Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Some of the prep work

Day 6. Everyone arrives tomorrow. I've spent the past week visiting the schools, talking with headmasters, detailing the trip itinerary, and doing some research. We'll be working with 3 separate schools (Katane, Driehoek, and Maweshi). Each has its own personality, structural issues and unique circumstances, but each one provides great opportunity for learning and potential. The teachers are very eager to start, the children are overly excited, and the group is almost here. They'll arrive tomorrow off balance and in need of a bed having just spent 2 days traveling. Unfortunately for them we're heading straight over to Kliptown where the 1st za-olpc project was put in place. After that we drive for 4 hours to our project's location.

Some updates....

Language Barrier
In general, the students English is rudimentary which will pose a significant challenge for us. It changes some initial plans, but it's no surprise. On the positive side, I believe this project will greatly increase their level of understanding in English, particularly with more opportunities to read and write via the laptops numerous applications. Furthermore, Americans have a strong accent which only makes matters worse when trying to engage in a conversation with one of the teachers. But that's half the fun.

We're needing to put in power at Maweshi and Driehoek. I'm researching every available source of electricity possible and at the cheapest rate (funding is an issue since power is so expensive). I actually spent the past 2 hours lost in Johannesburg trying to meet with a group called Alternative Electricity Development Corporation ( which has some power units that may work. This would allow the children to take the laptops home, providing learning opportunities 24/7. It would also allow for their parents to have basic electricity met in each of their homes. None of the homes in each community has electricity. Still working on figuring out details though since I got lost and didn't make the meeting. I found myself somewhere I obviously shouldn't have been...good times, good times. I'm also looking at pulling the town's electricity toward the school, something the government has neglected to do, so says one of the teachers. Then there's solar power which is great but that prevents the students from using the laptops at home. There's also the issue of theft which some of the locals have brought up. Setting up solar panels on top of the schools would require some sort of protection. Finally, we can always provide a generator which will cost less at the moment but isn't the best solution for the long run. In any case, some of the options will probably require some additional funding since we had originally allocated enough funds to cover electricity for 1 school. Since we were misinformed, we're going to have to make do somehow. Just have to run with it...

Maweshi primary school is just as concerned with bringing in water, not just electricity. They have to pay for monthly installments of water. It's something which could easily be fixed since the region is extremely mountainous. Most of the water just sits next to them under the hill side. They just lack the capital to have someone bring in the company which drills the hole. So the kids go without water throughout the school day.

Learning Materials
Each school lacks essential materials necessary to learn. They've asked for the basics like pens, folders, reference charts (i.e. days of the week, geography posters, etc), chalk, a soccer ball or two, etc, etc. The first class I visited at Katane was a 5th grade math class which we'll be working with. The teacher was trying to explain calculator functions when only a few students had the means to buy basic calculators. Needless to say, it's a bit difficult to teach about calculators when children can't practically apply the knowledge. Hopefully with each student having a laptop we'll see some improvements in that area.

Looking forward to having the rest of the group here tomorrow.

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