High school group led by RPCV delivers computers, other items to Cameroon

July 19th, 2009 by bobebill


In Cameroon: Members of the Cultural Technological Environmental Exchange group and other leaders gather outside the Sultan’s Palace in Foumban, Cameroon.

Posted by Erin Albanese | The Grand Rapids Press July 19, 2009 01:00AM

PARK TOWNSHIP — West Ottawa High School senior Mike Pietrangelo was back in the lab tinkering with computers just days after returning from two weeks spent equipping schools with systems in Bamenda, Cameroon.

Pietrangelo is among 40 students involved in West Ottawa High’s Cultural Technological Environmental Exchange (CTEE) program, and was among seven who visited the African nation last month to install computers. They were accompanied by three West Ottawa High graduates and a computer technician.

While in Cameroon, they watched 20 students graduate from Longla Comprehensive College with computer knowledge that surpasses many of their American counterparts, Pietrangelo said.

It was just one of his motivations to get back to work rebuilding systems.

The CTEE program, started in 1998 by a group of global-minded students, has resulted in the installation of about 2,000 computers in Cameroon.

The effort evolved from a first shipment of 24 computers for a project covering a range of programs including clothing donations, mosquito nets and tree plantings.

Seventy West Ottawa students have visited the country through seven trips.

“It was fun to go over and see how much happiness you can bring people with the things we consider small here,” said Pietrangelo, explaining the joy of giving a new soccer ball to a team of teenagers and toys to an orphanage.

“It’s amazing to see the goods put to use,” said Erick Swihart, a 2005 West Ottawa High graduate who went as a chaperone for his fourth trip to Cameroon with CTEE.

“It’s an incredible experience. The level of gratitude that is shown to all of us is really unparalleled.”

Longla Comprehensive College was the first secondary school in Cameroon to offer computer networking instruction.

Now, more than 30 schools in the country have established labs through CTEE.

This year, the CTEE contingent updated LCC’s lab with 100 Pentium 4 computers and set up the first lab at an elementary school.

The trips are a culmination of many Sunday afternoons spent in a school bus garage rebuilding, refurbishing, cleaning and configuring obsolete machines and packaging them for shipment.

The computers are donated primarily by the West Ottawa school district, Gentex Corp. and Grand Valley State University.

“Possibly the most significant thing that we, as an organization, have learned from the efforts our student body has made over the years is that it doesn’t take the substantial personality of a Oprah Winfrey, or that level of financial involvement, to have a remarkable and significant impact on the lives of children a world away,” said CTEE sponsor Mike Jaeger, who teaches AP biology and environmental issues in public policy.

“This is especially true of involvement in the developing world,” he said.

Jaeger was a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon from 1989 to 1992.

Amanda Burmeister, a 2003 West Ottawa graduate, chaperoned this year’s trip. A highlight for her was assisting the Peace Corps’ agro-forestry program in planting more than 500 trees in a mountain area near Lake Awing.

She said CTEE has had a major influence on her.

“It really inspired me to care about world issues,” Burmeister said. “It deeply affected me.”

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