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On Technology and Trade Shows
Friday, 09 December 2011 Written by Jonathan Karpetz

On Technology and Trade ShowsI came to Rwanda to fix some computers. As any computer “expert” will tell you, they can never really be fixed… only managed. So I guess I came to Rwanda to manage some computers. Of course any “expert” on technology will tell you that managing technology isn’t about the physical device, it is about managing the person using it.

So I came to Rwanda to manage some people using some computers. How did we end up together at a trade show in Kigali four weeks later? I am no expert on writing but I will see what can be managed on this computer I just fixed.

My first impression of Rwanda was the endless white lights that glow across the hills of Kigali in the night. They welcomed my flight like one giant landing strip. These lights have come to represent the rapid progress of power lines and technology that stretches far across this small nation. As we exited Kigali towards Kivumu my hosts talked a great deal about the new street lights that were extending outwards along the highways away from the capital. Eventually those street lights gave way to the small groups of lights representing the villages near and far. Eventually we arrived in Kivumu greeted by a lone gate light that marked the residence.

All of these lights marked a trail of power that finally extended to Kivumu about 6 months before I arrived.  Although the school had solar power previously, the arrival of consistently available power meant that the 30 or so donated computers could finally be put to full time use. That is of course if they were in all in excellent working order… which they weren’t. The funny thing about donated technology is that it is often not in the best shape after a bunch of previous users have managed to hobble the systems with all sorts of programs and malware that makes using the computers a chore.

I dove into investigating the state of the computers on day one with my volunteer colleague Hrvoje, a Croatian from Zagreb. We took on each computer or laptop one by one with the aim of bringing each system up to a minimal standard of functionality. That standard was an updated Windows XP along with an office suite, anti-virus software, and typing program. After about 6 days of laboring away on the systems, and a trip to Kigali’s technology district for parts, we mostly arrived at that standard. Unfortunately our prize for succeeding was the power blowing up the next morning.

Our first thought was that our new, and powerful!, computer lab was more than the school’s supply could handle. Unfortunately there was a much larger problem with the grid. One of the main lines to the buildings was shorting quite badly. Significant repairs had to be made! So significant, in fact, that they are still ongoing. The gentleman from Uganda, upon his third visit in the last many weeks to Kivumu, looked more than a little tired of his return to us.

With the lack of consistently available power we turned our attention to a new project of installing a school wide audio system for music and announcements. The project called for a centralized audio solution that broadcast sound to self-powered speakers in each classroom. After another trip to Kigali and significant help from Salomon, a teacher at the school, we had an excellent system installed... with no power to run it. I expect local noise complaints after we extensively test it once the power returns.

Fortunately we were able to put part of the system to the test on the second Saturday of my stay at Vjeko. The school year runs from January to November here, which meant that a large celebration was planned by the students at the end of their tests. I happen to be a Disc Jockey at home, which means I travel with a large library of music and the means to play it at all times. With our new audio setup in hand I strung together some speakers and broke out the latest international dance hits for the celebration. It was one of the best experiences DJing I have ever had. It was a joyous crowd that danced long and hard until it was time to head home. The music attracted many onlookers from the community which added to the atmosphere.

About a week later a call came from Kavumu about a trade show that was starting the following Thursday. After the initial surprise of receiving an invitation the reality set in that we had to organize an entire trade show weekend, with no funds, in less than a week. After a little deliberation it was decided we would wow the crowd with an audio visual presentation that incorporated video from the school’s website, a slide show from the archives, along with a power point presentation, and physical examples from the various disciplines.

This morning a small van arrived at 5:30 AM and drove our gear, along with 9 passengers, to the Expo 2011 grounds in Gikondo, Kigali. After a couple of hours setting up the display we stood back to look at our creation. For a sever lack of time and funds I think it came together very well. We have a massive display that attracts all walkers by, along with great dance music, and a lot of excellent displays. Four teachers will be at the booth all weekend talking to people from all backgrounds about the school and its future. I think they will do an excellent job.  Unfortunately the power just went out so we will see if this was a brilliant setup or another exercise in managing expectations...

In either case I will manage it with a smile. This weekend the teachers are telling their country about the school at Expo 2011. Today I am telling you about another chapter in their life here. The kindness of all the people in and around the community of Kivumu and the school deserve all of our support. I haven’t really managed to do much except be won over by their hearts and maybe break a couple computers along the way. I hope to have won them over a little as well.

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