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Raising tech-savvy rural children

Caleb Ndaka is taking computer lessons to areas where people have never seen the gadget, let alone use one

Every great project begins with an idea and for Caleb Ndaka, his computer project started with a casual conversation between a group of university students. While studying Information Technology at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Ndaka joined his schoolmates for a weekend getaway organised by a popular campus fellowship known as Nairobi Evangelistic Team. They used to call the getaways ‘plot plot’.

So on this particular day, on their way from Kitengela, they had a conversation about how they could impact society. This involved ideas about how they could match their fun experiences with positive impact.

“We all had laptops and a bit of pocket money. We thought about doing a road trip to a school in a village with no access to computers and train the pupils on computer basics. I followed on that vision and that is how the idea of Kids Comp Camp was born,” says Ndaka.

Growing up in Mwala, Machakos county, Ndaka notes a striking difference between his life in the village then and that of children living there now. “I don’t think the children here walk five kilometres to school like I did in my day.

The few who do, use bodaboda, a majority wear shoes to school; we had none, and it was fun. However, children elsewhere, face more challenges than I did. For instance, this April I was in Adhama Primary School in Tana River and I saw a school with a single classroom serving 150 pupils.

Only two classes learn in a classroom, the rest sit under a tree on the shows of a river, so when the wind and the rains come, there is no school. That was really disheartening,” he reminisces. But there is one similarity though, between life in the village then and now.

Both have no knowledge of what a computer is! Having covered more than 10 villages in 10 counties in Kenya and reaching out to more than 6,500 children between eight and 16 years old, Ndaka says 90 per cent of children he has reached have never used a computer their entire life, while 99 per cent were accessing the Internet for the first time.

“We live in a digital-driven society and the only way to engage today’s world is through computers. It is a basic need for everyone to use a computer, the young and the old, urban and rural, yet most children do not know what a computer is, in this day and age.

That is not good at all,” he retorts. From typing to coding, Ndaka through Kids Comp Camp helps young learners in Africa’s underserved communities access quality computer and coding training, right where they live to help them explore more opportunities in the current technology-driven world.

Caleb Ndaka receiving an award. Photo/Courtesy

His inspiration to teach children from undeserved backgrounds is also borne of the hardships he has endured in life.

After he completed his high school education, he stayed home for four years for lack of school fees before joining college.

He missed public university cut-off by a few points and his family could not afford private or parallel university programmes.

“I tried applying for Kenya’s middle-level colleges unsuccessfully. I think I attended all recruitment by the Kenya Defence Forces, Kenya Police and even the National Youth Service.

Again, all opportunities kept slipping through my fingers.

Life was hard and discouraging. I remember burning charcoal and making bricks for sale to get some cash until an opportunity to go to college, in January 2008 to do a certificate in IT came. Five years later, in May 2013, I graduated with a degree in IT,” he narrates.

He leads a team of four employees supported by hundreds of volunteers. So far, more than 500 volunteers, a majority being university students and young professionals have partnered with them. He says he focuses on children because they are the face of the future; more so, children in rural areas.

More than 70 per cent of Africans begin their lives in rural areas, according to a World Bank report. “I have a dream to see each child, by the time they complete primary school are able to read and write a line of code.

Even if they don’t become coders, they will at least appreciate how coding is powering the digital world. After all, coding also helps them learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are vital skills currently in school and the workplace,” he explains. But Kids Comp Camp does not go without its fair share of challenges.

“We are grappling with ways in which we can scale up in a sustainable way. As we speak, we have diversified the programme to also engage the wider community, beyond children, by training community trainers and mentors through community-based ICT and entrepreneurship course, targeting teachers and youth in the community,” he offers.

Under the brand name Kompyuta Mashinani (Computers in the grassroots), the adult training seeks to increase community participation as they enhance their skills towards employability, entrepreneurial and career path opportunities in the digital economy. They have 25 workstations, laptops, which they travel and camp with in different rural areas across the country.

“Before we have relied on partners and crowd funding. Now we are exploring a revenue through charging the adults who attend Kompyuta Mashinani at an affordable fee of Sh2,000 for an eight-week training on ICT and entrepreneurship,” he says.

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