Tiny white flakes cover computers in a small classroom, giving the impression that winter has come. But these flakes of white are really blankets of dust over the new technology in Burkina Faso, Africa.
Valerie Fry, a BYU communications graduate, is working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the small arid country of Burkina Faso, south of the Saharan Desert, for 18 months. To help people in this developing country, Fry is an Information Technology teacher at the College de Jeunes Filles de Koubri instructing girls ranging from 12-20 years old. This private, all-girl boarding school has around 350 students in attendance. Through cooperation with parents and administration, Fry has not only brought these girls computers, mice and keyboards, but taught them how to use them. These invaluable tools are an upgrade from the outdated relics used just a few years ago.
“In 2008, they were still teaching kids how to use typewriters,” Fry said.
Fry said she was thinking of what to do after graduation from BYU when she came across a Peace Corps spokesman at a career fair. He inspired her to bless the lives of others in ways she couldn’t have imagined.
“It did seem like something that would be really hard,” Fry said, “but really, really worthwhile.”
Dara Blanchette, a BYU graduate, was a friend of Fry’s at BYU. Blanchette said she was always a pleasant person to be around.
“She was always really sarcastic and funny,” Blanchette said. “But she was also a very nice person.”
Laurie Stradling, a BYU graduate, was not surprised that Fry chose to help people in such a way. Stradling was a friend of Fry’s while they worked together at the Daily Universe.
“Valerie was somebody who really brought a bit of levity into an intense school situation,” Stradling said. “I’m not surprised she’d give of herself in such a way. She was always helping lighten the load.”
Three years ago, a non-governmental organization presented the Burkinabe with 17 computers that have helped these girls learn what they need in a linked-in world. They’ve been taught everything from word processing to using a mouse. Unfamiliarity with computers was a challenge at first, especially for the Burkinabe. Many people held the mouse backward and feared reaching the edge of the table even though the mouse cursor had not reached the edge of the screen.
“When I first got here … a student walked into the computer lab,” Fry said, “and she goes, ‘Oh man, there are televisions here?'”
Fry said most did not know what computers were, let alone the functions. Fry taught the Burkinabe basic information to aid them in advancing in a technological age and in their economy. The Burkinabe who use computers have better employment options, such as teachers or government employees, with better pay. Fry hopes those whom she taught will have the chance to have such careers and futures.
Fry will be returning to the U.S. in August. Her legacy will remain in not only the hearts of her students, but in text as well. She said she won’t have a replacement coming into the country, so she is working on an introductory textbook on computer technology in her stead for the Burkinabe.
“When I leave,” Fry said, “they will go back to their way with (computers) probably. What I hope will happen is … that they will continue to teach computers in a productive way.”
Since its establishment in 1960, more than 200,000 volunteers and trainees have worked with the Peace Corps in 139 countries. There are now 9,095 volunteers helping in 76 countries with various needs such as health, business development and education.
Burkina Faso is helping to rebuild the computer lab at this school and, according to the Peace Corps, will donate about 25 percent of the total cost. The remaining cost is about $2,500. Fry encourages those who are able to donate to this or other projects operated by the Peace Corps by visiting peacecorps.gov.