FIVE years ago, only a handful of the100 schools in the southern Caribbeanregion had computers. Now, through thevision of Charles Moore and his non profitorganization Opportunity Access, morethan 200 computers have been installed in20 schools in the region, and another 350computers are ready to be placed.“I considered volunteering with thePeace Corps and other organizations butdecided I could best use my skills by startingmy own organization,” said Moore,who left the United States and his$10,000-a-month job as an engineer withVerizon to make computers available tothe young people of the southernCaribbean, who wouldn’t otherwise havehad access to computers – let alone theInternet or the comprehensive practicaltraining now available through the CahuitaComputer Center.Moore was exposed to the poverty andhopelessness of disadvantaged youngstersthrough his volunteer work at an inner-cityschool in Washington, D.C.“People would have loved the job Ihad, while I thought it was just a steppingstone,” he said. He also taught at thePentagon and other well-funded agenciesbefore deciding to put his skills to usehelping people who really needed it.NOW, more than 7,000 students havepassed through the Cahuita ComputerCenter, and more than 1,440 graduate certificateshave been issued. Two of the graduatesnow teach at the center, a dozen or soare trained teaching assistants, and anotherhalf dozen are certified computer repairtechnicians.On any day of the week, the center is ahub of activity. Friday is Games Night;youngsters begin gathering an hour beforeopening time, shouting their greetings toMoore and joining in the din of young peoplelearning keyboard skills and masteringthe principles of managing a screen.These young people have a place to go,not just on games night but also outside ofclassroom time, as the center providescomputers for practice. In addition,Tuesday night is Internet night, when anyonein the community can access theInternet for a nominal fee. These two programsalone serve 2,000 people per year.IT hasn’t been all smoothing sailing,however. Acquiring computers to fill thelabs was only the beginning. Initially, therewere no teachers in the area with computertraining to teach students.Now, the center has several graduates,“some of whom have gone on to universityto continue their computer studies,” Mooresaid.However, funding for teachers in theLimón province is low, with only one computerposition posted in the province lastyear, according to Erika Vaz, a graduatewho now teaches at the center. Vaz tooksome of her students to Limón to researchpost-graduation job possibilities, and wassurprised at the scarcity of jobs in this sector,even though the need for trained computerteachers is great, she said.Proper electrical wiring is anotherimportant requirement that presents a challenge.The makeshift electric wiring existentin the region is not adequate to sustain therequirements of sophisticated equipment.“We ask that schools have a lab spaceprepared and ready for computer installationbefore we come in, but often it’s easierfor us to go and do the rewiring than totake a chance on it,” Moore said.Repair and maintenance is an ongoingnecessity. The floods in January (TT, Jan.14) inundated several schools.“Even when the computers sit idle duringschool breaks, things happen,” Mooresaid.Now, qualified technicians are available,but no funding is in place for follow upmaintenance.Additionally, the Caribbean side of thecountry still labors with dial-up access,making Internet browsing painfully slowand sometimes unavailable as the numberof users increases. The availability ofbroadband dedicated lines has been arumor for at least two years but stillremains just that.CHALLENGES aside, the positiveimpact on the people and the communitiesin the region has been enormous. Includingcomputer courses in the school curriculumin Cahuita has ensured that all primary schoolstudents now have access to computersas part of their coursework. Morethan 300 students per semester passthrough the school. Moore’s vision is toeventually see computer classes in the curriculumsin all of the country’s schools.The Cahuita Computer Center operatessolely on donations and grants. A new,innovative “Sponsor a School” program isnow available.“For only about $2,000 a year, we canprovide the computers, repairs, maintenanceand a teacher for a school lab,”Moore said.For more information about OpportunityAccess, visit www.oa.icomm.ca,e-mail Moore at [email protected]o.comor call 755-0037.