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Archive for the ‘Phase 1’ Category

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A big thank you to Jorge Coelho, UI/GSLIS alum who supported this project and the concept of service learning/action research. The project could not have been completed without his financial and in-kind support. Having a minibus and driver to transport us during the first week was an immeasurable asset. Helcio as a guide and interpreter was invaluable. The trip was a perfect demonstration of service learning where staff at both the airport and the library learned from us and we learned much from them.

Looking toward the future, it is clear how the model of interdisciplinary service learning can expose students to the benefits of working with other disciplines on a broad but singular project. The airport in Sao Tome is just such a project. There is expressed need for a new terminal, computer training center for airport employees, site planning, housing/relocation planning and commercial development. This could involve architecture, library and information science, planning, landscape architecture, commerce and business.

This project also exposed students to a broader experience, working outside the UI campus and in an international environment. I’ll let Brett, Beth and Jake speak to the educational benefits associated with this type of project and service learning as a viable academic approach.

-Paul

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Saturday

I arrived at the airport at 4:30 a.m. The flight in (from Lisbon) arrives at 5:30 and departs at 7:30. This is the primary flight out of the country. Waiting in line I see and talk with a number of people whom I have met in the last two weeks. The guys with NCIS are heading back to their home bases in southern Europe. The director of the telco is heading to Lisbon for training and holiday. I finally get to speak with a person I had met earlier who is with International Alert, an NGO working in Sao Tome. His organization works with conflict resolution. They have been in Sao Tome conducting workshops with different constituent groups discussing the potential conflicts (and how to avoid them through community input and government transparency) which might arise when oil revenues begin. The flight has a stop in Cape Verde before continuing to Lisbon. It is an interesting contrast. We leave Sao Tome, a lush tropical island and land in Sal, Cape Verde, a dry wind swept desert island where there is hardly a tree in sight. We arrive in Lisbon at 4:30 p.m. My flight back to the US is tomorrow morning. Almost home, great trip, start planning for the next one, more projects and more students.

-Paul

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Friday

Friday

I am down to my last day. Jorge and I arrived back in Sao Tome city at noon. Helcio met me at 1:30 and we went to TAP Airlines office to confirm my flight home. The process is not as drawn out as last year. However, I need to arrive at the airport three hours before departure (4:30am) to stand in a number of lines. Jorge has been working on the logistics of moving large numbers of people through the checking/boarding process in a much more manageable manner. When an Airbus arrives and passengers disembark while others are trying to leave (using the same space) it becomes a problem because space is at a premium.

I finally met the director/principal of the high school. I was given a tour of the high school including the teachers lounge and library, both locations where computers are needed. There are over 5000 students attending the high school. The day is divided into two shifts. Younger (and less prepared) students attend during the morning while the older more advanced students attend in the afternoon. There are currently no working computers available for students. There were approximately a half dozen working computers for teachers and staff. The computers ranged from Pentium II to III models. The need is great and the potential for multiple computer labs is obvious.

I met Jorge and airport staff for dinner. Look forward to seeing them in Champaign/Urbana this summer.

-Paul

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Thursday

Jorge has invited me to be his guest at a small island resort off the south east coast of Sao Tome. The resort encompasses the entire island. It is own by Pestana Hotels and Resorts, a Portuguese company. Pestana is also making a major footprint with new construction in Sao Tome city. A three hour bus drive through the jungle and a short twenty minute boat ride brings you to the island, 00 degrees latitude (on the equator). Jorge and I have been running in opposite directions for most of the time I have been here. We see this as an opportunity to slow down, relax, chat and renew our friendship (and plan for the next trip). Quite a place, pictures forth coming. We return tomorrow, Friday, last day before returning home.

-Paul

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Wednesday

Still trying to make contact with the high school principal and pick up the tourism report. Head over to the airport to meet with Jorge and staff. Jorge would like to send his co-board members to UI for intensive short term (1 month) English language training. He would like to have this completed with in the next several months. Vicki is looking into the possibilities.

We discuss the potential construction of a two story up scale shopping mall. The developers want to construct on airport property and they want a decision fairly soon. Jorge needs to give a recommendation to the Minister of Infrastructure. My counsel is to conduct a site plan for the entire airport campus. Just placing buildings where ever developers want to build is not sound policy. Particularly, if the long term goal is to build a new terminal, expand the parking tarmac and build complimentary structures. There is the potential for a URP class this summer to investigate possible scenarios for the airport campus. If Jorge can hold off for a while he will be in a better position to make an informed decision.

Had lunch with two civilian investigators with NCIS, yes like on TV. They were working in concert with the naval vessel and local law enforcement conducting training exercises. One is a friend of Jorge and they connect when ever he is on the island. Excellent lunch of sea food and interesting conversation.

Tried once again to get the report and meet the principal. Tomorrow is another opportunity. I return to my hotel and find a formal invitation from Captain John Nowell, the commodore of the US Navy Destroyer Squadron Six Zero as well as the commanding officer of the USS Kaufman to attend a reception on board the ship that evening. At the last minute the reception is relocated to a local hotel due to high seas. Don’t know how I made the invite list but it turns out to be a great opportunity. Spoke with the US Ambassador. He mentioned that (Navy Seabees) had done some construction work at the main high school. He is very interested in our plans to bring computers and training to schools and libraries. I asked about USAID assistance. He indicated that he would like more involvement by USAID in Sao Tome. The regional office is in Ghana. Will contact them and follow up with the Ambassador/staff when I return to campus. Also spoke with Captain Nowell. He indicated a couple of ways that the Navy might be of assistance. He offered to transport to Sao Tome any computers that we could get to the Norfolk Naval Base. He also said that the ships which visit Sao Tome (several times a year) have IT personnel. They would be interested in working with our students and possibly check on the status of computer labs (trouble shooting if necessary) when they are in port. Chatted with the US Military Attaché with the Gabon/Sao Tome Embassy. He is interested in discussing our projects in more depth. Partnerships abound. Spoke with the US Embassy liaison in Sao Tome. A woman who knows everyone. She made arrangements on the spot for me to meet the high school principal Friday afternoon. Also received an invitation to visit the ship on Friday. Not a bad day.

-Paul

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Tuesday

This morning was running about. First to the tourism office to pick up another report. The report was not ready when I arrived. Next, to speak with the director of the main high school in Sao Tome city, also not in her office. Not all is lost; Helcio and I head out to check wireless interference. We will be back later to try again to make contact. Sao Tome time is when they are ready for us, something I have learned and find workable. We conducted an initial test at the hotel (site one). We move on to two locations around the enormous Voice of America site. Over a dozen towers broadcasting to all of Africa and beyond. The equipment and software appear to be working well. We head up the mountain to test sites at two plantations. We then drive to the north (and more remote) part of the island. We tested seven sites. One of the sites I believe is perfect for an experimental wireless connection. The site is located close to the top of the mountain. From that plantation (cocoa) you can see Neves, the town below. The plantation has no telephone but there are power lines with a tower that will work out nicely. Last evening the director of the telecommunication company announced on TV that they would provide Internet connection to all schools on the island, a major breakthrough, something that can work with our interest in bringing computers to library and schools. It also means that there will be Internet in Neves with direct line-of-site to the highest point of the plantation where the bulk of the housing is concentrated. I am becoming less convinced that the wireless protocol we have in mind will work in Sao Tome. The jungle is too thick, direct line of sight is difficult to find, plantations are so remote and scattered. It will require more thought and investigation.

Helcio and I descend the mountain and stop at a small restaurant in Neves which is famous for its large crabs. These crabs are huge. He orders 2 kilos (4.4lbs) which equals 3 crabs. Sea food heaven. It starts to rain, the second time in the last week and a half. Nice to have rain but does little to diminish the heat and increases the humidity. I think I live in a state of humidity (a perpetual sauna). Forget trying to dry off. The contrasts are significant, there is as much as a 40 degree difference between the temperatures on the beach and at the top of the mountain. We head back towards Sao Tome city driving along the coastal highway. A storm in coming ashore and I would like to catch the high school principal and pick up the report before the end of the day. No such luck. Will try again tomorrow.

A US Navy frigate, the USS Kaufman came in today and is anchored just off from the city. Much of the crew is ashore with many staying at my hotel. They are also accompanied by a professor from University of Texas. It appears that the navy has been putting university faculty on ships to teach undergraduate classes. The sailors say that it is great because they are not limited to when they are at base to take classes. Many I spoke with have completed a couple of years toward a degree. The classes are free of charge with only the cost of books paid by the sailors. The hotel bar is hopping, time to retreat to my room.

-Paul

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Everyone has returned home with the exception of me. Last week was a whirlwind of meetings and projects. This week’s schedule is full but should be at a little slower pace. Yesterday, Sunday, was a day to relax and recharge for the upcoming week. Jorge and I went out to dinner last evening and ran into Barrie Walkley, the US Ambassador to Gabon and Sao Tome. He was in the company of Jan Hartman, Columbia University and embassy staff. Jan, retired from the US State Department has been living in Sao Tomes for some time. She also was instrumental in securing a Fulbright for Jorge so he could attend the UI. The Ambassador expressed interest in the university’s work and suggested that I meet with him later in the week.

This morning I met with Jorge at length to discuss his strategy for development of the airport, finances, social equity and of course politics. Jorge was executing a contract this morning with a Portuguese company for $4mil to begin what he sees as the most pressing problems, runway improvements and physically securing the premises. A major problem is the fishing village located to the east and cut off by the airport. Residents must walk across the tarmac to collect water, go to school or travel to town. Jorge is building a fence around the property which will stop pedestrian traffic but also eliminate their water source. It also lengthens the journey to town. As part of his contract he is constructing a new well in the village. One of the lessons Jorge learned from his work at Prairienet and the East St. Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP) is that building community consensus goes a long way to securing public support. His conversations with the villagers and providing for their needs will reduce the potential for conflict. In my discussions with him this morning I have come to appreciate how he has incorporated his experience at the UI into his work and become a master at building partnerships of different constituents that work.

Today I also met with the president and the secretary of the federation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). There are approximately 80 local organizations dealing with health, social and educational issues. This is a fairly new federation that has been in existence for only 6 years. The federation is responsible for assisting in the capacity building of their member organizations. Jorge has suggested that if the UI intends to continue to work in Sao Tome it would be appropriate to form a NGO and join the federation. This would function much like the university’s office in East St. Louis, the Neighborhood Technical Assistance Center. That office formalized the relationship between the university and local partners and coordinated faculty/student research and service learning projects.

This afternoon I stopped by the large high school located in Sao Tome City to initiate a meeting with the principal. She was not there and an appointment is scheduled for tomorrow. My interpreter and guide, Helcio gave me a driving tour of several areas of the city that were in need of serious urban planning, a potential future student project. We also began planning for our wireless site survey which we will begin tomorrow.

-Paul

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