Giving up at SOSHGIC

Some of you might have followed my volounteer work at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner International College in Tema, Ghana, where I was invited to introduce Linux at the school. Being a free software advocate, I thought this a great opportunity to spread Free Software where it can make the most difference and helps bridging the Digital Divide: In a developing country.

Judging from the offer (which was very nice, it included housing, flights, freight, money), I expected the school to be very eager to learn about Linux. I was expecting that I only had to guide existing momentum. What I found instead was that there was zero interest from the people who matter in this case. I got all freedoms to implement what I want (as long as I didn’t break anything), and I created some things I think are quite nice: Automatic installations that keep the installed windows intact, neat integration in the Active Directory setup, network monitoring with nagios, a transparent firewall that let’s the teachers turn the internet for the class room off and on. But it felt like working for nothing, and I can’t push people to use Free Software who are unwilling.

So today I drew the concequences and quit with effect to the end of December. The principal, who’s project it was in the first place, was sorry, but understanding of my issues, and accepted my resignation. I will be on a trip to the Volta lake and other parts of Ghana with friends from Accra for the next 10 days anywasy, so she will take the time to think and discuss how the school can make the best out of the remaining two months.

I have not giving up on spreading Free Software here completely. If I find another project where I can be of more use afterwards, I will consider that. But this time I’m going to be very picky where I go, and only take a shorter, better defined project. If I can’t find something, then that’s it and I’ll go back to Germany to continue my studies.


First off, thanks for trying to make a project like this work.

I think it would be useful to others trying to promote free software if you could do some kind of "what went wrong" assessment and share it with others who might want to promote free software in developing countries. Some things that occur to me:

- Maybe the right people never "bought in" to the idea in the first place; perhaps some high-level bureaucrat was sold, but his/her underlings were not, and then the Linux champion moved on to a better job.

- Competition with pirated Windows software that the teachers already know how to use?

- Rough edges that we geeks have no problems with but the teachers can't deal with?

- Interference from Microsoft sales people?

- Indifference, because computers of any kind are lower priority than other problems the schools face?
#1 Joe Buck am 2006-10-25T17:12:39+00:00
I plan to give a detailled analysis, but probably at the very end of my work here. Please remind me if I forget :-)
#2 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-10-25T17:40:22+00:00
i would be interested in reading what you expected. what would have been the "worst situation" in which you would have stayed?
#3 foo am 2006-10-25T20:06:40+00:00
Hi anonymous,

Well, I expected a situation like “we all want to do cool stuff with linux, we have read that you can do anything with it, please help us with that” (a bit exaggarated). Or at least a “well, we need linux to provide the kids a proper preparation for the future, and we are willing to learn. show us what we need to know”.

Specifying the worst case is hard, as it depends a lot on the whole picture. A good social life can make up for bad work and so on. But one requirement would be the feeling to be welcome, and not just endured, by the people I have to work with and for.
#4 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-10-25T20:21:50+00:00
fwiw, thanks for making the effort anyway.

it does feel like a wilderness on this side of the globe ( i can say that with certainty, even though i'm far from being a free software hacker... being more of a zealot). people think i'm crazy because i keep my music in ogg format so i don't have too much trouble listening to music when i reinstall my distro, and think i'm suffering myself if i try to explain why dvds don't work out of the box...

#5 Anonymous (Homepage) am 2006-10-26T11:32:15+00:00
Nothing against you but i am not amused that they spent all the money on you to introduce free software to them ... Just my personal beef against the current generation in power ...
I am definitely glad you came especially considering the work you did to create openghana.org
I would also suggest that instead of giving up totally find someone maybe from temalug to continue the battle. There is hope yet.
#6 disterics (Homepage) am 2006-11-01T01:53:18+00:00
Just because I gave up does not mean that the school is. It is possible that someone else can take over. Anyone interested? Mail me!
#7 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-11-03T15:56:47+00:00
I completely understand your stress.
With ppl like Mr Ofei and Mrs Nkrumah there was no hope of getting real far.
as for the technical expertise of the staff... lol.. you did well to survive there as long as you did.
Ican only begin to imagine your stresses. I went there for the last 2 yrs of my highschool education from BSL... i should have stayed where i was. The only thing you can do is to leave behind a way for the interested students to keep in touch with you.
They are the future not teh administrators.
Whos in charge of the comp. dept. now anyway? Please tell me it isn't stil the VP!! ...you created openghana!?
sweet! i was surprised to lean that from the comments. good job!
#8 Charles/Chuck (Homepage) am 2007-10-20T22:07:25+00:00
Hi Chuck,

nice to hear from you. What are you doing these days?

I don’t have any news about their IT Department, but I plan to check back. Some day. Unfortunatley, I don’t have much contact with the students left, either.
#9 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2007-10-21T20:57:48+00:00
lol i like the calm way in which you responded to papa's blog post. it was very calm and polite. though i can't imagine what your blood pressure was like when you first read the post. :-)!
i found it while trying to remember what the link was for the school site. (same way i found this page the first time too.
I haven't been in touch with anyone currently in the school since most ppl i really had much contact with have graduated and are now in college here in the US. my mom had to work under the same people who had you getting frustrated. she didn't stay long for similar reasons you left. i myself am an avid user of unix systems for website hosting, converting old machines to customise them for older computer users who aren't very tech savy. i make them learn how to do the basics they need to be able to browse the net. 'learning' linux doesn't always have to be about being able to write programs. its about developing the skills needed to be able to stay competitive in the current business market. most linux iso are getting so easy to configure and getting simpler to implement servers or clients. this would be very useful to setting up cafes using thin clients or setting up a new school/library. don't worry that your plans didn't work out. i know that there is an increase in the use of unix/linux in west africa ever since that bad PR stunt from microsoft to try and bribe the nigerians to use windows instead of linux. more people are becoming aware of the benefits of a more reliable & robust OS without the hassles of easy hacking and viruses.
#10 charles am 2008-12-21T09:10:44+00:00
I like to know more about SOSHGIC
#11 ketsela am 2007-11-21T13:57:59+00:00
Check out http://www.soshgic.edu.gh/
#12 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2007-11-21T14:21:16+00:00
As an alum of SOSHGIC, teaching Linux wasn't the right software to teach the students. First and foremost only a few students do computer science at the IB level (Where they do intense programming. These people who are mainly boys are intersested in learning C++ and Java because they feel these are the programs that would get them far. Personally, I don't know how you went about it in HGIC but you should have targeted these students and concentrated on teaching Linux. This would have had a greater effect..
#13 oops am 2007-12-17T18:10:58+00:00
Hi, I'm also an SOSHGIC alum (97 - 2001) and I'd like to say thanks for trying to help out Joachim-- sorry it didn't work out. It's actually quite impressive that you didn't just stay on and keep taking money. I think the SOS HGIC executive admins could do a better job at planning what they spend money on. I don't know on what basis they decided to hire you, but I'm pretty sure they didn't do extensive research before making that decision. Had they taken the time to do that, they might have found out that hiring you to teach Linux was probably not the best idea.
#14 Papa Kofi Baffour-Awuah (Homepage) am 2008-05-14T16:26:05+00:00
Hi Papa,

I wasn’t there for the money (although it was nice to get it, of course), but I went in the spirit of a volunteer – so I went when I felt that it would fail.

Nevertheless I think the trip would have been worth it for SOSHGIC if it had been used properly. Some of the skills I hoped to teach to the kids were rare in Ghana and valuable everywhere else and would have benefitted them.

Ah, and I just find your blog entry at http://pbaffour.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/stab-in-the-dark-innovation-plausible/
and it has a slightly different tone than your comment here :-), and I agree with what you said there. Please note though that it wasn’t really missing research that caused the failure, but missing internal agreement or even communication.

And BTW, I wasn’t played "a lot" for the standards of a German university student, but it wasn’t cheap for a Ghanian school either.
#15 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2008-05-14T18:55:47+00:00
Hi Joachim, thanks for getting back to me. And thanks for seeking out my blog too. I'm really sorry if it sounded a little "stiff" and cold-- I can assure you it wasn't aimed at you. The point I was trying to make in the blog (which I think I need to clean up a bit more) was that SOSHGIC did not do the research THEY needed before deciding that they needed someone to teach Linux. I've looked through your blog, so I know you're very competent in your area of expertise, so again, I do NOT blame you at all for wanting to leave. Rather, I blame SOSHGIC for not taking the time to do the research into how to make sure the students took full advantage of your skills, BEFORE asking you to come in. I hope this clarfies my point.

Also, I agree with you, you probably were not paid "a lot" by German high school standard. I'll make an amendment to my posting.

Again thanks for going out and trying to help. I am in NY and I work for a non-profit, so I fully understand the heart of a volunteer. Thank you and stay blessed.
#16 Papa Kofi Baffour-Awuah (Homepage) am 2008-05-14T20:03:58+00:00
thank you for the concerns.although it took time to be understood i think the memories of the school will still linger fresh in your mind.
still in the college.
#17 alpha otieno am 2008-06-01T09:08:11+00:00

Have something to say? You can post a comment by sending an e-Mail to me at <mail@joachim-breitner.de>, and I will include it here.