Technology from the border

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It’s a little strange being a walking Apple store in the middle of nowhere. I’m 5km from India’s border in Bhairahawa, surrounded by mammoth mosquitoes, mud, and heat I haven’t felt for weeks in Kathmandu. In my luggage I have enough technology to set up my own shop on the corner: an iPad, laptop, iPhone, speakers, portable battery-operated color printer, HD projector the size of my iPhone, camera, Flip HD camera, and the cords/memory cards/batteries/cables that go with it all. Amazingly, I am without four things I really need: an umbrella, ball point pen, earplugs, and mosquito repellent. As I write I’m devising a plan to ward off the mozzies in my room to avoid dreams of malaria dancing in my head while I sleep. So far I am still wearing my scarf and long socks from this morning’s crisp Kathmandu air even though it is roasting. I like a protected neck and toes. Festival music blares and beats so loudly It feels like a small earthquake on my thin mattress.

I am here to teach another group of ACCESS students about technology. This is a fun but in no way easy assignment. These are kids who struggle for the basic necessities of life and who come from several surrounding villages to receive 5 hours of English language per week. They all make great sacrifices to attend but feel it a great honor to learn English. I  had an hour and a half with two classes of 20 students each to teach them everything I could about technology. I spent a lot of time thinking of what I could teach them that would be useful, applicable, and interesting. But in the end, as usual, they are the ones who taught me.

If any of your American kids need a lesson in respect, I have the perfect place to send them. They didn’t enter the classroom until formally invited in and then greeted me by name and ‘Namaste’ as they entered. Each student gave me fresh-picked flowers. Forty bouquets of flowers! If I handed them a piece of paper or quiz, they stood to receive it. They did not make a sound and listened intently to every word I spoke. When called on to speak they stood and spoke clearly. They kept eye contact. They sang me two welcome songs: “Oh Susanna” and “She’ll be coming ’round the mountain.” One boy read a poem he had written. In case you missed the memo, these are teenagers.

Hence the challenge. What could I possibly teach them?  I mean, only four of the 40 have ever even used a computer. Briefly! A room full of teenagers who have not once in their lives sat down at a computer!

I revised my game plan based on what I have learned from my other teaching experience with ACCESS students and in the end I think it was my most successful mission yet.

So what did I do? Well, what would you do? I started somewhere.

I introduced myself using a multimedia Keynote presentation on the projector (with speakers). I told them I had two objectives with it: one, to introduce them to an American; and two, to show them how in just a few minutes technology could help them learn about something they otherwise knew nothing about. In this case, me. I showed them a trailer I had created of the Teej celebration in Kathmandu, and a trailer my son made of our India trip. They loved it! There is something energizing about a darkened room and watching, hearing, and feeling something on a big screen. It’s not on their daily agenda here. I gave them a short quiz on 5 technology terms and went over each answer. I demonstrated a network and the World Wide Web by using yarn strung around the room. The best part that I incorporated this time was to divide them into groups and let each group play with a tool. I gave one group the camera and watched as they went from holding it backwards (I’ve got some great close-ups of noses) and pushing the wrong buttons, to zooming in and taking a decent picture. They had me pose in a dozen ways, holding this bouquet of flowers or that one. My smile muscles are sore. Another group took the Flip and disappeared outside. I caught glimpses of them enacting scenes and narration and can’t wait to look at the footage. They were quite the drama stars. I gave the last group the iPad. That was a huge hit and confirmed my knowledge of how intuitive it is. It took them about a minute to figure it out and they were trying out different apps and each vying for a turn to swipe and tap. Thanks, Steve. Isn’t that what we all enjoy, the chance to play and tinker with gadgets?

Their favorite app was rather pointless but had them all laughing hard. Jib-Jab, of Elf Yourself Christmas movie fame, has a story app that inserts their picture into an animated pizza-making adventure. They loved watching their own face rolling out the dough, spreading the sauce and cheese, riding a bike, and doing a dance. I didn’t have the heart to point out there were both beef and pork on the pizza…

Before the students arrived I spent a few hours with the four English teachers. They are educated people who want to help these students learn and do a wonderful job. While much of our time was spent trying to get their Internet up and running, even though I insisted we would be fine without it, they were eager and willing learners. I showed them some of the power behind Google docs and they want to create a class blog. I think they will.

We all left in high spirits. One girl gave me a book she made. On the front are ornate wooden window cutouts and her written note, “Let’s have a look in our Nepal through this beautiful windows.” She illustrated a stupa and lovely Everest scene. Then she wrote this letter to me, “Dear Madame, I would like to say thank you as you came in our class and teach us about the computer. I felt very happy. To tell you the truth, when I just going to start this class, at that time I just think this class teach us about english language only. But now we are learning about computer with someone like you. Now I am feeling very lucky. I made this card by myself and I hope you’ll like it and keep it and may this card always memorize our country Nepal.”

See what I mean? They teach me.

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