Monday, November 21, 2005

What I Want for My Birthday

Birthday presents: what I want for my birthday is a computer and printer for my friend Nathan in Iganga, Uganda.

In What are Bazungu Bucks? I alluded to how in contemplating my fiftieth birthday my attention turned to presents. And that my first thought was a computer for Nathan. In typical style, I piled it on, lengthening my list to include whatever you could think of doing to spend your time in service to African people.

I still believe that the gift of time is extraordinarily valuable for people living in poor parts of the world. I think giving our time is a little like giving a box of chocolates to your mother; you know she will share the gift with you, even let you choose your favorite. A gift of time is a gift that gives back. I'm not sure which is more important: what you will give or what you'll receive back. Nevertheless, I'm sure that sharing between people the world over is an appropriate response the awful challenges we people face, because indeed we all face these challenges together.

Getting down to brass tacks about presents for me, there are lots of presents I'd really like,but what would truly make me the happiest this time around is to do something significant for my friend Nathan.

Nathan is about twenty-five years old and a serious young man. He works at a computer center at the Iganga Secondary School, a high school for girls in Iganga, Uganda. The school is connected to the Internet through a very significant program called SchoolNetAfrica which received funding by the World Bank. Nathan was able to get his job because he received training in using Microsoft programs. In his position he has shown many others how to use computers; how to set up email accounts and the like. He also does such tasks as entering grades into spreadsheets and managing to keep the computers running smoothly. He studied a correspondence course in Computer Management and received his certificate.

Nathan an I have been able to correspond because of his position at the school. His job pays about $40 a month in addition to his room and board. Nathan is very interested in community development in his community, an interest he shared with his late brother John. Soon after Nathan and I began corresponding he formed a Yahoo! Group called Jinja Youth. The problem with a Yahoo! Group was that at the time there was no public Internet Cafe in Iganga, so the Internet group had limited usefulness as an organizing tool. However this Jinja Youth Group was instrumental in forming a community-based organization on the ground there called the Busoga Shining Light Association.

Nathan has been diligent about making the BSLA useful for development in his community. The organization has secured an office and a telephone. Soon after the group was formed they combined with a local adult literacy group. Numerous projects have been undertaken: tree planting, health education, a youth drama group, and the development of vegetable gardens in villages, and other projects.

Nathan has worked very hard to get financial support for the BSLA, which is a daunting task for any new organization. I have at least ten proposals for programs he has sent me over the last couple of years. Most of these haven't gone anywhere, but I want to point out the big investment of time each of these proposals represents.

A year ago Nathan began correspondence with AWISH. That NGO located in the U.S. had a project for the Iganga locale which was on hold. A member of AWISH, Paul Barkley, who had served several years in the area, had drawn up the proposal but funding for it had not been secured. In the meantime Paul studied for his CPA credentials and secured a position with a top ten accounting firm. Just about the time that Nathan contacted AWISH, Paul felt he was ready again to turn some of his attention back to Uganda.

In the spring Paul ventured to Uganda with his wife. They wanted to attend the wedding of a man who along with Paul during his Peace Corps service had started a market for corn trading in the region. Storage facilities, accurate market information and quality control enable small farmers whose production of corn is economically competitive with mechanized farms to receive fair market prices for their produce. Paul also met with Nathan.

Paul Barkley has most generously worked with Nathan and the BSLA to secure a little funding for a pilot program. This is an extremely important development because it will allow the BSLA to point to a proven track record for the management of a project and a proper accounting of funds. Such a track record should make securing funding for future projects easier. Earlier this month Mr. Barkley sent money for the implementation of a small-holder poultry project run by the BSLA.

For this I would give Mr. Paul Barkley three cheers, but wait there's more. Paul is very keen that the management of accounts for the corn store be computerized. He saw in Nathan with his experience using spreadsheets from the school that Nathan could play a role in increasing the success of the corn project. So he has been instructing Nathan on using QuickBooks accounting software. Also in preparation for BSLA poultry project, he patiently went step by step through the process of making a business plan using spreadsheet software. I'm afraid that numbers aren't my forte, but I'm know enough to know that Paul Barkley's teaching Nathan about modern computerized accountancy is a great gift.

For a long time I've wanted to get Nathan a computer. I've never had the money to do it, but it's something I've very seriously considered. I asked Nathan the open ended question if me and my friends could raise $500 to send to him to help what would he use it for. Nathan responded:

First of all my brain drove me to a computer which I have a long dreamed to get, because there is a lot of work I can do with it to generate income since it has became my profession.
• Printing course work for University students
• Typing, CD burning and selling
• Scanning
• Designing card e.g.; wedding cards, invitation, and Posters, etc.

A computer for Nathan as a business is not a “slam dunk” as former CIA Director Tenet was so fond of saying. There's so much s*$#! that can happen and s*$#! always does. Still, I've got a half-dozen or more ideas for what Nathan could accomplish with a computer. And most importantly, I'm sure that his having a computer will advance him professionally, becoming expert with QuickBooks alone is very valuable. Remember, that Nathan works a full-time job six days a week, so any work he does will be at night. Already he works with students at the local University to help with their papers, but now doesn't receive any money for that because they have to go elsewhere to pay to have the papers printed out.

Five hundred dollars is a lot of money and may not be enough to get a computer and printer for Nathan. Still it seems an achievable goal. Even if you can't spare any money towards this goal, you may have important information that can make the goal of getting a computer and printer to Nathan a reality. What do you know about computers and software? Who do you know that may know something important about this project? Any and all the attention you can pay to this goal will be a great gift to me.

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