computers want to come! The problem is two-fold. Without a computer, a participant would be less able to put what he learns into practice. Also, we don’t have “spare” computers.) I have been told that at least two people have asked about buying their own computer so that they could learn and then use the new skills. So far, everyone involved in the project has worked well together. On their own, classes agreed to put in some extra money so they could have a coffee break on class days! As you can also see in the pictures, participants work together in class. Cooperation abounds!
We initially planned to offer two-hour classes a couple of times a week. Participants were so excited and interested the classes have turned into 6-7 hour seminars twice a week! In addition, there are now two classes – beginners and those who are a little more advanced. The initial class was offered to EEL-RCA program/institutions leaders using the computers programs already had. The second class is open to government workers and other leaders in Baboua.
In the future the project hopes to teach participants the basics of internet use and courtesy which would greatly promote communication among participants and with others outside of Baboua. We have run into a major snag, though. How do people in Baboua get internet access? This is a town that doesn’t have electricity (except for rare cases, like the Lutheran station that has a generator). Charging computers is already an issue. We had heard about USB internet keys that work in CAR, but further exploration (so far) has shown that these keys are not really very effective, especially not for operating more than one computer at a time. We are not, however, giving up on this part of the training; we just need to explore other options to see what we can work out.
So, skills I have come to take for granted: writing in Word, creating reports in Excel, surfing the net, communicating with others (such as you!) through email, a blog, and Facebook, are slowing coming to CAR. I am pleased to be advising the Leadership team of this project so that we can develop skills Central Africans can take into the future.