Converting a Shipping Container into a Computer Lab in South Africa

A blog from Barbara Nicewonger, former Intel employee and two-time Team4Tech alumn:

90 minutes before, I didn’t know how they would get there. Noella was delayed over an hour by someone cutting the train’s power cables. Thank goodness she arrived prepared with a lesson plan clearly outlined on paper. But what about Ani? While clearly a capable professional, was she reverting to traditional techniques under pressure? We had crammed so much training into the past week and it was a lot to absorb. Gradually though, as we worked together discussing and identifying possible online tools, I could see a blended lesson plan coming together and hope welled up in that tiny workroom.

But we were out of time and school would soon be out and the students arriving! We pulled together. Sammy and Noel volunteered to pick up the kids from school. Marcos reminded us of the IXL Math instructions and I took over typing, while Noella and Ani put on the final touches. As the learners arrived, we scooted into the shipping container/learning centre and pulled up the lessons just in time for the students to be seated. Whew! And then what a transformation to behold! Suddenly passion replaced timidity. Where there had been uncertainty, now energy, enthusiasm and calm, benevolent authority took over. Ani was in her element!

But 15 minutes later, as we tried to launch IXL Math, it didn’t look good. There weren’t enough computers. Chaos appeared imminent while we all scrambled to help the kids find their user names from tiny strips of paper and log on. Some names were misspelled and didn’t work. The network hung. In another setting, it could have been a disaster. But slowly, one by one, the students all got in and began to practice math. Then they were caught up in the math challenges and genuinely having fun. Talk about focus! Some even made it to the mastery level and won “e-awards.” One in particular was slow to start, but with a little coaching and encouragement, she began to get it… and then a tiny smile appeared on her face as the answer began coming more easily. Success!

On Cloud 9 after our final day in Langa. We squeezed in one final lesson on final file management and some last minute reminders before the graduation ceremony. As we prepared to move outside, Ursule quietly pulled me aside to express their thanks and gratitude and Noella pressed a small gift in my hands. Coronne shyly apologized for not presenting earlier in the week. Outside, many gathered and several speeches were made, including John Gilmore from LEAP, Glen Rose from Langa and several community leaders. The tutors loved their gift bags and Box jackets.

Spontaneous picture taking broke out on the sides. Chicken, along with a healthy helping of steamed bread was served out from the soup kitchen. A smoky corn beer was passed in a paint bucket. Apparently this is a long standing, contractual type of ceremony within the community, between the elderly and the young in this case, to value and protect the learning centre. We trust it is another effective means to help preserve the this new found center of hope and learning for the next generation in the Langa community.

Wouldn’t you think Afrikaans or Xhosa have been the language of choice in South Africa, if not English? Early on, we discovered that the majority of the teacher/tutors were actually refugees from the DRC, where French is the language of formal education. So all appreciated the “Bonjour” and “Bienvenue” in the morning. And wouldn’t you know, on the next to the last day, I accidentally discovered they nearly all spoke Swahili as well. “Jambo!” and “Karibu!” were the greetings on our final morning of tutor training.

What fun to see them laugh and smile and call out “Jambo!” in response.

It’s funny, I can click the one word “Xhosa” pretty well now, but that’s it. And the only Afrikaan word I learned on the entire trip was on the flight leaving Capetown, when I happened to sit down next to a student studying to become a teacher. Small world.

How was Capetown and this project you ask?