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- More from Burt Constable
Years from now, if you are trekking through the rural African village of Mokowe, near the eastern coast of Kenya, and looking for a shady place to escape the heat and flying insects, you might duck into a building adorned with the smiling face of 24-year-old Megan DaPisa of Arlington Heights.
"I didn't have a choice in the matter!" e-mails DaPisa, who said the villagers would have been insulted if she had refused the honor. As a Peace Corps volunteer teaching deaf students in Mokowe, the Rolling Meadows High School graduate orchestrated an ambitious project last summer to build a solar-powered computer lab in the town, which has dirt roads and no running water.
With help from her parents (Bob and Terry), family, friends, people she met during her years of volunteering with the Special Olympics, Arlington Heights Elementary District 25, the suburban community, the villagers of Mokowe and even the Marines, DaPisa managed to raise $15,768 and get computers delivered to Africa.
Not only did the grateful residents name the new building the "DaPisa Computer Lab," a self-taught artist named Janko came from the village of Mpekatoni a few hours away and spent several days sculpting her likeness in cement on an outer wall.
"All my students and the other teachers loved it because they said he (the artist) got my essential characteristics that made me Madam Megan," DaPisa writes. "Dangly earrings, hair in a bun with a hair wrap, nose piercing, and a scoop neck shirt_Anybody that knows me in Mokowe/Lamu knows that I am always dressed that same way every day."
The inscription reads: "This computer lab was funded by Megan DaPisa's family and friends. Peace Corps Volunteer 2007-2009. Salama."
DaPisa got only the last word, Salama, a greeting that is "one of my favorite words in Kiswahili" and means peace and well-being, she writes. "I just love the way it sounds. By putting it on the computer lab, I was hoping to wish peace and well-being to anyone who used it."
At the festive dedication party with music, traditional dancing and food (they killed four goats), a humbled and emotional DaPisa gave a speech.
"I tried my best to give it all in Kiswahili, which everyone appreciated. I explained about the lab and how all the different pieces came together from so many different people and groups," DaPisa says.
"Kenyans don't know what to do when people cry, especially wazungu (white people), so I made a couple of the teachers promise the day before, that if I started to get teary during my speech, that they needed to distract me," DaPisa says. "As I was telling everyone in attendance that they were my family and that Mokowe/Lamu was my other home, I got a little teary-eyed. So, in the middle of my speech, the two teachers started singing a song that makes me laugh every time I hear it-the translation to English changes it a bit, but basically, they were singing 'Madam Megan, we love you and would drink poison for you,' and it includes a fun little swing dance."
The impact of the DaPisa Computer Lab already is rippling through the community, opening new connections for boys and girls, her deaf students and everyone in the town.
"As a parent, it's pretty overwhelming just through parenting a child, to have such a positive impact on the world," says her proud mother.
"It was an amazing day," DaPisa says, "probably one of the best days of my life so far."
That "so far" is key as DaPisa, who turns 25 later this month, isn't resting. She finished her Peace Corps stint in December and already has a new job in Africa, which you can read about in her blog at www.megansadventures.com.
She might not be immortalized in cement everywhere she goes, but DaPisa is bound to leave her mark.