Today is the big day. We got to InterConnection Uganda under little sleep very early in the morning to make last minute preparations. Three ministers were going to be here today, including Johnorable. The guest of honor is the Minister of Education and Trade.
And coming along with with the important dignitaries, instructors, and businessmen, is a horde of reporters. Yikes.
The ceremony went very well, even though it started about an hour late (our guest of honor was a little behind schedule thanks to a man from Microsoft—not Fredrik).
While we were waiting for the Minister, we headed off to take a look at the M.T.A.C. Lab.
We’re giving them computers periodically over the next two years as a barter for the warehouse space.
Finally the minister arrived, and we headed back to the conference hall where the administrator of M.T.A.C. introduced all of us.
Being a little camera shy I prefer to stay in the background and take the pictures myself during these big events, so I sat far on the right in the front audience row…away from the table where the three ministers, Fredrik, and Brenda (our excellent general manager!) were seated and posed to give their speeches.
First Johnorable gave his speech—it was long enough but to the point I think, although sometimes he does tend to ramble.
Then Fredrik gave his speech (always inspiring)…
…and then the Minister of Education gave his quite long, rambling, but incredibly passionate speech about IT.
He truly believed that the future of Uganda’s educational system will be determined by information technology—especially access to the Internet. He was very appreciative of InterConnection Uganda and was inspired to see that finally doors were opened for people to get affordable computers.
Then (in typical Computers for Uganda fashion) Brenda handed over the plaque for the M.T.A.C. lab to the Minister.
After that, a big group photo of all the launch participants…
And then we all headed over to InterConnection for the ribbon cutting and the grand tour…
Apparently the Minister really liked the titanium scissors that we handed to him for the ribbon cutting…
And, finally, the big moment of the day…
InterConnection Uganda is finally open!
Inside, the Minister, reporters, and other guests get a tour of the facilities.
Kyakawa is in the refurbishing side appearing hard at work…
After the scene has cooled down a bit, and the big shots leave for home, we take a mini group photos with all of the partners involved in the project.
And much later, it’s the official InterConnection Uganda team photo!
From right to left:
Me (chief technical advisor), Mathias (chief refurbisher, electrician, and 007), Brenda (general manager), Godfrey (publicity advisor, but he’s really Johnorable’s IT man), Sophie (sales), Robert (cleaner and refurbisher in training), Fredrik (president of ICU Holdings, LLC), Nicholas (sales and PR), and Kyakawa (refurbishing guru).
Wait, that picture was too serious…
Anyway, I’d like to end this entry with Fredrik’s speech, which conveyed InterConnection Uganda’s purpose perfectly. (Thanks, Godfrey, for editing it.)
Dear Dignitaries, Hon. Ministers, Members of Parliament, permanent secretary of ICT, representative from Ministry of Education, Executive Director for MTAC and board members present, partners, ladies and gentlemen.
I want to welcome you all to the â€˜Grand Openingâ€™ of InterConnection Uganda.
This is a day to celebrate the realization of a dream we have had for about a year now: As you all know, and heard from Hon. Nsambu this project is an outgrowth of the Computers for Uganda project started by him and Dr. Graeber of Forest Ridge High School in Seattle, Washington State, in the USA. For five years now students from Forest Ridge, Mount Si and South Kitsap high schools have been collecting second-hand PCs from companies in the Seattle area. They refurbished them at home, shipped them here to Uganda and have been visiting in every June and July to install computer labs and provide some basic computer training in Primary and Secondary schools here. I want to thank Hon. Nsambu for this initiative: It is a fantastic program where all participants win—there is no reason why it should not continue for many, many years to come—and we at InterConnection Uganda want to help make that a reality!
Last year when I was here we discussed the opportunity to have the refurbishing efforts take place here in Uganda rather than in the United States. This would provide important skills development, job and economic opportunities locally and contribute to the sustainability of the project. To achieve this we partnered with an already successful refurbishment and personal computer reuse company in Seattle: InterConnection Seattle. Their experience has been extremely helpful in getting our center started! It is important to stress that InterConnection Uganda is an initiative that will sustain itself financially: In addition to partnering closely with the Computers for Uganda project we will offer refurbished computers for sale at very reasonable prices to schools, computer retailers, NGOs, companies and individuals. At a minimum, 10% of the PCs refurbished here will be donated to school labs through Computers for Uganda.
We want to be part of a cycle of education, discovery of local ICT relevance and economic opportunity and Iâ€™d like to say a few things about thatâ€¦
First, education: This is where it all starts and where the Computers for Uganda project has already impacted by setting up over 50 school labs, a total of 600 PCs, and thousands of primary and secondary students being exposed to the power of the personal computer—many of them have also been able to use the Internet from their schools.
As I said, it all starts with education, but without local relevance the ICT education becomes useless knowledge. It is important that we encourage the students who learn about ICT to explore how it can provide relevant and valuable services here in Uganda; starting from simple secretarial services for small businesses to communicating commodity prices to local farmers, assisting NGOs to achieve their goals, or helping address critical health care and other governmental challenges facing Ugandaâ€¦ This is no simple task and will require creativity and collaboration. It is here that we want to contribute by bringing United States college students like Biyeun, who attends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to work with her fellow Information Technology students here in Uganda. Together we hope they will be able to discover many viable and relevant applications using ICT that are specifically beneficial in Uganda. One solution she is area already exploring is to understand what it will take to integrate the world of computers with mobile phones—it is no secret that there are many more mobile phones in Uganda than computers. Tying them together in a single network should provide powerful solutions & services.
Such services will in turn translate to opportunities for solving key social and economical problems, value creation, jobs and income: With good ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit we will see further creation of wealth—maybe we will see some â€œUgandan Bill Gatesâ€ very soon?
It would be our hope that the people gaining from the introduction of ICT in Uganda will themselves contribute and â€˜pay backâ€™ in supporting the education of future generation of ICT entrepreneurs—thus completing the cycle of education, relevance and opportunity.
It is an honor and a privilege for InterConnection Uganda to help contribute to this. We hope the products and services we provide can be a seed for much positive development and we want to do it in a socially responsible manner: There is much talk about PCs, TVs and other electronic waste being dumped on countries like Uganda from the corners of the world. We want to make sure that every computer shipped from InterConnection Uganda will be disposed of in an environmentally proper fashion. We are already in discussion with UNIDO and Microsoft on how to solve this problem â€“ with them and others as partners we will avoid polluting the environment with the hardware we are bringing in. This project is the second project Biyeun is already exploring over the next several weeks and we invite participation and collaboration with other parties here in Uganda.
In closing and to quickly summarize: We like to see students learn ICT technology, discover how this learning can be applied locally to create economic opportunity for themselves and their families & communities. By creating value, they can themselves become prosperous and contribute to further education of the future generation of ICT professionals—for InterConnection to contribute to this cycle in a socially responsible manner is our most important goal.
The staff we have assembled for InterConnection Uganda: Brenda, Sophie, Nicholas, Kyakawa, Mathias and Robert (can you all please stand) are up for this challenge and we are all excited to get started.