REPORT #1 - SEPTEMBER 5, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

Eric and I had a good, uneventful trip. Last night at 10 pm we arrived safely at Ala Lagune Hotel with all of our luggage. Liberia is in the heart of rainy season and it poured most of the night. This morning at 7:30 am Elijah, Eric, and I will fly down to Greenville on the MAF flight. We're sending by road a second rented 4x4 vehicle loaded with all of our cases. BJ will be accompanying Umaru (the driver) in this vehicle. We're looking forward to joining Leon, Alex, and the rest of the team in Sinoe. They had a successful week reimaging 150+ computers in the eight schools. Starting this afternoon at St. Paul we’ll be implementing our new "KA-Lite as the Curriculum" model in the schools, as well as testing the 7th and 9th graders whom we will be tracking this year. We’ll be again using the NWEA MAP computer test along with our paper diagnostic test.

We’re excited to be back, and looking forward to what God has for us today. Thank you for your prayers.

Gary Friesen


REPORT #2 - SEPTEMBER 6, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

Early yesterday morning we checked in at Spriggs Field, the small municipal airport used by Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), Samaritan’s Purse, United Nations, and other small aircraft. Heavy rains and low visibility caused several delays in our takeoff. Shortly after 11:00 the MAF pilot informed us that we would have to try again tomorrow. So now we needed a Plan B for the day.

Elijah made some phone calls. Over lunch we were able to connect with Amos Barclay, Youth for Christ (YFC) Liberia, to explore a possible partnership to expand the spiritual formation component of our program. Then we drove across the city to United Methodist University (UMU) to meet with President Gwaikolo to discuss a faculty exchange program between the nursing schools of UMU and Northwest Nazarene University (NNU). This was an important item on Eric’s to-do list. Before heading into heavy traffic to return to our hotel, we stopped in at the LoneStar cellphone company to replace my Liberian phone that had quit working.

Back at the hotel we ate a late dinner out on the boardwalk pavilion. Things had not gone according to plans, but we were grateful for what we had been able to accomplish.

Pray that weather permits our flight this afternoon to Greenville to join the rest of the team. We have a very full schedule of testing and training in the schools. An added challenge has surfaced this week, as several of the private schools have not opened due to students not having money to pay their registration fees.

Gary Friesen


REPORT #3 - SEPTEMBER 8, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

A year ago we visited Seebeh Junior High School the weekend before school was scheduled to start. Seebeh, a government school, was to be one of the control schools for our pilot study. We were shocked by the condition of the campus. Doors were standing open. Broken desks were piled high in the classrooms. Trash was everywhere.

What a change can take place in a year. Tuesday afternoon, Elijah, Eric, and I flew on the MAF plane to Greenville (weather had broken and it was a perfect day – thanks for praying), and we went straight to Seebeh to join the team. The school had faithfully participated in the assessment testing last year. In May they received their laptops for their new digital classroom, a room they had beautifully prepared. For eight weeks in June and July the students had faithfully participated in the KA-Lite summer school program. We walked into the classroom and this is what we saw – a room full of teachers and staff experiencing the wonders of digital technology!

Seebeh is a rural town across the river from Greenville, considered poor even by Liberian standards. We were told that the Samuel Morris Scholars Program had inspired the community, and given them hope. Enrollment numbers have soared for the fall term. The school decided to add a 10th grade and expand to include a high school.

I was proud of our team, and proud to be a part of this program. We now have six full-time Liberian staff: Elijah, Alex, BJ, Joe, Gabriel, and Shadrach.

Today we head two hours out of town to Juarzon Central School and Whylie Christian School. These two control schools also received their laptops in May and actively participated in the summer school program. We can’t wait to engage their teachers and students.

Gary Friesen


REPORT #4 - SEPTEMBER 9, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

Yesterday we made a significant transition in how we function as a team. I asked Elijah and Alex to take the lead in running the program. For long term success, our program needs to be a Liberian program. We have a talented team, and the timing is right to let them lead.

The road to Juarzon was rough and we were grateful for our four-wheel drive vehicles. Shortly after 8:00 we arrived at Juarzon Central School. As students were arriving, Elijah organized an opening activity in the school yard, including a gospel chorus and prayer led by the principal.

Alex divided the team, and our group drove the short distance to Whylie Christian Academy. Whylie is building a new school, but classrooms remain unfinished and most still have dirt floors. School does not officially open until Monday, but we had a good turnout of students eager to learn. Nearly all had faithfully participated in the KA-Lite summer school program.

Back at Juarzon, Gabriel opened with a high energy lesson on computer basics. This was the first time most of these students had sat in front of a computer.

The key innovation of the Samuel Morris Scholars Program is the portable laptop kit that instantly turns any space into a modern digital classroom. The laptops will run the entire school day on a battery charge.

It was one of our best days ever! Teachers and administrators could not thank us enough for caring about their schools and bringing hope to their children. We drove home with a renewed sense of confidence that our program is on track. School by school, community by community, may God show his favor to Liberia.

Gary Friesen


REPORT #5 - SEPTEMBER 11, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

It takes a team to be successful. Special kudos go to Leon, our computer engineer. Over the past year, Leon has worked tirelessly to perfect the digital classroom system. He designed and built a unique portable trunk for charging laptops. This 20-laptop kit serves small to medium size schools with classes up to 40 students. Larger schools will also receive the supplemental 5-laptop mini-trunk. It is amazing to think that a “computer lab” for 50 students can now fit into two small trunks!

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Their first week in Greenville, Leon and his team repaired and re-imaged over 150 laptops that we had deployed last year, updating them with the latest software releases. This was a huge task, and many nights they worked into the early morning hours.

This second week, our team focused on testing students and training teachers. Yesterday we had a closing ceremony where Leon presented the digital classroom kits to grateful school officials. Each school also received two “teacher laptops” loaded with the RACHEL and KA-Lite learning resources. These can be taken home by the math teachers to help them master the technology.

This morning we will worship at one of the local churches and enjoy a day of rest. Tomorrow afternoon we fly back to Monrovia. Tuesday we begin three days of teacher training and testing at Matilda Newport Jr. High School, where we’re looking forward to testing our learning model in one of the largest public schools in the country.

We are all healthy, happy, and grateful to have completed another successful week. Thank you for your faithful prayers.

Gary Friesen


REPORT #6 - SEPTEMBER 13, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

Today we had a successful engagement at Matilda Newport Junior High School, one of the largest public schools in Monrovia. This was a big test for our program due to the large class sizes – six straight 9th grade math classes ranging from 46 to 87 students.

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The school has equipped their math classroom with 15 beautiful double-desks, perfect for our digital classroom.

Thirty computers can comfortably accommodate 60 students, but today we had to put three students per laptop in several of the classes. Principal Gallo has promised he will balance the sections to 60 students each.

Most of the students had never used a computer before. They loved the G-Compris program that helped them practice the basic functions such as click, double-click, and drag.

Tomorrow at 10:00 am we have a meeting scheduled with the Ministry of Education and Senate Education Committee. Eric will be sharing the results of the 2015-16 pilot study. We look forward to this opportunity to further connect with these education leaders.

Gary Friesen


REPORT #7 - SEPTEMBER 15, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

Yesterday Eric presented to the Ministry of Education and Senate Education Committee the results of the 2015-16 pilot. We had contracted with Northwest Nazarene University’s Doceo Center to perform this assessment of our program. The study was thorough, professionally done, and well received. Follow-up discussion centered on the need for funding to bring the Samuel Morris Scholars Program to all 15 counties in Liberia.

We had a challenging day at Matilda Newport Junior High School. We knew we were pushing the limits in connecting 30 laptops to the RACHEL miniserver. We discovered that the server could not handle the load when all the students began to login with their KA-Lite accounts. Last night we made the decision to add a second server, and reconfigure the laptops so that half would connect to each server. Teaching 60 students in a class is a challenge on many levels.

One of the bright spots yesterday was watching 9th grade math teacher, George Wilson, take over the classroom. Last month, Alex and his team spent two weeks training these teachers in the use of computers and how to facilitate a class using our new “KA-Lite as the Curriculum” model. George watched us teach the first afternoon class session, and then he taught the next two periods with energy and passion.

Every day is an adventure. We’re anxious to get back to Matilda Newport this morning to test our new laptop configuration. We’ll keep you posted …

Gary Friesen


REPORT #8: SEPTEMBER 15, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

Today was a “thumbs up” day at Matilda Newport Junior High School! First of all, I’ve worked myself out of a job. The team has now taken over most aspects of the training, and today I was able to sit back and enjoy watching it all happen. Behind me you can see Mr. Joe Carr helping his 9th graders login to KA-Lite. He and his colleague, George Wilson, are going to do a great job running this program.

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Dividing the 30 laptops between two RACHEL servers proved to be the right move. Over 250 of the 360+ 9th graders were able to create their KA-Lite accounts and login. Many were able to complete their first exercise set.

It wasn’t a perfect day. Technology always throws its curves. We continue to struggle with laptops randomly dropping their wireless connection, a hardware flaw we have not been able to resolve.

We are so blessed in America. This school of more than 1,000 students is one of the government’s premier public schools. It has no electricity, no lights, no running water, and of course, no fans or air-conditioning. In fact, only one of the ten schools in our pilot has any of these “essential” amenities.

Things are going to change in Liberia. Within a few years most of these schools will have electrical power and internet access. Our program is preparing the teachers and students for that day. When these schools do get connected, it will not be difficult to flip the switch from the RACHEL servers to the world wide web.

Gary Friesen


REPORT #9 - SEPTEMBER 17, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

As we engage government and education leaders in bringing the Samuel Morris Scholars Program to schools throughout Liberia, there is universal agreement on the need for training in character and morality. Decades of war, disease, and turmoil have destroyed family structures and eroded traditional values. This new generation has little sense of personal responsibility. We look into the eyes of the children, so eager to learn, and we long to put them on a path to healthy living.

Thursday evening we held a strategic meeting with the leadership team of Youth for Christ (YFC) Liberia. YFC is a worldwide organization specialized in developing and training youth. YFC has been active in Liberia since the 1950s. We are exploring with executive director Augustine Fredericks (middle left in picture below) a partnership to expand our character training and leadership program in the schools.

Leon and Eric flew home last night. The rest of the team will get some rest this weekend. Early Monday morning we will travel the 2½ hours to Bong County for a much anticipated engagement at Kerkula Giddings Public School. Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, chair of the Senate Committee on Education, has partnered with us to bring the Samuel Morris Scholars Program to her county. It is going to be an exciting week.

Thank you for your continued prayers in this great venture to challenge the minds and shape the hearts of children in Liberia.

Gary Friesen


REPORT #10: SEPTEMBER 20, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

We completed two wonderful days at Kerkula Giddings School, a remote public school in Bong County 2½ hours northeast of Monrovia. We engaged this school at the invitation of Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor who has become a strong supporter of our program. Sanoyea is her home town, and she helped build their beautiful new facility completed just a year ago.

An entourage of guests, dignitaries, and the press were present for the celebration. The Senator arrived, proudly wearing her Samuel Morris T-shirt. Here you see her accepting IEL’s new digital classroom on behalf of the school.

The students were so excited, and couldn’t wait to get on the computers. It was after 5:30 pm yesterday when we finally dismissed the last group of 9th graders.

Kerkula Giddings is a K-9 school that is transitioning to include the high school grades. This year they added grade 10. The picture below shows several of the new 10th grade students, many of whom are adults. This dear lady gave a touching speech at the ceremony, telling how her schooling had been interrupted for 30 years. She was grateful that finally she had a chance to return to school and complete her education. She is the 10th grade class president!

We’ll be traveling back to Giddings School tomorrow and Thursday to complete the testing and KA-Lite orientation for the 7th-10th grade teachers and students.

Gary Friesen


REPORT #11 - SEPTEMBER 22, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

We experienced a big win this week at Kerkula Giddings Public School in Bong County.

It is hard work implementing a sophisticated learning system with teachers and students who have never used a computer. The first three days were exhausting, as students required individual assistance on nearly every instruction. The “simple” task of getting a class of 40 students all logged in to KA-Lite took an entire period:

Where is the letter “J”?
My username is not working! 
(used an “O” instead of a “0”)
I can’t put in my password! (forgot to click in the box)
How do I correct a mistake? (Oh yes, we need to tell them about the backspace key)

Today, we saw our efforts begin to pay off. Students still needed help, but most had mastered the basic process: Student A logs in, completes the exercise set with Student B assisting, checks off the box on her tracking sheet, and logs out. The partners switch places. Student B logs in and repeats the process, with Student A assisting. The pair works together, systematically progressing through the skills. If a topic is unfamiliar, they watch the video. Principal Annie Paye was all smiles today as she watched her students at work.

A special blessing for the program is Victoria Zawitkowski, a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to Giddings School for two years to teach math and English. Victoria is a gifted and energetic teacher, and has offered to assist her fellow teachers in the digital classroom.

And thus we complete our September engagement, grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in another community. Tomorrow I fly home. Elijah, Alex, and the team will continue to follow up with training and oversight in our 11 schools.

Thank you for your prayers. We continue to sense God’s favor in this great opportunity before us.

Gary Friesen