A group of Carnegie Mellon students based in the U.S has stayed committed to supporting schoolchildren in Rwanda.
Through Rwanda project this summer about eight to 10 students each from the Pittsburgh and Qatar campuses will spend their two to three weeks visit working with the schoolchildren.
The group partnered with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a nonprofit organization that offers inexpensive laptops to children in Rwanda and other developing countries, and has so far distributed 110,000 laptops to children in Rwanda.
Alexander Rothera, a senior fine art and human and computer interaction double major and member of the Project Rwanda team said there was this really incredible moment when we first got there.
and they had this giant padlock on the storage closet that they opened up. And then he opens the door, and there’s a mound of
laptops covered in dust. They were brand new, and no one had opened them. The school that we went to had 400 laptops unused.”
During their visit, the Carnegie Mellon students were able to put all 400 laptops into use. Many of these Rwandan students had never used a computer before.
Through the help of talented translators, the Carnegie Mellon students taught them simple gestures, such as left clicking and right clicking. They instructed students in programming by having them play logic games and also encouraged students to use their creativity through acting and public speaking classes.
The Carnegie Mellon students were only able to work with two grades of Rwandan students in a single primary school and were unable to connect with the teachers on summer break.
In order to reach out to more students, Project Rwanda is working to expand its program.
When this project was initiated, it was unforeseen that a Carnegie Mellon campus would be started in Rwanda.
Carnegie Mellon Pittsburgh’s Project Rwanda is now hoping to partner with both the campuses in Qatar and Rwanda to grow the program and develop a continuous presence among Rwandan primary school students.
Rwanda is often associated with war and genocide, so many questions why Rwanda was chosen as the site of the project. However, Rwanda is also one of the fastest-developing African countries.
The Rwanda Ministry of Education outlines a priority of “making post-basic education more accessible and more relevant to our national needs.”
“Maybe [the children] can one day go to a school like CMU in Rwanda. It’s something that no one has heard of before, and something that the president of Rwanda really supports. Part of his initiative is rebuilding Rwanda after the years of genocide through technological education,” Faradji said.
Rothera added that it’s important to look at “the great things that can happen in the country, and how incredible the students are at learning—basically, the potential for such a small country. They have great plans and leadership for how to move forward.”
Project Rwanda teaches primary school students in Kigali, Rwanda, how to use these laptops through classes in programming, typing, and creative thinking.
Goals of the project include establishing a Mentor-Mentee program between Carnegie Mellon Rwanda graduate students and local youths; launching a One Day Summer Reunion for children who have participated in the program since 2010; and using cross-campus video conferencing to connect youths from Rwanda, Qatar, and Pittsburgh.
Both Faradji and Rothera are planning to stay involved with Project Rwanda after graduating from Carnegie Mellon this spring.