Saturday, November 14, 2009

We Love the Internet!! (conclusion)

Guess we'd better finish the story before we get lynched!

As mentioned, we finally greeted Brother Griffiths as he made his way through the airport. We weren't seeing what we had expected by way of boxes, etc. in which computers might be transported. So (not having been through this process before, ourselves) we figured they might still be making their way through customs and we would need to pick them up somewhere.

But finally we asked him how it went with the computers. And he said, "Great! They're all right here in my bags!" He had packed them all in his luggage, only needing to pay for one extra (though rather large) suitcase! They didn't even bother to ask him his name. Just checked him through without even saying 'goodbye'! And he had twelve computers (not the eight or ten we had expected, remember) -- six laptops and six desktops (minus the monitors for the desktops)! Twelve of them!

We were ecstatic!

We dropped the computers at the office, separating out his personal belongings and then accompanied him to his hotel, the Chengiss Khan which was conveniently right next to the Church building.

The next few days were hectic as we traveled a great distance, held firesides, meetings and even managed to combine it all with our usual workshops (which the outlying areas do not get much of = we taught our workshops while he was meeting with people). It was tiring, but very productive.

Back in the big city, we made ready for what we knew would likely be the biggest crowds, of course. And we were not to be disappointed. The chapel was full to standing room only. There is a large amount of interest in all this!

Before he had to leave, we managed to squeeze in a shopping trip to purchase a few odds and ends for the lab and then we sent Brother Griffiths back to Hawaii.

Just a few days after he left, remodeling began downstairs near our own office, as rooms were switched around and refinished to make way for the new computer lab all of this excitement was for, to begin with. We had to be very creative to make it all work, for space is already a big premium in that building. We had proposed a solution, but had doubts that all of which had been requested, could really happen. Oh ye of little faith. It all did!

So, the downstairs kitchen (see the first picture above) became a new office for the Stake President/Church Education System Manager (President Odgerel for those of you who have been following our blog -- see the 'under construction picture and the final outcome in pictures two and three).

The Returned Missionary department (where they have been tracking down Returned Mongolian Missionaries who had sort of gotten lost around the world, many of whom needed help coming back to church) moved to President Odgerel's old office.

The kitchen moved to a much smaller room which had housed the senior missionary library (not quite finished, yet), and the old Returned Missionary office (the largest of the rooms) became the new computer lab/senior library (see the last picture -- also not quite finished).

I think I got that all straight. Each room was refinished as they went and it is really nice! The only ones not getting a nice newly redone office is . . . us! Oh. well!

But the work continues. We had to find a way to monitor things adequately as lab use began. So we contacted a firm in Utah called Lanschool. We had used their product a lot in schools in the Granite District. They agreed to donate their software to us! With it, we are able to view all lab workstations from a remote admin computer, record any site they visit on the internet, assume control of their computer at anytime, thus being able to illustrate how something is done (or to kick them off if they have done something they shouldn't!), restrict where they go on the internet, if we need, and more. It is really a great tool! Thanks, Lanschool!

But now we need to see if we can find licenses for Microsoft Office so students can adequately complete and submit their home work to BYU-H. So I emailed Microsoft and TechSoup (Microsofts partner for donations) but haven't seemed to get much of anywhere with either of them. But just last week, I received an email from a man in Minnesota, I think. He said that my email to Microsoft had somehow been directed to him by mistake. He expressed his appreciation for the work we were doing here and then said that he had forwarded our email to a group he thought might be able to help us with the needed Microsoft Office licenses! Me thinks there was no 'mistake' here. Hopefully we will soon see results from that. We'll let you know.

And through all of this, the Service Center here in the mission (you know, the ones who run all the finances and the day to day operations of the Church here) have been fantastic! They seemed to readily see the potential value of all of this, as well, and have done whatever they could to make certain things happened from their end -- like finding a way to fund all of the needed remodeling and then make it happen. And we mean fast! Thanks a bunch all you wonderful SC people!

Now we just have to figure out how we can pay an individual to manage the lab without causing tax problems. But the SC insists they will find a way! At this point what I need the most a just a little more patience! It's been a long road but worth every step!

We'll post a couple more pictures when everything is completely finished so you can see the end results!

And that's the rest of the story (well, so far!)!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We Love the Internet!!

We have been working on a project for quite a while now and thought it was time to share.

The people of Mongolia sometimes seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place. Universities and Colleges here are not as robust as we find elsewhere, like in the States. They are improving but still have some catching up to do. So, many companies located here in the capitol city of Ulaanbaatar ask for a college degree from a foreign university in order to qualify for their best jobs. But it is very difficult for most here to be able to handle that kind of expense. Particularly when a young family is involved. Sometimes, fathers have left their families to secure the needed degree, something we worry much about.

Then, a couple of months ago, Brigham Young University - Hawaii campus announced the offering of new online classes which students could register for and take over the internet. What a tremendous blessing! Students can actually complete up to three years of college over the internet. The final year they must spend on campus. But that is much better than four years!

Interest was high here, as one might expect. We knew the tremendous benefit this could be and tried to pass the word around. We would learn later that Mongolia would account for 50% of all enrollments in the entire Asia area! The numbers were small this first semester, but we out did all the rest combined!

As we tried to work through how we might make these classes most accessible for students here, we felt it might be worthwhile to look into creating a computer lab in our Church office building. The majority do not have internet in their homes and must use internet cafes. That can be problematic as fees mount for the degree of usage that would likely be required for online college courses. And, there would likely be times when internet cafes were not available at all for a period of time – like now, when they are all shut down due to the flu pandemic - or even be over crowded, etc.

Or initial plan was to crowd three or four serviceable computers into our assistant/translators office, if we could find a couple of people to donate them. And we actually made progress in that direction.

Then President Andersen suggested that BYU-Hawaii might have some suggestions or even be able to provide at least some help. I had my doubts, but figured we didn't really have anything to loose by asking. So, we called Brother Sudlow, the Assistant Dean of Admissions (whom we had worked with on other things). He was not aware of any assistance they could offer but suggested that I call the newly hired administrator over the online program. It would have been easy, at that point, to feel passed off and to just sort of let it drop. But we decided to call.

Actually, we emailed and exchanged Skype names with him and then ‘Skyped’ each other – audio only. Brother Michael Griffiths is his name. I explained the situation here and what we were trying to do and asked if he had any suggestions. He responded that, for some reason, Mongolia had been on his mind, of late. Then he said something like, ‘What if we donate enough used computers for your lab?’ I don’t think he heard me fall off my chair!! Trying to keep my voice somewhat calm, I said something like, 'That would be absolutely wonderful if BYU could do something like that!' What he, of course, could not see, was me dancing around the room and waving my hands in the air (remember, it was an audio only skype)!! We were very fortunate, indeed, that the college just happened to be cycling through a new batch of computers to replace slightly older ones.

The next obstacle we had to over come was how to get them here. Brother Griffiths was talking of eight to ten computers and history suggested that Mongolia would almost certainly try to bill us for significant customs fees, insisting that we intended to resell them, as they usually assert under similar circumstances. In an attempt to avoid that, I emailed him a sample donation statement and suggested he have one completed to bring with him – which he did.

Arrangements were made and he was to come to Mongolia himself with the computers. The plan was that once he arrived, we would travel with him to a couple of outlying areas where we could hold firesides in which he would speak about this new online program as well as meet as many as he could of the few currently enrolled students. Then we would return to ‘the big city’ and do the same here.

The time finally arrived and we were excited to meet Brother Griffiths at the airport. His plane would arrive at 9:30 pm and we were also worried, wondering if we might be stuck all night at the airport, should we, indeed, have customs problems as he tried to bring all those computers into the country. And to complicate matters we, of course, were not allowed into that part of the airport and would just have to wait for him near the main lobby doors as we hoped everything went well for him inside.

We could watch on cameras as passengers disembarked from the plane and also as they picked up their luggage. Then we watched first hand as they started streaming out of the claim area to met . . . whoever. We waited as more and more people retrieved their suitcases, met their party and left the airport.

Then we saw this American looking guy (well, sort of – he's actually British!) and he beamed as he saw us! That had to be him! At least he made it through! That had to be a good sign! We introduced ourselves, spoke about how his trip was and finally got around to asking about the computers.

But this is getting a bit lengthy for a blog post, so we’ll finish next time!

(Don’t you just hate that!)