How Solar-Powered Computers Are Empowering Underprivileged Children

Hello Hubs in Nigeria

Hello Hubs in Nigeria. Photo courtesy of Tom Saater.

Attempts to educate underprivileged children and youth in rural areas without access to schooling area nothing new. There are many people and organizations who admirably want to help and showcase the importance of education; however, the issue becomes not only finding a solution that works, but also finding one that is sustainable and responsible. While Project Hello World still has a long way to go before they conquer the problem of eliminating the issue of lack of education, they’ve found a successful beginning in Nigeria.

Project Hello World was founded by Katrin Macmillan, who has a background in media and aid agency consulting, and Dr. Geoff Wells, an expert in community technology education and sustainable building technology, who believe every community has the cultural capital to begin solving their problems. They wanted help a support and accelerate the process. To Macmillan, education is the key to equality, and could help to lift many out of poverty.

Says Macmillan, “I have lived in Africa for many years. And every vulnerable community that I have lived and worked with has expressed a desire for their children to have a better life, and to tell their story – to exist to the world map. No matter how marginalized and impoverished, all people want to pass on their stories and share their heritage.”

It all started when Macmillan was staying with the Hamar Tribe in South Omo, on the Ethiopian border with Kenya. According to Macmillan, the Hamar are possibly the most marginalized people on earth and truly desire for their children to be educated, not to mention their existence and story to be documented.

“That’s when I called Roland Wells and Project Hello World was born!” says Macmillan. “We want to democratize education worldwide. As a start, by 2019 we aim to have reached over 2 million children with a limitless education.”

Project Hello World

Project Hello World. Photo courtesy of Tom Saater.

Hello Hubs

The key to the project is something called Hello Hubs, solar-powered computers that allow children to use educational software and play learning and skill-enhancing focused games. At the same time, these hubs collect data that allows Project Hello World staff to note the educational progress and usage of the hub. Onsite, a community support officer works with the children in person to offer another layer of dynamics.

hello hubs

Hello Hubs. Photo courtesy of Tom Saater.

A Sustainable Cycle

So, how do these children who have never seen a computer learn how to operate these Hello Hubs? What’s important to understand is these computers aren’t built for children, but by children. The project coordinators support them in doing this, and show them how to operate and maintain the technologies. The idea is that the spending of labor leads to an investment in maintaining the outdoor solar-powered computers — which allows access for all, even the homeless. From there, a community registration team is trained on how to use the computers once they’re built, and these team members then go on to train others. Once the hub is in place it is maintained by the community, although Project Hello World is available on Skype to provide guidance and training when needed.

These computers come loaded with educational programs and activities for children aged two and up, with some resources including KDE Education Porject, GCompris, Tux4kids projects and an application-filled Ubuntu Software Center. With this model, the Project Hello World team hopes to encourage communities to solve their own problems.

Macmillan provides an example, stating, “If they need a sanitation solution for their school we don’t provide one; we help them use the Internet to work out how they can build one themselves. This empowers a community to work and lift themselves out of poverty. The answers are out there and every community has the ability to start to solve their own problems with access to information.”

The Problem With Most Foreign Aid Projects

Which gets to the issue of what many organizations are potentially doing wrong: creating projects that leave impoverished communities dependent on outside support. For many projects, the process seems to be to define a community problem, go in, solve it and leave. Macmillan especially believes this model is harmful, as it also means the community doesn’t own these local developments and don’t have any investment in the project.

Says Macmillan, “Often I am asked for a well or a school, at first, as they know these are the things development workers usually have to offer. When I say that I don’t have these things with me, and ask if those are their needs — clean water and classrooms — they are sometimes confused by my presence. What am I doing there if not to give them something? It can take awhile to work out what their problems really are, and how they want us to tackle these problems, together.”

To learn more about Project Hello World, click here.

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Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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