The purpose of my trip to Nigeria in November was to cover the 20th anniversary of a computer school founded there by Dr. Anthony Petrillo, an SIM missionary, in partnership with ECWA, a Nigerian Christian denomination. This article tells the history of that partnership and will be the first-posted of several articles written for Dr. Petrillo’s ministry, TEN3.
JOS – The school that gave rise to TEN3 celebrated 20 years of training Nigerians in the godly use of technology in November.
“Our goal is not just to teach them to use computers but to give them new life,” said Isaac Tanam, director of ECWA Information and Computer Sciences Institute (EICSI). “In different ways, we bring Christ into everything we do.”
That was TEN3 President Dr. Anthony Petrillo’s hope when he founded the school as an SIM missionary in Nigeria. At the time, few Americans saw the point of computer scientists like him serving in Africa, but he foresaw that the technology would arrive eventually – along with its particular temptations. He prayed that he could not only train them to use computers effectively but also prepare them to honor God as they did so.
“EICSI has accomplished what my heart’s desire was,” Petrillo said, adding that his students have improved their lives and their country using their technical and spiritual lessons.
Although TEN3 was formed in 2007, its roots stretch back to EICSI’s origins. Petrillo had borrowed six early PCs and opened the school in his garage when officials from ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All, a Nigerian denomination that grew out of SIM’s original missionary work there 120 years ago) said that was too small an idea. They gave him space in one of their buildings and told him to create the best computer school in Nigeria.
“I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ but my mind says, ‘He’s crazy. Nothing works. How am I going to run a computer school without electricity?’” Petrillo recalled, noting that power was out a fourth of the time.
“God stumbled us into a plan on how we could provide a very good quality – and I believe, at that time, the best – education in the country, and I also believe that if we work together, we can produce a new education that will be the best in the world,” Petrillo said.
To celebrate God’s work through them, EICSI arranged three days of events, including a quiz show for secondary students, a convocation of Nigerian educators discussing the best ways ahead, and the school’s first graduation ceremony in several years. They also brought Petrillo – affectionately known as “Father Computer” – over as a guest speaker.
Tanam, director since October 2011, was one of Petrillo’s first sixteen students and the first to be accepted. An agricultural engineer by trade, he was 30 when he began the program. He thought he would be able to apply the computer training to his engineering work and hoped for a position with ECWA.
“When I started the training, I didn’t have the intention to remain,” he said, adding that he certainly didn’t think he’d eventually head the school.
Petrillo had other ideas, though. He knew that expanding the school would require staff, and the only place to get them would be his own students. From the beginning, he recruited many graduates to become teachers and staff – nine or ten from the founding class. That model has continued, although Tanam is the last founding graduate remaining on staff.
Tanam still teaches programming in Java, C++, database management and design, and sometimes networking. He also still tries to help his country through agriculture; as part of his doctorate, he has designed a harvesting machine.
Tanam hopes to expand the school and offer management, history, counseling, and engineering.
“But we can’t do that in this place,” Tanam said of their rented location in the city.
The school owns land but lacks the funds to develop it. Rental fees have inhibited growth and even caused layoffs.
The school has also been affected by the loss of some students. Muslims used to feel welcome at the school, learning about computers and the beliefs of their Christian neighbors. Both of those lessons are opposed, though, by Boko Haram, a terrorist group in the north pressing for Islamic rule there. The group’s name means “western education is forbidden,” and it has attacked Muslims for attending such schools as EICSI. During the three-day celebration at ECWA headquarters, security was noticeably high, but no problems arose.
“We have had our ups and downs, but God has been with us,” Tanam said.
A new arrangement for TEN3 to provide training to EICSI’s staff should be a new up. It reinforces their historical bond and strengthens both organizations for the future. Common history and common dreams will help them work together to promote the godly use of technology in Nigeria.
More information about TEN3’s work can be found at http://www.TEN3.org.