This past month has been very busy and exciting — new opportunities have been popping up for me left and right, and it’s been all I can do to hold on for the ride!
There’s a lot here, so I’m going to just start with an outline that briefly sums up each project I’ve been working on and then links to the longer description further down the page.
Master Isaac’s Shop: Master Isaac, the electronic technician I’m living and working with, has almost completed his shop! I’m hoping we’ll be able to start working there by the new year. Read more…
Importing Used Electronics: I’m in the process of trying to figure out how to import used electronics from the states for my friend Master to sell in his shop. If it works, maybe I’ll found a nonprofit! Read more…
Building School Computer Labs: A local Liberian NGO has requested my help in renovating a school computer lab! Read more…
Educational Research: I’m partnering with Universal Outreach Foundation (UOF) to develop novel educational programs here in Liberia as well as try to study and diagnose the challenges in education we’re experiencing here. Read more…
I’m super excited about all these things brewing! But I could really use your help! Here are some needs that I have right now that you might be able to help me with:
- Do you enjoy reading my updates on this blog? If so, consider supporting my operating costs on my Patreon page!
- Do you have any old laptops, cellphones, tablets, AC laptop adapters, monitors, SD cards, or USB drives that you don’t need anymore? If you can get items to my parent’s house in Santa Clara, I can take care of the shipping from there! Please let me know!
- Do you know any Liberians in the SF Bay Area? I’m trying to try to find a “container share” (a collective of people that all go in together on a shipping container) from the SF Bay Area to Liberia — if you know any Liberians in the SF Bay Area that might have friends that do this, please let me know!
- Do you know any Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs)? I’m looking for people in academia to help oversee research here, specifically multicultural SLPs. If you have any connections in this area, please let me know!
Thank you for your support!
I’ve been continuing to spend most of my time living and working with Master Isaac, my electronic technician friend. (He earned the name Master as a kid after he built a radio station for his home county from scratch). I’ll sometimes help with people’s computer problems when it is needed, but for now my typical day is mostly spent writing emails and networking for my other projects while Master fixes people’s TVs and phones.
As I mentioned back in October, Master is building a shop for us to work out of in his yard. (Right now we’re in a temporary structure). Master has been putting all his resources into finishing this shop — any money he gets from repairing people’s equipment goes directly into the building. This means we’ve been living very simply, struggling to make ends meet. But the construction is nearing completion, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to start working in there by the New Year!
Finishing the shop will be a big milestone for us because we’ll be able to start business in earnest. We’ll finally have a proper workbench to do our repairs, areas for customers to sit, and space for students that can work for us as we mentor and train them. When I originally met Master two years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer he was operating in this way — many customers, many students — but an unfortunate series of events (including the Ebola epidemic) cut him down and so he’s been struggling to rebuild ever since. For Master, finishing this shop means getting his old life back!
Master has been talking to me a lot about wanting to import used electronics from the states to sell here in Liberia, and so I’ve been researching how to go about this, trying to learn about business licenses, taxes, customs, etc. so that I help make this possible.
There are so many things that we throw away in the states that people can use here — even simple things, like laptop AC adapters are in high demand. I’d love to be able to start a nonprofit in the states that could collect and ship things here to be refurbished and resold (and then I could use the profits to support my other educational efforts here).
So if you’re in the states right now reading this and have old laptops, cellphones, tablets, AC laptop adapters, monitors, SD cards, or USB drives please let me know! If you can get items to my parent’s house in Santa Clara, I’ll take care of the shipping from there. I haven’t established a nonprofit yet because I’d like to first try to ship some things independently for my friend to try selling here on a small scale just to see what the process is like.
My main challenge right now is that I am looking for a “container share” to ship items out of the SF Bay Area to Liberia. Container shares allow a group of people to come together and share the shipping costs of a container when they don’t need the entire space. I’ve found people who run container shares on the east coast, but if anyone knows of any Liberian container shares operating in the Bay Area (or people who might know how to find one), please let me know! I really appreciate it!
I was recently approached by the members of Techno-Education Liberia (TED), a local Liberian NGO in Kakata that wants my help in their dream of building and managing computer labs in Liberian schools.
It’s a very exciting prospect — technology in education is a fast developing and exciting frontier. Many resources have been developed that can turn a regular computer lab into an educational resource that rivals even the most well-stocked traditional library: Offline versions of Khan Academy, Wikipedia, and other online research and learning resources can be downloaded and provided to machines without internet connections. (Check out the RACHEL project, for example)
Most schools in Liberia do not have computer labs, so oftentimes people will come in from outside and provide a school with a computer lab only to find they did not properly develop the local support systems to insure that the lab is being well used and maintained. This is the gap that TED Liberia aims to fill. They can provide the support on the ground in a way that someone from the outside cannot: the founding members come from both a technical and Liberian background and have all worked in the education sector, making them uniquely equipped to anticipate and address the challenges in providing computing resources to schools in Liberia.
We’re starting by trying to rehabilitate the computer lab at one of the public schools in Kakata. TED Liberia has already run two computer training programs at the school for teachers and community members (and they ran the training without outside support — TED members paid for the training with their own money), and they are currently running a small, before-school computer literacy class in the lab for students that can afford to pay a tuition that keeps the generator running. They’d like to scale the number of students up, so that they can drive down the individual cost per student.
Unfortunately out of the 48 available computers in the lab, only 18 are functioning. They have two generators, but the newer one needs repair before it can provide power and the older one is on its way out. So we’re to putting together a plan and proposal that we can use to find the funding we need to get the equipment running and a sustainable computer literacy program started at the school.
I’ve been talking a lot recently with my friends at Universal Outreach Foundation (UOF) about my interest in developing novel ways to boost education levels here in Liberia.
Before I joined the Peace Corps, I worked as a clinician at Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, a research-based program for boosting fluency in children and adults with challenges in literacy. This was the first time I saw how education could be approached and developed in a scientific manner — we don’t have to rely on opinion and anecdote when designing programs, but we can test our intuitions with scientific method.
In the states, when a child is having trouble in school, we give them tests to help diagnose what is happening and to design an intervention that can best help them succeed. Sometimes issues go undiagnosed and manifest in unexpected ways. For example, say your child is doing poorly in their classes — your first instinct might be to give them extra tutoring. But what if their problem all along was that they’re nearsighted and simply couldn’t see the whiteboard? If you simply make interventions without trying to diagnose your problem first, it’s easy to make mistakes.
In Liberia there are huge educational gaps, especially in literacy. Our instinct might be to try to implement phonics programs for children in schools… but are we sure that these programs (that were developed outside of Liberia) are the optimal way of addressing the problem for Liberians? Liberian English is not Standard English; there’s overlap, but it’s basically a second language. Even the phonetic sounds in Liberian English are significantly different from Standard English. How does this impact the efficacy of a phonics program? Do we need to teach phonics in Liberian English before we move to Standard English, for example? We need to study this!
And there’s all kinds of other considerations — In addition to educational disruption, this country experienced widespread malnutrition and physical/mental/emotional trauma during the civil crisis. Has this had an effect on the learning potential for people in certain demographics or geographic locations? If so, how dramatic and widespread are these effects and how can we mitigate these challenges?
So I’ve been reading up on educational research in these areas and starting to reach out to professors and other people in academia that might be interested in partnering with me and UOF to run some studies here. We have all the resources to support a research program, we just need people in academia to oversee our efforts! I’m especially looking for multicultural Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs)… if any of you have connections here, please let me know!
In the meantime, I’m beginning to start working on literacy in the evenings with Master Isaac’s children to start to get some hands-on intuition of the challenges we’re facing and get a head start trying to develop a custom Liberian literacy program. Wish me luck!
Thank you to all who made it to the end of this blog post! I appreciate all for your well-wishes and support… I’m so happy to be here and see all my interests and passions coming together in a wonderful web of projects. I’m excited to see what will start happening in these next coming months!