What really happened with AOET?
I will stick to the facts in this post. Despite the fact that I, my family and HFC have five years invested in AOET Uganda, I will try to leave emotion out of this post.
Also, we are in the process of cleaning the equipment, servicing it and re-donating it to other more worthy (and hopefully more honest) organizations.
I went to Uganda with my family for a three-week trip. We brought ten donated Pentium 3 laptops donated by a Canadian donor to install at Rehaboth Primary School in Bugembe. We paid shipping on the laptops (hand luggage), purchased keyboards, mice, power strips and power regulators using our personal funds. We also paid to have the windows in the room finished and paid for the glass in the windows. We trained the local staff on the use of the machines and turned the lab over to the Headmaster, Ernest.
When we relocated to Uganda as a family in June 2009, we found the lab completely disassembled. More than half of the machines were missing. The headmaster had one in his office, and he told us that some of the teachers had some. The others were “missing”.
The room had been re-purposed into a storage room.
On this trip, we brought forty (40) Acer Aspire One notebooks for AOET Primary School. These were purchased at an approximate price of $200 per unit (HFC donor funds). A donor purchased keyboards, mice, power strips, regulators and power wire for the classroom. HFC donor funds were used to pay for excess baggage and shipping in the US to move the laptop batteries from Maryland to North Carolina where the batteries were shipped to Uganda (again using donor funds) because the laptop batteries could not be checked on the flight.
Tim and Dwight flew in from the US to install the classroom. The spent ten days ghosting the laptops, configuring them and installing the custom software to keep the machines locked and virus free. They also supplied classroom control software. They paid for the flight and expenses to make this happen for AOET and for HFC.
(Approximately November 2009)
Headmaster Ernest @ AOET informed us that the laptops were “Too small”, despite the full size keyboards and mice. They asked if we could (in summary) add monitors or replace them with full-size desktops. This led to a series of meetings with AOET senior staff, country director James Luwaga and founder, Mr Tushabe. I voiced my concern that the HFC donors spent a lot of money on this equipment, and that Sam himself had authorized the purchase for the school after seeing a unit in person during his trip to Maryland. I expressed the desire to assist AOET, despite the fact that the shipping charges and labor by the August volunteer team were wasted. We researched a virtualization solution and settled on nComputing. We offered AOET 20 full-size workstations (running off of four CPU’s) in exchange for the 40 netbooks. We came to this number based on what we could get for the notebooks and the cost of the new systems. It was to be a 1-to-1 trade for the new workstations. We asked AOET at that time to provide proper tables and asked that they fix the leaking roof in the computer center. These were our only requirements, driven by a desire to keep the machines from harm. (The existing chairs and tables were not sturdy enough for full size machines).
We began to sell the notebooks locally at cost to raise funds for the new project.
We again engaged with AOET through their Rehaboth Senior Secondary school, offering to install a lab there. However, because of the problems we had with AOET Primary and with St. Johns, we had learned that it was a mistake to install equipment without any formal agreement in place.
We created a contract that would help us protect our investment. The contract assigned financial penalties for certain infractions which would be paid to HFC. Infractions varied and included things like food or drinks in the classroom, fingerprints on the screens, power configurations tampered with, etc. We also asked for approximately $100 a month to cover maintenance for the first year. At the end of the year, if the school was able to abide by the contract, the lab would be theirs with no strings attached. Note that $100 is approximately 1/3 of the standard rate for maintenance of a lab of this size. We also asked AOET to pay for tables for the center.
AOET leadership including Teo and James Luwaga subsequently signed this contract.
We purchased the equipment to outfit both the Primary and the Secondary schools. The purchase included 40 flat screen monitors (20 for the Primary school and 20 for the Secondary school), 8 Dell Optiplex CPU’s, 60 keyboards, 60 mice, many power regulators and power strips, network and power cable and equipment, etc. This was all purchased with HFC donor money. Another donor stepped in and granted HFC 20 brand new Dell Vostro laptops, which we elected to put in the Secondary School to make it a real showcase.
We began opening of the Computer Training Center in Jinja and began working on The Keep at this time. I mention this because despite the fact that we were involved in several major projects, we kept to our end of the agreement with AOET.
February 26, 2010
Although we were a bit late, the AOET Secondary lab came online with 18 Dell Vostro laptops and 20 nComputing workstations. The lab was fully networked and included our most advanced power management system including a very powerful regulator and custom installed wiring. We ended up purchasing the tables for the center as well, had the room painted and hired a professional electrician to install and test all the wiring. We also paid shipping on all the equipment, both foreign and domestic and paid taxes on the equipment to get it into the country. All this was HFC donor funded.
We installed the room so that it could be easily maintained. All power was kept off of the floor and all cables were permanently mounted. We installed RACHEL on every station and server and before our trip to the US, I (as per the signed contract) turned the lab over to AOET for their use.
We offered the entire AOET staff free access to our computer training center to prepare to teach courses and make the most out of the lab.
No staff member completed a course in the center despite this offer.
Uganda country director James Luwaga later stated that he did not know he could use the lab, the we “told him not to use it”. This statement is in dispute, but the fact is, AOET entered into a legally binding contract to at the very least maintain the equipment.
Despite this signed contract, James Luwaga asked that AOET be allowed to clean and maintain the equipment themselves, saving the $100 monthly service fee. I agreed to this, and it was a mistake. While we could still legally remove the lab for misuse or improper maintenance, this loose “gentleman’s” agreement would be the undoing of the project.
My spot checks over the next year revealed that the room appeared disused. The security on the property was in place, so I had no cause for concern.. Yet.
HFC volunteer Monte Hoover came to work with AOET Primary, installing an OLPC training lab with money from his own pocket. At this time, I made one last pitch to Ernest to install the 20 workstations in the Primary school. My final offer was to pay for the tables, the roof and all the equipment. I further offered to waive the financial penalties in the contract, but insisted on the trial period and the $100 a month maintenance fee. Country director Luwaga refused, stating that, “the funding wasn’t there”.
At this point, I began to realize that AOE had no real interest or capacity for caring for a donated lab.
By this time, I was concerned. The Secondary School lab was unused and filthy, and James emailed me on April 15th that:
“…AOET-Uganda management and the school administration decided to continue with the process and complete the installation and make the lab operational. We therefore have found another technician to complete the installation and get the lab running. This communication is coming to you as an update on what is transpiring at the High school concerning the compuer lab…”
“The lab has been operational for some VERY long time. You have not used it. We left the lab in an operational condition, and I told you this. There was a problem with a regulator, but this did not disable the entire classroom. As for a discussion regarding a technician, I have no idea what you are referring to.
We offered you free training in our computer center so your staff could prepare to teach in the lab, and the free training was taken only sporadically. No single staff member completed the free training.
Further, you signed a contract saying that you would keep the lab clean, and care for it, and you have not. I have performed spot checks three times in the past five months and each time, I have found all the machines were covered in dust. The machines were uncovered, and the room was filthy. It had not even been mopped. Frankly, the room looks like a woodshop there is so much dust.
I was appalled, but I waited patiently, hopeful that the staff would take an interest in caring for the room…
(I went on to explain in detail how they were in violation of the signed contract)
…Let me be clear: NO OUTSIDE TECHNICIAN IS TO WORK ON THIS EQUIPMENT. I am on my way to Njeru to discuss the next steps, but understand that we are WELL WITHIN our rights, and COMPLETELY INLINE WITH OUR DONORS EXPECTATIONS to REMOVE ALL OF THE EQUIPMENT FROM THE LAB.”
Sam Tushabe apologized for the condition of the lab via email, and I stated to both of them:
“…For my part, you know I am a friend to you and to AOET. I want to see the best come for you both. You know that’s my heart.
But we all have to answer to donors, and to a certain extent we are sometimes forced to think of this as a business transaction. At the end of the day, I have to present a strong case that the funding was worth while and that it should continue.
I think James and I are at the point where we can start over.
I want to see this work and I’ll do my best to see that it does.”
I will append the actual email conversation regarding this point, but country director Luwaga began to backpedal at this point, insisting that he had been maintaining the room, and stated with Headmaster George present, that during the third week of April he had “personally overseen the cleaning and mopping of the room JUST LAST WEEK” (emphasis added).
I called him on this and presented photographic evidence that proved he was lying. I produced several pictures of the center dated March 19, 2011 and April 15, 2011. The pictures show clearly that the room was in the exact same condition in both pictures. Plaster particles, water marks and cables were in the exact same position in both pictures. I brought this to the attention of Sam Tushabe, and to this day, James and AOET has never owned up to this lie. The fact is, James did not clean. The room was not touched. James later stated that, ‘if I had left my property in his home, he would not touch it for fear of breaking it’. I told him this did not apply because there was a signed contract to the contrary. As you can see from the photographs, James’ position is still dubious at best.
I later met with the AOET Uganda leadership team, as well as Sam and Nancy Tushabe to discuss the way forward. I presented a new contract and agreed (against my better judgement) to remove the financial penalties for infractions. However, the trial period was to remain in place and the maintenance fee was non-negotiable since AOET had proven incapable of even basic cleaning.
James Luwaga responded via email:
“…The leadership was able to read through the HFC contract that you forwarded. After close examination, we came to the following conclusion:
1. That AOET-Uganda is grateful for the offer of the computers and would kindly request that this offer comes as a donation to AOET-Uganda without any conditions attached to the computers. This meaning that from the word go the computers will belong to AOET-Uganda…”
James went on to grant us the option to “train” them and to “liaise” with them and “pledged” to keep the computers clean. He went on to say that this was, “the final position of the leadership team”.
My response made no attempt to veil my frustration:
“There really is no response I can make through email that will convey my complete disappointment in this response.
AOET is in breach of legal contract. James, you lied to my face about cleaning the lab, and that irrefutable evidence was brought to Sam. You still have not addressed these lies. AOET has let the equipment spoil, and this is the FOURTH computer lab from HFC that has been destroyed and neglected by AOET Uganda.
What “pledge” can you possibly offer that my donors will accept? Am I to take your word James?
The only conclusion I can draw is that AOET wants the equipment without the responsibility.
I’m sorry but there are thousands of NGOs in Uganda that will accept the contract as-is. You had nothing to lose and over 100,000,000/- worth of equipment to gain. It’s time we give someone else a chance to accept this donation.
I am disinclined to acquiesce to you request.
In short, I decline your offer.”
Sam and I engaged in increasingly heated email debate over this and I tried to convey that I was looking out for my donors investment and that as head of the organization, I believed he needed to put his foot down about the lying and the breach of contract. The exchange blended business and personal feelings on both sides and concluded with Sam stating that:
“I have no further comments on this.
This is an AOET Uganda situation and needs to be solved at that level.”
This was the final straw.
It was clear that AOET’s official stance was to accept massive donations of equipment and resources and not accept responsibility for it.
I was the only one that could act in the best interest of HFC’s donors, and I would not lie down and allow our donor’s money to be wasted by any recipient. As I told Sam and JAmes, “there are thousands of NGO’s that will gladly accept the contract as-is and stick to it, landing tens of thousands of dollars of equipment and software for approximately $1200” (in maintenance fees).
Admittedly angry, I gathered two HFC employees, and had a friend with a truck follow me to Rehaboth Primary with the intent of removing the equipment.
I stopped at the front desk and told the secretary that I was here for the keys to the computer lab. She ducked into the conference room and came out a bit later saying that the keys had been “refused” and I would have to “sit while the staff was in a meeting.”
My reaction was severe and immediate. I would not be denied our equipment. I walked into the conference room, and all I said was, “I want the keys.” I was not polite about it. Sam asked me to sit down and discuss things. The discussion was over. I had the AOET leadership team’s “final position”, James’ lies were acceptable to senior staff and Sam had already left the decision to the (proven dishonest) leadership team. Like St. John’s, another failed classroom project, now that the equipment was on it’s way out the door, the school administration was ready to “discuss” matters.
I left the room.
A metal worker was outside and I asked him if his tools could cut the lock of the computer lab. He followed me to the door. Sam came out of the building and told me I, “would not destroy AOET property”. My initial thought was, “but it’s OK for you to destroy HFC property?”
He again asked me to come in to the meeting, which I did.
James did not own up to his lies. Sam told me that he would not, “dance to my tune” and I could not just, “barge in, threaten to destroy property and take anything away”. I told Sam that I would pay for the lock, and his response was, “we can afford our own lock, stop flashing around like that”, indicating that I was somehow acting like a rich guy waving money around.
I explained that their secretary refused me access to our equipment and that I had a legal (and every other) right to take it.
The staff said that’s not what they told the secretary.
The end result was that they asked me to wait outside until they finished their meeting and that forms would be drafted officially giving back the equipment.
We did wait, and AOET produced the key and a letter, which began with:
“1. We stand by the position that owning the computers by two organizations would bring a lot of relational challenges with double allegiances..
2. Since it is in your opinion that we may not have the computers given to us on the understanding we gave you, the organization will officially hand back your computers…
4. We thank you for the offer given to us and take responsibility for the parts that were INTENDED to be our duties…”
They wanted me to sign the letter, and I would not. The computers were taken because they were not cared for. The computers were taken because AOET did not even take the time to mop the floor, close the windows in the rain or dust the equipment, let alone use it. The computers were taken because AOET was in breach of a (watered down) legal contract, the very basics of which they could not even perform. I would not sign a paper stating otherwise.
This lab represented three years of work, a move to Uganda on behalf of my family, somewhere in the ballpark of $50,000 in equipment, computers, peripherals, shipping and taxes and above all, a friendship between the Long and the Tushabe families that has lasted for about 5 years.
I apologize publicly for the rough end to this, especially my behavior in the last days of this debacle. I was not a pleasant, shiny happy representative for the thousands that have donated and pledged support to this organization. And I am sorry for that.
I will not, however, apologize for taking a hard line with our resources. Yes, we’re about helping people that can’t afford to help themselves. We’re about empowerment, and this requires sustainability. We can not afford to refresh computer labs once a year. It’s my job to protect the resources we have at our disposal and I am the last line of defense for the donor and their investments. And I am not sorry for taking a hard line with the donor’s money.
We’ll find another worthy recipient for the equipment, or at least someone who can be honest.
A few individual photos are here before the main photo gallery.
The above was taken on March 19, 2011. I call your attention to several things. First, observe the placement of the cords on the floor in the background. Notice how they are specifically arranged. Also, look at the white plaster dust on the floor in the foreground. Note the specific arrangement of the particles.
The above was taken on April 15, 2011 nearly a month after the previous photo and after James “personally overseen” cleaning. Observe the cable arrangement in the background. It is unchanged. The cables had not been moved or disturbed in a month. This means that either the cleaners did not disturb the cables in any way, or that they did a poor job sweeping and mopping. The truth is, they did not mop or sweep “last week” as James claimed. We know this because of simple observation of the arrangement of the plaster particles on the floor and on the desk in the foreground. Those particles are also undisturbed in one month’s time. How did James “personally overseen” cleaning crew manage to do this? Did they sweep and mop and then carefully place the particles in the exact same place? Regardless, the rest of the photos tell the tale. The room was not cleaned, “last week” or ever.
The above photo was also taken on April 15th 2011, the date of my conversation with James. On that day, James insisted and huffed and puffed telling me that he watched them mop “just last week”. He is obviously asserting that this water evaporation pattern occurred in the span of a couple of days, or even a week, which is impossible. Regardless of what time frame he might scientifically manage to put on the evaporation, the question remains: how did this much water remain on and around the VERY EXPENSIVE power regulator for ANY period of time, long enough to leave this stain, without being noticed? If, as he says, he was at least being responsible to
“sweep and mop,” how did this pass his notice? This exact question was posed to Sam and James. Neither had any explanation despite the obvious fact that James was lying. In his position as Uganda Country Director, his lie to a major donor was allowed to stand by both the founder and the rest of the country organization. Still AOET has not taken responsibility for this lie or reprimanded James for his dishonesty on behalf of AOET.
Following is a photo gallery depicting the sad shape of the equipment prior to its removal. You will note through the photos the gross neglect of the equipment. Also, note that the equipment was new when it was installed.
We are in the process of cleaning the equipment, servicing it and re-donating it to other more worthy (and hopefully more honest) organizations.