We wrote in today’s Kitsap Sun about Bob Cairns, the Port
Orchard Rotary member who is working to deliver
solar powered mini-computers to school children in Kenya. The
system is driven by a device called Raspberry Pi, developed in 2012
by researchers in Cambridge. The effort dovetails with Cairns’ work
on polio vaccinations and education scholarships in that
Here are a few other things about Cairns you might like to know:
As mentioned in a recent Forbes article on the Raspberry Pi project, Cairns could be on a cruise ship with his wife Chris instead of bouncing around barely defined dirt roads in a Land Cruiser and holing up in African hotels, some crawling with insect life. Cairns, a Manchester resident, retired in January 2014 after 28 years managing the Manchester Fuel Depot, one of the Navy’s largest and most strategic fuel installations. He served on the Kitsap Sun’s editorial board in 2012.
Cairns, with his wife, has made five trips to Africa, the most recent in October to deliver the first set of Raspberry Pi systems. He and Chris actively take part in vaccination clinics, helping to administer oral doses to children. The cause is dear to their hearts, since Chris’ brother was “the last child in Illinois to get polio.” Her brother survived but is severely crippled by the now-preventable disease.
On the trip, Bob and Chris took their granddaughter, Ashley Carter, a student at Bellingham’s Western Washington University. “We wanted Ashley to see how much we have in our world versus how much they don’t have in the rest of the world.”
For example, Collins Nakedi, a young Kenayn man with whom Cairns has partnered to aid children in East Pokot (a region of Kenya), said getting an education there is “like organizing a journey to the moon using a vehicle.” The literacy rate is a dismal 4 percent.
That’s due to lack of resources and lack of cultural support for education among the largely nomadic people of East Pokot. That’s starting to change a little bit, thanks in part to the Raspberry Pi, Nakedi said.
Here’s an interesting fact about Nakedi. As a youngster Nakedi, the son of a goat herder, snuck into a local school and talked them into letting him stay. Thus began his education, which ended in a four-year degree, against astronomical odds. Cairns is helping Nakedi write a book about his life.
Nakedi, whom Cairns calls a genius, and two other young men who attended the same university in Nairobi from which Nakedi graduated, have started a NGO to aid youngsters in Kenya’s city slums and rural areas primarily through expanded educational opportunities. Cairns has partnered with their nonprofit, Hifadi Africa, to help distribute Raspberry Pi systems and to identify students for scholarships, which are essential for attending the mostly government-run boarding schools that constitute the public education system. This year, Rotary clubs in the northwest are providing four very bright Kenyan orphans with $600 scholarships that will provide a year’s worth of schooling.
Cairns’ involvement in Africa actually started with one of the other Hifadi Africa principals, Jovenal Nsengimana. Nsengimana lost his parents and sister in the Rawandan genocide at age 4. He ended up in a refugee camp with his older brother John, then 7, who took charge of the family including another younger brother, and who later was also able to pursue an education. Cairns and his wife heard about Nsengimana through a Rotary connection and ended up sponsoring his education through university.
In addition to education, Cairns, with help from Hifadi Africa and other Rotary members, is working to bring clean water to East Pokot. The area, partially within the Rift Valley, is extremely arid. There is virtually no running water or plumbing. People become ill from drinking water fouled by animal excrement. Rotary has supported efforts to drill a well in the area, but Cairns says they’re looking at other technology that is more basic yet more sustainable and effective.
In remote areas, machinery parts are hard to come by, and the water quality is poor. Cairns and others are looking at simple collection systems for harvesting the little rainwater that does fall. Another technology, not new, is to drill “riverbank infiltration galleries,” chambers on the banks of rivers that slow to a trickle most of the year. When rains do fall, water is directed to the underground chamber for storage. It’s not suitable for human consumption, but fine for livestock, which play a central role in East Pokot life.
Like the solar-powered Raspberry Pi, the water system solutions are simple and work with what’s available, Cairns said.
Don’t look for Cairns to slow down and take the cruise-ship route any time soon. There’s too much work to be done in East Pokot and beyond.
To help, donate at http://www.gofundme.com/raspberrypiafrica.