WiRED Collaborates with the American Federation of Teachers to Bring a Computer Information Center to Sierra Leone

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Teachers at the Ahmadiyya Muslim School in Freetown, Sierra Leone (2003).

In celebration of our 25th anniversary, WiRED is pleased to bring you stories from our archives. These articles provide a glimpse of WiRED’s early work as they depict the places and the projects we have focused on over the years.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), representing more than 1.7 million teachers, promotes fairness, democracy and high-quality public education. While the AFT is U.S.-based, in 2003, the union turned its attention to Sierra Leone, which had recently ended its 11-year old civil war. More than 50,000 people died in the war, and many more were left severely disabled by a brutal style of combat that disfigured victims. The education system, like so many institutions across the country, was severely damaged, with buildings destroyed and faculty and staff lost in the conflict.

Freetown sits at the opening of the Tagrin Bay on the Atlantic Ocean

The AFT contacted WiRED and asked if we could install computer facilities in the Ahmadiyya Muslim School, just outside Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The union wanted to provide tools for the teachers and staff to connect with the outside world as they rebuilt the schools and worked to introduce students back into classrooms. Computers were a link to resources abroad, as they were a link to the future for a population beaten down by years of conflict. Ironically, diamonds — a major cause of the civil war — had not contributed funds for the rebuilding effort after the war, and so poverty remained throughout the country.

To help with recovery, the AFT stepped in with a contribution to assist the educational system by providing computers, which WiRED installed. We also trained the teachers and provided lessons for students to use the computers for communication and other classroom activities.

In 2003, Freetown was a dangerous, poor and broken city, and work there was challenging for WiRED, which had to locate and install scarce hardware as well as train the teachers and staff. At that point, WiRED had worked in conflict regions of Kosovo and Bosnia and all the other post-war, Balkan countries and several months earlier had started its years-long projects in Iraq. Conditions in Sierra Leone were tough, but, by that point, WiRED was becoming familiar working in conflict and post-conflict zones and successfully navigated through the project.

Entrance to the Ahmadiyya Muslim School

The work was finished on time and the Ahmadiyya Muslim School had the tools it needed to take the next critical step out of the civil war that had ravaged this troubled country in West Africa.

(Note: The civil war in Sierra Leone served as the setting for the 2006 movie, Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly.)

From November 2003

WiRED International Collaborates with the American Federation of Teachers to Bring a Computer Information Center to Sierra Leone

Teachers practicing on the new computers

On November 24, 2003, in collaboration with the American Federation of Teachers, WiRED installed a computer training lab in the Ahmadiyya Muslim School in Sierra Leone. The facility, which is the first of its kind in this post-conflict, west African country, will introduce some 5,000 students to a technology that will be critical for the economic and social development of this impoverished region. In addition to using the new equipment in their coursework, these students in Freetown will connect with students in Detroit by way of an Internet hook-up already in place. The American Federation of Teachers is coordinating an electronic exchange program between schools on both continents.