Bringing computing to rural Cameroon

Liz: I was going to post this tomorrow, but it’s so good I just couldn’t wait. We’ve just had some mail from Geert Maertens, from Anzegem in Belgium. He’s been working with a small group of volunteers to raise money to bring computing to a school in a remote area of Cameroon. I’ll quote him in full: what he’s got to tell us is fascinating, and makes us feel very, very proud. Thank you Geert, Kristel, Griet and Hans – please keep us posted!

I am a volunteer in a group that provides the funding to build a secondary school (Saint Marcellin Comprehensive College, or SAMACCOL) in a small village in Cameroon. The village is called Binshua and is located close to Nkambe in the Northwest region of Cameroon. This is a relatively poor region of the country, with no reliable water and electricity supply. Also, at present, the nearest internet connection is found in a town called Kumbo which is a three hour drive from Binshua, not so much because of the distance but rather because of the quality of the road.

Ever since we learned about the Raspberry Pi, we were dreaming of a computer lab equipped with these little wonders. And so we pursued this dream. For the necessary funds, we found a generous partner in Rotary International. Thanks to the efforts of the Rotarians in Waregem, Kortrijk and Kumbo and of the Rotary International Foundation, we have the money to provide the essential infrastructure for the school.

And so last month, we travelled with a group of four Pi enthusiasts (Kristel, Griet, Hans and myself) to Cameroon with 30 Pis in our suitcases. Also, we bought HDMI to VGA convertors here in Belgium because we knew it might be hard to find HDMI screens over there. Furthermore, the network equipment (router, switches, hard drive) and a small load of books all came along from Europe. The screens, keyboards and mice were bought in a local computer shop in Bamenda, Cameroon. Currently, it is not possible to connect the school to the public power network, so the class needs to be powered by a small generator of Chinese manufacture.

In the lab, we installed 25 Raspberry Pis. The remaining 5 RPis are currently unused. They certainly play a role in our plans for the future, but currently serve only as spare parts. All of the systems run on the Raspbian image from December, with LibreOffice and CUPS installed. The Pis are currently used to teach the children the basics of working with an Office suite. But we made sure that we gave the teacher a little introduction (and a good book) on programming in Scratch. So, now we are hoping that this will get Scratch introduced in the school curriculum as well.

The computers are all connected in a network. The central point of the network is a router that’s ready to be connected to a WAN modem. We hope to be able to provide a connection to the internet in the near future, which would certainly bring a small revolution into this rural area. Even without an internet connection, we believe that we created an advanced computer lab in this underdeveloped area. Giving the children in the area a chance to work their way to a better future. And that is our motivation.

Geert Maertens

42 comments

Avatar

this is amazing. I am glad to see the pi working in an educational way. whether it is teaching scratch and python to the kids of Europe and North America or helping African kids learn professional grade skills.

this is truly what a project like the pi is about.

kids and good education.

Avatar

Bloody marvelous !!!!

Avatar

Excellent work!

Avatar

Amazing! Of course, these kids are the cream of the crop, very fortunate to be in such a school. It is a big step for Cameroon, and I hope it is just the first of many.

Avatar

That is absolutely marvellous, truly. Amazing that they managed to find funding and put it into practice. Go Raspberries!

Avatar

This is awesome!
I was thinking that with the 5 remaining Pi’s why not setup some sort of solar powered mesh network to the nearest town with internet.
I know that the “cantenna’s”(yagi) have some great line of sight range and could perhaps make this a possibility ;)

Avatar

Fantastic work. Lots of people struggle to know what to do with their Raspberry Pi when in fact this highlights how simple and great the contribution can be in the right environment!

Avatar
Avatar

Is there a way to contribute to efforts like these?

Avatar

Brilliant work :)

Avatar

Liz,

Is there any chance we could re-start the “buy-one give-one” debate?

I realise this is not simple (and how this might affect distribution partners is not a simple question) …

Most importantly: this sort of thing is *inspiring*!

Trevor

Avatar

Liz,

I agree with Trevor. This would be a worthwhile project to donate a Pi to. It also appears that the Pi might be the cheapest investment, how about Monitors, Keyboards, Mice, etc.

Thank you for letting us share in this journey.

Avatar

Buy one, give one is similar to the practice of buying a coffee at a coffee shop and a “suspended” coffee for someone who cannot afford one – what worked for coffee can work for Pi – we only lack the collective will to organise it.

Colin

Avatar

We agree it’s a great idea, but right now we just don’t have the resources to deal with such a scheme; we’d need to take on at least one more member of staff to research, implement, sort out distribution, support and so on. We do have a plan to expand our developing world work later this year, with the additional hires that’ll require. That’d be when (if the board OKs it) we’d implement BOGO or something similar.

Avatar

Thank you , thank you, thank you. (Warm fuzzy feeling spreading through body…)
I don’t want to belittle the more ‘standard’ user of the raspberry-Pi but this is the type of target which I had in mind when I started helping on this project.

Avatar

indeed

Avatar

Excellent read, very glad to see something like this happening, and very happy to see how many groups contributed to make it happen!

Avatar

Those who are so exercised about BOGO have now officially volunteered to perform the tasks required to get it off the ground. At Silicon Valley startups, if you identify a problem, you take on the responsibility of seeing that it’s solved. If you can do it yourself within the limits of your resources, you Just Do It, but if not, then you have to corral others to assist. There seems to be an ongoing misconception that the Foundation has people hanging around waiting for something to do, and having dealt closely with members I can personally assure you that is as far from the case as we are from the edge of the universe.

A quick Google search of Geert’s name, Rotary International, Binshua, and Cameroon got me to this PDF file, cranked through Google Translate from the original Dutch:
http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=nl&u=http://users.telenet.be/de_omnibus_dubitandum/rapportering_binshua/ARTIKEL%2520KERK%2520EN%2520LEVEN%2520WAREGEM%25202012.pdf&prev=/search%3Fq%3Drotary%2Bwaregem%2B%2522geert%2BMaertens%2522%2Bcameroon%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dsafari%26biw%3D1024%26bih%3D672&sa=X&ei=q_NcUZ63MaOSiAKziYCgBg&sqi=2&ved=0CEcQ7gEwBA

You can contact the group by following the links in that document and make arrangements to donate whatever they need. The ball is now officially in your court, and we expect you to report back here how things are going. Enjoy!

Avatar

*Shakes Jim warmly by the hand*

Avatar

Hats off to you !!

Avatar

if it’s not a secret i am interested in the costs of the equipment. the Pi’s seem to be the smaller part of the cost. was it all below 5000 EUR?

Avatar

Dear Foundationers

“Manju Tangwa Computer Lab”

That’s a name to be proud of

Avatar

You are right. We bought the screens (120€), the keyboards and the mice (together 15€) in Cameroon. Because we only had screens with a VGA connection, we needed convertors from HDMI to VGA (60€). Next, add the prices of a Pi, a case, a power adapter, an SD card and an HDMI cable. This easily adds up to about 250€ per system.

Avatar

Up to know, we have been working in Belgium and our documents and web-site is in dutch only.

The project is structured in such a way that one group concentrates on the building of the school. The contact that you find in the document, Marijke De Vos, is the responsable for the building part. Anyone who wants to help in the construction, please contact her.

About a year ago, we formed a second group and we concentrate specifically on the infrastructure of the school. Installing the computer lab is part of our targets. Of course, any help for infrastructure and the computer lab is welcome. (Please, contact me: gmaertens@telenet.be)

Avatar

Aplogies if you did this some time ago and weren’t able to take advantage of things that have become available more recently but at least by the standards of what is available now it seems like you did pretty poorly on prices.

Farnell sell a cased verion of the raspberry pi for only marginally more than the uncased one (and afaict cheaper than any case i’ve seen sold seperately) http://be.farnell.com/raspberry-pi/rpi-b-512-cased/sbc-raspberry-pi-b-512mb-cased/dp/2217158 . They also do a HDMI to VGA adaptor that plugs directly into the HDMI port on the Pi so you don’t need a HDMI cable http://be.farnell.com/element14/piview/adapter-raspberry-pi-hdmi-to-vga/dp/2133899?Ntt=piview

I understand why you wanted to buy the monitors locally but do note that DVI monitors can be used with a simple wiring adaptor which is much cheaper than the active HDMI to VGA converters. I’d have at least enquired if DVI monitors were available (apologies if you already did this but the way the article is written makes it sound like you only considered HDMI monitors and forgot about DVI ones)

Avatar

I can imagine that arranging delivery to somewhere like Binshua comes with its own special set of difficulties, though (and we note that tariffs for importing stuff vary by as much as 200% in different countries across Africa and South America). Often buying stuff on the ground, if it’s possible, makes more logistic sense, but I do see where you’re coming from!

Avatar

Impressive. Given that you already have 25 RPis there and a local network I think you already have the perfect setup to use one or more RPis to act as educational servers, with preloaded Khan Academy content that does not require Internet access.

Just download the image, burn it into your SD card, plug the card into your R Pi, connect the card to a local wired or wireless local network and turn the power on. The Khan Academy content will be available from any network connected device.

Please see the KA-Pi pre-built package details: http://pi.mujica.org/

Congratulations on your great work!

Avatar

great work you guys are doing and hope to start a similar innovation in western kenya.
i did this Video with Google http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OE63BYWdqC4&feature=youtube_gdata_player
my own village noticeboard internet now has almost 3 million views

Avatar

Excellent initiative !
We are in the second year of a similar project in Togo, where we set up a Computer Center in a remote location at the border with Ghana (in the Canton of Kuma).
The Center is up and running since last November and is open to the 700+ students of the 5 secondary schools of the Canton, as well as to anyone in the villages who wants to learn about ICT…
Initially financed through donations of material and personal funds, we have now gathered nearly enough money to build our own facility : 2 teaching rooms and a small tech room.
We just received 25 fully equipped Raspberry Pi, and I will also introduce 10 Arduino in September…
Having taken a year off, I’ll be in Kuma for 12 months starting in August.
That experience in very poor Togo help me appreciate how such a project can bring some light in the life of youth in a country like Cameroon ! Well done !

Avatar

Very nice work.

I am from Africa and I thought about such applications for the pi when I first heard about it.

I was thinking in fact the pi can be used in individual homes.
You see many people own TVs and DVDs these days but they are reluctant to buy computers for their kids, probably due to the relatively high cost. But I think with the PI, people can use there TV as a monitor and with addition of a mouse and a keyboard kids will have a fully functional computer to learn with.
So instead of buying a DVD people would buy a PI and the PI would function as a DVD (when the parents wants it :)), and as a computer for the kids to play games and learn programming.

I think I am going to look into such a possibility. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Avatar

I think it’s an excellent idea!

I think that to make such a project happen, the most important thing to do is to informing the public and making them trust the raspberry.

I would like to help in such a project, if possible.

Avatar

I know exactly what you guys need to get Internet to rural areas that have no reliable electrical supply. It’s called BRCK, a project launched by Ushahidi Kenya. BRCK can support up to 20 devices connected at once, has a tough exterior shell and an eight hour battery life so it can sit out any blackouts. Like a smartphone, it can connect to the web via ethernet, Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G.

Avatar

I am must say its a wonderful initiative for rural schools in Africa but there is a power supply challenges unless solar could be used as an alternative to run the computers then the project could become sustainable over the years.
AFORDA{I} aims at enhancing science education and this could be a tool to be used to the above aims.

Avatar

this is fantastic guys best of luck with your new plans, i’m planning on doing this in Ecuador

Avatar

Awesome work guys. I’m establishing connections in Ghana right now to do the same thing – but looking at utilizing the RiTC project as well. Having the Pi act as a thin client for Ubuntu desktop sessions as well as even Window7 sessions with VMware View is going to be a key goal. I want to keep the sustainability of the lab to the max, so server based terminal sessions and linked clones makes the most sense for me. Load the server with ebooks and loads of other educational material and away we go. Interesting info on purchasing the monitors and keyboards in country. I hadn’t planned that part – I was going to import them. I think the surplus auction prices I’ll pay will offset the shipping and taxes… But it’s made me think it over. I’ll have to research what buying local will cost.

Avatar

Seems to me, a book I read about a boy in Africa, might help inspire some power generation for the school and pumps, etc.

William Kamkwamba The boy who harnessed the wind. (did a Ted talk where I first heard about him)

Avatar

oh awesome! you have done a awesome job! i am in China,my company is the manufacture of raspberry pi in china. i from a poor country side in the northwest of china where most people can not afford a computer,a computer mean a lot to them. raspberry pi is a good choice ! but i think the resource matched with for pi is more important! i need much more education resource for the kids who never learn about the computer, can anyone please give me some advice?thanks.

Avatar

i know the scratch is a good choice,anything else?

Avatar

because most families do not have a internet connection, i think install the Wikipedia on the Pi in advance is another choice? anything else?
is there any program that can teach the English,math….?

Avatar

Dear ladies and Gents, our NPO is about to built an computer lab with raspberry pi’s in Nkhata Bay, Malawi. Somebody on board here with whom i can exchange, who allready has expierence ? If so please drop me a mail. Thanks a lot, Egils

Avatar

we are an NGO situated in Ghana , doing project on renewable energies , Solar and wind energy as the starting project and others will follow.
we want to extend to the remote area to bring education,clean energy and even create job and income for better life to those living there .

Also our plans to go with computers so they can learn this modern technologies to have the level of local standard education for community development.

we will like to know if there is any means of corporate sponsorship which can enhance our project to move a step a head .

Avatar

Thank you.

Leave a Comment

Comments are closed