Some things in life just make you feel good. Like the smell of rain on dry soil after a long, hot dry season. Like watching a herd of elephants running to a river and hurling themselves into it with complete abandon and joy at sunset. Like laughing, barefoot kids in Africa.
The week before last, I got a special dose of African happiness when I watched the faces of the kids at Humani Primary School and their wonderful teachers light up as they used their now operational laptop computers. From now on, following the installation of a complete solar charging system, they’ll be able to charge all 12 laptops daily and use them every afternoon in extra-curricular computer classes for the Grade 6s and 7s.
A lot of people made this happen. First of all, this all started last year when Roger Whittall, the owner of Humani Ranch in the Save Valley Conservancy, asked if I could put a call out to my friends and readers for laptops. The response to that blog was astounding – laptops came flowing in!
The second hand laptops now being used at the school were donated by several people across Australia, but the majority by John Vickers at Technology One in Brisbane. Shirley Michael, an IT expert and volunteer, then went over to Humani earlier this year to do a feasibility analysis of the situation and to arrange the appropriate programs and installation.
So we had the laptops and the expertise… The next challenge was to get them to Zimbabwe – not as easy as you would think! If we posted them the school would have to pay more than they were worth in taxes at the other end. Thankfully, the willing expeditioners on Animal Works – Barefoot in Africa expedition in June made it possible to get the remaining laptops there, by carrying one (or two!) in their luggage and taking them there in person. IT gurus on that trip (Sid, Dish & Chantal) spent some time with the teachers Fungai and Marjorie while there guiding them through the basics, so they could pass the knowledge onto the kids.
But we weren’t there yet. The next challenge was the lack of electricity at the school. It wasn’t feasible for the teachers to carry all the laptops to the Humani Safaris’ office every day for charging, and they couldn’t be connected to the mains electricity as there was no budget to pay for the power. We felt that solar was the best option for them – both environmentally sustainable and without monthly bills.
With the help of Sarah Whittall, many quotes were sought after until a company was finally sourced who would do the job at the best price. Thanks very much to Neil Bradshaw for providing the custom made solar system for us on a budget. The expedition itself had raised enough funds to pay for almost all of the solar charging equipment, and Animal Works agreed to pay for the difference (thanks Meli Souter!). The Whittall family kindly arranged for the system to be transported to Humani School, an almost 6 hour drive from the capital, Harare, the week before last with me. Lucky, one of Roger’s top mechanics, set to work building a frame for the panels to stop them being stolen (solar panels are highly sought after in rural areas).
Then disaster struck. During the welding of the panels, a spark flew into one of the glass panels, shattering it internally. Africa!! I couldn’t believe it, after all that had gone into getting this far and Lucky’s devastated face said it all. He wasn’t just doing this because it was his job; his daughter Lisa attended the school and would be using the computers too. Several men gathered around and it was decided that we should at least test it to see if it still worked… Amazingly it did! By the end of the day, both panels were on the roof of the school, bolted down to stop thieves.
The next morning, I think the pictures here say it all. Fungai, who will be the teacher responsible for the computer training program, Lucky and I set up all the computers in the office, which has now become the main charging room and tested out the system. It worked without a glitch and soon they were up and running, with lots of happy kids learning programs like Word, Excel and Paint.
So now they have the tools, and Fungai is looking into getting internet and email set up so that these kids can connect with the outside world for the first time. The kids understand that this whole project was possible because of people in Australia and beyond who want them to conserve their natural heritage. Hopefully they will grow up understanding the value of ecotourism and the need to stop wildlife poaching in the conservancy.
One thing Fungai did specifically ask for was DVDs on nature and wildlife, to show the kids the value of animals and get them even more interested. If you have old nature documentaries that you never watch and would like to donate, please drop me a line here and I’ll make a plan to get them to the school.
Thanks to everyone who has helped the school get up and running with its computer program. The principal told me he didn’t think any other rural schools in Zimbabwe had anything like this and he and the teachers were overwhelmed with gratefulness. They asked me to send their heartfelt thanks to all of you who made this happen. This is just a beginning, but you have to start somewhere, and hopefully, as Fungai takes things forward, there will be much more to come for these future leaders of Zimbabwe.