Close The Gap (CtG) is a non-profit organization trying to close the digital gap between developing and developed countries by giving old computers a second chance. The computers are used for educational purposes, in the medical sector and for social projects. To accomplish this, CtG relies upon businesses from both developing and developed countries. Realdolmen has been a strategic partner for years now.
Close the Gap recently received a donation of 4,000 thin clients. The organization was therefore in need of IT experts to help take care of the roll-out for one of their international learning and development projects. They soon struck a deal with Realdolmen – always looking for ways to help individuals and organizations to realize their potential. After a round of interviews and an in-depth screening, two of our staff members could start preparing their trip to Tanzania. We are delighted to share below the impressions and experiences of Jeroen Staal, Database Administrator and Kevin Bauwens, Customer Support Engineer.
Saturday morning, 7am. One last quick check to see if all the software tools have been packed. Right, those USB sticks needed to come too. What about the thin clients for testing? A final luggage check and off we go to Zaventem. It's time. Our task is simple – use thin clients and a web server to build a learning platform for students. The web server will provide those aspects of the World Wide Web we take for granted, such as Wikipedia, Ted, GoogleMaps, and more. Complete courses in mathematics, chemistry, physics, robotics, and more besides will be available as well.
The server and the thin clients were blocked at customs. Time for some improvisation!
The training sessions take place at the offices of ACTT, local partner to Close the Gap, who ensure the deployment of all the hardware CtG receives. Our first challenge occurs right away on Monday morning: the hardware for our training sessions were blocked at customs. We'll have to improvise our planning.
Not just the training sessions require improvisation. How do 'mzungi' (white guys) order chicken or goat at a restaurant in Swahili?
From our office roof at ACTT we have a magnificent view of Kilimanjaro.
Tuesday again features plenty of improvisation. Our hardware is still stuck at the airport, so we continue to talk about servers and thin clients without actually having any to demonstrate. Besides, we may want to change the training session from Linux thin clients with a Linux server to Linux thin clients with a Windows server. There's a lot to be said for that idea, as it will enable people to install small management and bookkeeping programs on the servers for educational purposes. While we wait for the negotiations at the airport to reach a conclusion, we take a few Windows PCs, remove the hard disks and manage to mock up some USB-bootable thin clients after all.
Wednesday: The server and the thin clients finally arrive! Kevin provides a crash course in making your own network cables, as these weren't included. In the meantime, electricity has gone down – a regular occurrence here. Luckily, the ubiquitous, extremely noisy generator provides the necessary power. Near the end of another long day we've finally gotten to the point where everyone has a functioning server going, with DHCP and a thin client that boots with Linux and receives an IP address from the server. Mission accomplished!
Mocking up thin clients and handcrafting network cables: our improvisational talents are getting a workout.
Friday evening, when our training week is done, we go out to eat with the whole group of trainees. Everyone gets a chance to briefly share their experience. All reactions are positive, which is really nice after a fairly difficult week.
Finally, Saturday we go visit a “Digitruck” at Mandy Stein's orphanage/school. A Digitruck is a large container that has been adapted into a schoolroom with laptops and a RACHEL server sponsored by Arrow. It was an impressive conclusion to our week, a reminder of what we're doing all this for and the great need for this type of education in these countries!
Many thanks to Marc De Keersmaecker from Realdolmen, Peter Manderick from Close The Gap and Robert Mafie from ACTT for making this possible. It was a wonderful experience.
To get there together. Everywhere.
Jeroen & Kevin