It's a Samoan pub.

October 9, 2006: The beginning of my adventure in the Peace Corps. I've been invited to serve as an Information and Communication Techonology volunteer to teach computer skills in Samoa. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are mine and do not in any way reflect the views of the Peace Corps, the US government, or the country of Samoa.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Internet Field Trip

I wasn’t able to set up an Internet connection for my school this year (that’s one of my major projects for next school year) but I couldn’t send my Year 13 out into the world without any idea of what the Internet was. The solution: an Internet Field Trip.

I started in town, talking to a few Internet cafés about my idea. I proposed that they give my students cheap Internet time and in return they have free publicity (as my students would tend towards their café and tell all their friends about it).

In the end, I met with a wonderful woman by the name of Tanuli who is the Manager of Sales for CSL (major Samoan Internet provider). She offered my students an hour for free at the CSL Internet Café and agreed to open the café before business hours so we could have it all to ourselves.

With a firm plan, I broached the subject to my principal who thought it was a great idea. The only problem would be transportation since we couldn’t depend on the school committee for money to rent anything. Luckily the students were looking forward to the trip so much that they agreed to talk to their parents about transportation. My host father could take the half of the class that lived in or around Siumu but there are students who live a good forty minutes away from school and needed to figure out other means of transport.

We waited to have the trip after the national exams when they have two weeks of nothing but prepping for prize giving and graduation (more on that later). A week before the trip I met with my Year 13 to discuss logistics and lecture them on the basics of the Internet and how to set up an email account. I told them our trip was going to be early in the morning (we had café time from 7:00am until 8:00am). “Miss, what about breakfast?” I told them that if they were able to work out rides, I would make them all breakfast. Somehow they heard “I will buy you breakfast at McDonalds” and I had to laugh each time one of my students approached me over the next week to ask about it. No, I will not buy you McDonalds; I actually don’t have any money.

Aside: McDonalds is one of the more upscale restaurants here and for me to buy each of my 16 students something to eat would cost me more money than I make in a week.

Instead I bought a dozen eggs, some chicken sausage, cheese and sliced white bread and made a batch of breakfast sandwiches which the boys wolfed down in minutes leaving a few of the girls with no breakfast at all. Samoa is a sharing culture especially when it comes to food but in retrospect, I should have known better than to leave a teenage boy in charge of the sandwich bag.

The trip was a huge success. Eleven out of the sixteen showed up and with all things considered that’s incredible. I had been afraid that I would only get two to come. The boys who lived on the far side of the island had been able to get a ride, they all were dressed in their school uniforms (something I had forgotten to tell them to do), and behaved themselves the entire trip.

One of their favorite parts was the fact that they each had their own computer. All year they had been forced to share the only ones that were working so for the most part they had to take turns on only two computers.

They all understood search engines, having played for hours with Encarta. Once they knew a few web addresses they were able to look up sports, music videos and games without any trouble at all. By the end all of them had set up email accounts (with the exception of one but I helped her set one up at a later date) and were emailing each other, signing out and then signing back in later to check what their classmates had written back.

Afterwards, the café staff took pictures of all of them. It appears that they were just as excited about the whole thing as we were. We had a brief talk about what to do when they came to the café by themselves then gathered our things and left just as the day’s first café users started wandering in.

We all got into my host father’s van and headed back to school with one stop by the side of the road so they could pick up snacks. I got them all back to school completely intact without incident and they even gave money (which I had told them to do, but come on, I didn’t have my hopes up) to help pay for petrol.

The best part comes one week later when I’m back in Apia running errands. I round the corner at the Internet café on my way to the bank and run into about five of my students coming out.


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