Wings for West Africa in the NEWS

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Articles about Wings for West Africa
Local effort puts African schools in computer age.

Washington Township teachers develop tech connection with Senegal.
By Gretchen Rush, Indianapolis Star ( gretchen.rush@topics.com)
August 14, 2003
Wings in the News Habib
Wings in the News Habib
Habib Diatta opens the newly designed Web page for his nonprofit, Wings for West Africa. The Northview Middle School French-language teacher helps get computers and equipment into his native Senegal.

INDIANAPOLIS — Two years ago, schools in Diofior, Senegal did not have running water. Today the West African city’s schools have an entire computer network, thanks to the help of two Washington Township teachers.
Habib Diatta, Northview Middle School French teacher, and Kathy Lattimer, who teachers French at North Central, started the Wings for West Africa program in June 2001. The not-for-profit donates computers and other technology equipment to Diatta’s native Senegal.
The two teachers’ paths first crossed in 1998 when Lattimer fulfilled a lifelong dream of traveling to West Africa with a group from the Peace Corps.
“I wanted an authentic trip, not in air-conditioned hotels or buses,” Lattimer explained.
Diatta hosted students and teachers, including Lattimer, during their three-week stay five years ago. They continued to exchange e-mail.
Diatta started the Wings program while teaching in a middle school before coming to Washington Township. But the program had its roots earlier in a college computer course.
“It planted a seed, and I started from there,” he said. He learned Windows and Office programs and bought books on technology from the United States and France.
Today, four of the African district’s 10 schools have computer technology, in a program Diatta built from scratch.
“I started at my own school, teaching word processing and computer maintenance before we had computers,” Diatta said. “I trained one or two teachers at each school, and then they train other teachers and the students. They were very curious.”
Once training began, Diatta said the rush was on from staffers wanting to learn more.
“I would rush to my school,” he recalled of those days. “It was my life. I remember spending the night at the school.”
He began with the basics, emphasizing word processing in the now self-sustaining program.
“Word processing was the most important, because you had to travel 147 kilometers back and forth to the capital city to have one document typed,” Diatta said. “It cost a fortune.”
The Washington Township school’s technology department donated older computers, as have some churches. Word of mouth also has helped the project grow. The Ice Miller law firm donated all of the legal services to get the nonprofit organization off the ground in June 2001.
“Washington Township has been very supportive,” Lattimer said. “We went back last year and got to see the fruit of much of our work.”
Today, Lattimer and Diatta use her two-car garage as a warehouse to collect computers while cars sit out in the rain, sleet and snow. Donations are welcome anytime for their one shipment per year. They accept computers, other technology equipment and even boxes for shipping.
Diatta came to Northview to teach French last year after visiting and co-teaching with Lattimer in 2001.
“I was thrilled by the philosophy underlying in the system in Washington Township,” Diatta said. “The building of a multicultural community was one of their main goals. It was the hook. I wanted to take part in that ethnic community.”
The school system currently has a cultural and educational exchange program with China and is planning to start one with Senegal. Last year two high-level government officials from West Africa came and observed a Day of Technology at North Central.
Diatta, who speaks nine languages, brings his African and Muslim background to the district. Outside the classroom, he coaches the Northview soccer team, and his Christian wife teaches at the International School.
In addition to bringing technology to the schools, the Wings for West Africa program has helped boost up Diofior’s economy.
“Travelers tend to stay in the hotels, now that there is a cyber café in the schools,” Diatta said. “Senegal was recently featured by President Bush as a stable, democratic, tolerant country. In the midst of the African conflicts, Senegal is the only country never to have had a coup d’état.”
There are also close roots in America’s black community to the Gorée Island off Senegal’s coast, because slave trade was prominent on the island.
Lattimer and Diatta have three goals for the Wings for West Africa program:
• To promote and support education in rural schools in West Africa — beginning with Senegal.
• To create educational and cultural exchanges between American and African schools.
• To foster respect for the environment by recycling used computers and keeping hazardous materials out of landfills.

Wings for West Africa is a 501(c) (3) non-profit bringing computer technology to rural schools in West Africa