This guest blog was contributed by Jason Kent, Hacker-in-Residence at Cequence Security.
Walk through the crowd at BlackHat or DEFCON and you will definitely see someone wearing an “I Hack Charities” t-shirt. The first time I saw one I had to know what this was. After having been associated with Hackers for Charity for many years now, I totally understand what this is about: getting people to talk to you about how they can help with various charities and how they can be a part of an amazing adventure.
I spoke with Johnny Long at a conference called Shmoocon in DC many years ago. Johnny was living in Uganda at the time and was in the U.S. as part of the fund-raising efforts he had put in place to keep the story moving. Living full-time in Uganda, he had started the Computer Training Center that teaches computer skills and keeps itself maintained, The Keep Cafe which is a restaurant in Jinja, a leather working program, and more! All of these projects were started in an effort to help train people in skills that will employ them and help them get out of poverty.
I focused on the leather program because I had done leather tooling in school and it was something I knew. I asked Johnny if there was something that is out of reach that would advance this program. He said that he thought a leather stitching machine would be great and he had an idea of one to purchase. I promised him an upcoming bonus to purchase the machine, but I wanted to deliver it. And that is how I found myself with hundreds of pounds of luggage, checking into a flight to Uganda. This was the first of several trips that got me and my family very engaged with Hackers for Charity as well as beginning a journey to help.
I travelled back to Uganda several times and on my last trip I met Dennis Isabirye. I was looking for a plumber to help me build a biogas digester for an orphanage HFC was working with. Twenty-seven young ladies in one house, boys in another, children in a third, all using firewood to cook with and all raising young people on a shoe-string budget. Biogas would take the dung from their donated milk cow and make cooking gas as well as create fertility and a bunch of other benefits. Dennis and I began talking and we realized that we could replicate this at a few other places, and we began to discuss how we could help others.
Dennis wanted to be a plumber and I found out later that Johnny had paid for his training, small world - even in Africa. Now Dennis wants to teach others. We built a program to do biogas projects, we teach sewing (mostly reusable feminine hygiene products), apprentice plumbers, and we are dabbling in various other training projects like welding and automotive repair. Dennis created this organization on the banks of the Nile, so he called it the Nile Living Water Initiative. As the International Coordinator, I raise money, create opportunity and generally give advice on how to make things better. Ultimately, what this means is using the mentality instilled in me as a hacker to pick apart the problems facing these communities and identify the root challenge, so we can come up with a solution - just like with a cyber vulnerability.