Gratitude over grief

ARES provides education materials for rural schools in Kenya

Two male teachers look at the screen of a laptop open in front of them
Two teachers in Kenya look at educational content on one of the laptops set up by the ARES project.

By Sean Hogan, past governor of District 5050 (British Columbia, Canada; Washington, USA) and member of the Rotary Club of Pacific Northwest Passport

I lost my wife, Carol, to cancer last June. It was unexpected and quick – two weeks from diagnosis to when she passed, the day before her 61st birthday. We had 42 wonderful years together and three children who grew into amazing adults.

Rotary has been a big part of our lives since I joined at age 27. It’s given us friends and opportunities that we would never have had otherwise, including when I (we) served as District Governor in 2012-13 (Peace Through Service). One of those opportunities was to be part of Rotary service projects in Kenya starting in 2009. Each of our children joined us on separate trips, and it was life changing for all of us.

The project we’ve been doing in Kenya is called ARES (the African Ruggedized Education System), and our philosophy is that if you truly want to change the world, you begin by educating the children. Remote rural schools often have limited access to books, paper, and writing materials, as well as intermittent power and no internet access.

Bonnie Sutherland joined the Rotary Club of North Delta, British Colombia, Canada (of which I’m a dual member) after retiring as a teacher. She had been working in Africa since 1992 and invited Carol and I to join her on one of her Rotary projects. Bonnie’s NGO, Afretech Aid Society, works with Rotary clubs and Rotary World Help to ship libraries, computers, medical equipment and more to Africa and elsewhere.

Mark Knittel, a member of the Rotary Club of Bellingham, Washington, USA, joined us on our second trip in 2011. Mark created a small server with educational content from pre-school to post-grad, including thousands of video tutorials and books, the Khan Academy, STEM resources, TED Talks, Wikipedia, textbooks, and much, much more. 

An open laptop displaying ARES information.
An ARES server is installed in each school along with laptops, a projector, and speakers. The server contains thousands of video tutorials and books.

We install an ARES server in a school along with 20 laptops, a projector, speakers, earplugs, and mesh network units to share the wireless access throughout. Everything runs on rechargeable batteries, so if the school loses power, the system still operates. The project also provides training and support for teachers through local teams to ensure sustainability.

ARES has concentrated efforts in the Laikipia region of central Kenya. With the completion of a district grant in January, it is now in 40 of 120 secondary schools in the region, with the next phase to target 100 more schools.

In January 2023, I returned to Kenya with our sons (our daughter was unable to join us). Until this year, we had only installed ARES computer labs in secondary schools, but we had been asked to install one in the local community library. 

Carol and I were on the team that worked on the library when it was opened in 2011. She was part of the library team that provided shelving and 8,000 books. When I heard of the request, I agreed to donate the cost of an ARES system to the library in Carol’s name.

On 16 January of this year, the ARES computer lab was officially opened with a dedication ceremony, a plaque to Carol and the planting of 10 trees. I returned to the library a few days later, and the computer stations were filled with young students eagerly using and enjoying the laptops.

It was both a good and a difficult day for me, but it strengthened my appreciation for the opportunities and the life that Rotary has given to us. As anyone who participates in a Rotary project will know, we get back as much or more as we give to the people and communities we help.

Before she passed, Carol asked me to focus on gratitude over grief.  Rotary, our ARES project, and our family and friends have been helping me to do just that.

To use a common Swahili saying – Asante Sana.  Thank you.

5 thoughts on “Gratitude over grief

  1. Pingback: Gratitude over grief | Rotary Voices - Rotary Club of Medford Oregon

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