PORTLAND, Oregon — For members of the Oromo tribe of South Africa, the word odda has at least two meanings: sycamore tree and meeting place. Sometimes, both definitions apply. Under the spreading branches of the odda, tribal members congregate to discuss issues and resolve conflicts. For three Oromo brothers now living in the inner-city neighborhood of North Portland, the word has taken on yet another layer of significance. OddaOromo is the name the boys have given to the online community they have created, using technologies available at the Intel Computer Clubhouse at the Salvation Army Moore Street Community Center. Now, tribal members can congregate and communicate via the Internet, no matter where in the world they are living. And non-members can learn about the tribe's culture and heritage.
"The boys are very talented, very artistic," says Michael Hepburn, assistant coordinator for the clubhouse. Ranging in age from 8-11, the three brothers "work nicely together, each bringing different skills. It's a big project." Local clubhouse coordinator Jeff Kurtz adds "The boys have created something that has caused them to look deeper into their heritage as well as who they are right now. Others of us in the clubhouse have also learned about their culture, and some of us have even learned more about creating Web pages. Their project has prompted collaboration."
The Oromo project offers a good example of how the clubhouse works as a toolbox for invention, filled with technologies applicable to whatever interests young people wish to explore. While the three brothers have been busy building their online community, for instance, other clubhouse members have been burning CDs with original music compositions, videotaping choreographed rap songs, or using digital cameras and graphics software to create posters. A collaboration with a local nonprofit organization called Ethos, Inc. led to a recent workshop on digital music mixing. And interest in robotics is on the rise, with some clubhouse members gearing up for a statewide Lego robotics competition.
The Intel Computer Clubhouse in North Portland opened in 2000, and serves a neighborhood with a high percentage of low-income and minority families. Clubhouse members range in age from 8-18, Hepburn says. Recruitment has focused on "getting the word out on the street—anywhere we can boost the program," he adds.
"Our numbers have been steadily coming up," Kurtz adds, "not due to heavy recruitment, but to spending time making those clubhouse hours 'quality hours.' The response from kids has been tremendous. Some of them come every day." Adult mentors have also been recruited from the local neighborhood and through community organizations.