| December 4, 2010

It All Started in the Purple Church


The purple church in Kade- site of the community meeting

This past week, Worldreader kicked off its iRead pilot study in Ghana’s Eastern Region where we brought 440 e-readers into 6 classrooms (2 each of primary, junior-, and senior high schools).  Those of you who have been following our blog know that Worldreader has dedicated the last three months to developing the pilot, uploading relevant content onto e-readers, training teachers, and setting up logistics including receiving a huge shipment of e-readers as diplomatic cargo.  Now that we are wrapping up the week and I have Internet access again, I will begin to convey the exhilaration of the week in a series of blog posts.

I knew that this trip would be wonderful but challenging.   Maybe it was the “toilet seat” that was included in the packing list that tipped me off.   Indeed the Ju’niel Lodge in Osenasi was rustic but stripping away creature comforts didn’t dampen our excitement.  Actually the cold showers and rice for both lunch and dinner began to grow on me, and the staff was lovely (and had good taste: they cheered for Barça during the big Real Madrid game on Monday night).   Okay, long hours in the 32 degree Celsius heat was a bit exhausting (5am to 11:30pm for seven days straight, anyone?).  Nevertheless, words cannot describe what I am feeling now: we are onto something BIG here.

In looking at raw data, I have always thought that Worldreader’s mission, while being ambitious/ bordering on slightly crazy, could work.   Just look at the facts.   The need is: literacy rates are too low and teachers in rural Africa have difficulties getting books–students practically don’t have them at all.  Dropout rates are high- especially among female students.  I always ask myself: “How can children learn to read if they have no books?”   The solution?  Cell phone technology has laid out a path for 3G e-readers to work in the most remote areas all over the world.  E-readers use little battery power and can be recharged on solar power.  Books are going digital resulting in a game-changer that some argue is reminiscent of the printer press.  E-readers are dropping in price.   Yet, having command over this data is one thing, while being there and living it brought me to another dimension completely.   During this trip, I experienced the massive impact that we can have on people’s lives using simple innovation.

What struck me as we landed in Accra and drove out to Kade is that we were leaving an area with infrastructure and going out into deeper Ghana, where Africa’s hackneyed images stretched out before me: chickens and baby goats zig-zagged the road, small wooden huts lined the pot-holed and unpaved streets, women with baskets of everything-under-the sun balanced on their heads.  While it was my first time in Africa, I felt as if I have been there a thousand times.  As I looked at the landscape, I confess I was thinking, “It’s a good idea in theory, but it will never work.”  In truth, I was alarmed at my own skepticism about a project whose mission,”Books for All,”  I believe in to my very core.

Parents and Children listening to the Village Chief

Sunday morning, we drove up to a purple church perched on a slight hill in Kade where the whole community had gathered for a Worldreader presentation.  There, the Village Chief, the church’s minister, and a select group of teachers addressed over 200 parents and their children.  While the speakers bounced between Twee and English, it was easy to understand that the community leaders believed in and were committed to having e-readers work in their community.  They spoke of how lucky their community was to be selected as one of the first in Ghana and how they are going to make Ghana proud for generations to come.   A 16-year-old boy named George was selected from the audience and was asked to read an excerpt from Pride and Prejudice, which he did beautifully and then declared that he loved reading on the e-reader.  Then the entire community took a pledge to support and care for the program.  I began to think, “Wait a minute, could this be happening?  Could the whole community support this?”  The collective support of the community would be an invaluable asset for something as revolutionary as this.   But there are going to have to be some heroes too.. .and sure enough there are.  Check back in with us over the next couple of days and we’ll continue with this incredible story.

George reading from Pride and Prejudice

The Village Chief: “We are among the first communites in Ghana with the e-reader, and we will make future generations proud!”