Twenty residents were met with applause at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Tuesday, presented with a certificate and congratulated by Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger and Council Member Michael Parker.
Each student received a free desk top computer, a keyboard, mouse and router upon completing a computer skills training program for residents who live in public housing.
The computers are a donation from the Town and the Kramden Institute, a Durham non-profit that donates technology tools and training to those who cannot afford it.
Technology Instructor from Kramden, Bill Koeb, has been teaching the class for one and a half years and says the course has made him grow as a person.
“Here you come across people who have escaped third world countries and war. There’s a significant amount of the population that have a completely different experience with technology than the rest of us,” said Koeb. “I have students who are in their seventies who are illiterate, not just computer illiterate but functionally illiterate, who live in public housing. There’s people who have to make decisions to whether they’re going to buy food or whether they’re going to buy healthcare. Not everybody has the same opportunities that everyone has so what we’re trying to do is at least give them the ability to get more information that could possibly help them in whatever situation they are in.”
Student in the class, Berthe Mairounga, danced in celebration as she went up to receive her certificate.
“She has like six children or seven children I think, one of them was killed in Chad, her hands were burned before she came here, she’s got six kids and she jokes about the kids wanting a dog. She’s not thinking about like, “Oh, poor me and feeling sorry for myself”,” said Koeb.
“I like that class. Every year for that class… I’m there. Everybody knows me already because I love to learn about computers. In Chad I never went to school, I don’t know how to do the computer, I don’t know how to do the phone, but when I move here, and I stay in that school, that class, I know how to do my own computer now and I’m happy for the class,” said Mairounga.
“We all know people that have had horrible things happen to them, we hear about them but we don’t often meet them, and then when you see someone that horrible things have happened to and they are happy and positive and kind… I mean, because, I’ve given her so little. She’s done all the work,” said Koeb. “I come in here two hours a week, talk, try and make them laugh, you know, she’s just a nice person, she’s a good lady.”
Mairounga immigrated to America 7 years ago and now that she has a computer at home with internet access, she says she plans on getting on Youtube and improving her English and African cooking.
An organist at St. Bartholemew Episcopal Church in Pittsboro who also completed the course, James Smith, says his family’s computer was stolen during a break in and that the class has been one of the greatest experiences he’s had.
“This is an amazing class. I’ve seen people who didn’t even get a chance for a good education come on this course and they learn how to manipulate the computer at the end of the course. Amazing. And I must say that the tutor was excellent how he got through so much information in such a short space of time,” said Smith.
Koeb says working with people like Mairounga and Smith has made his perspective change completely and that he feels upmost gratitude for being able to be a part of the program.
The town received a grant from Google Fiber to run the course which is a continuing collaboration between the Town and the Kramden Institute.