Sentinel readers, community members help African village with computer lab

Photo by Emily Morris—Peace Corps volunteer Emily Morris, left, with Thaine Balde, 13, a resident of the village in south Senegal where Morris is working. Morris refers to Thaine as her “little sister.” Morris is a former Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reporter.



Despite the economic hardship beginning to affect the Grand Valley, many residents found the generosity in their hearts to help an African village this week.

On Monday the Haute Mamas blog on GJSentinel.com posted a plea from former Daily Sentinel reporter Emily Morris, asking for monetary donations to an organization called World Computer Exchange. 

Morris is a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in a village near the Kolda region of south Senegal. She is trying to build a computer lab and library to advance the education of the village children. Morris needed to raise $1,720 to provide 33 computers for her village.

The blog post was printed in the Tuesday edition of the Daily Sentinel, and many small donations from Grand Valley residents began pouring in.

More than $400 was donated by Haute Mama readers to her cause, and St. Mary’s Hospital will donate its used computer equipment to the organization. In three days, Morris received more than $2,000 via the Internet to complete her fundraising goal.

Local attorney Catherine Burkey said she read the article and donated because “I saw this young woman who had gone to Africa, leaving the comforts of our country, representing the ideals of Kennedy, and thought it was the very least I could do to show what we stand for.”

Burkey believes education is the “foundation and the redemption of the world.”

Local blogger Rick Castellini linked to the post at his site, Castellini on Computers at http://www.helpmerick.com.

The quick donations were more than Morris expected.

“The amazing outpouring of generosity has reminded me how wonderful people really are,” Morris wrote in an e-mail, “It makes me think of the saying, ‘Life isn’t fair, but people
try to be.’ ”

THE PEACE CORPS

Morris, 27, is a graduate of Penn State University. Her early career as a journalist led her to Oregon, Grand Junction and Florida. Joining the Peace Corps was something she had considered for a long time.

Morris had a realistic idea of what volunteering would be like. While visiting her sister, a volunteer in the Dominican Republic 10 years ago, Morris cried because her sister was in such an “awful place.”

A former boss remarked, “You’re just looking to find yourself,” when she told him her plans to volunteer. Morris remembers thinking, “That’s not what I’m doing at all!”

She wanted to make a difference in the world if she could.

Morris knew that much of her experience would be hard. She arrived in Senegal during the hot season. So hot, in fact, she had to lay wet strips of cloth across her body just to sleep at night.

“When it’s dark out I just don’t look up because I can see the mice running in circles around my hut where the grass roof meets the mud walls,” she said.

The scorpions are the size of a dollar bill.

She carries a picture of a fake boyfriend to fend off her village suitors.

Morris is fluent in French and learned Pulaar in order to speak with the villagers.

She’s been robbed, sprained her ankle, had to shower in public if at all and held newborn babies who were orphaned during childbirth.

And she has been kindly criticized for bringing computers and the Internet into this African village.

Morris thought a lot about the ethics of her project.

“Because the project is designed to be sustainable,” she explains, “I think it would be arrogant of me to deny them that when I have the ability to help.”

The village exists on subsistence farming and still has a “hungry” season. The children want progress, and they want to join the professional work force.

“How in good conscience can I tell them, ‘No, I’m not going to give you the skills. I think your way of life is too quaint. You don’t really want progress. You just think you do.’ ”

Morris blogs about her experiences in Senegal at me & me, http://www.emilyinsenegal.com.

Morris said she finds it ironic that a blog on the Internet is what helped make bringing the Internet to the village possible.

WORLD COMPUTER EXCHANGE

“This is an amazing program,” Morris said, “ and I fully support their mission.”

The World Computer Exchange is a nonprofit organization helping 65 developing countries acquire computers while keeping electronicwaste out of the landfill.

Volunteer professionals deliver, set up and maintain the systems worldwide with the help of cash and hardware donations.

In the past two years the organization has connected 1,079,110 children to a computer,

2,550 computers were provided to schools and libraries, and there are now more than 700 volunteers worldwide.

The organization’s current projects include shipping 200 or more computers to Senegal.

Money is still needed to cover shipping costs to the villages. To donate, visit http://www.worldcomputerexchange.org/Senegal.


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