Qibirha School Construction Project
CELD’s partners in this effort include committed village leaders, Rotary clubs in California and South Africa and an Intel-sponsored foundation. CELD’s investment in ideas and money has been leveraged by the contributions of these partners, and the result is a project with the potential to become a model for other villages.
The story begins several years ago when Wilton Mkwayi, a founding member of the board of directors of CELD, identified Qibirha as the kind of village that CELD wanted to help. The villagers provided contributions of about $18 and ten bricks from each household to build their own three-room school which clearly demonstrated a desire to help themselves. They ran into some problems when the quality of bricks contributed by village residents and they needed additional resources to build the school. CELD stepped in to help by providing support for building the school over the next 2 or 3 years. Impressed by what was happening in Qibirha, the Eastern Cape Department of Education helped finish the building.
Fast-forward a few years to 2007. CELD received a very generous gift from the Mack Family Fund and used that as an opportunity to explore the possibility of a larger project in South Africa. Specifically, Michael Bell engaged Board member and Rotary member Thomas Boyce in a discussion about finding a worthy project in South Africa for CELD and the Los Gatos, California, Rotary Club to take on together. Rotary was challenged to match the initial contribution from the Mack Family Fund to leverage resources for a larger project. Bell thought of Qibirha and the can-do spirit of the villagers. He asked Qibirha leaders what they would find most helpful, and they decided that getting computers for their school was the answer. The King William’s Town Rotary Club, not far from Qibirha, agreed to help.
Boyce, who is both a member of the CELD board and of the Los Gatos Rotary Club, knew that Intel had a global interest in E-learning – using computers in a systematic way to foster education. He called the director of Intel World Ahead to explore a plan to buy computers for the Qibirha school and to get effective mentoring for the program.
Intel was interested. Encouraged and excited, Boyce and Bell decided to have a meeting in Qibirha this past March. Mike and Vianne Bell were in South Africa on a scheduled trip, and Tom Boyce flew in from California to join them. Ndumi Gola and Rory Riordan, CELD’s South African representatives, came from nearby King William’s Town and Port Elizabeth. Jaccques Van Schalkwyk, the African director for Intel World Ahead, came from Cape Town. Lionel Heath, governor of the Eastern Cape Rotary District, was there from Port Elizabeth. Led by Malao Thabo, the school principal, Qibirha villagers turned out in large numbers.
The first day Tom Boyce facilitated a community meeting, in which the villagers made it clear they were enthusiastically in favor of bringing E-learning to their school, but had some trepidation about being able to make it succeed. Jacques Van Schalkwyk, citing Intel’s experience in other places, said the plan could work. He also made a personal pledge to contribute a desktop computer to get the ball rolling.
…we were suffering very much. We didn’t have enough classes for learning because we were learning in the shearing shed and churches. Students got sick from spending too much time in the shed, and others dropped out. The shed was in very bad condition because the roof leaked and anytime it rained normal classes stopped. We didn’t have toilets and taps…
The next day a smaller group met with community and school leaders in nearby King William’s Town. Although the original plan was to start quite modestly, a consensus developed that the project would have a much greater chance of success if there were a computer for each student. That became the goal.
Intel responded by offering to supply 45 computers – enough to reach the goal for each of the three original classrooms. Perhaps as important, Intel has provided project leadership from South Africa, hosting weekly telephone meetings among the principals. These have proved invaluable in working out the details of bringing the necessary power to the school, managing the project budget, arranging for the teachers to be instructed in proper use of the computers, making sure there is appropriate instructional content, and seeing that there is a good photographic record.
Just as this first phase of bringing E-learning to the Qibirha school was nearing successful conclusion, there was a temporary setback Aug. 31 when another storm damaged the school roof. School and project leaders are taking steps to limit the delay.
Qibirha school officials hope to develop a profitable internet cafeteria, offering services for a fee to neighboring villages, to help pay the ongoing costs of providing a modern education to their students. This bodes well for the future, but help is still required in the short run. For example, computers will be needed beyond the 45 Intel is providing.
Project leaders are looking to Rotary and to CELD for some continuing help with the second phase, but the plan foresees the village eventually paying its own way.
Meanwhile, Rotary leaders and Intel executives are looking at ways in which the Qibirha experience can serve as an example for other communities which combine significant needs with a desire to pitch in and help themselves fill those needs.