x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

One woman and 5,000 laptops

Tamin-Lee Connolly plans to deliver 5,000 solar-powered laptops to schoolchildren across Africa.

DUBAI // A South African teacher will fly from Dubai to Johannesburg today and begin an epic drive across Africa to deliver solar-powered laptops to thousands of children.

With the click of a mouse, Tamin-Lee Connolly will throw open the doors to the internet, education and technology for children in rural communities in Mozambique, Burundi, Rwanda, Namibia, Ethiopia, Ghana and Morocco.

She has raised funds to help deliver the 5,000 laptops from friends, family, local companies and parents of children who attend the school at which she teaches in Dubai.

"I'm starting to get really nervous but I'm very excited because this is the chance of a lifetime," said Ms Connolly, 31, a geography teacher and swimming coach at Dubai's Emirates International School. "I had set this date four years ago and I knew I had to stick to it even without full funding. I'm hoping for the best."

After flying to South Africa, she will begin the 60,000km journey from Johannesburg tomorrow in a 4x4 equipped with solar panels, a tent and fridge. It will take more than a year to distribute the laptops, but Ms Connolly is still Dh20,000 short of funds for her road expedition. She will dip into personal finances to cover the shortfall.

Well-wishers have pitched in Dh740 for each green and white laptop, filled with educational information. Others contributed about Dh116,000 towards the cost of her trip. Funding lines for her campaign remain open through her Facebook page - Everything Except the Horn - where she will post regular updates.

She is working with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a non-profit organisation that designs low-cost computers for the world's poorest children. The group will provide the laptops, pinpoint the schools and pay shipping costs to the areas identified. Friends and relatives will ride with Ms Connolly on segments of the journey. She plans to meet up with shipments and help OLPC volunteers teach children and teachers to use the laptops.

"It will be a huge milestone for the kids and we can't wait to see their faces," said Justine Wedge, a friend and colleague who will drive with her until December. "It will open the doors to education. It's a fantastic effort and required persistence."

Interest is building in the UAE and overseas about Ms Connolly's expedition. The Lonely Planet will publish a travel journey at the conclusion of her trip, she said. The UAE branch of Contour, an American GPS video firm, has also contributed a camera to record her trip.

"We liked the idea of helping her reach out with technology to aid children," said Kazem Mohaghegh, Contour's managing director. "Her car will be her home and the camera will record her trip that she can post online."

Others described her expedition as courageous. Ms Connolly's car will be fitted with a tracking device and she will be in touch with United Nations representatives in major cities for updates on areas to avoid.

Some 50 sponsors and friends met last week to bid her farewell.

"So many men will not dare to do what she is doing," said Jamil Jamal, an Emirati and committee member of the Dubai 4x4, a club that Ms Connolly rides with into the desert.

"She has to prepare for all sorts of terrain in Africa - desert, rocks, stone and mud. We've talked about how she must regularly get the car properly checked. I sometimes worry about her but I also know she can tackle difficult situations having seen her here in the desert."

Another Dubai sponsor, Cypriaan Hendrikse, the general manager of a marine construction company, said the expedition was an inspiration."It's an adventure and will help young children in another part of the world," he said. "People want to help her reach out and broaden the horizons of these kids."

rtalwar@thenational.ae