Softchoice Funds Ongoing Support for Gashora Lab

Two-years ago, 10 Softchoice employees undertook a humanitarian mission to Rwanda in partnership with Developing World Connections.  With laptops donated by Lenovo Canada, the team spent two weeks setting up a computer lab at the Primary School in the town of Gashora – the very first of its kind. The completion of the project was a big win for the team and, more importantly, the local community.

Fast forward two-years.

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A Quote with Meaning

As we make our way home it is good to bear this in mind:

“Inability to compete with technological competence will compel billions of people into a survival stride of long hours and degrading work, sometimes far from their homes, driven to exhaustion, dropped to their knees to beg on behalf of spouses and children for shelter, medical care and rations.”

Rwandan President Paul Kagame World Technology Summit 16 July 2009

The final day in Gashora!

We began the day extremely early as we realized that we had numerous tasks to complete as a team to ensure that our projects were a success. There were a million thoughts and emotions going through our minds that morning as we prepared for such an important day. How will the people react to the unveiling of the computer lab? How will they react to the ceremony at their new basketball court? Will the projects be a success after we leave? How will we be able to say goodbye to these people that we have become so attached too? The plan was to divide and conquer. There was a team that was focused on ensuring that the final donations were given to the community leaders with an explanation that we wanted those most in need to receive them. I never knew giving could be such a difficult task to perform. We had many donations given to us by our friends and family, but it was not enough for every person in the Gashora community. It is extremely difficult to say no to these people as they all need so much but we recognized that it was a necessary action.
The second team was focused on the final touches of the computer lab. Late the night before we were able to get the satellite installed at the computer lab and we got the internet up and running. It was a major milestone and one that we had been waiting for since the day we arrived. In just a few hours we had to teach the teachers how to start up the satellite and get the internet up and how to troubleshoot connectivity issues. We also wanted to give a lesson on how to use the internet. They picked everything up very quickly and took incredible notes for the future. Once we had the people up and running and surfing the web it was miraculous! They were amazed by how much information was at their fingertips! The principle Janvier was able to follow his favorite football teams online! Martin was saving pages of lessons that he found for computer training in Kinyarwandan by searching on Google Rwanda and Dancille was reading the news on BBC. I soon realized that we took the internet for granted in North America. What we had given these people is a window to a world of information that they have never had. The opportunity for learning, for communicating and for personal development was endless. We had given these people hope for a bright future! What a great feeling!
This blog post will continue as the power keeps shutting down in our Kigali hotel!

Music is universal


As Mel mentioned in her last blog, yesterday on the worksite we had tons of fun.  What really stood out for me was the fact that we are now working as a cohesive unit with these 40+ men (and one woman) on the worksite.  We invested in an old fashioned boom box and had it running on batteries for about 8 out of the 11 hours we were working.  There was one gentleman in particular who was really enjoying the Ugandan dance CD that we were playing.  They even recognized some of the songs.  Once the batteries burned out we were treated to local song and dance while lugging concrete trays.  It was so amazing, we hardly even noticed when it started to rain and worked right through that light storm.  Nick got a video so hopefully we’ll be able to share that with you when we get home.  Over the last 3 days, we have determined that our huge language barrier is no longer an issue.  What an incredible connection we’ve made with this village.



Shopping in Kagili

Yesterday I went to Kagili (the capital city) in order to get some things we needed for the project.  This proved to be an adventure.   The capital city is about 45 minutes drive away but as you all know our mode of transport has been our bikes so we needed to find some other way to get to Kagili.  We rode the public transportation which is basically a big van that squeezes 18 people in (including the driver) and stops at every town along the way. There is no such thing as personal space in Rwanda.  When I got on the public transportation everyone was staring.  I asked Lama, my guide why I was so interesting and he indicated the people have probably never seen a white woman on the bus.  Softchoice Cares is all about changing perceptions!

  When we got to Kagali 2 hours later (it is normally a 45 minute drive when not traveling by public transportation) we started on our list.  We found it difficult to change money as no exchange place will take bills that were made before 2006. You also can’t pay by credit card and no one has heard of an ATM here.  After visiting 4 exchange places we found a bank that would take the US cash and let us change it to Rwandan Francs. 

  Kagili is a big city and one of the best ways to get around is a boatabota (a small motor bike).  Of course these individuals want to get to the destination as quickly as possible so they weave in and out of traffic.  I almost lost my lunch.

  After visiting over 30 stores in a super busy city which has streets full of people we were able to get all our shopping done in order to complete our project.  With our bags full of paint, brushes, batteries and glue we boarded the van to go home to our rural village in Gashora.  I couldn’t help but feel I was kind of going back to my African home. 

The day the internet arrived

On October 21st 2009, the day the Internet arrived in Gashora!  After several “guarantees” of installation and a couple different companies, the satellite installation truck rolled into the primary school grounds midday.  Think of the satellite dishes that we had in the 80’s.  Very big, and it had to be pointed in the right direction to pick up the signal.  Looks don’t matter here.  After 6 hours of installation, the Gashora Primary School was connected.  It’s hard to comprehend how much the Internet will change the school and the community, but it’s going to be significant.  The community doesn’t have electricity, so the lab is running off a generator until electricity arrives (supposedly by the end of 2009).  To put it into perspective, our meeting this afternoon with community leaders ran long.  The sun set 30 minutes earlier and the only light was coming from cell phones.  We have been riding our bikes to and from work everyday.  The unpaved, weather eroded roads are tricky to nagivate during the day.  Without light, it’s impossible.  To get back to our hotel, we had a motorcycle and truck escort that provided light while we rode our bikes.  Oh yea, it took us about 30 minutes to figure out how we were going to get home..  Have you tried riding your bike in the dark? 
Tomorrow is our last day in Gashora.  To celebrate the completion of the computer lab and the sports facilities, we invited print and tv media to the festivities, or so we thought.  Peter and I worked with Lama this afternoon putting together a media release.  Considering it was everyone’s first attempt at a media release, I thought we did a good job. When we finished the release, we talked about who we were going to send it to, and how.  We only have access to Internet and power a few hours a day at night when the generator is running.  It’s tough to send out a media release midday when you don’t have the Internet.  It turns out that even if we had access to power and the Internet, the media outlets don’t.  🙂 
It’s going to be tough to leave, but we have done some incredible work.  Our last update from Gashora..   🙁