Teacher planning 50,000km drive to spread laptops across Africa

Thousands of children will log on to the internet on solar-powered laptops next year if a teacher can drum up the funds to realise her dream.

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DUBAI // Thousands of children in rural Africa will log on to the internet on solar-powered laptops next year if a teacher at the Emirates International School can drum up the funds to realise her dream. Tamin-Lee Connolly, a South African who hopes to raise enough money to buy 5,000 laptops, plans to drive some 50,000km to Burundi, Mozambique, South Africa, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo starting in July 2011 to distribute them.

Ms Connolly began her campaign two months ago and has already secured 950 laptops, costing Dh740 (US$200) each, paid for by people from Dubai, South Africa, Malaysia and Britain. She is confident she will reach her target over the next year. "Many of these children have never seen technology," said the 29-year-old geography teacher, who also coaches the school's swim squad. "I'm hoping to give them a chance, to open up their world. The laptops will broaden their horizons [and] may help them stay in school."

Ms Connolly is working with One Laptop Per Child, a non-profit organisation that designs low-cost computers for the world's poorest children. The group will help her identify locales in need of computers and will also pay for shipping. The target is to provide 1,000 computers for five countries. The first 1,000 computers will be distributed to children in Burundi, Ms Connolly said. She plans to drive a 4X4 from Dubai through Oman and Yemen, take the ferry to Eritrea and then drive along Africa's coastline to reach the children. However, if Yemen seems especially risky, she plans to bypass it and drive through Saudi Arabia with a male friend.

The longest distance the off-road enthusiast has covered before was 25,000km in Australia eight years ago. Ms Connolly will take a sabbatical next year when she heads out to distribute the laptops across Africa. "I plan to meet the shipments that come into each country, drive with the trucks to the areas we have chosen, train volunteers and teach the children," she said. "This is a dream I've had for so long. I'm trying to promote education and give the children a boost."

She will have a helping hand from a source close to home. A group of parents from her school plan a fund-raising drive in the new academic year to help Ms Connolly reach her target. "Children get used to the affluence here, there is nothing out of your reach," said Linda Pollock-Mirdad, an Irish mother of four. "This will teach children that there are intelligent children in other parts of the world who don't get the opportunity to progress because they don't have access to computers and books."

Lola Lopez, the founder of the Dubai aid group Volunteer, has offered to assist Ms Connolly with volunteers once she reaches her first goal of 1,000 laptops for Burundi. "Once she has got enough laptops for one country, we will help spread the word to get volunteers to help her with the distribution," Ms Lopez said. "It's good for people to get involved and experience something tangible. It will open their eyes to the real world." @Email:rtalwar@thenational.ae