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How One Teacher Helped 50 Children Get Laptops

How One Teacher Helped 50 Children Get Laptops

Teaching member and teacher, John, with one of his computer classes in Riyadh.

Teaching Staff

One of Teaching’s members, John Slattery of Santa Fe, NM, touched our community with his post of how he helped get 50 laptops donated to children in third world countries.

This story warms the heart and reminds us that simple actions can have profound effects.

You may have heard of the fabled “$100 laptop” that’s been generating buzz for several years. It’s an ambitious project by One Laptop Per Child to develop a very low-cost, high-performance, rain, dust, and drop-proof computer for the 2 billion educationally disadvantaged children in the world.

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has not yet achieved its “$100 laptop” goal, but they are not far off with the current cost being $200 per machine. OLPC adjusted their sales strategy as a result. They decided to offer the laptops, called the XO, in the industrialized world for the holiday season. The program is called “Give 1, Get 1,” and this is how it works: You pay $400 for your XO and get a tax deduction. A second laptop is sent to a student in a poor country.

How One Teacher Made a Difference

Where does John Slattery come in? Here’s his story:

“It all began with 60 Minutes. I first heard about the laptops on a segment and thought it was such a great idea: a sturdy, well-designed, small computer that children in developing countries could easily use. Then I saw an article in the New York Times about the “Buy One, Send One” deal.”

“I printed out the article, told all my classes about it, and posted the story in the classroom. Later on I thought, “I wonder if the college (Santa Fe Community College) could get involved in this?”

John had no clue how this idea would pay off.

“I took the article over to my ESL Coordinator and she liked the idea. She passed the article on to the Adult Basic Education Department Head, who recognized an opportunity for improving their Computer Labs. They decided they could use 50 of the low-cost laptops and in the process get 50 free laptops to children abroad. It all took only about a week from the time I first gave the article to my colleague.”

Global Inspiration

This news inspired everyone on Teaching, but it had particular importance to John because of his unique career path that has swept him across the globe.

“I’ve spent most of my teaching career abroad. My initial experience of how the other 90+% of the world lives took place before I became a teacher. In 1963, I joined the Marine Corps and eventually ended up in Vietnam. I had an up-close encounter with people living in real poverty for the first time.”

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He continued, “In 1978, soon after getting my MA in English Education from the University of South Florida, I discovered that teaching jobs in my area weren’t very plentiful. My roommates at that time were three brothers from Iran (they’re still among my best friends). They suggested I go there to work, so I applied to what was then called Pahlavi University, Shiraz, Iran (It’s now Shiraz University) and was hired.”

“At that time, there was a lot of poverty in Iran, despite the influx of oil money, and when you went outside, you would be approached by literally dozens of beggars, mostly women and small children. I used to fill my pockets with small bills before going out, and even then, I’d inevitably run out of money.”

His work abroad didn’t end there. After leaving Iran, John took a job in Saudi Arabia, working for the Saudi government at the Institute of Public Administration (for a total of 19 years). Then from 1988 to 1990, John worked in Jakarta, Indonesia

He said about his experience, “I did a lot of traveling on my 2-month summer holidays, visiting many countries in Africa (e.g. Egypt, Kenya, Mali, South Africa, Djibouti, Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria and the Sudan) and in southern and southeast Asia (e.g. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh.) It was in those places that the reality of how most of the world lives (as compared to us fortunate few) truly penetrated my consciousness. Indonesia was my first extended experience of living in a country where probably 98% of the population was living at a level of poverty that would make even the poor in the USA seem relatively well-off. So many of the children there never even got to go to school, and the terrible waste of talent and potential made a deep impression on me. Who can say how many great contributions to the advancement of humanity have been and are being lost forever?”

The Act of Giving

We asked John what it meant to him to know that his simple act of “passing on” this opportunity resulted in 50 children abroad getting laptops.

“Over the years, I’ve come to believe that we are all connected in the vast web of life, that when we help others, we help ourselves as well, and when we hurt another, we are ourselves hurt. I think that if this were understood, the world would be a much better place. And I see the world-wide web, the Internet, as a potential force to help achieve this realization among much of humanity. So, when I heard about this laptop project whose goal is to provide every child in the world with a computer, it seemed so much to be a major step in the right direction. I know I won’t live to see it, but I feel sure that someday everyone will realize how, even though we are all apart from each other, we are, at a deeper level, also all a part of one another.”

Catching Up With John

Deep wisdom in those words…

John now lives in Santa Fe with his wife, and continues to teach ESL and Critical Reading at Santa Fe Community College. This holiday season John will be puppy-sitting and playing Santa delivering gifts part time for UPS. As a side project, he is trying to write the “Great American Novel”.

Want to know more about John? Invite him to be your friend on Teaching!

If you know “How One Teacher” has made a difference, let us know here.

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