Bridging the Gap: Technology for Developing Countries
A friendship made at Pepperdine University has become a partnership for international good works.
Dr. Chris Freeman (EdD ’03) and Dr. Eric Adams (EdD ’03), alumni from GSEP Doctor of Education in Learning Technologies program, are using their learned skills and professional expertise to help underserved children in Honduras and Zambia.
Former roommates, Freeman and Adams did their team dissertation on social network analysis. Their friendship continued long after graduation and includes working with Lifesong for Orphans, an international orphan-care ministry that helps families with international adoption funding and international orphan and highly-vulnerable-children care.
Lifesong for Orphans focuses on three tenets for caring for children: helping children with their physical, spiritual, and educational needs. Besides Honduras and Zambia, the organization works in Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Liberia, India, and Ukraine.
Freeman is vice president of academic affairs for Virginia College’s online division in Birmingham, Alabama, but when he steps away from his desk, his influence reaches far past Birmingham. He became acquainted with Lifesong for Orphans through his church and the international adoption of two of his five children. After joining the organization in 2011, he began focusing on their educational goal of breaking the cycle of poverty which affects children and families for generations. He also brought Adams on board, a director of talent development with Bose Corporation in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Some of Freeman and Adams’ duties with the organization include helping communities better utilize donated computers and learning labs so they can be integrated within school curriculums.
According to Freeman, without a long-term, integrated approach that involves working closely with teachers and students, generously donated technology can go underutilized in developing countries: “I’ve seen story after story of computer labs with what seems like an inch of dust on them in Africa. They were great labs when they were put in, but there was not a sustainable approach . . . and they are going to waste.”
Freeman added that donors mistakenly believe that donating the technology is enough; however, an essential component is helping schools fully utilize these learning tools for maximum educational impact, beyond just using Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. Also, since Freeman and Adams have been trained in education, they believe they can offer much more to these communities than simply technological implementation.
After Freeman’s first to trip Honduras in January 2011 and their joint trip together in May 2011, Freeman said they were able to help teachers and administrators think about future plans by only “understanding their needs first” and by “serving alongside of them with the children.”
Adams said the importance of face-to-face, relationship building is something they came to understand from Pepperdine’s EdD in Learning Technologies program, and they continue to implement that learning today. “To carry the relationships into a more virtual or a synchronous approach . . . we need to show a level of commitment and build those personal relationships as a way to help manage the change initiatives that we are leading,” he said.
Freeman added, “We don’t just parachute in, help to build the lab up, give a couple days of training and say let us know how it goes.”
Likewise, Freeman and Adams indicated the importance of customizing their “dynamic design” to meet the specific needs of each culture and community. For example, in Honduras, they are working with seventh- to 12th-grade students. In this location teachers are comfortable with technology; therefore, they are exploring different ways of implementation in the classroom. In Zambia, the children are prekindergarten to fifth grade. The teachers there have had little experience with technology, so one of the primary goals is to increase their proficiency and comfort level.
Even though computers are integral to their work, Adams said their main goal does not directly involve hardware or software: “Our role isn’t so much about the technology. It is ensuring that when these kids age out of the safety net that Lifesong is providing them, they will be able to get jobs and be self-sustaining. They don’t have a familial, federal, or social safety net.”
Freeman added, “If they get to 13 or 14 and do not have an educational and spiritual foundation, they are almost assured to be dead or trafficked by the time they are 18.”
Adams said integrating the technology within the fabric of the community is also something they strive for since it can impact lives well beyond the walls of the school by offering training, educational, and business opportunities for adults.
Most of Adams and Freeman’s challenges have not been associated with working in remote locations with unreliable Internet connections and hard-to-find computer parts. Rather, the majority of their challenges have been associated with the “human factor.”
According to Freeman, training at Pepperdine prepared them for recognizing that technological infrastructure is often the easy part. Getting people to trust that you will follow through and help them integrate and use technology to solve problems frequently takes “more mind share and effort,” he says.
And because their efforts have produced multiyear roadmaps for Honduras and Zambia, they said Lifesong for Orphans has been better able to obtain long-term funding and grants for these programs that will enable future upgrades and training.
According to Adams, “Generally people want to give and support these types of ministries, but they want to make sure their money will make an impact. It gives people confidence that their dollars will be used to positively impact these students.”
Freeman and Adams said support from their employers has also allowed them to do their international work while keeping their “day jobs.”
According to Adams, working for Lifesong for Orphans has even become part of his individual leadership-development plan at Bose, as a way to facilitate his high level of engagement with the company and to encourage his growth in problem solving and partnering with others to produce successful outcomes. He is also helping Bose to create “world-action teams,” patterned after his work with Freeman. These teams would enable Bose’s next generation of business leaders to partner with global social entrepreneurs.
Freeman said his employer has also been supportive: “My organization has helped with fundraising. They know this is important to me, so they feel like it is important to them as well.”
Freeman and Adams also sent out a call to action to their alma mater. “Some of the smartest people in the United States go to Pepperdine,” Adams said. “It certainly would be valuable for people to think about how they might leverage their skills and capabilities in ways they may not have anticipated when they started their journey in some of these programs.”
He added, “It’s not always about monetary contribution. It’s about creating relationships. It’s about nurturing, comforting, and inspiring people.”
Freeman agreed. “The payoff has been enormous,” he said. “We get a lot more out of this than we are contributing.
For additional information about Lifesong for Orphans, please see the following: www.lifesongfororphans.org