Independent Appeal: Whole new world is just a click away for children of Ethiopia

Computer Aid International, one of our appeal charities, is transforming lives in Africa by providing schools with PCs. Paul Vallely reports from Addis Ababa

Yidnekachew Seif is 16 and has not been close to a computer ever before in his life. He is so overawed that he sits back from it, about three feet away, allowing his two friends to control the keyboard and mouse.

The classroom around him is a hubbub. It is alive with excitement as 60 young teenagers crowd around the 20 computers recently installed in Eweket Leheberele High School in the Ethiopian capital. Some jostle for the seats in front of the Pentium 4 PCs, which have recently arrived from England.

Yidnekachew watches wide-eyed as his two friends, Tenesyen and Amanuel, mystify him with the finer intricacies of PowerPoint. Their fingers move rapidly and the mouse arrow flashes across the screen. "It all looks a mystery to me, but I am fascinated," he says. "This is my first time to operate a computer. It's exciting but very complicated. With the help of my friends I hope to be able to master it."

Yidnekachew has only recently joined the class but Tenesyen and Amanuel are old hands. They are making a cover to print off for their exercise books. The letters are 3-D. They have made them recede like the lettering from the poster of some Hollywood epic from the 1950s.

Around them in this practical session their classmates reveal a wide proficiency. At one terminal they are making a Warp Speed screensaver. Others are using an Excel spreadsheet to grade and average the marks of every student and every subject to find out who is top of the class.

In the corner 15-year-old Maharene, another experienced user, is showing her fellow Grade 10 student, Abdi, 18, some computer basics. Many of the children in the class began their education late after the push that was put in place following the Gleneagles debt relief programme, which means classes reflect ability not age.

Across from them is Binyam Geti, 16, who has taught himself how to write codes in Notepad to make the text in his Word document move across the screen like tickertape. "Some of them are very quick," says the teacher, Esiet Haileselassie, an IT graduate of two years' standing.

The buzz in the room is as palpable as the intense heat generated by the combination of computers and the scorching Ethiopian afternoon sun. "These children are more enthused about information technology than any other subject," says the school principal, Yitayesu Kassa. "And we are as excited as they are. The Ministry Of Education made IT one of the six core subjects but until recently it was just an aspiration. We just didn't have the computers."

The machines have been provided by Computer Aid International, one of the charities being supported by the Independent Christmas Appeal this year. Its founder, Tony Roberts, who was an organisational development trainer in Latin America and South Africa, had a double motive. He realised that computers were to become key to the social development of Third World countries and he was outraged at the sheer waste of computers being scrapped.

In Ethiopia he found a willing partner in a small NGO called the Ethiopian Knowledge and Technology Society (EKTTS), started in 1994 to persuade émigré doctors and engineers to return to Ethiopia to bring back some the expertise they had learnt abroad. It then expanded into importing free books for schools. Computers were the next step.

"The computers we have been sent from England have been excellent. Our only problem is in raising money for the shipping costs," says its manager, Haile Sellassie Kebede. "Education here is booming. There are now 14 million primary school students, but one computer for every 350,000 people."

Computer Aid is doing its best to help. But resources are so thin that EKTTS restricts itself to giving a maximum of 10 computers per school. Across the city at the Medhane Alem Monastery School there are 2,500 pupils and just 15 computers. They are used, one between two, by Grade 11 pupils in shifts.

There too they display the same eclectic range of uses. Sabezer Birihane, 16, is changing text so that it flashes in an effect called Las Vegas. "With a computer you can learn much more about the outside world, as it is now, than you can with a book," says Maheat Yimera, 16. "And it's much faster when you want to search for something very specific."

Ninety per cent of the class will go on to university, says the teacher, Shibe Fente, "but we'd like more computers because there is hardly any job, in an office or in the field, where our pupils will not be in a stronger position to get a job if they have computer expertise."

Behind him a screensaver appears on a momentarily idle monitor. "We Need More Computers," it says. We get the message, loud and clear.

Donate now

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
Travel
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
News
The will of Helen Beatrix Heelis, better known as Beatrix Potter, was among those to be archived
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
News
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect