CORINTO, Colombia--It was easy for the kids at the rural school to see I had arrived.
Even if they didn't see the van carrying myself and Microsoft executive Orlando Ayala, it was hard to miss the 20 or so soldiers that accompanied us in a convoy.
The military escort was not just a sign of the esteem that Ayala is held in--though the Colombian native is something of a favorite son here--but rather an indicator of the danger that remains in the area in an around Corinto. Though its just 30-some miles from Cali, the area is not far from rebel strongholds.
At one point on our way there, the road was blocked by a herd of rather skinny cattle. Though on its face amusing (and definitely a Kodak moment), their presence was unsettling to even some of the Colombians in the van. Such incidents can be a diversion to initiate a kidnapping. Thankfully the cows were just cows.
Though the trip into the countryside had some risk, it feels important to write about people that are trying to move forward, even as the conflict remains close to their homes. The visit was particularly powerful for me, having known someone in high school, Terry Freitas, who was later kidnapped and killed near the Colombian-Venezuelan border.
In Corinto, I saw students thrilled by the opportunity to use decade-old technology and a mayor and principal pleading for the more modern computers that could make an even greater impact. I was also struck by the teacher who helped the students with the computers--a zoologist who moved back to Corinto to help improve the education in the town where she grew up.
I also had a chance to tour the factory where workers painstakingly refurbish the computers that end up in places like Corinto. The program, Computadores para Educar (Computers for Education) refurbishes more than 20,000 computers a year. Although the machines are typically a few years old (the minimum specs are machines with Pentium II processors and 128MB of memory), a government study found that the computers the program refurbishes have roughly the same time before failing as new PCs, in part because of its rigorous process of cleaning and testing.
However, that painstaking process is costly, and the program often has to supplement donated computers with new parts. As a result, some say the $160 it costs to refurbish a computer may not be the best use of funds, when new machines, capable of running the latest software, can be had for around $280. It's a fascinating debate, and I plan to describe the program and its challenges more in a post that will go up in the next day or so.
I also doubt I will forget the torrential rain that came out of nowhere as we visited the peace park in Medellin, started by well-known Latin singer Juanes, who is also from Colombia. The rain was probably the hardest I have seen in my life, but lasted just five minutes or so. A few minutes later, the kids taking tennis lessons at the park were back outside playing around.