x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE students open online world to poor Kenyans

Students from Dubai Women's College help a needy school in Kenya set up a new computer lab.

Rawdah Darwish, from Dubai Women's College, sets up one of the donated laptops in the wireless computer lab the UAE students established for others in the Kenyan town of Mariakani. Courtesy of Higher Colleges of Technology
Rawdah Darwish, from Dubai Women's College, sets up one of the donated laptops in the wireless computer lab the UAE students established for others in the Kenyan town of Mariakani. Courtesy of Higher Colleges of Technology

DUBAI // Students from Dubai Women's College have been helping a needy college in Kenya set up a computer laboratory.

Using 20 laptops donated by the federal college, the final-year IT networking students installed a wireless internet system in a rundown vocational college, the Mabati Technical Training Institute, in Mariakani.

The institute was set up in 2004 to train poor students in vocational skills such as car mechanics, welding and dressmaking, to help them find employment.

Creating the computer lab was the graduation project of six students at the Dubai college and part of their international work-experience programme.

One of those students, Hadiyah Malallah, 30, said she was shocked by the poverty in the country. "I knew it would be poor but I wasn't expecting it to be so bad," she said. "I've never seen anything like that. These people really need help."

She claimed the project was rewarding because as well as being able to use her theoretical knowledge in a real-life situation, "it made me realise how lucky we are".

"In every step, these people need help, from money to clothing."

Ms Malallah was inspired by the people at the institute who were working so hard to better themselves. "Even if they are not educated, they are really trying. I felt very lucky that we have so many opportunities."

In addition to the project, the students took food, money and medical donations to a local school, mall and hospital - donations collected from the students' friends, families and social networking groups.

"It was very emotional for some of the girls," said Maryam Al Shihhi, 28. "It was so hard to see people with no food, no home, people sleeping in the streets."

Last year, a severe drought - the worst in 60 years - hit the country, which is dependent on agriculture and livestock. It led to a major food shortage and famine that affected 2.4 million Kenyans, according to the United Nations.

On the UAE's National Day the students went to a Kenyan mall to celebrate with fellow shoppers by distributing Emirati food.

"They are such kind, polite people," added Ms Al Shihhi.

Rawdah Darwish, 26, said the trip provided a sharp contrast to life in the Emirates. "We don't have so many people suffering and so poor like this. We are very lucky. It's really shown us the importance of saving money and thinking twice before we spend it."

In the area the students visited, the average household income is about Dh270 a month.

Ms Al Shihhi added: "This trip has changed everything, much more than just the things we have learnt in the classroom.

"After doing this project, I feel I can do anything now and we can fit into any environment. Visiting Kenya was really beyond our expectations."

Zahoor Butt, the teacher who accompanied the students on the trip, said he was overwhelmed by the efforts of the young women.

He said: "We had been given a wish list from Kenya with the things they would like, which included things such as rice and oil. That wouldn't be practical for us to carry, so they got things like clothes and stationary instead.

"I couldn't believe where they got it all from."

He added that the project's impact was clear immediately.

"As soon as the lab went live, the students were so keen to start using the laptops. We've opened up the world to them," he said. "They were setting up email accounts, Skype accounts."

Previously, the African students had no access to the internet.

"Now we want to do this more and go into other places, hopefully next will be Uganda," Mr Butt said.

"We can find a use for the old machines we have which otherwise would be thrown out, and recycle machines to take to these countries."

mswan@thenational.ae