Learning computer: An ‘unrealistic adventure’ that yields real results

By Huy Tran SVD

For the students of Divine Word Frater Huy Tran’s first computer class, the world opened in new ways: more than simply learning new skills. Stationed in a small village in the Republic of Chad in central Africa, Huy is fulfilling his Cross-Cultural Training Program for the Society of the Divine Word. When he returns to the United States, he will continue his studies at Catholic Theological Union. Like the multiplication of loaves and fishes in the Gospel, the fruits of the computer course that he planned and taught grew exponentially. He tells of the humble beginnings that led to pride in a nation.

When I came to Laramanaye, Chad, I was surprised to learn that due to the lack of electricity and financial means, there was no computer course at the high school or even at the university level in the region. A few months later, at the suggestion of the superior of the mission, I began teaching the first computer course here at the parish.

My office of 10-feet by 10-feet became a classroom. We had nothing but a beat-up, 13-inch Toshiba laptop that had been neglected and buried under layers of dusts. After I successfully restored the laptop, it became the center of our course.

Our class consisted of three students: Rene, a teacher in our parish school; Bertin, chief of the parish choir; and Véronique, chieftain of the Girl Scouts. The latter two are unemployed.

It was a humble beginning in every sense; however, my motivation and the commitment of the participants were anything but humble. You might wonder how was it is possible to teach and learn computer without electricity and a sufficient number of computers. In fact, there was only the one computer. The odds were not in our favor.

Many people tried to discourage us, stating that I was too ambitious to teach a course that included general understanding and hands-on experience of Microsoft XP, Microsoft Office Word 2007, Microsoft Office Excel 2007, Microsoft PowerPoint 2007, the Internet and typing using the RapidTyping application.

They said that I should make the curriculum simpler to conform to the ability of my students. They believed that my students were not capable of learning something as complicated as the computer, and I was somehow misled to hope for any success coming out of this unrealistic adventure.

We met three times each week in the afternoon for almost half a year. Each time we met, the students brought a liter of gas for the small generator, which we would run for two hours. If I calculated the time correctly, the course contained more than 100 hours of theory and practice. It was a big commitment. And please do not forget, this was the very first time my students had a chance to touch a computer.

I didn’t pay any attention to the discouraging comments. My pride and determination wouldn’t allow it. I didn’t mind the difficulties or the seemingly impossibilities of it all.

I was going to teach the course and nothing was going to stop me. My students were going to learn and nothing was going to stop them. Microsoft Excel in particular was very difficult for the students, but I adopted the strategy that if it rained long and hard enough, the ground would be wet and moist no matter how hard it was before. We all worked very hard and were faithful to the program.

The computer course was a big success. I was more than pleased and proud of my students. They made tremendous progress. They now can expediently write, compose and provide whatever documents and presentations they need in school or the parish. We set out to learn computer; and with commitment, we have learned more than just the computer. We have learned how not to let ourselves down.

We have learned to push forward and to continue on. We have learned that we are strong and capable of learning something as complicated as the computer. And most importantly, we have proven our ability and proven wrong those who tried to discourage us.

Furthermore, the computer course has opened the students to a whole new world, the world of the Internet. I found joy in seeing them access the Internet, find information they needed or simply read about their country and their culture. They read about what is going on in Chad and what others have written about them.

One day, we accidentally landed on an online article about Miss Chad 2014. Their eyes opened wide, and the smiles on their faces confirmed that this possibility probably didn’t exist in their minds before this moment. Perhaps they were proud to have such beauty represent them. (By the way, she is beautiful.) I was overjoyed to see their reactions.

At the end of the course, the pastor of the parish and I presented each student with well-earned certificates and a 2 GB USB drive. We had dinner together, which concluded the first successful computer course. Everyone was happy. As for my graduation speech, I briefly said to them, “You all have received freely; therefore, give yourself freely in the service of others.”

Editor’s note: To read the next chapter about Frater Huy Tran SVD’s second computer class, please click here.

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