Background to trip
I first met Valencia in September 2013. Valencia leads a vibrant and growing project in Johannesburg, South Africa – called The Khaya Centre Mount Olive. The project is located in Lehae, amidst an expansive housing project built to accommodate beneficiaries of Eikenhof and Thembelihle settlements (see here for more on the Khaya Centre). At the time, I was with a group called Urban Shift who had first met Valencia, whilst helping to build the Khaya Centre in 2012. As we got talking, I was struck by the passion Valencia had for her project, and the vision she had for its future. (Hear Valencia talking about her project here)
There was a moment, where the conversation seemed to really come alive , Valencia was speaking about the limited access to IT her centre beneficiaries and members of the local community have, and I suddenly thought about Raspberry Pi. What if these small, relatively cheap and easy to maintain little computers might be suitable for her projects needs? I myself was experimenting with three of them with my three kids at home with interesting results.
The next day, I excitedly took a Raspberry Pi along to a charity Valencia was visiting (HAFWAY). We managed to get the Raspberry Pi hooked up to a TV and some WiFi – and after a bit of surfing the internet, playing with minecraft and looking at scratch, it seemed that she liked what she saw. We tentatively agreed to pursue the prospect of bringing a number of Raspberry Pi out to the Khaya Centre. I had no idea how many, or how we would fund this. But there seemed to be a match with some of her projects needs and the what she saw the Pi could deliver.
I had originally been put on to Raspberry Pi by an IT savvy friend, Tyson, who worked for an innovative IT company in Manchester, UKFast. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind spending some time with me exploring the possibilities of the Pi and in particular, if we could set up the Raspberry Pi for use in an internet cafe. At this stage I was wondering if it might be helpful for the Khaya Centre to have the ability to use the Pi to create a small revenue, adding a certain degree of ‘sustainability’ to the project. I wondered – would it be possible for members of the local community to pay a small amount to use the internet or write and email CVs? I liked the idea of the project having the ability to pay for itself over time, to have a small business enterprise feel to it – not just an ICT project. Not just setting up an IT suite. I liked the idea of involving the community and as I recalled – this had also been something Valencia had specifically mentioned during her visit to the UK. Valencia had also spoken about other projects of this kind at the centre. A sewing project that enabled local women to sell what they made and a similar project involving growing garden vegetables.
Tyson and I had set up a google+ community group where we could share ideas in between meeting up. Tyson had also added some other friends who had experience in networking and linux (the operating system used on the Raspberry Pi). This had been a good place to let the project evolve. But come March, I noticed things had somewhat stalled. I remember that went to sleep one night wondering if the project would ever come to anything. The diea seemed good, people had shown interest. There was a fit between the technology and the Khaya Centre’s needs. But one question remained. How would we fund the project?
But then I got an email. It was Tyson, letting me know that his employer, UKFast had agreed to fund 10 Raspberry Pi and all the extras (see press release here).
It was April 2014 and all of a sudden – this was it – Project Pi was on.