Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gettin' My Nerd On

Even in Belize I can't get away from computers. I came down here with no real expectations for my work here, except that I hoped to do something, anything, that got me away from sitting in front of a computer all day. But alas, it was not to be. I've spent more time working on computers than anything else.

Actually, it hasn't been that bad. I am fascinated by computers and the way we interact with them. Computers are used for such a vast array of human experiences- working, playing, finding love, committing crimes, shopping, studying, communicating, goofing off, keeping secrets, confessing secrets, etcetera, etcetera. As a "computer scientist" and expert computer user, I am one of a blessed few who have the skills and knowledge to help others get the most out of their interactions with computers. And there is no shortage of opportunities for that in Belize.

Computers are more prevalent here than I imagined. Cornerstone itself has about a dozen computers for use between the staff and volunteers. When I first arrived here I was impressed with the amount of equipment we have to use, but it was being used poorly. So much of my first few weeks here was spent studying the usage patterns of the staff and volunteers and customizing the configuration of each machine and the network so we can get the most out of the resources we have available. Plus, with anywhere from ten to thirty people using the computers each day, there has been no shortage of little IT tasks and "hey Karl, how do I?" or "Karl, the ______ stopped working again!"

In addition, I pooled together some of our older machines to create a makeshift "computer lab" in the office. I have been using it to teach computer classes to adult women. So far the classes have been quite a hit, and it has been a fun and enlightening experience for me. Most of the women do not have even the most basic computer skills so it is a real challenge to find ways to teach them a sustainable skill set in the limited time I have available. But it is worth it- few adults possess simple computer skills in Belize. If these ladies leave my class with the ability to type, use a mouse, and understand the basics of running programs and manipulating files, they will have a whole new realm of opportunities opened up to them and their children.

It takes an enormous amount of work to create valuable educational and business opportunities in Belize. Equipment is not readily available and is often secondhand. Technical expertise is in even shorter supply. Computers that cease functioning because of viruses, hardware failure or accidental or malicious misuse often become more of a liability than an asset. But the struggle to deliver high-quality human-computer interactions here is a worthy one. I am honored to play my small part in it.

No comments: