During a visit to east and central Africa in 2011, an SAP executive, Hannes Liebe and his wife saw first-hand the desperate situation the street children of Uganda were facing. The Pair quickly established the Good Future and Hope charity to tackle this issue. The initial refuge they established was a 3 room rented house that provided shelter for more than 40 orphans. With the help of SAP’s Corporate Social Responsibility program this is now a dedicated 8 building facility housing over 70 children. To make the orphanage self-sufficient financially and give the children an education and a future a project was started to construct a school on the site. The school would bring in fees from boarding students that would fund the overall operations of the charity. SAP would assemble a team to go onsite and complete the final stages of marketing, and IT installations. One of the key selling points for the school would be the provision of a computer lab for the students. A unique project management challenge begins for SAP IT!
The problem: Provide a school located in an orphanage 3 hours into the Ugandan bush that has no electricity with a computer lab.
IT is all about problem solving, I am an avid believer if you don't flex your intellectual muscles regularly they fade away. What better way to exercise the muscles that don't regularly get used working in clean offices with fibre cables and mains power, take yourself somewhere there's nearly nothing and create something that will enhance the future of children that months ago had a very bleak future living on the streets of Uganda.
Some clear challenges stood before us, power, equipment, network, security, resilience and support. Whatever we build needed to be powered, needed to be able to be imported into the country, connected together, not attractive to thieves, be able for the harsh environment, and be simple enough to support untrained staff could handle failures. Simple!
Without much debate solar power was clearly our only option. Even with a large install, running desktops and laptops was going to be pushing the limits of any system. Combined with power requirements, simplicity to support, resilience, zero resale value and reduced need for patches made the choice for Raspberry PI’s as our platform of choice an easy one. As luck had it the Model 2 B had just been released, greatly increasing the processing power and further reducing the power needs.
A modern computer room is not much without content for the students. Building a LAN is easy for IT people, creating an educational environment with content is a challenge out of our normal comfort zone. This was easily overcome with the aid of a Raspberry PI Khan Academy platform, KA-Lite. KA-Lite contained thousands of videos, tests, student management system and progress tracking, all of which was stored off-line on a PI server, but also backed up student records to the cloud. Hey we’re SAP! You can definitely say we are “The Cloud Company” when we're storing student records, of an orphanage in Uganda that up till recently didn't even have power, in the Cloud!
The PI design was made super simple and super robust. Washable Mice and Keyboards for the harsh dusty environment, 130% extra network points for growth and spares, 1 button re-imagining of the OS with the aid of a SD card duplicator, workstation designed with clients integrated into the screens. I was lucky to have a very talented and enthusiastic team that designed and implemented all of this.
1KM of Cable, 15 HP LCD Screens, 16 Raspberry PI’s, 180’000 KM travelled and 4 weary dirty IT guys later our orphanage and schools has a computer lab!
The quote give to us as the start of this project by the Corporate Social Responsibility project manager seems very apt to finish on, as it's something I believe we achieved…
“Your life should consist of more than commuting, working, eating, surfing the Internet, sleeping and watching TV. Your life should be filled with purpose-driven experiences and projects that bring excitement, passion, energy, and authentic meaning and joy into your life.”
Some images from the project and my travles in country are below...