Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Grad student rounds up computers for Samoa

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Students in Western Samoa often sit on mats on the floor in their classrooms because most don't have desks. Most students don't even have textbooks, much less computers, which are common in Hawai'i classrooms, according to Shawn Barnes.

Shawn Barnes has collected 65 used computers for students in Western Samoa, where he lived as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Photos courtesy of Shawn Barnes

Many students in Western Samoa lack computer access and must share terminals.
Barnes, who lived in the South Pacific nation for nearly three years as a member of the Peace Corps, taught math and science to about 150 high school students at Ulimasao College in Palauli on the island of Savaii. When a private company donated five used computers to the school, he saw what a difference it made in the students' education.

"They are especially anxious to learn computers because they are learning by actually sitting down in front of it and doing something," Barnes said. "Samoan students spend all day writing words down in a notebook to memorize. It's nice to sit in front of a computer and actually do something."

Since leaving the Peace Corps and moving to Hawai'i to work on his master's degree in archaeology at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Barnes has started an effort called "Aloha Computers for Education in Samoa." He has collected 65 used computers in working condition that will be shipped next month.

"I saw the need and when I got back here I saw how many people were just sort of throwing computers out that are still working," he said. "It just seemed to make a lot of sense to try to get them over to Samoa."

Barnes said there are several groups volunteering to help make the project happen, including Polynesian Airlines, which has donated airfare to allow him to return in January. A non-government agency, Ava Noa Tutusa, will help install the computers.


To donate used computers for education programs, call either the Hawai'i Open Source Education Foundation at 689-6518 or Hawai'i Computers for Kids Program at 521-2259.

He said Matson Navigation and Polynesian Line have donated shipping costs for a 20-foot container and UH has donated the use of a storage room on the lower UH campus. Goodrich Trading Co. has donated more than 100 boxes and packing material.

Barnes said electricity is sometimes a problem in the rural areas. He isn't even considering trying to link the students to the Internet because most classrooms don't have telephones, but they can learn the basics.

"Most of the kids using these computers will be for the first time," he said. "Just that you can click things on the screen and things happen, that is really sort of magic to them."

First they will learn about using a mouse and advanced classes will focus on computer programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel and printing.

Esera Lafi, the Peace Corps education program director in Western Samoa, said only three of 20 secondary schools in the island nation have computer labs and none of the primary schools have them.

"It is a great help and a great assistance," Lafi said of the donation. "Some of the schools would love to have computers but they can't afford them. Even second-hand computers."

"I think it is a great eye-opening for those students."

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.