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Living in the United States we are constantly wired—communicating with our friends via instant messenger, using the wealth of information that Wikipedia provides to research some unknown person, event, or place, or even reading articles from newspapers and magazines across the globe—all tools readily available with basic internet. Technology plays such an important role in our lives now that most of us cannot imagine a day during which we don’t check our email at least once, and we cringe at the thought of denial to such access. In a society with such a high rate of digital literacy, we often take for granted the conveniences that technology provides—complaining if a website loads too slowly or of the difficulty of formatting a document in Microsoft Word. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the marvel of the internet, or, even on a more basic level, of word processing programs.
For the past month, I have been working in the heart of La Plata, Argentina at a comedor called Asociación Civil El Roble. El Roble is a non-profit after-school program that supports thirty-five children living below the national poverty line by teaching important social development skills and offering supplementary educational programs. Although I assist in many different daily activities, my main responsibility has been as the computer teacher for the youth there. The Argentine public education system is drastically underfunded, and, as such, these children do not have access to computer technology at school, much less at home.
Recently, however, El Roble won a grant to purchase two new computers and also received several donations of used computers from friends of the organization. I have been working to get all of the computers up and running, and now El Roble has a working computer lab with five functioning computers. It is a true joy to see the genuine excitement and enthusiasm the children have about their new computer lab. Every day, after arriving at El Roble, the first thing they want to know is who will comprise the initial group to be in the computer lab that day. One boy, Marcelo, even tries to arrive as soon as the center opens—as early as possible in order to be able to use the computers before anyone else is here.
Before this experience, I would not have considered myself particularly skilled with computers (I still wouldn’t now, but my expertise has increased dramatically); however, for this reason, I have enjoyed the opportunity to learn more. So far, we have only been working on basic skills, trying to achieve a general familiarity with the mouse, keyboard, and essential programs like Microsoft Paint, Word, and PowerPoint. Nevertheless, the children have such an eagerness and interest in learning such programs, that I have been reminded of the same wonder I had towards computers when I was younger, just learning to use the mouse and type.
Because many of the children have never been exposed to computer technology before, during the first classes all the information I offered was completely new for them—how to save a file, how to delete text, how to double click. However, due to their subsequent experimentation with these basic programs, they have learned tricks even I didn’t know before. For example, now, thanks to the help of Ernesto, I can now make an eraser in Paint the size of the entire screen. It’s something small, but still exciting—it reflects their independent thinking and desire to share knowledge. We are hoping to install internet in the coming weeks to introduce them to the infinite wonder of the web.