Student-Run Nonprofit Aims to Bolster Computer Literacy Half a World Away

Techdren, founded by members of Champlain’s Women in Technology Club, is providing access to technology in Zanzibar schools.

Techdren (TECHnology for chilDREN) is a student-run, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing hands-on technology education to elementary and middle school students in the Tanzanian archipelago. Their mission is “to provide access to technology for all in order to further education and empower women.”

While visiting two primary schools on the island of Pemba in Zanzibar during a Champlain Faculty-Led Travel Course, three students in Champlain’s Division of Information Technology & Sciences (ITS) discovered that many of the children they met loved computer science classes—but they were learning about technology from textbooks. The schools didn’t have the funds to provide computers or laptops.

“Even though we were on the other side of the world, at all of the schools we visited, we encountered so many enthusiastic, passionate young people who shared our dreams—dreams of successful careers in IT and related fields,” said Anna Matich ’20 // Computer Science & Innovation, one of Techdren’s co-founders.

Primary school students on the island of Pemba in Zanzibar.

“Hearing a little girl say, ‘I want to be a scientist when I grow up, or an engineer,’ I thought, ‘I want to help you. That’s great!’” said Anna. Feeling strongly that the best way to learn computer science is through hands-on practice, ITS students Abigail Barr, Anna Matich, and Jacqueline Noborikawa made a commitment to bring technology to the schools in Pemba, and the idea of Techdren was born.

Champlain students in traditional dress wait to learn kiumbizi dance.

As soon as the Champlain students returned to campus in 2018, they got to work fundraising and collecting donated computers from local schools, businesses, and their professors before cleaning them and equipping them with an operating system in Swahili. Techdren works with two volunteer translators to test the computers, and put together a user’s manual before shipping the computers off to Pemba. Techdren also raised money for two solar panels and generators to power the computers. The funds raised go toward refurbishing computers, shipping and travel fees, marketing, and general donations to the school for extra supplies.

Donations go directly to helping school children in Zanzibar receive computers in their classrooms.

Techdren returned to Zanzibar in January 2019 to once again deliver technology and educate students and teachers about the supplies. Accompanying them were 19 first-year Champlain students in a Faculty-Led Travel Course and three faculty members. The Champlain crew were welcomed with songs and dances choreographed especially for them.

“Some of the first-year students were so inspired, they asked to join Techdren,” recalls Anna.

Champlain students handed off the laptops to the Zanzibar students in a ceremonial, formal presentation. Soon after, Anna and Core professor Dr. Stephen Wehmeyer met with the director of schools, headmasters, headmistresses, and students to teach them how to use the computers.

Anna hands a computer to the headmaster of a school in Pemba, Zanzibar.

“Many of these people had never used a keyboard before,” Anna recalled, so they set up the computers’ software to be as accessible as possible from the start. “It’s amazing to see their faces light up as they figure it out.”

Students play around with the touch-screen laptop, courtesy of Techdren.

In January 2020, Techdren will continue their mission and return with more technology for students.

“We will bring a projector, which was requested to help with teaching in a classroom setting, refurbished MacBooks donated to us by Manchester Elementary Middle School, and a generator to go along with the solar panels we provided last time. We plan to have two days of training during which we’ll thoroughly go through all of the technology we bring with the teachers and run some fun educational activities with the students,” says Anna.

Anna shows educators and students how to use the laptops.

Techdren’s staff list is rounded out by Chief Marketing Officer Ashley Bladen ’20 // Computer Science & Innovation, Assistant Technical Officers Madison Brumbelow ’20 // Computer & Digital Forensics, Jessica Turner ’22 // Computer Networking & Cybersecurity, and Emily Platz ’20 // Computer Networking & Cybersecurity, and Chief Financial Officer Caitlyn Dangvu ’20 // Accounting.

“Techdren is definitely a formidable team,” says Dr. Gary Scudder, one of the Core professors who led the initial trip to Zanzibar. “They’ve made it clear they want this work to continue even after they’ve graduated. Recently they made the decision that they want me to find an elementary school in Jordan so that they can bring computers to school kids there. Amazing.”

“We really want to grow Techdren, and everywhere we go, we’d like it to be a sustainable experience,” said Anna. “Since Champlain has such a global focus, it’s a great place to incubate this work.”

Techdren’s staff continues to grow as they expand their impact around the world. Photo by Montserrat Guerra-Solano ’20 // Montserrat Studios Photography and Creative Media Services.

To help raise funds for the return trip to Pemba, they have a Paint and Sip event planned for October 22, as well as other upcoming events at Skinny Pancake, Chipotle, and Five Guys. You can also donate here and check out their website for more information.

More People
Christian Konczal on Champlain’s Evolving Esports Landscape
Champlain Experts Talk AI in the Workplace
President Hernandez: Creating the College of the Future