Qibirha School Construction Project

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 community needed a school for the children so the headman of the village took the decision to build a school in the community.  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 because the quality of bricks contributed by village residents varied significantly 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 by building an office for the principal and a storage room.

Qibirha School constructionFast-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, CELDl 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.Qibirha community

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. Subsequent additional hiccups in the village (e.g., a change in the School Governing Board and the Principal of the school)  necessitated that the resources for this project be reprogrammed for the Zanempucuko Senior Secondary School Project described elsewhere.