News 2004, Quarters 1 and 2
Last Updated: 19 March 2004

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EOL…  then and now

Article in the Ausha Times,
by Charlotte Hill-O'Neal

March 26th will be the climax of Arusha Node Marie 10th Anniversary. The Society has not only ushered its members into the information technology marvels but has also helped the needy access knowledge on the net. Charlotte Hill O’Neal reports:

It’s hard to believe that nearly two years have gone by since I first sat around the Arusha Node Marie conference table at AICC with several members of our Arusha community who I barely knew. I can vividly remember looking around the table with some apprehension, especially when I noticed that a long time friend, Erik Rowberg, was sitting there too. "How will I possibly measure up to this computer wizard?" I asked myself.

I recall shyly continuing my look around the other side of the table and saw another computer wizard, Alex Righolt of A&A Computers, busily arranging his papers with what seemed to be serious Nordic efficiency. "Why am I here?" I again asked. "I’m an artist and a writer not a computer technologist! What in the world can I offer to this group?"

The group, including Alex Righolt, Monique Janmaat, Olympa Lema, Ciren Gracias, Gilbert Maeda, myself and the omnipresent AFAM officer Mzee Christopher Tarimo, had been asked to serve as volunteers for what was to be the philanthropic committee of Arusha Node Marie.

What I basically knew was that the philanthropic activities of ANM were what would differentiate that society from other commercial internet service providers in Arusha and that "the nature of the society’s philanthropic feedback to Arusha had proven difficult to define and historically had been a mix match of different projects rather than specific programs". (see more about Arusha Node Marie at http://www.habari.co.tz/ )

In the year 2000 the ANM steering committee had decided to develop a formal approach for the philanthropic activities of ANM and a specific budget for these activities representing 2% of the ANM annual subscription income was approved. Our mandate was not clear; our duties were hazy, and we all seemed a bit puzzled about what we were actually supposed to DO.

But like magic, as soon as we got out our pens, paper and white board markers during our first meeting in August, 2002 and the conversation started flowing with questions and suggestions such as what would we call our group (after several tries we agreed on EOL, Elimu on LineElimu means education; what our mission would be ("Enabling the e-needy to access knowledge on the net"); and what our aim would be ("To stimulate an environment of enthusiasm, co-operation and self-reliance in our institutions), I found that I was comfortably and happily in my element.

"Hey, this is just good, plain ol’ community work" I thought to myself. "I can DO this!"

The ideas continued to flow on that first day and our mutual joy of accomplishment was apparent as we came up with our philosophy ("to stimulate an environment of enthusiasm, co-operation and self-reliance in our institutions") and even our hopes ("that we, the members of ANM, can positively influence the awareness of the potential offered to Tanzania and Tanzanians of the many rich opportunities being enabled and inspired by the very rapid growth in information technology, especially those related to the Internet").

Over several months of meeting together, our EOL committee developed a collaborative bond based on service to our community. We devised means to effectively evaluate the institutions that we visited and through trial and error we even created workable assessment instruments which enabled us to add up facts; scores; impressions and submit our advice to the ANM steering committee.

In less than two years I’m proud to say that we have organized, overseen and encouraged many opportunities for closer collaborations among beneficiaries and we have arranged practical learning experiences through field trips and workshops (e.g. the Internet for Education workshop held at the National Natural History Museum at which the major objectives were for the philanthropic recipients to gain a better idea of the educational possibilities of the internet; be able to improve the use of internet for educational purposes; develop action plans for their organization on how to improve the use of the internet for educational purposes and be aware of their own role in the improvement of the use of the internet for educational purposes.) We have even created a Bulletin Board and Tech Talk pages.

We presently have twelve institutions benefiting from free philanthropic connections from Arusha Node Marie including the Arusha Regional Library; Technical College Arusha; United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC); Center for Educational Development in Health, Arusha (CEDHA); Mental Health Department (MMMakili); National Natural History Museum; St. Joseph Ngarenaro Secondary School; Makumira University College; Spiritan Missionary Seminary; Arusha Modern School; Olchoki/Natema Primary Schools.

Selian Lutheran Hospital and Edmund Rice Sinon Secondary School are presently serving the six month trial period and the School of St. Jude is right behind them.

I’d say that’s quite an accomplishment for Arusha Node Marie and quite an accomplishment for EOL, but as we make our rounds to the various institutions that have been granted free internet access we are sometimes discouraged by a lack of creativity and commitment to develop, expand and explore what internet education can ultimately offer.

Still as we go from school to school making our assessments and examinations of computers, instructors and facilities, sometimes in far away villages, sometimes on dusty, twisting urban roads, I think of some of the best users…those whose enthusiasm overflows for not only the internet but for innovative learning, period… that in the end, makes it all worth while.