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Get Inspired: Connor's Story

Connor Cimowsky
17, from Toronto

Photo of Connor

My Story

After using computers from One Laptop per Child in our ninth grade computer engineering class, some friends and I were inspired to help other students learn to use computers. Our school's head of digital media helped us pursue the idea. Our mission was to help students at Ntugi Secondary School in rural Kenya.

There were many challenges that we needed to overcome. These included:

  • Power - There was no existing power grid in the school's area, so we had to find a way to charge the laptops. Since it's sunny all year in Kenya, we chose to use solar panels.
  • Internet access -We needed a reliable method of delivering wireless Internet so that the students could use the laptops in the school.
  • Getting support for our project in Kenya - When we first met with the teachers at Ntugi, they didn't seem very receptive to our project. This wasn't surprising to us, though. How would my teachers react if some Kenyan teenagers walked in with the intention of restructuring their teaching styles? But they listened to our proposal, and when we finished outlining our idea, they were genuinely interested in our plans to turn Ntugi into a laptop school.
  • Training the students - Before we arrived at the school, not a single student at Ntugi had ever used a computer or the Internet. We needed to create and provide lessons to teach them everything from turning a computer on to processing lab results.

With the help of donations from family and friends, we were able to pay for the equipment and a monthly Internet service plan. Laptops were donated by a family at our school. Our team provided training to all teachers and students.

Explaining an idea as abstract as the Internet was difficult - our teacher helped us by describing Google as a "personal assistant".

"You ask Mr. Google about something, and he goes to every library on the planet, finding every book that contains any information about your query. He opens each book to the exact page where your question is answered, and sorts these millions of books in order of helpfulness. And he does it all in a fraction of a second." The students couldn't believe that such a tool existed. When we showed them how to use it, they were astonished.

The success of our project at Ntugi has been beyond what any of us could have imagined. Every student at the school is now computer-literate, and able to use the laptops to aid with his or her schoolwork. The laptops have also enabled some of Ntugi's students to rank in the Eastern provincial science fair - Ntugi students hadn't been able to qualify in previous years.

Learning experience

"Balancing school and my work at Ntugi has been a huge challenge. To free up time for Ntugi-related work, I had to stay very organized with my schoolwork and I spent many late nights working to prepare for our trip."

"I've learned that it's possible to overcome barriers that initially seem daunting - it just takes a lot of hard work and determination. My team and I achieved results we would never have imagined before - it was teamwork that made them possible."

Get inspired

"Make sure you have the technical expertise necessary to start and complete your project. Don't be discouraged by seemingly intimidating obstacles. Hard work, good planning, and persistence will always allow you to succeed."

Connor Cimowsky was 15 when he and three friends planned and implemented the Ntugi project. Thanks to their work, Ntugi Secondary School went from 17th to 8th in school district rankings after a year with the laptops. Connor and his friend, Amal Chandaria created a short video to document their struggles and achievements at the school-the video ended up winning the 2009 National Middle School Association video contest. Connor was nominated one of Canada's Top Inspirational Young Leaders by Mike & Ike's 2010 Ante Up competition.

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