Traveling grace was what my mother prayed for.
it was 1993, and my little proposal to travel to Rwanda with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was finally approved. It was “born” out of my desire to teach ” information access” to librarians everywhere. I was concerned about students of ” color” having an equal opportunity to learn the technology. I was not prepared for this trip, but my Mother was. Let me start at the beginning.
I began to use computers with student in Kansas in 1982. It was a way for them to write reports and check their spelling with a computer. The students on the North end at Hawthorne were kids like I was growing up in the neighborhood. I also let the students use video- cameras to write reports on famous people, including African Americans like Martin Luther King Jr, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and many others. The first computer I used to teach was IBM Commodore 64. I purchased it my son, and I used it at school. The students at Hawthorne used “bank Street writer” to write reports in library classes. I opened the library at 7:30 AM. so kids who were “home alone” because their parents or parent went to work early could come to school early and learn. I also kept the library open after to school so they could stay at school until there was someone at home. Many of the students became successful later in life because Hawthorne was staffed by many teachers who went above and beyond what was required of them, as I did. I was there from 1975-85 before I decided to move on down the “yellow brick road” on my journey.
I decided to return to my Alma Mater, Lincoln University Missouri in 1985, as a Reference Librarian. I was convinced I owed the students the same opportunities, I had given the students at Hawthorne regardless of their ages and that they were college students. I was sure many had never used computers before they came to LU because most were not wealthy, and the schools they had attended probably had few resources, and no computers. I knew it would change their lives. I was right about that. There were no computers in campus, for students unless you were in computer science and they dealt with big “mainframe” computers. The only computers in the library came shortly after I arrived in 1985 or 1986. That computer was used for research for faculty and staff materials. The Online Computer Librar Center (OCLC) was fairly new and not used much in Page Library. I started using it to find articles and books for the faculty. I also used the computer to search for information from Bibliographic Research Service, but it cost money to use both and the library budget, which hadn’t changed in years, had no funds for this. I had be innovative and cheap to use computers in Page library. It was perfect for me, coming from my background. Mom said “Poverty was the mother of all invention” and she was right.
I begged for an old computer for the library, so I could teach students how to use it to write and find information in the library. I found one or two students with computer knowledge from high school and hired them to work in the library. One was a young man from Brooklyn, New York. He was gifted, probably a millionaire by now, but he was paid $5.00 hourly to help me teach student word processing in the library. I hired many other students over the years to help me teach computers in the library. We had sign up sheets and we averaged more than a hundred students each week. I know many of those went on to major in computer science and graduated to be hired in companies like IBM, Monsanto, Farmer’s Insurance, big pharmaceuticals. I still talk with some on Facebook., however my journey was just beginning. I wanted to go to Africa to teach library technology to Librarians, so I wrote a little proposal and it was funded. It was joint venture with LU and The University of Minnesota, anothe Landgrant University, receiving federal funds. It was to be the journey of lifetime.
I was in the middle of a “genecide ” in Rwanda in October 1993. Mom had prayed for a guard outside my door and I had one. He was not like any guard, I had ever seen on TV. He was hired by the hotel where I stayed. He was a little skinny man with a big stick and a big mouth. He made noise all night, laughing and talking and visiting with his friends that came to visit. He spoke no English and I spoke no Kenya-Rwandan. We communicated through smiles and gifts I gave him, like crackers, candy, cans of fruit cocktail, Vienna sausage, and cookies. I was never alone and never afraid. I taught librarians T Butare University about using laptop computers and CD Rom to access information on AIDS. I left on one of last planes to leave Kigali. I waited at the Hotel Rwanda, that was in the movies, entitled “Hotel Rwanda” and I never could identify the two different tribes determined to kill each other. As Maya wrote, ” all God’s children need traveling 👠” and I had mine on when I was born. The Hutu and Tsui tribes killed thousands and the whole world watched. I saw the UN soldiers guarding foreigners like me, and doing nothing to stop the genicide. I prayed and cried for the librarians and professors I met on my journey. I flew to Kampela, 🇺🇬 for my next adventure.