While we're very excited about the global impact of Summer of Code, sadly we only have three students from all of Africa this year, two of whom are studying abroad. We asked for feedback on what we can do to build awareness of the program in Africa, and Wojciech Gryc volunteered to help by letting folks know about SoC during his upcoming trip to Kenya. We had a chance to learn more about Wojciech's work to spread open source in Africa, and we thought you'd enjoy hearing about his efforts there.
As a Summer of Code student working for OpenOffice.org, my social interests often steer me to a fundamental human problem: can these tools be used to promote international development? Indeed, they can. Half-way through my coding, I am leaving for Nairobi, Kenya to run workshops and tutorials on OpenOffice, Inkscape, and many of the other open source projects being helped through Summer of Code.
And it's amazing how far such workshops can go. In January 2006, Emanuele Lapierre-Fortin and I traveled to Chad to run the first project of this type. We helped Rafigui, Chad's only youth-led newspaper, to turn a set of donated laptops into media centres powered by Linux other open source software. This was done through Five Minutes to Midnight, a media organization I initially started in high school. The workshops were short – only three weeks long – but were enough to allow Rafigui to adopt the software. This summer, they're now running their own set of workshops for other organizations in Chad.
This project continues our earlier work. With a $300 grant, our partner organization, Shining Hope for the Community, purchased a printer; they requested some Ubuntu CDs and used the software to start the only youth-led newspaper in Kibera, Kenya - Africa's largest slum. The youth involved are all highly motivated and interested in improving both their surrounding community and their coding skills. It seems fitting that the software that powers their work was built using a similar mindset.
Even though their are numerous technical challenges, the work is well worth it. By giving people access to computers and training materials, they gain the ability to improve their own communities in a way that fits them through a focused, grass-roots approach. Shining Hope for the Community's newsletter has already been used to spread important health messages by a local clinic. The youth involved are using the skills they've gained to work towards becoming professional journalists. Indeed, some organizations have taken the idea of open source to the next level, developing software for disaster management and reporting of human rights abuses.
So as you code and develop, design and debug, spend a moment thinking of some of the unique and interesting applications your software can have, and some of the unique social problems it could solve.
Our thanks to Wojciech for sharing his story. You can learn more about his trip to Kenya on the Article 13 Initiative site.
If anyone would like to share their story about using open source for social change or philanthropic efforts, post a comment and let us know!