For the past four years, West Ottawa High School student Lacey Vande Bunte has given up her Sunday afternoons to rebuild computers.
Vande Bunte is part of the student group Cultural, Technological, Environmental Exchange, which over the past 10 years has rebuilt and donated more than 1,500 computers so students in the West African nation of Cameroon can use technology in their schools.
Next month, another 200 computers get shipped to Cameroon through the CTEE program, said Vande Bunte, a senior who has become a whiz at pulling apart computers and rebuilding them.
“I’ve been doing this since I was a freshman because I believe it is important for me as a student to help other students in world,” she said.
Vande Bunte is among 40 students in CTEE.
On a Sunday earlier this month, about two dozen CTEE students were at the West Ottawa District Transportation Center to dismantle, upgrade and network donated computers destined for Cameroon.
“We started out by sending 24 computers in 1998, and it has grown and grown to the point where last year we shipped 250,” said Mike Jaegar, the group’s sponsor and a West Ottawa High School advanced placement biology and environmental issues teacher.
Longla Comprehensive College in Bamenda, Cameroon, was the first Cameron school to receive CTEE computers. It currently has a network of 100 computers.
“This has been a good program that has (helped) the less privileged and made an impact in creating friendly ties and breaking barriers of differences between our countries,” said Ngwani Emmanuel, principal of the 3,000-student school.
She said students and faculty use the computers to learn about data and word processing, computer maintenance, assignments, research and e-mail.
“Some students gain employment from using the computers as database administrators, technicians and (office) workers,” Emmanuel said.
“I don’t know much about fixing computers,” said Jaeger, a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon from 1989 to 1992. “This is a student-run organization and they teach each other how to take apart the computers and repair them.”
Ryan Gann, a 17-year-old senior, has worked with CTEE for two years.
“I believe (we’re) helping to break generations of poverty and illiteracy there by bringing them technology that will help build a better life for them,” he said.
Twelve CTEE students, including Vande Bunte and four former group members now in college, plan to travel to Cameroon for two weeks in June to set up computers in three schools.
Dirk VanBruggen, 21, a 2005 West Ottawa graduate, went to Cameroon in 2005 and while a freshman at Hope College in 2006
“I think what I was most impressed with was that the (Cameroon) students that helped us set up the computer lab were very interested in learning how to repair the computers and do work with programs and networking,” he said. “(They) see this as way to a future career.”