July 7th: Small Things
July 7, 2008
By far the most rewarding and meaningful part of my experience with Project Vietnam has been my interactions with the students of 15 May— interactions which are as short and sweet as many of the children themselves. Because I have been so focused on readying and finalizing the library for use as a computer classroom, I haven’t been able to interact with as many students (or mentees actually) as I would have liked; rather, everyday I encounter many of the same children who stumble into the lab hoping to wildly click the mice, to load up as many flash games as possible, and in general, to throw into chaos the orderly and efficient system that our whole team had created. I don’t mind at all—in fact, I couldn’t ask for a better distraction.
Any resulting frustration is infinitesimal compared to the overwhelming joy I get from playing with the children, from seeing them take so quickly to technology and computer usage, and from their warm and happy smiles. Two children in particular have been on my mind throughout the past few days; one girl (name withheld to protect the innocent…and prevent horrible misspelling) loves to antagonize and molest me in the gentlest way possible— telling me I look like a pig, making me lift her up into the air so she can feel taller than me, and shutting down any computer I dare to take my eyes off. She’s definitely spunkier than many of the younger children, and loves to make the others laugh (often through acting up or using her incredibly sharp wit). When no one else is around, however, she’ll simply some to my side, hold my hand, and watch intently as I work; today, we sang “We Will Rock You” together. I have to admit: I’ve found its not really the tasks ahead that excite me most everyday, but rather, the chance to see my little buds again.
Another girl is slightly older— and far, far quieter. From the first day we restored internet access in the library, many kids have flooded in hoping to IM, download music, play some incredibly violent flash games, and so on (as a side note, don’t worry: we can now control and prevent all of these things). This girl, however, quietly finds a free computer, busts out her neatly-kept notebook, and proceeds to read short stories online.
At first I wasn’t quite sure what, exactly, she was doing; however, after peering over her shoulder and catching a warm smile several times, I’ve realized that she’s actually writing short stories of her own, in beautifully floral handwriting. Quite honestly, she has continued to be an immense source of inspiration for me during the most frustrating moments of this project, reminding me that at the end of the day, I’m just lucky to be able to meet and help, even in a small way, kids like her. When I look at this girl and watch her write intently, I see someone who deserves a bright and creative future; to have anything less await her would be an utter crime… so that, on a personal level, is what drives me.
Now, as a member and co-leader of the computing team, I have to be a bit descriptive and describe what exactly we accomplished today. When it comes to business, I like to be concise, so here’s a nice bulleted list:
• “Finished” readying the lab for class use: I placed quotation marks around “finished” because in truth, the lab is still in many ways being underutilized. We have not been able to install all of the software we wished to. A small fraction of the machines are unusable, from hardware or software neglect. Most seriously, however, I feel we have reached the point of diminishing returns with our lab. I recognize that we’ve done wonderful work in restoring internet access and trying to make our computers as sustainable and operational as possible; but the perfectionist in me realizes that some of our mentees will be able to renovate the lab rapidly after we leave, without many of the same limitations our team has faced (such as being unable to create a standard, stable system image or perform necessary hardware maintenance).
Tomorrow, I will begin working with our mentees on a “handover” process and plan of action, to give them some ownership of this computing facility after we leave. So to recap: we’ve made the computing facilities at 15 May good—from scratch really—and the mentees will make them even greater.
• Reviewed our activity plans with the computing teacher. Mad props to everyone on the activity team! 🙂
• Observed our teacher conducting his first trial class: We expected there may be challenges awaiting us when this day came, and surely there were. However, we remain hopeful that we can give the computing teacher meaningful feedback to help him feel empowered. His confidence is key to the success of this class, as is his dedication to our curriculum. To that end we have a slightly radical idea: we want some of our mentees to actually teach the next trial class. Needless to say, we need to execute this flawlessly, with minimal offense to the teacher (whom I personally respect and trust very much).
Well…that wasn’t concise at all. Woops!