We are a group of students from Chalmers University of Technology working to give children in southern Africa a better education through donated computers and computer knowledge.
Our time here in Hluhluwe is coming to a close and we have never felt three weeks fly by so fast. It feels like we know every road, every alley of this place and it will be a strange experience leaving. But now we are getting ahead of ourselves as there has been a lot of events these past couple of days.
On wednesday we first drove back to Mfundabasha Primary School to finally return the tablets that we had been helping them with. We showed all the teachers the different applications that we installed and briefly talked about how they could be used in the education. They were really appreciative and thanked us very much for our effort. After playing some with the children we moved on to the second school for the day.
We drove for an hour to Emthulasizwe High School which had recently been the receivers of a donation of laptops. The only problem for them was that these computers used Linux, something they were barely familiar with. Upon arrival we met up with a very competent computer teacher who showed us the computers. Sadly they lacked the admin account for the computers so they could not install the dictionary and encyclopedia programs they needed for education and research. However after some digging around Elin found that these computers also had offline wikipedia installed, although with a smaller library. After updating the program with a newer and much bigger version we walked the teachers through how to use it and quickly assessed the situation of their old stationary computers. After this worthwhile meeting we went home with our stomachs rumbling. We had once again forgotten to eat lunch.
The next day we got up with a small dose of sentimental sadness: this day would be the last day that we visited a school on our journey. Fortunately for us, it proved to be a quite eventful day. When Simon and Elin got up with the same amount of vigor that they always show (read: 30 minutes after Björn is prepared to get into the car) they found themselves chocked: Björn had not yet risen from his bed. He had infact caught an annoying cold and had slept in for the first time this journey. Not one to be beaten down by some bacteria much smaller than him, he still got up for the final school visit.
When we arrived at the school it became apparent that a misunderstanding had been made. The teachers wanted us to hold a lesson for the pupils whom had never touched a computer before. As we normally educate teachers, this came initially as a shock but after some consideration we came to the conclusion that we should at least try it. So we sat down for an hour and prepared the lesson in computer basics. Nervous as hell (except for Björn whose blasting headache numbed all other senses) we went in for a 1,5 hour long lesson for grade 12. With Björn going in and out as his cold decided, Simon and Elin bravely went and conducted their very first lesson ever. To our surprise, the moment the learners came into the class they started playing with the computers and all seemed to have used a computer before. When we asked the computer teacher she said that many of them had used computers to play games. This resulted in that our preparations went straight out the window and an improvised class in how to write a word document ensured. After a while however it became apparent that the skill level varied drastically. While some indeed seemed to be familiar with computers others struggled to use the mousepad and had no idea what we meant by “clicking” something. But the lesson went on, by very slowly introducing new concepts and following it up with going around for a few minutes helping everyone. In the end it was a very unstructured and chaotic lesson which gave us a lot of respect for all the teacher in the world. The learners however were still very pleased and the teachers thanked us very much for our effort. Without this lesson the learners would have never touched a computer before getting to university or applying for a job which makes a huge difference. When leaving the school, we all (well maybe except for Björn whose headache only had gotten worse by the fact that we forgot to bring water to the school) walked on clouds. It was an awesome experience that we won’t forget.
For our last day we went to the Star for Life office to have a long meeting with JD who is the one that is responsible for this project from Star for Life’s side. It was a lovely meeting where we mostly discussed the distribution of the computers that will be done in our absence. JD made us feel very certain that he has a great understanding of the situation and what needs to be done. We couldn’t be more comfortable about someone else taking over the responsibility for the distribution and we are sure that he will do a great job of seeing that the computers get to the schools that need them the most and will make best use of them.
Now for the final night we were having a farewell dinner with our hosts and then packed our bags to head for the airport early this morning. It has been an awesome experience being in Hluhluwe and we would like to think that our efforts these last few weeks have really made a difference, and we are sure that the computers once distributed will help even more. With all this in mind we would like to give a big ‘Thank you’ to all we met during this year and who helped make the project possible:
Older CESA members – For your tireless efforts in helping us with everything. We owe you big time.
Opera, Findwise and the IT program – For your generous donations which made this project possible. We literally could not have done this without you.
Göteborgs Stad (especially Glenn) – For your enormous contribution with all of the computers. It is a huge part of the project and we offer you the warmest of thanks.
Chalmers fastigheter – For lending us one of your rooms in our time of need. We will miss that basement that slowly became our second home.
Samuel Bengmark – For being our guide and mentor over the course of this year. We hope to meet you in person really soon!
Our hosts Tracey and Alec – For making Hluhluwe feel like home with all the safaris, walks, dinners and nice conversations. We will miss you dearly and hate that we missed taking a picture with you!
And last but not least, Star for Life – For your hospitality, kindness and dedication to the project. Working with you these past weeks has been an absolute pleasure and we wish you all the best with your own endeavours.
With all that said we are now at the airport in Durban waiting to board our flight to Cape Town. Thank you for following us these past few weeks, it really has been an amazing journey!
/Björn, Elin & Simon
Work continues in South Africa as we retraced our steps back to a school we had visited the very first week, namely Bonga High School. Where we once sadly had to turn back at the doorstep we were now invited to check on their computer lab which were having some difficulties. Once we arrived at the laboratory we were greeted by a wealth of computers but sadly we were told that only a few of them worked. After booting them up we realised that 8 of them were functional so we got to work to salvage the rest. We soon figured out that many were inoperable due to simple error such as faulty cables, while others had problems with viruses.
Meanwhile we found some old CESA computers that had never been installed. After a day of tinkering with antivirus software, locating new cables, error-searching monitors and finally setting up some new computers we had doubled the computer labs size: from eight computers to sixteen! All this while teaching were ongoing in the classroom. After everything was set up we had an extensive chat with the computer teacher about using edubuntu and wikipedia for educational purposes and the response was terrific. With the day’s work finished, we happily went back to prepare for a new day.
Meanwhile back at the office we had to face the reality that we have been suspecting for some time: the computers will probably not arrive before we leave on Saturday. A misunderstanding between the shipping company, us and Star for Life have resulted in that they are stuck in customs limbo while waiting approval from the government. So we have to prepare for the distribution of them in our absence. Luckily for us we have already prepared some great educational material. And even more luckily we have plenty of work still to do around Hluhluwe!
The next day we drove our car to Makhasa High School with the car loaded with spare parts to assist them with their computer lab. After a quick meeting with the principal we headed over to the computer lab to find some computers. And by some we mean many. And by many we mean a mountain of them. The majority of them very old and not working. With encouragement from our previous successful endeavors, doubling the sizes of computer labs, we tackled said mountain with great optimism. But unfortunately, the situation was worse than we thought. Where we previously just had to connect the cables correctly and run some software these computers really were broken. A lot of bios batteries were spent and most would not output any video signal. This felt like a loss, but seeing that most of the computers was more than a decade old we had to realize that they probably would not see the light of day again.
Even the computers that were working were very slow and pretty old. But we exterminated the viruses on them and cleaned them from useless files which made them feel just a bit better. We also installed edubuntu on three computers together with Wikipedia. After some discussion with the computer teacher this, a bit less victorious, day was coming to an end and we headed back to the Star for Life office.
On the drive home we were thinking how insane it is that we only have a few days left here in Hluhluwe. Time have passed so quickly but we still have done so many things. Right now we will try to get as much out of these last days as possible before flying to Cape Town for a week of only vacation. But bear with us, we’re not done yet!
/Simon, Björn, Elin
With our white car now replaced by a glistening blue we felt prepared to go back to work. Early Thursday morning we started our day at Mduku High School who had requested some help from us, but we did not know with what. After a half-hour drive we arrived at Mduku for a positive surprise: an incredible computer lab, with not only stationary computers but laptops and tablets as well. After a conversation with the computer teacher we found out that not all computers were accessible: some of the computers admin password had been hijacked by some of the learners while others had different problems. As the wifi was virtually non-existent at the school a recovery disc for these computers could not be created so Björn, armed with only his knowledge of the ten most common passwords, set out on a quest to undo the little rascals work. Meanwhile Simon and Elin checked the hardware and antivirus on the rest of the computers and tried to get a few more working. After seeing six new computers now running as the fruits of our labour we had the pleasure of getting to watch the students practice for a festival which would be held in the weekend. They were polishing the last few moves of a wedding dance which ended up being a whooping seven minutes long which Simon managed to catch some great pictures of. After this splendid performance we said our farewells and went back to Hluhluwe to restock and recharge. The days just flies by and we found ourselves at yet another Friday. This day we were about to go to a much closer school, namely Hluhluwe Public School. Donations had been given to the school by both the government and previous installments of CESA but not all computers were installed properly. Upon arrival we found ourselves in a similar computer lab to that of Mduku, minus the laptops and tablets. There were about two dozen stationary computers but none of them were starting and the lab had not been used for over a year. When we talked to the teachers they explained that a couple of them were broken and the computer teacher was on parental leave, hence why the lab hadn’t been used.
When we inspected the classroom the reason for the computers not starting was because there was no electricity, and some of the computers they said had been broken previously just lacked power cables. As we managed to get some running through an external cable we sat down with two of the teachers and the principals and explained not only the Windows computers but also edubuntu and how it could be used in education. We also taught them how they could themselves error-search if the computers were not working. After some playing around with the teachers on the computers we began setting up some of CESAs leftover computers in the vacant spots and checking the general hardware situation on the rest of the computers. Regarding the problem with the electricity we were told that an electrican was coming next week to fix it which made us feel more confident that the lab was actually going to be used again soon. After this undertaking we headed over to the only hotel in town where a Star for Life workshop was taking place to talk to some of the teachers. Some photo sessions ensured and with us and a whole bunch of the teachers photographed together we decided to head back to the office to eat a very delayed lunch and write some emails regarding the shipment of computers which are still stuck in customs-limbo.
The next day weekend starts and we decided to take it easy for once as we had spent the last weekend coding. Also the days had become increasingly warmer each day so this felt like the perfect time to relax a bit. After sleeping in a tad too long we spent Saturday going to and staying at Sodwana Bay. Unfortunately the drive was a bit longer than expected and the wind somewhat stronger, making for a rather short stay at the beach with high waves and whipping sands. Except for the wind the weather was amazing and the water warm so it was still a wonderful stay.
If possible Sunday ended up being even lazier. Simon and Elin had not gotten enough of the beach and decided to head to a different one to soak up some more sun. The road there lead through a beautiful national park where lots of photos where taken. Meanwhile Björn literally only got out of the chair placed in the sun twice, both of these times only to get more food. But now the weekend draws to a close and tomorrow it is time for more work as we begin our last week here in Hluhluwe. Now after a length post we will cut it short and you will find out about todays adventures in the next post! //Björn, Simon & Elin
Since Saturday we have had a lot of things to do. Apparently our stay here is really bad timed with several national holidays when the schools are closed. Last week they were closed because of the election and yesterday was the National Women’s Day here in South Africa. Since this happened on a Tuesday, Monday is a bridge day and also closed. This means that we had some days when it wasn’t possible to visit schools, but luckily there were other things for us to do.
The tablets we brought with us from the primary school we visited last week had to be prepared for education. Have you ever tried to install 15-20 apps on 5 tablets without a decent internet connection? Yeah, installing useful apps has been proven to take a lot of time since there are so many apps out there and we have to try them before deciding on which to use. We think we have found some good ones now for each school subject and are eager to give them back to the school and show them how they can be used.
Except from preparing the tablets we have started working on a web application for Star for Life to make it easier for them to create reports of their activities on schools. The app will have two main functions, one for Star for Life coaches to report their activities and one for the administrative staff to help them create activity reports easier. It’s fun to actually be able to help them with the thing we do best, creating software.
So this is the work that we spent time on from Saturday to Tuesday, but there were also a lot of other things going on. On Tuesday a lot of time went into packing and moving to the neighbouring house, where we are going to spend the rest of our stay here in Hluhluwe. It is newly renovated and not completely finished, but it is getting there. The main problem is that the water for that house is coming from the town instead of their private well, which means that we don’t have water all the time. The town is so short on water so they have to turn it off from time to time. Hopefully there will be more rain soon!
On Sunday we woke up at 04:30 to go on a full day safari together with one of our hosts, Alec, and their son. We were in the game reserve right before sunrise and it was magical! The sun shining on the hills and trees made it look almost unreal and it was amazingly beautiful.
We saw a lot of animals this time as well and probably about 40 rhinos. The most rare thing we saw was wild dogs. The African wild dog is one of Africa’s most endangered mammals and we were lucky enough to see two of them. After seeing a lot of animals, having a breakfast picnic and later lunch inside the park, we headed home right after the sunset. As you can imagine we were super tired after that trip and went to bed early to be able to get to work on Monday.
So today when the holiday was over and the schools opened up again we went to a school called Nibela Primary School. We took a look at the computers they already have, but it turned out they didn’t need any help with them. Instead we were invited into class and got to see how the coaches at Star for Life are working with the schools. It was very interesting and a lot of fun!
When we headed back to Star for Life’s office there was construction work on the road and we managed to run over a big rock, leading to an oil leakage under the car. So we had to go back to the guest house and call the car renting company for help. They came and replaced our car and we will be even more careful when driving from now on.
Until next time, bye bye!
/Elin, Simon & Björn
The election is over and it is finally time to get to work! Even with the computers still stuck in customs there is plenty of work to be done which we were eager to start with. We had heard that there was a school located up in the mountains that CESA had visited two years ago but sadly they had lacked the time to actually do anything with the computers other than to just leave them there. So we got in our car for the long, bumpy road up the mountains to get to Godloza High School.
The road to Godloza was not in reality a long drive, just somewhat more than an hour but with the quality of the road the drive felt adventurous to say the least. The road consisted mostly of gravel with some larger rocks thrown in for good measure with a few potholes to spice it up a bit. The result was a quite bumpy ride which at times made our car shake as if it was about to crumble any minute, with dust and rocks shooting out behind us. This combined with the rollercoaster-like slopes on the mountains made for quite an exhilarating ride.
When we finally reached Godloza High School we found to our dismay that there was a reason that the computers had not been installed: The computer lab was still not finished even after these two years. Sadly the school had not received funding to actually finish the classroom but were hopeful that they would in a couple of months. As we would not be around to actually see the lab completed we took the opportunity to check the computers and educate on how they were operated, something that had been missing previously. When we had finished this undertaking we made sure that they knew how to start them up when the computer lab would be finished, added some educational manuals we had prepared and said goodbye to drive back to Hluhluwe.
The next day we went up early to meet a much younger audience. A nearby school called Mfundabasha Primary School had some time ago received a donation consisting of a couple of tablets. These had mostly remained untouched in a corner for a bunch of different reasons but most prominently because no one knew how to use them and they lacked any useful applications which could actually be useful for educational purposes. After a discussion with the schools teachers about what they would find useful and a short introduction to tablets we decided to take them back to the office and install some needed applications as the school itself lacked internet access.
The teachers were very grateful for our aid and offered us a traditional meal of maize meal and sour milk. We all ate a bit of what was offered but Simon who’s not as bold when it comes to new culinary experiences soon went out to take some photos instead, which caused quite a stir as all the children wanted to be a part of his fabulous photographs.
After this eventful meeting we headed again up to the mountains to find Bonga High School. After getting lost for a while we finally found ourself at the school, but sadly our contact at the school had forgotten our meeting and we had to head home to Hluhluwe to slow down for our first weekend in South Africa.
The adventure is only just starting!
Björn, Elin & Simon
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