My particular passion is giving needy schoolchildren a chance to join the digital age with old hardware and software that in a country like the US we would typically throw away. I believe that if you can help schoolchildren learn better you can help much more than just their grades: you can help their entire country. This is the essence of the Smart Kids Foundation.
In 2012 I had the chance to test the idea. Using a donation of some working and non-working laptops, I set off for Baguio City, in the Northern Philippines. I'd salvaged three of the laptops and preloaded them with a bunch of cheap educational software: an encyclopaedia, math software, educational games, history, an atlas, etc. Thanks to the wonder of Facebook I got in touch with an old friend who promised to help me find some schools to talk to.
It didn't take long to find a 1,000 student school and get an interview with the principal.
His school was a special education academy combining special needs and exceptional students. While they actually had a plan already to place a computer in each classroom, they had no money to make it happen. Their annual budget of P120,000 seemed impressive until I did the math and realized that it covered not only IT, but all maintenance, and came out to less than $3 per student. When I told him that I had brought some laptops for his classrooms, he beamed and said, "That is great, we need thirty-six!"
Growing up in third-world countries I saw first-hand how their education systems were under-funded and lacked basic supplies and tools for teaching. But it wasn't till then that I realized how great the need actually was. I could have literally brought hundreds of laptops and spent months distributing them and still not covered a fraction of the area I was in.
The children learn how to use their new laptop
SMART KIDS WINS 2ND PLACE!
HAPPY HOLLOW ELEMENTARY RECEIVES FIRST LAPTOP!
Another school, a more rural school in the nearby indigenous village of Happy Hollow, involved a 30 minute walk down a steep mountainside. I ran into a man walking up the hill. I said hello, and he mentioned that his mom was a teacher at the school. He agreed to escort me there.
The principal there was overjoyed that we showed up out of the blue. The school only had a single computer, and it was in her office. We walked through the dirt courtyard with a bare basketball hoop on one side and into the cinder block classrooms. I pulled the laptop out of my backpack and gave it to her 6th grade class. The excitement was palpable—it was like Christmas. I set up the machine and showed them how to use it. One boy took to it naturally and started showing the other students around.
I've since contacted the schools to ask about how the laptops are being used. They have been described as "very helpful" and used "very much in their lessons."
It's reports like these that make it all worthwhile. But Smart Kids can't do it alone. We need help both with acquiring and preparing laptops, and finding the schools to give them to. Small amounts of Euros and Dollars turns into large amounts of Pesos, Dinars, and wherever else this will lead. Please consider a donation to help us continue to make trips like these.
In December, Smart Kids was ecstatic to learn that it had won 2nd place in the 2012 Thomson Reuters Community Champion Awards and was awarded a prize of $10,000! The foundation is planning on using the prize to fund additional trips and set up a sustainable operation in the Philippines.