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ACM-W Uganda Chapter, as captured on Saturday, December 19, 2015

ACM-W Uganda Chapter, as captured on Saturday, December 19, 2015

It is Saturday morning in Kampala, Uganda.  Barbra Namirembe, the newly installed President of the new ACM-W chapter in Uganda, addresses her chapter members who are meeting in a dining hall at Stawa University before embarking into a van, which was provided, in part, by ACM-W’s donation.  “Ladies and gentlemen,” she opens her remarks, “we’re honored to be part of a worldwide computer movement revolutionizing computer education to women.  From what I have gathered, there are many chapters like ours meeting and strategizing how to best serve women’s computer education needs.”  During this meeting, which lasts for one hour, Barbara and her cabinet discuss the projects at hand, including sets of objectives for each village and how certificates can be awarded to women who fully go through the training.  One of the projects currently incorporated in ACM-W in Uganda is the Netiva Women in Science Institute (NWISI) at Stawa University.    NWISI conducts mobile classrooms for women in rural Uganda.   However, since the formation of ACM-W Uganda chapter, NWISI has literally been married/merged with ACM-W.  After the ACM-W meeting this Saturday morning, some of the members will arm themselves with laptops and invade rural communities to teach women basic and, for some, advanced computer skills.

Joseph, one of the few students at Stawa University who has a driver’s license, has been driving the teaching team for months now.  Joseph is probably the only student in the world who got an academic scholarship for having a driver’s license.  Since the formation of ACM-W, Barbra and her team approached the Provost of Stawa University and requested for an academic scholarship for Joseph in exchange for his services of driving ACM-W and NWISI participants to places they need to be to carry out ACM-W objectives.   For Joseph, however, he must be careful as the streets of Kampala can make driving tough and getting out of the city challenging, the least of which not being weekend markets that see throngs of people selling and buying merchandize too close to the road, where people and goods sometimes spill into the middle of the streets, thereby literally shutting down traffic for a while.

After leaving Kampala, the van takes the South Sudan Highway heading northwards.  After an hour on this nicely paved highway, thanks to the World Bank and IMF loans to Uganda, the van turns left on a rural, unpaved road that takes students through a series of rural trading centers, marshlands, banana plantations, valleys and hills, and, eventually, they reach Kiryamuli village where classes are regularly conducted.

This Saturday, however, owing to the high demand for these mobile classes by rural women, the class has been shifted from happening under a mango tree situated in Maama Zamu’s front yard, a very nice, peaceful place to a rural, spacious Tarkuwa Mosque, which the local imam, in conjunction with the local chiefs, have offered to ACM-W for use.  The mosque is a step up from the mango tree, for, here, participants are offered real seats, a nice shelter in the event of rain or sunshine, and a spacious indoor environment.

Once inside the mosque, ACM-W teachers unzip their backpacks and pull out the 3 Dell computers that ACM-W (USA) purchased for this mobile classroom project earlier this year.  Accordingly, the women are divided into four groups, one for each laptop, and the fourth group takes a rudimentary reading and writing class.  The mosque also comes with a blackboard; for this, Barbra is beside herself with jubilation: “Now the women can practice writing letters and sentences on the board, something we couldn’t afford for them before,” she tells the village Chief, who had negotiated for the mosque to be made available.

Teaching adults computers is not easy, by any stretch of imagination.  “A four year old would be much easier to teach than a thirty five year old”, Peter, the only male volunteer on the team, tells Barbra.  In each of the three groups learning computer, women, at first, seem terrified by the computer, even though this is not their first attendance in the mobile classroom.  In one group, when asked to type something, a woman moves her index finger so slowly, as if she is preparing to touch something really hot.   In another group, one freezes, as if she just won’t touch any key today at all, although, with constant encouragement from these dedicated teachers, all the women get to learn how to turn on the computer, touch the key board, practice some exercises, and eventually move to a promising level of computer use.

Today ACM-W chapter will leave one computer in the village, under the care of Maama Zamu, who is one of the most dedicated and excited rural student, so that other women can use it during the week to improve their skills.  Rural women often have free time between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm, after working the fields, fetching water on their heads and cooking a meal, to take extra time with the computer.  The chapter is in search of additional computers, with an initial goal of increasing the number to 25 laptops.  Now they only have 3 for a group of about 70 women.

As the sun sets in the west, goats and sheep bleating audibly, students pack the computers, bid farewell to the villagers, who sit still as if to say teach us some more, and enter the van for a ride back to Kampala, where each one will arrive at home or their school hostel after dark.

Originally seen at  http://women.acm.org/ACM-W-Connections-2016-01