My students in 2007My first trip to Africa was in 2007. I went by myself, joining a team of Global Volunteers from all over the United States. I knew no one and had never been to that part of the world, having traveled mostly to the Far East and Europe. But I am an avid reader and had read five books in a row about Africa, including Barack Obama’s book ‘Dreams of My Father.’ I felt that I was being called to Africa. Joining an established organization with a longstanding presence in Tanzania seemed a perfect way to experience the country.

I lived in a mission house in a small, rural village in East Africa called Pommern in Tanzania. It was a 13 hour drive from the capital of Dar Es salaam. I was teaching computers to secondary school students in a small computer lab that had been donated by a previous volunteer. I saw twelve laptops with 5 faces in front of each screen eagerly wanting to learn everything I could teach them. They soaked up my knowledge like sponges and returned each and every day they could find the free time.

The road to success in the computer lab began with the patience to follow the lessons of the program Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. My own daughter had used this program in middle school to learn how to type. I impressed upon my students that speed was valuable to learn when typing and I made this real to them by telling them that the Internet cafes in the city charge by the half hour. Money being scarce, they were easily persuaded to stick with the training until they could type quickly and with accuracy. I also researched and shared with them that if they were able to attend college some day, the universities in Tanzania require students to submit all assignments typed and that the school libraries had plenty of computers for this use.

This indeed proved strong motivation to learn. I taught them Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and, for those who persevered, I taught them Microsoft PowerPoint.

When all these programs had been mastered, their reward was to be able to ask the school headmaster for one sheet of paper on which to print out a page of their best writing, with added clip art to show their skills off to their friends.

One piece of paper!

Their joy was palpable and two thirds of the kids used their one sheet of paper to print out a thank you note to me to express their gratitude for teaching them what I know. I still have these pages in my nightstand as a reminder to me of my first trip to Africa and they are some of my most prized possessions!