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Technological and Gendered Pathways to Women's Empowerment and Community Development

In the heart of the primarily Spanish


speaking Mission District in San Francisco, California, a computer school opens its doors to Latin American immigrant and refugee women. The women who arrive come from diverse backgrounds, but generally share a common language (Spanish), lowincome levels, and a desire to improve their lives, not only for themselves but also for their families and communities. The name of the school is CAMINOS Pathways Learning Center/CAMINOS Centro de CapacitaciOn (henceforth CAMINOS) and its mission is to provide access to white collar, well salaried jobs for its students who previously faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles to these positions. CAMINOS is not merely a technology institute, however; it offers a safe place for women who suffer

by David Carey
from poverty, racial and sexual discrimination, domestic violence, and culture shock. Technology can give these women opportunities that will place them at the forefront of economic change, and CAMINOS advocates the role women can play in community and economic development. The school provides technological and practical instruction to women with the understanding that the communities where these students work and live will improve as a result of the women's increased participation and agency in them. For many students the journey to CAMINOS began in Latin America. Many traveled thousands of miles to escape civil war in places like El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Others were escaping poverty, racism, sexism and other impediments to their development. During their journeys
some were victims of rape, sleep deprivation, and starvation. Some traveled with their families and small children, others alone. Their struggles did not end with their arrival in the United States and their quest for asylum. Their lack of English skills undermines their ability to work or even socialize. Consequently, many of these women were isolated as they confronted the challenges of living in a foreign environment and missing their families, communities, and nations. Varied as their experiences were, the constituents of CAMINOS arrived at the school because they believed they could educate themselves and improve their reality. Founded in February of 1999 by Petra Ch vez, a Catholic sister, CAMINOS teaches Microsoft Office, Internet and typing skills, web page design, Dreamweaver, Photoshop,

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mathematics, and computer repair and troubleshooting. The classes and textbooks are in Spanish but each student is required to enroll in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. CAMINOS supplements ESL classes with a language exchange program whereby a volunteer Students learning

when on my first day of class one student commented to me, "So you are learning this right along with us." In fact, I continued to learn along with these women for the next eight months and my education with them extended well beyond my increased computer knowledge. I myself taught teaches English conMicrosoft Office and a stuversation to able an became dent and receives teacher, yet I always Spanish classes in felt challenged by my conversation in re2 As adult students. Small busiturn. learners they brought development ness life experiences and and job search skills, practical goals which such as mock inter, the enriched views, also are an esandragogical exchange sential part of the and motivated their at edufcation participation. Con-~ CAMINOS. time the By stituents learn how held its CAMINOS apply to market andv first graduation certheir technological emony in June 2000, skills to helr them three women had altransition into gains ready acquired whiteemployment. ful collar jobs and others The formal educawere well on their way to tional level varies greatly at A Mock interview, part of the lob support prograr n achieving this goal. To graduCAMINOS. A few of the stuate from the first level each dents completed high school student had to be proficient in and studtied at universities or Microsoft Word, Excel and degrees; earned technical Powerpoint. The final project some Stutdents were teachers was to do a Powerpoint presenor registered nurses in their tation about their country and/ countries. However, most of or family. Most of the women the women at CAMINOS exceeded our expectations as had to drop out of school prior they scanned photographs of to the sixth grade. The inabiltheir families, researched infority to speak English fluently mation on their countries, means that these women face downloaded information and chalemployment similar images from the Internet, crelenges regardless of their eduated text, and accompanied cation levels; if they cannot slides with music. Many exuded inteach it. iMy gendler wa! enough to speak English, employers are reluctant creased confidence and became adept mnany of tht to hire them for positions outside of problematic because have adversarial relationship~ public speakers. I was amazed by their the service sector. Even those who women with men, in part as a result of domes 5 mastery of the technology and inhave completed secondary education spired by the passion with which they tic violence and machis.mo. However find it difficult to earn their Graduate presented their projects. Since stuthe students' initial resistance to ml CoinfEquivalency Diplomas (GEDs). dents determined the content of this wvomen presence receded as we (the student puter technology allows these and I) re-created an enlvironmnent of project they gained a sense of ownerand linto ovetcome the educational ship over their education, and in prem-utual respect and secuirity. I quickl, guistic obstacles that exclude them realized that they demanded a thor 5 senting their final product to the class from higher paying jobs. they became the teachers. oLugh understanding of the program In November 1999, I became CAMINOS's first male taacher when Petra asked me to fill in as a temporary Microsoft Office ins:ructor. I did not claim any expertise n computers but the school had lost a teacher on short notice and Petra was confident I could learn Microsoft Office well to access the Internet
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Flexible curricula revelant to students' reaLities is one of CAMINOS's most effective andragogical tnethods because it allows women to direct projects to their needs and desires. For example, two students who clean houses together took advantage of a Microsoft Word assignment to design flyers that advertise their business and organized their budget on a spreadsheet as part of their Microsoft Excel qualifications. At CAMINOS the students' knowledge, concerns, and incentives shape the classroom experience; when students have a vested interest in the learning process, they are more likely to persevere in their studies and training. The students are the driving forces behind CAMINOS. Most of the members of the Board of Directors are former or current pupils. Their direction helps to ground CAMINOS in the reality of its immigrant constituency and the ways in which technology can empower them toward "lifelong productivity." As CAMINOS's literature states, "The organization aims to assure that these women not only enjoy economic security, but also contribute to their communities and strengthen their family life" ("CAMINOS Pathways Learning Center" 2000, p. 1). The board pushes CAMINOS to share and expand its talents. The dilating programs and increasing student population necessitate larger office space and board members have taken it upon themselves to facilitate such a move and find a suitable building in the Mission District. The board also has been instrumental in establishing other programs based on the CAMINOS mnodel in the San Joaquin Valley, near Fresno, California (where the tnajority of agricultural workers are Central American immigrants) and in assisting another start-up group in the Canal Zone in San Rafael, California. This outreach is an excellent example of how providing women with access to technology benefits not only the women themselves, but also their own and neighboring communities.
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CAMINOS constituents capitalize on the fact that computer technology is readily transferable. Often these female students create opportunities for themselves and colleagues through their interactions in the local business communitv. In the summer of 2000, The computer repair shop

CAMINOS took advantage of its comparative advantage to establish a computer repair shop to provide free or inexpensive repair to low-income families. This prograrm extends access to computer technology to the families who generally are the recipients of used computers. These families cannot afford new computers, but the

CAMINOS repair shop allows them the luxury of upgraded (and functioning) coinputers. At the very least, computer repair training means that
students can repair their own comput-

ers. By January 2002, this shop served


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non-profit organizations and small businesses in the Mission District. The extended reach of the repair shop "enables the women apprentices to have ample opportunity to practice and sharpen their skills before obtaining full-time employment or initiating their own computer repair business" ("CAMINOS Pathways Learning Center" 2000, p. 1). In some cases, students from CAMINOS introduced businesses in the Mission District to computer technology. This outreach not only increased the productivity and competitiveness of small businesses in the area, but it also created job opportunities for the graduates. In another case, MarIa, 3 who had all but decided to return to Mexico, was cleaning a home when the homeowner became visibly agitated with his computer because it had just erased all his files. Maria asked if she could take a look at it and the owner consented in a huff saying he was going to throw the computer out anyway. After fifteen minutes of troubleshooting she tightened the video card, which resumed the computer's funct ionality and revealed the lost files. The owvner was elated and promptly paid her one hundred dollars for her expertise. This experience convinced MarIa to finish her computer training at CAMINOS and pursue it as a career. She is currently working two jobs to earn enough money to open an Internet cafe/stationary and graphic arts store that will also be a computer repair shop. The success stories help to motivate other students, yet CAMINOS faces a number of challenges because Volume 46, issue 6
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of its multifarious student body. The disparity in educational levels means that teachers must employ a number of different andragogical approaches. The same class might have students who have mastered Microsoft Office seated next to a student who is just learning how to create a document and type. Moreover, most women have difficult schedules because of their employment and family life. Many women do not know what their work schedule will be from week to week, so they are often unable to maintain consistent attendance even with CAMINOS's efforts to be flexible in class schedules. Culture and machismo can also be hindrances; husbands often discourage or prohibit their wives from attending school. In a few cases, women participate in CAMINOS without their husbands' knowledge. Unfortunately, some of those who register have to drop out of the program because of pressures from home or work. The women who persevere enjoy augmented levels of confidence in many arenas. For example, Laura had been keeping her participation in
CAMINOS hidden from her husband

logical training and the gendered environment of CAMINOS have enabled women to act mor- efficaciously in their lives, families, and communities. In addition to the enhanced selfconfidence that many of these partici-

countries. The very circumstances surrounding their return are empowering and effectual. Their efforts to establish schools based on the CAMINOS model invite new challenges, but with the support of CAMINOS and their own sense of agency, they embark the with to promise

These methodological apprc)aches serve to empower adult students to bzecome agents, eclucation ancl not simply subjects, of their, education andl training.
pants enjoy, women whc complete the program and attain white-collar employment or start their own businesses also introduce increased earning power to the community. This money helps women to achieve a higher standard of living for their families and contributes to the economic development of the community through increased cash flow. CAMINOS argues, "The result of participants' increased access to capital is a ripple effect in community" and families their Learning Pathways ("CAMINOS Center" 2000, p. 1). For CAMINOS, the definition of com-munity extends beyond the Mission District. This vision is evident not only in their efforts to provide similar services to the San Joaquin Valley and Canal Zone, but also in their pains to establish CAMINOS in Centra. America. A school is already in place in El Salvador; CAMINOS is in the process of installing the computers and recruiting former San Francisco students from El Salvador who desire to return to their nation to teach their countrywomen computer technology. Likewise, CAMINOS is establishing a school in Guatemala with the help of a donor who originally came to San Francisco as a refugee. These schools will provide women who fled poverty and violence in their countries with an opportunity to share their expertise and foment more economically sustainable strategies in their native

)aches serve to

share

com-

puter knowledge and its

benefits with
those

who

have

been

excluded

because she feared his reprisals. CAMINOS offered her a used computer to practice on at home because she complained that she could not attend the classes regularly due to job and childcare demands. Laura refused the computer on the grounds that it would expose her studies to her husband who would become upset with her for taking computer classes. After about six months at CAMINOS she informed the staff that she wanted a new computer for her home because her skill level merited the latest computer technology. They replied that they could only supply her with a used computer. Laura knew this to be the case and explained that she intended to insist that her husband buy her a new computer. The next week, Laura informed her colleagues that she was
now working on a new computer in

her home. While not typical, Laura's case is indicative of the ways technoVolume 46, Issue 6

this from technology. The CAMINOS model suggests three specific andragogical strategies that can be transferred to other adult learning centers. First, CAMINOS clearly outlines the benefits of its curricula in terms of attaining gainful employment, and establishes programs to facilitate this transition, such as the mock interviews. For students, this direct connection between classes and future jobs makes the education more relevant and goals more attainable. Second, classroom projects are applicable to students' current, not just future, realities. Finally, by employing flexible curricula, students determine the content of assignments. These methodological approaches serve to empower adult students to become agents, not simply subjects, of their education and training. Gender and technology converge at CAMINOS with the goal of improving the lives of women, families, and communities. While the school is only three and one half years old and teachers and students alike continue to seek the best andragogical methods for all involved, CAMINOS has already enjoyed success with its graduates and the women who have stayed on to dedicate themselves to sharing these opportunities with others both within and beyond their communities. Technology has given these women a means to overcome the eclectic barriers they face as low-income, non-na35

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tive English speakers in the United States and improve their socioeconomic situation and that of their families. In turn, the female constitrents at CAMINOS have contributed]
immensely to their communities,

by the Asociatin for Eclucotional Commuinications and Thnology (AECT),


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other communities with similar needs and desires, and, in some cases, their native countries. REFERENCES: "CAMINOS Pathways Learning Center/CAMINOS Centro de CapacitaciUn." Ca. 2000. Unpublished manuscript. I Comments from Petra Ch vez, Sarah Johnson, Melody Shank, and the anonymous reviewer for TechTrends on earlier drafts of this article were especially insightful. I also wish to thank Petra Ch vez for her inspiring vision and work at CAMINOS, and the students for sharing their experiences and wisdom with me. 2 CAMINOS also teaches Spanish literacy classes partly because strengthening reading and writing in Spanish facilitates learning tlhese skills in Englislh.

seeks authoritative articles that fcus on the practicaloapploications of itechnology in eduction and trining. If you have a manuscript that yu eiv wuld be, of interest to, Awe readership, ECT's encurage you to submit it;fr pulication. Ipossible T echTTn is a Epeelr-reviewed publication, and sub-

mitted monuscripts ore reviwed witut bias b a;


panel of reviewers with expertise in theitpics presented in the manuscripts.

3 1 use pseudonyms to protect the anonymity of the students at CAMINOS.

All imainuscripts accepted for publiation will be edited 0 tolcionform Xito space and re rments offsyle TSeh Treds aqnd may be, editd toeemphasize certin aspectsf ofcontent. Authors are responsible for the ai;uccfuracy of0theilr cotributions. Their opinions are :f9respected aind expressed0where aippropiate ithed 0in lj;udgmenft ;of tthe Tehred editrial sta. It is assumedi that any submitted manuscript 1originl and is has not been submitted, acced, or published 4fwhere. Write or call for a copy of TechTrends' Infrmation lr fo iContri bu;tors. You: may:X also- Ssendi an e-manwil A0mies?sagef or a fax to the Editor-in-Chief at the appropri0asute ad;dress belo00 w.0;i
_Don E. DesCy

Editor-in-Chief,

ekhrhnds&

0300103 iArmstrog Hdall Milnnesota ;SZ#ta Un6iversity Mnrkato MN 56010


Dovid Carey Jr. an Assistant Professor of History at is the University of Southern Moine. He worked ot CAMINOS from 1999-2000.
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Phone-: :507389-1 965i Fax: 50O7389-5751 E-mail: desr@mnsu d :


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TITLE: Technological and Gendered Pathways to Womens Empowerment and Community Development SOURCE: TechTrends 46 no6 N/D 2002 WN: 0230500422007 The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is reproduced with permission. Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited..

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