Will Goldie of Lafayette shows an example of his service project..
Will Goldie of Lafayette shows an example of his service project.. (Tom Barnidge / Bay Area News Group)

It takes more than being prepared, knowing the Scout Oath and 21 merit badges to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. The last hurdle to achieving Boy Scouts' highest honor is a doing-something-for-others act known as Eagle Scout Service Project.

It must benefit an organization other than the Boy Scouts, demonstrate leadership, responsibility and organizational skills, and be substantial enough to gain approval from both a troop scoutmaster and the governing council.

Some scouts build park benches, others refurbish school rooms or collect goods for the homeless. Will Goldie, a member of Lafayette Troop 204, dreamed a little bigger. He decided to construct lightweight computers for an impoverished school for girls in Afghanistan.

"It's been rare to see girls' schools in Afghanistan in the past because of the Taliban's views," he said, "so working with girls' schools was very important. I'd heard for every 6,000 girls, they only had one computer lab."

Goldie, an admitted technology addict, said the idea struck him while attending an event where Eben Upton, one of the founders of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, was speaking. The low-cost Raspberry Pi single-board computer is the nonprofit's landmark contribution to the study of basic computer science in schools.

Goldie decided he could bundle an inexpensive LCD monitor, power supply, keyboard and mouse with the Raspberry Pi board for about $200 per computer. He searched the Internet for free software and an operating system that could be loaded onto a memory card. All that remained was delivery and, oh yeah, funding.


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He contacted Trust in Education, a Lafayette-based charity that provides assistance to Afghan villages to serve as a conduit, and launched a fundraising effort for his project at website Indiegogo.com.

"We wanted to raise $2,250 to build 10 computer systems," he said. "After the first day, Raspberry Pi said it would match donations up to $10,000. Then Make Magazine asked me to write a story for its website. By the end of the first month, we raised $10,000 directly, which Raspberry Pi matched."

Goldie estimates that he and his volunteer friends put in about 120 hours on the project. The first batch of 10 computers was shipped last October, and he's since built and shipped 58 more. He's seen pictures of smiling Afghan children using his homemade computers, the guts of which are contained in a plastic container the size of a pack of cigarettes.

"The difference between this and a normal computer is theoretically this a lot weaker because it's so cheap and small," he said, "but for anything the average computer does -- and definitely for students in school -- it will be functionally the same. And these are low-powered units, which is important, because pretty much everything in Afghanistan is run off generators."

The project was not only enough to earn Goldie his Eagle badge but first place in the Mt. Diablo Silverado Council's project of the year contest. His entry will advance to the Western Region stage of the national competition later this month.

What were the biggest lessons he learned?

"I learned about leadership and about specific types of organizational skills," he said. "I learned that when you take on a large project that there are hidden time costs you don't realize until you're into it."

He didn't need to learn how important it is to help others. It's right there in the Scout Oath.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.