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Partnership South Africa

Encountering lions, rhino and giraffes on the way to school are not common experiences for Ada, Ohio Rotary Club members Diana Garver, Nathan Oliver, Sandy Crosser, and Sandy's husband, Ron. But that is what it took to bring teacher training in literacy and technology to a remote village near Kruger National Park. Calling themselves Partnership South Africa, the team of four was touched by the needs of community schools in Lepesi, South Africa where there is no running water, high unemployment, and great desire to educate the 1200 children enrolled in the village schools.

Rotary VSG grants and donations from ONU and individuals made it possible for the Ohio team to bring hope to the small, rural, South African village schools. There are 38 teachers in the primary and secondary schools. When asked what was needed in the village schools, educators requested training for teachers in literacy, child development, and technology. Following that lead, teacher training in 2007 and again in 2008 focused on classroom demonstrations of strategies to teach beginning reading to the youngest children and content area reading skills to older students.

The Rotary team found that teachers had access to few instructional materials and very limited print resources to use in their classrooms. Teachers struggled with limited numbers of textbooks, requiring four or five students to look on together, limiting opportunities to learn. In order to overcome the lack of books, the Rotary team looked to other ways to provide access to the world of knowledge. That breakthrough came when tech expert, Nathan Oliver, accessed a cell tower and cell technology to connect the internet. Lepesi, an isolated community of 3500 has been brought into the age of technology. The Lepesi students are the first in Mpumalanga Province to have internet access. That connection is critical in a system where there are no libraries and few textbooks.

Of course teacher training in the use of technology has been important to sustaining the initial inroads. In August, 2007 teachers began training in use of e-mail , Word, and Excel. E-mail allowed continued contact between Africa and Ohio during the interval between training sessions. A second training session occurred in August, 2008. At that time the team provided multimedia projectors and computers for both the primary and secondary schools. Teachers learned how to create lessons, insert illustrations, and project text onto classroom walls, permitting all students access to reading the text. Other classroom materials such as hand-held calculators, computers, chart holders, picture books, pencils, pens, and white boards had been donated by community groups and individuals in the US and were carried with the training team to very grateful teachers.

One major problem encountered by the primary school has been lack of classroom space for the preschoolers and kindergarteners. The forty children had been using a shipping container as a classroom. The crowded conditions made it impossible for children to sit in chairs, move about, or even hang up jackets and backpacks. The Partnership South Africa team contacted a local contractor for an estimate, finding that two classrooms could be built for $11,500. The funds were raised through donations and construction was begun August 2008. Classrooms were completed and have been in use since October, 2008.

The Ada community and Lepesi village, both with populations of approximately 3000, are demonstrating that individuals can make a difference in our world even when those individuals live on opposite sides of the globe.