PCs for Migrant Children: an update

by Travel Paulie on August 8, 2010

Monkeys at Keyboards

A number of weeks ago I started a campaign to raise money so that I could source computers and install them in some of the Karen migrant schools in the Maesot area, Thailand.

It’s been a slow process to actually get the computers and install them in the schools, but it’s happening and while I’ve met a few challenges along the way, there are now children here using computers to complement their learning where they’d never had access before.

If you’ll remember from my previous update I was in a dilemma as to whether I should charge ahead and buy computers or wait and see what I could potentially receive from international donations and use the monetary donations received to cover shipping and taxes.  About a week or so ago, that process fell-through due to strongly inhibitive restrictions placed on imports into Thailand.  I could wax and wane that issue, but the summary is much more pleasant that the details, so I’ll spare you.  This leaves the original plan of just buying computers here and taking the route of buy-install-transport-training.

Stage 1: Testing

I brought the first two computers to the school shown in the original video about 4 weeks ago.  The children knew that they were coming, so they were naturally very curious and excited to have them set up in their dorms.  I put one in the girls’ dorm, and one in the boys.  Sounds fair, I thought and so I’ll wait and see how these 2 play out and take the next step from there.

I asked the teachers to talk with the children about choosing 3 boys and 3 girls to take responsibility for the computers in terms of scheduling and just looking after the machines, but no-one wanted anything to do with it, much to my frustration.  I figured the only way you’ll have these computers taken care of properly is if the students themselves took on some level of ownership.  But this was a no-go, and teachers showed no signs of trying to enforce it.  But then, would you want it enforced?  I figured not, so I left it.

Overnight, the first night, I returned to the school only to find that the computer in the boys’ dorm was broken.  Hitting the power button resulted in nothing.  I figured the computer had blown and now I’d have to go and buy power surge protection in the form of UPSs (not a cheap option!).  So, I had to take the computer back home and then to the store to have it fixed.  Turns out it was nothing more than the CMOS needing reset.

Also, it turns out at this school they had a dead computer collecting dust and I also took it back home to investigate. Basically it just needed a new video card, and ฿500 or so later, it was fixed.  So this, along with the now-repaired computer I had supplied, we returned the equipment to the school.  I installed the two computers back into the boys dorm and one of the teachers then decided to take the rejuvenated computer into his personal bedroom for personal use.  Not what I’d planned at all… but what can you do?

The girls at the school have not presented, or have not done so far it seems, any problem with using the computers when they are permitted – i.e. during the day while in school, and early evening when they should be studying.  The boys on the otherhand have approached it differently and caused the headmaster to resort to removing the fuse from the power pack and returning it when they can use it.  The boys responded by removing the fuse themselves and not returning it.  So now, the computer in the boys dorm is very expensive paper-weight.

I have discussed this problem with both the headmaster and another Karen friend of mine and I came to the conclusion that while I have already bought 2 more computers for this school, only 1 will go there, and that one will go into the girls’ dorm.  The girls have shown a willingness to look after the computer and follow rules and guidelines laid out by the school.  I’m not going to waste my time and donor money on financing a computer program for those kids that aren’t appreciating it.  I have discussed this at length, and my friend who works closely with many of the schools believes it’s at least in-part a symptom of the children not appreciating the value of the things they are receiving.  They are effectively living on donations and hand-outs and so this computer is just another one of those.  If it breaks, something else will magically come along and fix/replace it.  Not this time unfortunately, and perhaps that’s the benefit this experiment will bring – teaching them to appreciate what you’ve been given.

Perhaps I’m being a little hard on them, but anyone who knows me well enough will have heard me say “You teach people how to treat you.”, usually when giving relationship advice 😉 but the principle still stands here.  They need to learn the lesson in life that there are consequences for the actions you take and I am not a bottomless pit of resources.  I am not short of schools to donate computers to, only time.

So what all have I spent money on so far?  Here’s the list:

  • 4 x second hand computer sets: computer, 17-inch monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers
  • 4 x sets of headphone+mic
  • 1 x PCI video card (to bring existing computer to life)
  • 1 x repair of old UPS
  • 1 x repair of flatscreen monitor
  • DVD-R and CD-R to create restoration images for the computers
  • Accessories such as 4-plug adapters, mouse mats etc.
  • Transport for the computers

Challenging

Honestly, this hasn’t been easy.  I have lost a number of weeks while trying to get the imports done, and I’ve got about 2 weeks left before I must leave Maesot, and leave Thailand in-fact because my tourist Visa expires on 28th August.

When I said earlier I “transported” the computers back and forth, I’m saying I had to negotiate transport in a hired-car each time to take the computers 20km through the back-roads – I cannot transport a computer set on the back of my motorbike.  These things also take up the time of those involved, while also costing money – and it all adds up.  There is therefore a lead-time from requesting transport, and getting it.  There is also the transport needed when buying the computers in-town and bringing them home to work on.  It’s just slow and I don’t have my own car to do it myself.  Such is life, and I’m not here for a holiday  🙂

I don’t believe I will be able to spend all the donation money before I leave Maesot, but I fully intend to return here with the next 6 months, and may even be able to do so in September.  If not, then it will probably be in January when I return from a trip home during the Christmas holidays.

Rewarding

It has been very rewarding personally to put these computers in here and hear that the kids have been using them.  Granted, the boys in the last few days have screwed up, but by all accounts, the girls are using their current computer and learning English on the language software I installed.  I have also acquired some Thai learning software so I’ll be rolling that out on all the new computers, and also installing it on the older ones.

After installing the second computer in the girls dorm, I’ll take some photos and upload them online so that you can see them in-place.  I’ll also be detailing in a future article all donations received and breakdown of costs so far and then the remaining monies to be spent when I return.

Thank you

I’d like to thank again all those that contributed to this project and allowed me to do what I’ve done so far.  There is heaps more to be done, but as I learn from the problems faced each time, they process gets better and better.  Thank you!  Photo-updates to follow soon!

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