Coordination visit Asmara, January 22-28

Flying from South Africa to Asmara would not be a big thing one would think. Unfortunately the flight connections are limited and it tend to take me longer time to travel from Cape Town to Asmara then it would take from Cape Town to Finland. When boarding the last stretch with Fly Dubai I got a reminder of the special conditions present in Asmara. The flight is full of people that make sure they carry as much as possible with them as many things are difficult to get in Asmara. I see ladies struggle to get on-board with their hand luggage and four extra fully packed tax free bags. At arrival there are long queues at custom clearance with all the goods that need to be cleared. Apparently one of the reasons that things are so expensive in Asmara is that a lot of the goods in the stores are brought in this way.

The driver and receptionists recognizes me and their warm smiles and welcoming attitude make me feel almost as if I have come home. Despite being Sunday and being tired from the long travel I have a few meetings that leave me full of optimism for the coming week.

On the agenda for the week is planning of project activities, opening of the Edtech lab and discussions for continuation and expansion of the current project that only runs until later this year. Since the project has a dependency on the purchase of equipment there have been a lot of delays in the project as there has been many unforeseen obstacles related to securing equipment for the project. Luckily most challenges have been solved and we have expectations that all the remaining equipment will be able to leave Finland in the next few days by air and hopefully arrive at EIT within the next 2-3 weeks.

That will mean that there will need to be a hard work to catch up with the project to still fullfill  our expected outcomes from the project which also requires some re-planning.

During our first year we had a number of training activities in preparation towards opening an Educational Technology Lab at EIT. For the training we have been bringing in some equipment. Despite still waiting for the last patch of equipment we have been planning to establish the EdTech lab for some time to have an innovative space where EIT students would come up with technical solutions to solve local problems or challenges. For instance there is currently a group of students working on a project where they are looking at the opportunities of using low-cost computers (such as Raspberry Pi at appr. 35€) as a solution for rural schools in Eritrea.

The EdTech lab was supposed to have been opened a few months back but due to a number of reasons including preparing the room, the lab has yet not been opened. During this visit (and before) there was efforts made to clear the dedicated room and for the EdTech lab to move in. Unfortunately I had to leave Asmara without seeing the lab operational. We were however able to plan for how to furnish the lab and make the place a creative space suitable to the EdTech lab we have in mind. The budget for furnishing the place would not take us as far as we would like considering the high prices for furniture in Asmara, but with making use of available resources at EIT it seems we will still get quite far. Apart from paying attention to the physical space itself we have also been planning management of the lab and activities that I have been assured will start in the new lab once the students are back from their break.

During the week we also had discussions of future collaborations where we hope to be able to include more partners and secure funding for keeping the work we started going.

As during most visits there have been some challenges with slow or non-functioning Internet connections. There was also a two day black-out and electricity kept coming on and off. Despite the challenges and a busy schedule it was still a good week. Luckily I also managed to fit in one Eritrean Coffee treat at the home of the Dean of engineering and a couple of dinners that included the delicious components of injera and berbere.

I am looking forward to coming back in March. By then we expect to have gained some momentum as all the equipment should be in place. Once we get the resilient network up and running and the new servers installed we expect a big impact for the whole college.

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