Oh NGO Where Art Thou?
November 23, 2012 6:16 AM   Subscribe

Is there an NGO somewhere that I might partner with to get laptop computers for some monastery schools in Burma/Myanmar?

On a visit to Bagan, Burma recently I encountered many young people who told me that had no access to state run schools because they had to pay for them. The alternative is monastery based education which also has some cost but is not as expensive as the state schools.

In talking with the monks who ran the monastery schools, they indicated their most urgent need was for laptop computers. I said I would research the problem and try to find donors in the US/Europe/Etc.

My guess is this is done most effectively through an NGO. Which ones my be the best to approach about a partnership? This isn't a problem of money as much as one of importation and access.
posted by Xurando to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're asking the wrong people. This should be done through an NGO local to the monastery schools , ask the schools about local NGOs focussing on education and connect with them. You need the local NGO for monitoring of the program and accountability - so it's important to find someone to work with who you can trust, who you believe is not corrupt.

You can use an NGO local to you in the USA (like a church group or Rotary) to gather tax deductible donations once you find a suitable local partner to send them through. If no local NGOs are working on laptops for school, ask them why. My experience working in a resource-limited developing country has indicated that if you only do a cursory job on a needs assessment, you may be likely to get misleading answers about the most pressing needs (i.e. African village communities where the top 3 killers are pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea, community members say their biggest need is electricity for television. Hospital where there are few doctors and family members provide all nursing care, that is plagued by medication shortages amongst other problems, hospital administrators say their greatest need is a CT scanner). I know nothing about Burmese monastery schools, maybe they really do need laptops more than anything else, but in your visits, I would just ask - did the students have adequate books? desks? chalkboards? were the schools themselves falling apart (roof, etc)? Did they have reliable electricity sources?

Final point: if you donate laptops, there needs to be a program to train the people at the school to use them responsibly. Giving laptops to a group of people who don't know how to protect them is a recipe for laptops that will be non-functional within a few months due to infestations of viruses and malware.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:34 AM on November 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Check out the One Laptop Per Child project
posted by Sophont at 6:53 AM on November 23, 2012

I don't mean to be a perpetual raincloud here (working in an NGO can make you cynical!) - but I notice the One Laptop Per Child program is not functional in Burma. Usually asking national or multinational NGOs to work in a place where they don't work is a nonstarter for administrative reasons. Also, the One Laptop Per Child program website states that they work by distributing the laptops through the government to schools, which doesn't sound like what you're looking for - I still think you want something local if you want to do something more informal/ad hoc that allows you to have control over where the laptops go.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:05 AM on November 23, 2012

World Education Thailand does somewhat similar work for the migrant communities along the Thai-Burma border. I'm not sure they'd be the right fit for something outside of that particular community, as it could likely stretch their already limited resources, but it is possible that they might have some suggestions/advice/recommendations for you.
posted by elizardbits at 7:41 AM on November 23, 2012

The monks I met at the monastery are getting scholarship aid money from the new USAID program in Burma. We are talking about middle school, high school students and beyond and computer training should not be a major issue. I was told by someone it would be easier to buy computers in Yangon than import. I'm not sure about partnering with USAID.
posted by Xurando at 7:54 AM on November 23, 2012

that USAID link is a good lead! You can set up to get grant e-mail alerts for AID for Burma on the www.grants.gov page (I searched the website and there aren't any current grants for Burma being offered). You can see from the country profile you linked to that they specifically want to support education for IDPs, migrants, refugees. I'm assuming that this school has some involvement with those groups since they are already getting the AID funding. Could you call the local USAID office they are working with and discuss the idea with them? They might know about other sources for funding or other NGOs, as well.

I agree with the idea that it will be easier to buy things locally than to import - you run into many potential issues with importing like theft of mail, having to bribe customs officers, high shipping costs, etc. Plus if you buy local you support the local economy.

I'm not so sure about the idea that middle school and high school students don't need computer training. Middle and high school students can be very susceptible to infecting computers with viruses and malware because they do things like download/install programs without verifying what they are downloading or how secure it is, click on spam links, etc., especially if there are flashy ads or popups promising them free stuff, ringtones, games, whatever kids like these days...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:41 AM on November 23, 2012

Not to be a downer, but the cost of importing computers is usually prohibitive versus buying locally. (This wouldn't be true if you brought one as a gift on a trip, but if you're shipping a bunch, it wouldn't work.)

Moreover, you can't just give a bunch of computers - there needs to be training, maintenance, and a consideration for ongoing costs (internet, power).

All-in-all, if there is a need for computers, the schools themselves need to figure out what donor groups in country are doing technology related programs and apply for them.

If you want to be helpful, you can proofread grant applications for them.

(I used to work in Information Technology for Development and my research is on technology in developing countries.)
posted by k8t at 9:45 AM on November 23, 2012

In looking at the USAID web site, I've decided to contact them and get their take on this. Again, I have problems in general with USAID, but they seem to be one of the few games in town (Burma). I'll post outcomes if any.
posted by Xurando at 5:14 PM on November 23, 2012

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