Laying Building Blocks for Life in South Africa

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Last week I was happily surprised to receive a friend request on Facebook from Jonathan, an ex-student of a pre-vocational class I taught in 2001. My best teaching experience happened with his class where I was in charge of 25+ students who had failed the mainstream education system after six years of formal schooling.

Dell Financial Services employees with students of Ukhanyo Primary School

Learning to read and write is the most powerful skill a child acquires during his first few years of school and I was shocked to discover that more than half of those students were unable to write their own name at the age of 11.Our world is home to 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24.Yet, today, education remains inaccessible for millions of children around the world. More than 72 million children of primary education age do not have access to basic education, vital to their intellectual and social development.

Dell believes that access to education and technology is not a luxury, but a human right and we work hand-in-hand with non-profit organisations around the world to ensure that quality education reaches all. How does it work?

At the heart of our Legacy of Good plan is a commitment to community service, where employees who volunteer become part of the greater plan for change. There are plenty of exciting initiatives that are improving children’s quality of life and their access to community resources in remote villages and rural populations around the world. Our programs would not be complete without adventure!

Last year, Dell Ireland partnered with Mellon Educate, an Irish-based African development charity to create an effective, nurturing environment for local children to continue their education in Masiphumelele, a township outside of Cape Town with about 40,000 people.  Due to extremely poor classroom conditions, Ukhanyo Primary School positioned far from the developed tourism hotspots of South Africa, was selected for support.

Dell volunteers with students at Ukhanyo Primary School

Each volunteer had to raise €4,500 to cover building materials, flights and accommodation; however Dell helped reach that goal by matching donations volunteers and other employees made.

The classrooms, consisting mainly of portacabins, were unsafe for the children to learn in. With classes of close to 50 children and just 40 staff members in total, there were many challenges at Ukhanyo Primary School that needed to be addressed for the increasing number of children enrolling in the school.

With the help of 260 volunteers, Tammy Nicholas, Chris Willoughby, Dara OCoisdealbha and Emma Lonergan from Dell Financial Services put their hands to good work and changed the lives of 1,700 young boys and girls. They had been able to address some of these issues at the school through the construction of 11 permanent classrooms, 10 hygienic toilets, a kitchen and 2 playgrounds.

Wanting to do something constructive with his holidays, Chris Willoughby got involved in this project, dedicating his time bringing global issues into his worldview.

“It’s hard work – getting up before 6 am each day for a full day of work on a building site,” he said. “As a volunteer you can find yourself doing all sorts of work, from wheeling concrete for foundations, laying blocks, plastering, tiling roofs and floors to  plumbing sinks and toilets and building toilet cubicles.”

So why build a school?

“As Nelson Mandela said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world’,” he shared.

Emma Lonergan has now visited South Africa three times and is hitting the road again with Tammy Nicholas.

“Mellon Educate not only supports the building blitz, but also a 2 year teacher mentoring and training program in each renovated school, focusing on literacy and numeracy,” she said. “A previously renovated school in the area has already won an award for substantial improvement in mathematics.We get updates on the schools from the charity, and it’s encouraging to see dramatic results.”

The culture will be different on their next trip. They are expected to work hard and be present physically and mentally for all activities. They will get hot, dirty and bug-bitten along the way, but their contribution will transform the community and they will return home with another life-changing experience.

About the Author: Carole Wojcieszczuk

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