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D.C. Teen Finds Good Home for Used Laptops

Have an old laptop that’s just collecting dust? Emilie Kimball wants to hear from you.

Kimball, an ambitious 15-year-old Potomac, Md., native, is on a mission to collect used laptops for a group of female business owners in Ghana whose computers were recently destroyed by an electrical power surge.

So while many area teenagers will be spending their summers hanging out with friends, taking trips to the mall or heading to a local pool to escape the heat, Kimball — a rising junior at the National Cathedral School in Northwest D.C. — will be going to Africa as a volunteer for Women in Progress, an organization dedicated to helping women in the developing world escape poverty by achieving economic independence.

Since the organization was formed a few years ago, WIP has helped more than a dozen Ghanese women launch Global Mamas, a group of female-owned businesses that make handmade clothing and accessories. The loss of their computers had crippled their ability to communicate with potential customers and keep track of their inventory.

Kimball’s interest in volunteering for WIP began when she learned that her freshman crew coach, Athena Maikish, was a WIP volunteer herself. So Kimball and Maikish — along with Kimball’s parents and WIP — came up with the idea of traveling to Ghana together.

But the idea of bringing along new computers for the dozen women they are slated to work with was all Kimball’s. “I got more information about the program and I found out that they needed laptops, so I figured it would be a good thing to start,” Kimball said.

Those who know Kimball say they were not at all surprised by her decision or initiative. “She’s done a number of things that have been challenging for her,” said her father, Philip Kimball. “I’ve traveled over in that part of the world for my business, so I could relate to her interest in it, too.”

Philip Kimball and Emilie’s mother, Kathy Sheehan, met while working as Capitol Hill staffers in the late ’70s. Kimball worked on the Appropriations Committee staff of then-Rep. J. Kenneth Robinson (R-Va.), while Sheehan served as the senior legislative assistant to the late Rep. Bill Ketchum (R-Calif.).

Emilie Kimball’s interest in Africa was piqued while studying the Sudanese refuge crisis in her sophomore geography class. Last summer, she interned in the Washington, D.C. office of Save the Children, where she worked on a project to encourage female entrepreneurship. Over the course of the school year, though, she started thinking about the particular needs of women in Africa, and how she could help.

“We thought it was just fantastic,” said her father. “That not only was she hoping to help Women in Progress once she got to Ghana, but that she was eager to help them even before she left.”

“She’s definitely a very caring kid who is in tune to not just reading about things but helping out and taking action on things,” said Maikish, who also noted that Kimball was one of the best athletes on her team.

“I’m excited to see her at such a young age interact with another culture. You can watch all the movies you want, but it’s only by being around people who are different than yourself that you can really understand another culture. That’s where all the learning happens,” Maikish said.

Kristin Johnson, Director of WIP, said that her organization has always relied on donated computers. “Other volunteers have said, ‘Oh, I have one,’ but no one has attempted to collect them before,” she said. “I don’t know how many 15-year-old girls see an opportunity like this and think, ‘This is something I can do to help.’ That’s what struck me as so impressive and unique.

“It’s just another indication of how amazing this young woman is,” added Johnson.

And it is not as though Kimball has ample time to kill. Aside from being a student athlete, she is the business co-manager and a reporter for her school paper, the Discus, a representative for the Cathedral School International Club, and a member of “Coral,” a singing group that tours with St. Albans, Cathedral’s brother school.

So far, Kimball has received pledges for 10 computers, but she hopes to bring as many as two dozen. “We’ve been sending out information on this program to friends and family and people in our school community,” said Kimball. “We got an e-mail back from someone at The Washington Post who might have a laptop for us.”

Kimball departs June 19, so time is of the essence. But even if she doesn’t reach her goal, Kimball said she will continue to collect used computers when she returns, either to send over with another volunteer or take on a future trip of her own. “I was hoping that if I enjoyed my experience I would go back next summer, too,” she said.

Johnson suggested that such a return trip is likely. “Ghana seems to get in people’s blood. It’s a magical place,” she said.

If you are interested in donating a laptop, you can reach Kimball at (301) 299-1133 or at pkimball@kimbal.com.

Information on the Global Mamas business cooperative is available at www.globalmamas.org and at www.womeninprogress.org.

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