Cathy's Technology



Some odds and ends of information about the technology I brought to Burkina Faso and how I used it

cds.wmf (8374 bytes)          

Technology I brought from home
Technology adventures at school
How I used technology in Africa
Ten ways I know I'm finding the right balance between American hi-tech and Burkina Faso's level of development (Spring 2000)
Want to contribute to the technology infrastructure in a developing nation?

 laptop.wmf (49846 bytes)

Technology I brought from home:

For several months before leaving the U.S. for Burkina Faso, I researched what kinds of technology to bring. I didn't know if I would have electricity (many volunteers here do not), but I hoped I would have access to power either at home or at school so that I could charge batteries. My goal was to travel light, but loaded with as much power as I could afford. As an older volunteer with a few resources at home, I was able to do this, but I also recognized the need to be discreet and not overwhelm my colleagues, students and friends with unattainable technological marvels.

I wanted to be able to use my computer for teaching small groups of colleagues or students about computers, as well as for my own day-to-day work. I had found that the national telephone company, ONATEL, provides Internet service, and I hoped I might be able to get at least occasional access, since communication with friends and family was important to me. 

I was fortunate to have access to a telephone and electricity in my house, and to have FASONET work often (usually a lesson in patience). Below is a list of the technological tools and software that shaped my Peace Corps experience, for better or worse, and made my website possible while I was in Burkina Faso:

Camera6.wmf (3612 bytes)

Gateway Solo 5150 notebook computer with two interchangeable drives (a CD/DVD drive and a SuperDisk (LS-120)/floppy drive) equipped with its international power adaptor/transformer (I checked out power, durability, versatility, and weight before choosing this particular computer).

Gateway 5150 battery recharger and four rechargeable computer batteries (the recharger and 2 batteries were the casualties of petty theft; however, the recharger and one of the batteries were eventually returned in fairly good condition)

Xircom Global Access Realport 56k Fax/Data Modem (this is a very sturdy PCMCIA card that requires two slots)

SONY Miniature Walkman speakers, for working with small groups around the computer

Canon BJC-50 Color Inkjet Printer with scanner cartridge (the whole thing weighs 2 pounds, is half the size of the computer, and runs on battery or AC), and about 20 ink cartridges, which wasn't enough

Fujifilm MX-2700 digital camera, which is tiny and takes great pictures (even minimizing Internet download time by not using all 2 million pixels), along with two 16 MB memory cards, and an extra battery and recharger--I took thousands of pictures, discarded many of them, and never had to pay for film or developing (During my second year, I replaced my camera with a Fujifilm FinePix 6800zoom and a 64 MB memory card.)

Microsoft Encarta and Encarta Africana (I wish I had thought to look for them in French) and the National Geographic DVD set (all are wonderful for teaching);  I kept my software in a couple of zippered album-type cases in a cabinet to keep out dust.

A little $5 computer vacuum, several packages of CD-cleaning tissues, and various sizes of sturdy zip-top plastic bags, all of which were absolutely essential in this hot, dusty climate

A couple of heavy-duty surge suppressors, various telephone cords, and several electrical adaptors (before trying this kind of technology adventure, be sure to check specifications of AC adaptors/transformers you might want to use)

A couple of lightweight magazines and books on troubleshooting Windows and Microsoft Office

Optimism and prayers



Technology adventures at school:

My school is a large school (2000 students) with a few more resources than the smaller schools around the country. I think this may be one of the reasons I was placed there, with my interest in helping promote the use of technology in education. I had to find an appropriate balance between being perceived as a rich (?) American loaded with glitzy goodies and being a useful resource to facilitate the use of technology at the school.

At the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year (my first year of Peace Corps service), the Lycée Yamwaya had just received a donation of two used computers from a school in France. They consisted of a 386 with 4 MB of RAM and a 486 with 4 MB of RAM (both somewhat working), as well as a Hewlett-Packard Deskjet printer with no cartridge. My Proviseur (principal) asked if I knew anything about computers and could I help his secretary enter the 31 class lists (of 70 or so students each) on one of the computers. Actually, he asked me to do the typing, but I shifted his request to something a little more sustainable. I thus fell into my first small success--I taught Madame Kindo how to use Microsoft Excel to enter and sort class lists and related information. Madame Kindo has become an expert on Excel. She is terrific! (See her photo on the page of School Life.)

Meanwhile, I asked if I could convene a group of teachers to identify needs and to plan some very basic technology training. I was told by many folks that teachers here are stretched so thin with heavy teaching loads (including second and third jobs at private schools) that they might not be able to give much time. Au contraire. Wow! My colleagues were like a fire waiting to be ignited. We had to limit participation on the planning committee to 8 very eager teachers, and everyone (of the 48 teachers) wanted training.

I had also been told that there were a few old computers at the school, all with many viruses and other problems, none of which had been used recently. Tackling the concrete challenges within three days of our committee's first meeting, the group conducted a giant housecleaning day (even though I was unable to attend) where they emptied, cleaned and organized a room once planned for a couple of very old Apple 2 computers and more recently housing the handful of non-functional PCs. The Proviseur supported the effort by finding some tables and chairs to get the old computers off the floor. The next day, my colleague Sylla, a very knowledgeable and newly motivated mathematics teacher, started working to revive the four dead computers of the era of pre-286 to 386, all with many viruses, dead internal batteries, limited memory, slow speed, and defective keyboards. Sylla was incredible and ended up with two of these computers sort of working, for a total of four computers between the office and the computer lab. The computers were running operating systems ranging from partly functional MS-DOS to Windows 3.1 to Madame Kindo's 486 running Windows 95. We used 3 different versions of Word and Excel, requiring at least 10 minutes to print a page of anything. But the momentum was there !

Meanwhile, by a happy accident, I came across about six to eight surplus computers (depending on how you count partly working and non-working computers) from the American Embassy that they were unable to sell. We finally agreed on the last details to have them donated to the school. Some of them were 486s, one of which had 8 MB of RAM. My colleagues were quite excited. I was able to cajole a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Dave Thomas (a computer engineer teaching middle school math in rural eastern Burkina Faso), to take the cross-country trip and spend a week working with and training Sylla, who was quickly becoming a computer wizard. Between them, they worked miracles! They worked together to repair, upgrade, cannibalize and otherwise refurbish several computers. (See the photo on the Colleagues page.)

Also, thanks to Bert Waits and friends at The Ohio State University, we received some books on various versions of DOS, Windows, and MS Office--in French! My colleagues continue to pursue training and professional development, as well as avenues for obtaining more (newer perhaps) computers.

The graphing calculators donated by friends finally made it through the various bureaucracies to arrive at the end of the first year. I chose not to push for them to arrive earlier, since I did not want to be perceived as simply a supplier of technology, but rather to be respected first as a teacher. Very late during the first school year, while teachers were on strike, we were able to do some Saturday sessions on advanced algebra and pre-calculus topics using the TI-82 and TI-83 graphing calculators. It was no surprise that students immediately took to their use. I left a classroom set with a colleague on the condition that students get to use them. I think he may have quite a time keeping them for that use, since many of our other colleagues, even mathematics and science teachers, don't have such tools. I hope I can find some more calculators to donate for them. I have also made a promise that I will give a graphing calculator to any of my students who eventually pass the BAC test. So if anyone has TI-82 or TI-83 calculators, or other graphing calculators with manuals (in English or preferably French), please email me and I will find a way to get them to Burkina Faso.



How I used technology in my life and work in Africa

Before leaving for Burkina Faso, I thought a lot about whether I should try to live without technology during my Peace Corps service or whether I should use it as a tool in my work. Actually, the decision was fairly simple for me, since I have come to view technology as a powerful tool for educational access that can open all kinds of doors, especially if we can find ways to make it available to people who would not otherwise have access to it. So I chose to bring along a lean, mean set of tools and do as much as I could to open those doors. After one or two potential problem scares (like freeze-ups and shut-downs), I came to realize how much I really used these things in Burkina Faso. I don't know if that's good or bad, but here are a few of the ways I used my technology (don't forget I had those several weeks of strikes during which I could play with my technology a bit).

E-mail!!!!! To stay in touch with my family and friends, including sending group e-mail essays and receiving electronic pictures of my grandchildren (thanks in part to ONATEL, the national telephone company here, and Hotmail). Internet access was slow and erratic at best, but not bad for a developing nation.
To download the 500-page manual--in French--for the TI-83 calculators I used with my students.
To take, store, retrieve, print, and arrange my hundreds (eventually thousands) of digital photos. I even made a couple of electronic photo albums and slide shows, and I used Spin Panorama to play with panorama digital photos. Many (not all) people in Burkina Faso love to have their picture taken, especially when I could show them the image in the 'box' right after I took it, and I was able to erase the ones that didn't work out (right away) to change the settings and try again or to make more room for other pictures.
To prepare and present a Power Point presentation to my technology committee at school on some of the ways technology could be used. I also used Power Point to do a presentation (with lots of photos) at Texas' Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching when I went home for a visit in July 2000.
To print my tests for school. Sometimes I printed all the copies myself, but eventually we dug out an old machine in the Proviseur's office that could burn stencils for running off copies. Unfortunately, he worried that the machine would break, and I found out later that he wouldn't let other teachers use it. Eventually, Sylla was able to revive an impact printer from the Embassy-donated materials, and we were able to print stencils directly. We were fortunate to be a large enough school to afford paper.
To record grades and calculate "moyennes" (averages) for 300 students, and then to teach colleagues how to do the same thing so that they could improve their accuracy and save time. This is a huge task for teachers because of the numbers of students in their classes. They seem to be continuing to use their computers to do this task even after my departure.
To make revisable seating charts so that I could try to learn some of the names of my students (and to make copies for my colleagues and 'chefs de classe' who also requested them).
To conduct at my home individual and small group training on the basics of Internet, for both students and colleagues, including helping them open email accounts. (A few of them use a new Internet establishment in town to send messages from time to time, and they say they have convinced the new Proviseur to work on an Internet connection for the school.)
To let small groups of students learn about the United States, the world, and even their home territory, with Microsoft Encarta, Encarta Africana, and National Geographic software.
To develop this website during the first student strike (Thanksgiving of my first year).
To write my journal essays about life in Burkina Faso.
To print my Peace Corps Volunteer business cards; later a few students used the same idea to print cards for themselves.
To print invitation letters, thank you letters, proposals, information flyers, etc. for various projects of fellow Peace Corps volunteers, colleagues, and students.
To print yearbooks for the 16 local village girls who attended the Peace Corps Girls' Development Conference in April 2000.
To print a map of Burkina Faso (downloaded from the Internet) for a student who wanted to include one in a school project.
To print bilingual Thanksgiving cards explaining the celebration in French and English to our Burkinabè Thanksgiving guests.
To print African Christmas tags for Christmas presents.
To print my Christmas signs (in English, French, and Mooré) for the front of my house.
To run home (on my bike) and check out how to do something in MS Excel in English before going back to school to teach Madame Kindo some special procedure for working with the class lists in MS Excel in French.
To maintain a spreadsheet of my telephone calls and Peace Corps reimbursement records.
To receive electronic copies of reports and forms from the Peace Corps office in Ouagadougou without having to go there, and to print forms and letterhead without having to go there and get them.
To enter and update the revised Peace Corps education plan as the committee meeting was taking place, printing copies at the end of the meeting to present to a training group the next day.
To look up words in the dictionary (I had American Heritage installed).
To make a correlation chart of songs between two different songbooks used at church and to type and distribute the words to several songs in English and French.
To make miscellaneous forms and information sheets for friends and colleagues.
To print and bring a gift of photos to the family of the elderly woman who had just returned from Mecca.
To let fellow Peace Corps volunteers stay in touch with family, friends, and loved ones.
To do inexpensive real-time chatting between me (or other volunteers) and loved ones.
To play games and otherwise amuse myself when I was avoiding doing something more constructive.
To do many other little things I am sure I have forgotten.


Ten ways I know I'm finding a good balance between American hi-tech and Burkina Faso's level of development (written spring 2000):

My favorite place to hang out is the computer lab ("Salle d'Informatique"), which originally consisted of a hodge-podge of 4 mostly-functional computers with half-broken mice and various non-functional monitors, drives, etc. sitting on wobbly tables of various sizes with bent metal chairs, connected to one inkjet printer that takes 10 minutes to print a page, with one tiny overworked window air conditioner and a non-functional ceiling fan.
Upon finding out that we may receive a donation of a few computers, I start thinking of one 486 with 8 MB of RAM as a real step up.
I now "démarrer" my computer and open a new "fichier".
I get ecstatic that someone has sent me a mouse pad that I can give to the computer lab.
I can type French accents almost easily, and I know how to use MS Word’s AutoCorrect feature to shortcut typing French words.
I type and print my mathematics tests on the computer, and then burn a stencil so we can run off copies on an old mimeograph machine.
I now remember where the ‘m,’ ‘z,’ ‘q,’ ‘a,’ and period are on a non-American keyboard!
I can read and type in German after several rounds of email with German friends of my colleague, the Burkinabè German teacher who is looking for funding for a project to support girls (Project NEEED) going to school in the villages around Ouahigouya.
My visiting Peace Corps volunteers check their email more frequently than I do, because I have actually learned I can go a day or two without it.
There is more technological activity by Burkinabè folks at my house (Internet, email, printing, software lessons) than anywhere else in Ouahigouya.

Want to contribute to the technology infrastructure in a developing nation?

There are always many needs for help with technology in Burkina Faso, in my town of Ouahigouya, and at my Lycée Yamwaya. Many things are always appreciated, such as extra (working) mice, track pads, cables (especially parallel and serial cables), clean blank disks, ink cartridges/ribbons, good installable copies of Windows 3.1, Windows 95 (maybe Windows 98 eventually), and Microsoft Office (for running on 286-486 computers; preferably in French), manuals/guides/tutorials on the same software (preferably in French), computer magazines and books, on-line maintenance availability, AAA batteries for calculators, etc. If you have something you would like to donate or if you want to know current needs, email me and we will definitely work out the details. And thanks in advance for your contribution. As time goes on, needs may change, so email me if you have other suggestions or offerings.

About Burkina Faso Faces of Burkina Faso Towns and Cities Villages and Rural Life Art and Music Animals Gardening School Life Holidays PC Volunteers Cathy's Life as a PCV Cathy's Technology Reflections in the Dust Search Site Map