Use your vacation to do good in exotic locations

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Kids on Computers is planning a trip to the Huajuapan de Leon, Mexico area in June. If you can, please join us! If you can’t, please consider donating to help the labs we’ll be working on.

Most of us will be going down for a week or so. There are travel stipends available for those willing to spend a month helping in the area.

What could I possibly do to help? I ask myself this every time I go. Especially since I usually drag my kids along. Here are the things you can help with.

  1. Technical skills. If you can plug in computers, troubleshoot basic hardware problems, install Linux on lots of different kinds of old hardware, figure out why a mouse isn’t working, any of those things, you’ll be very much appreciated! We have to have at least one Linux guru on every trip. The rest of us follow directions. Upgrading 20 old computers in a school with no internet can be a long, manual process; it goes faster with more hands.
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  2. Language skills. This trip is to Mexico. A large majority of the volunteers will not speak fluent Spanish. None of the kids and teachers in these schools will speak much English. If you can help translate, that’s a huge benefit. Not just when setting up the labs but when figuring out where to get supplies or going out for dinner. And if you don’t know the Spanish words for technical gadgets, it’s sometimes a really funny experience, especially when you’re not sure what you are trying to describe might look like. I’d never used ethernet crimpers until a trip to Mexico.
  3. Teaching skills. When we teach a class, we like to have lots of helpers. Helpers to show people how a mouse works, how to double click and how to change windows. Often neither the kids nor the teachers have used a mouse or a keyboard before, much less opened an app or saved a file.
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  4. Logistical, herding cat skills. When you have 4 or 5 schools you are trying to work with, all spread out in different towns and 8 or 10 volunteers with different skills and you need a Spanish speaker with each group and someone who can figure out why the network is down in this school and someone who can update Linux on 4 laptops in another school … you need some logistical people. People who can help track who is where and what needs to be done.
  5. Documentation and note taking. We have all sorts of things we should and try to document. What computers are in which school? What’s installed on them? What finally worked to get Linux installed on that computer that had no USB drive? What should we bring next time? What worked in that class? What didn’t? What apps did the kids use the most? Every evening we try to spend some time working on this, but having someone dedicated to documenting what we’ve done, what works and what still needs to be done, who could do it while we are at the schools, would be great.
  6. Errand runner, make things out of paper clips person. We are always missing something, short something, need something. We soldered ethernet cables at one school! After stringing them across a road!
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Besides just logistical efforts, there’s the benefit to you and what your support brings to the area.

  1. Support local efforts. I recently read this effort that said international volunteers are often just in the way. I agree, that sometimes local resources exist and if they are there, you should use them. In our case, I think there are very few people with technical skills in the little towns we go to. We do try to pull in local university students and technical people whenever possible. And we have to go back frequently, because going once, setting things up and then leaving isn’t helpful. They get new teachers, forget passwords, computers break. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    With the travel grants, we hope to get local university students from nearby towns involved. But the other major benefit of bringing in outside people is that you get local people excited about it.When we set up 18 de Marzo, because we were there, we were able to bring in local media, the local school district, the mayor … because we visited the school, the school got more interest from local supporters.
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    Unfortunately, they still don’t have internet access nor an accessible high school. But they do have a super involved parent organization and a full time computer teacher funded by student families!
  2. Spread the word. If you go on vacation to Huajuapan de Leon, you’re going to have the experience of a life time. And you are going to share your pictures and stories with all your family and friends. A few of them may join us next time. Or donate. Or just be more aware of the world.
  3. Spread your horizons. I take my kids so that they can see that kids have fun without Xboxes. They have a blast playing soccer and making new friends. And, yes, they did find the only arcade machine within miles. In the back corner of a little tiny store tucked away on a side street.
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What to expect?

  1. It’s slow. Most of us are used to scheduling every minute of our time and being as efficient as possible. It doesn’t work that way on a volunteer trip to rural Mexico. Just getting there takes a while. We fly down to Oaxaca, spend the night. Walk across town the next day, get a van ride, drive through the mountains, walk to our hotel. Work doesn’t start until 2-3 days after you leave home!
  2. It’s not perfect. This is a volunteer run trip. And each trip presents different challenges. And not everyone has phones. Almost no one has internet. Getting from school to school means coordinating rides, arriving to find out they weren’t ready for you or the teachers were on strike, figuring out what equipment you need, what some of you can do while a couple of people drive all the way back to town to buy as much ethernet cable as they can, waiting around while your most seasoned Linux guru figures out why the installs aren’t working, … if you enjoy the people, what you are trying to do and use the time to get to know each other and the schools better, it’s great. If you came just to do technical work, it’d be frustrating.
  3. Friendly people. The other volunteers and especially the teachers, families and students are awesome. Everyone is appreciative, helpful and outgoing. Just super. The parents usually feed us. Lots of people give us rides. Some people open up their houses. My kids make friends everywhere. Terrific people.
  4. Not completely modernized. We stay in Huajuapan which is a decent sized small city. It’s got lots of restaurants and a few hotels. Grocery stores and mobile phone shops. And the water is often not hot. And the sidewalks can prove challenging. You might end up riding in the back of a pickup truck. Or walking a long ways in very hot, humid weather. On the good side, there’s no McDonalds and all the little shops are very interesting and very reasonable.
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  5. Beautiful. The area around Huajuapan de Leon is gorgeous mountainous country side.
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  6. Pretty inexpensive. Airfare is a bit pricey but after that it’s not expensive. Hotel rooms run $10-40/night. Dinners might run $3-15/person depending on what you decide to eat. So you can stay there pretty inexpensively. The van ride to Huajuapan is so cheap, I can’t figure out how the price of the ride from Oaxaca can cover gas. I spent a good hour of the trip doing math in my head and I have no idea how they are making a profit. Cabs around town are just $1-2, but cabs out to the other towns where are labs are can be quite pricey. (The cab drivers are friendly though. Avni and I took a cab out to Saucitlan de Morelos once and the cab driver was not just worried about leaving us there when we couldn’t find our friends, he was worried about the whole town because they had no phones and no cell service!)

So should you come? If any of that sounds fun, absolutely. We need you and you’ll be doing good in the world while having fun. If you can’t, no worries. If possible, contribute to some cause to make the world a better place. You can donate to Kids on Computers! :)

Devices as computers will change the world

At Kids on Computers, we’ve spent a lot of time and energy getting computers to kids that have no access to technology. Many of these places (rural Mexico, Africa, India) have cell phones before they have phone lines or even power. (The second time you blow the power for an entire school trying to set up a couple of computers, you realize how much we take power for granted in developing countries.)

So the new devices coming out right now are really exciting.

These devices, using open source software and open web technologies are going to bring the web – and the world – to more people everywhere.

Disclaimer: I work at Mozilla. At Mozilla we are working on making sure everyone has access to the web and that it stays open and accessible for everyone.

Join us for the Kids on Computers Summit in Huajuapan!

Hermes and a student. Hermes is a local volunteer who with a few of his friends maintains all the labs in the area!

Kids on Computers is planning a Kids on Computers Summit in May in Huajuapan de Leon and we need your help!

We have had a lot of success setting up labs in the Huajuapan de Leon area and getting local community involved. Our first school, 18 de Marzo, counts on a lot of parental support. They built the building for the lab and a library and their school has gone from one of the least desirable to one of the most respected. We’ve also set up labs in a school for kids with disabilities and in a boarding school for girls from difficult situations. And we’ve gotten equipment donations from local banks.

The school at Savcitlan de Morelos in the mountains. They have computers but nobody to help them get them set up.

Now what we need is people to help! We have several schools with computers but nobody to set them up. Schools with labs but not much know how. We have local people helping but their time is stretched thin and they could use some help!

We are going down the week of May 23rd to:

  • Take down some new equipment.
  • Set up computers in new labs.
  • Replace broken equipment in existing labs.
  • Teach kids and teachers.
  • Update software, add things like Wikipedia in Spanish to the computers in a school without internet yet.
  • Show excitement, drum up support.
  • Thank all the local people and organizations that have helped.

So we need you! There are all sorts of tasks and we need people that can do any one of the following. (No need to be able to do them all.)

The new building they made for the computers in Savcitlande Morelos. Adults will be able to use the computers in the evenings.

  • Plug in computers, turn them on, make sure they work.
  • Create logins, install software.
  • Swap out a fan or a hard drive.
  • Setup networking.
  • Speak Spanish and translate for other volunteers that don’t speak Spanish.
  • Talk to teachers about how computers can be integrated into education.
  • Run errands, stick Spanish key stickers on American keyboards, clean up cables, pick up boxes, …
  • Use a computer and show someone else how to use a mouse and start a game.

So there is something for everyone and we could use your help! We had a great time on our last trip and we are all looking forward to this one.

Let me know if you’d like to join us. We’d love to have your help!

The first grade class at 18 de Marzo, our first school lab

Kids on Computers sets up more labs in schools

Sewing at girls' school in Santo Domingo, Oaxaca. Photo by Thomas Peters.

Kids on Computers folks have been busy, especially Hermes and Thomas and others in Oaxaca. In the past few months we’ve set up labs in a school for kids with disabilities and a boarding school for girls – both in small towns in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The lab for the kids with disabilities will also help their parents who will now be able to do research on the web both on their kids’ health and also on government resources that might be available.

Hermes and one of the students. They were all delighted to get to use a computer! Photo belongs to Hermes.

The lab in the girls’ school will enable them to learn skills for a whole new range of jobs. Right now they learn skills like sewing and hair dressing in addition to normal school subjects to learn skills that might help them find a job.

Some of the computers were donated locally. Some by individuals, some by companies. Some, those that are in the girls’ school, came from Partimus. Some came from individuals that donated through System76.

Dormitory at the girls' school. Photo by Thomas Peters.

Thanks to everyone who helped bring technology, open source software and the internet to these kids. I’m looking forward to meeting them online.

The next schools will be in Mexico, Zambia and India.

Kids on Computers is officially a 501(c)(3)!

I got back from GUADEC and was ecstatic to find a letter from the IRS saying that Kids on Computers is officially a US federal 501(c)(3) organization!!!

It’s retroactive to February 25, 2009. (We have been a Colorado nonprofit since our start but this gives us federal status.)

Having 501(c)(3) status will enable us to qualify for more grants and programs targeted at nonprofit organizations. It also helps establish people’s trust (they know you are doing a public good) and enables some people to deduct their donation from the money they pay taxes on.

Many thanks to Serena Robb who filled out all the paperwork for us! It was her first time filling out a 501(c)(3) federal application and she did a lot of research to make sure she got it right.

Kids on Computers needs a web designer!

Kids on Computers needs a new web design. If we get it soon, we have a really cool hardware donation program that System76 is willing to launch with us for Christmas. (We also have 30 computers coming from Partimus that will go to schools in Mexico!)

Thanks, everyone, who has offered to help! I think we have lots of great potential and an awesome team!

Right now the website is pretty ugly. It's just a WordPress blog that I set up:

Oldwebsite

We had a web designer that created this for us, but she doesn't have time to implement it: (The logo was designed by Yolanda Castillo.)

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If you know of someone that could help, point them our way. (They don't have to work with this design.)

We are happy to give credit or help out with LinkedIn recommendations or recommendations with future clients. Or with thank you letters from the kids written on the first computers they've ever gotten to use!

It'd be a great Christmas present.