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Visiting Zwelenqaba S.S.S. (Part III/IV) / Collaboration

On my third trip to the school (8/8/2007) I was pleasantly surprised, that the principal Mr. Genukile had handed over his office to an H.o.D. Mr. Ziduli. On arrival at the school I was told the reason:

The school kids had gone on strike and had refused to write their June exams until the Principal was removed from his office and from the school altogether!! Their reasons sound very legitimate. I won't repeat them here, as the allegations are under departmental investigation. All I can say is, that I had my doubts about a headmaster who was never at school when I called him, dressed very flashily and preferred to talk about personal problems rather than project matters.

Deep respect to the "learners of Zwelenqaba"! May this resolution and courage of your convictions carry you forward through fulfilling and rewarding lives as adults who are not scared to do the right thing.

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On this trip we prepared an agenda for the meeting with SELF (Bob and Jeff) and discussed things the school could do in the meantime. One matter was the rusting of the burglar bars on the multimedia room of the school The school also mentioned the possibility of hiring a tent for the day. I didn't think that was necessary because of the cost.

On the next trip to the school 15/8/2007, like magic, a tent stood in the breeze and high white clouds billowed overhead. It was a day of mixed weather with rain and sunshine - so the tent was very useful. Also the burglar bars had been painted, a beaming Mr. Sayti (member of the community) had rustled up the rust binding paint and done a good job. Jeff, SELF's Project Director, sized up the situation and found an interested technician in Mr. Zinto the Physics teacher.

All in all, the community, teachers and of course the school kids were extremely enthusiastic and happy about the day and Jeff's visit. The word of the day was collaboration - we are all looking forward to an extremely successful collaborative project.

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By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 27th 2007 08:16

I am a learner

I have always found the "learner" designation for schoolkids a bit of a misnomer. "Learner" implies something concrete to be learned, as in "learner driver". At school you are learning all sorts of different things, the teachers are also learning in fact we're all learning all the time, whether we like it or not (even old dogs are learning, just not necessarily tricks). When you stop learning your life is over.

It seems to me as though this nomenclature were introduced to entrench the "teacher-learner" dichotomy. That is so stale. Wake up you hierarchical monolithic dusty old Department! This is not the education of/for the future! We need agile minds, creative thinkers (who may also kick balls brilliantly), not order-following ball-kickers (who can't think of anything but the glory of winning).

This all echoes Jeff's sentiments in the OLPC-ZA Archives.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 26th 2007 02:59

A hectic month

What might in the Northern Hemisphere be misconstrued as a "Sommerloch" - a summer gap of month long proportions spent idling in comfortable tropical locations - has in fact been the Southern month of hard labour. That is to say, eKhaya ICT has been completing programming projects in the internet, webservices and open source/ Open Office segments at a furious rate. More about this, when we launch the websites to all of these technical projects.

Our favourite projects in rural areas have not been neglected either, you will be glad to know. I have been busy at the University of Fort Hare helping get their ecommerce portal up to speed and taking care of some Sofware Engineering for Paul Tarwireyi and trying to get Tonderai Muchenje MSc concepts straightened out. These student projects are all concerned with different aspects of ecommerce at Dwesa - a deep rural school and community network. Also, i have been in touch with Zwelenqaba and made a nother trip there - photos will follow.

The preparations for the solar computer lab project at Zwelenqaba SSS are intensifying. I am going to have to say more about that later.

Also the Non-Profit company I am trying to set up in Germany to support responsible and sustainable ICT4D is progressing slowly but surely.

On the personal front things have not been still either. The garden of our new home has been double-handedly revamped, and a whole lot of things that happen when one moves have been dealt with including DSL installation! A true relief to be online whenerver I want again! Also assisting family members with their IT woes and Xanadu - a family project - see Xanadu, Chintsa, South Africa. Hosted at Imaginet (FTP, PHP, etc.) for R19.99 per month, a real bargain.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 13th 2007 11:22

Perspectives shape your life.

These are ancient thoughts, but I have been waxing lyrical lately (must be the strain of all the work) and thought I should share. For instance, here are some thoughts on the paradox of life:
"Life just is ambiguous, any computer can tell you that - you just have to be able to decipher the error message." - in an email to my brother, 2007-08-13

"Life is an eternal paradox. The ambiguity springs from your perspective. When you dissolve your ego and become one with the universe, there is no more ambiguity and besides a couple of religous zealots, most people call this state, "dead"." - on my wall

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 13th 2007 10:54

Some Cool Tools for the Mac

The latest Aqua version of OpenOffice, while retaining some bugs is really stable and a pleasure to use compared to the previous alpha version. I am using this version now for production type stuff and thus far nothing untoward has happened (save often though!). It is also much nicer than the X Windows based version.

http://porting.openoffice.org/mac/download/aqua.html

This blog post was written using the Aqua Port of GNU Emacs 22.0.97.1. What a great piece of software! It's emacs in all its splendour with mouse and full keyboard interaction (unlike the fink ports which I have on available on my terminal). Unfortunately I didn't note where I downloaded it.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 16th 2007 03:57

Website freshen + change of Address

eKhaya ICT has just moved to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. It's really crisp in the evenings.

We now have a bigger garage from which to work. We've taken this opportunity to freshen up the look of our website.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 4th 2007 02:22

eKhaya crosses 4000 p.i. in May

The trend is strongly upward. this time not quite doubling, but we can't double forever. A truly quadratic exponential trend would see us at 512000 p.i. in December!

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By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 26th 2007 12:55

Dog eat dog.

The Meraka Institute is a development innovator with several innovative projects and concepts and they are very well positioned as concerns up-and-coming projects in Southern Africa. That's why I just had to stop by to visit them and chat about our ideas regarding rural marginalised areas and what one can do with ICTs to improve conditions in these areas.

In this post I want to just talk about one concern that came up, namely the fractured ICT4D landscape. This echoes strongly Jeff's comment last week on my post 27 (see my most frequently commented post), as well as comments in an email I got from Alfredo this morning.

Basically the problem is that most people guard their ideas jealously in order to prevent others from stealing them, while they are busily looking for pots of money to plunder. There are clearly limited amounts of money and one has to compete to get them. Now there are some relatively easy ideas, which have short time scales and involve a lot of "safe" lab work and few projects that really look at applications in the field - the difficult part. Also collaboration complicates projects, lowering the chances of success - because often in the background people are chasing their own research agendas. So it's really not in one's interest to work together with others, if one can avoid it. The result is a fractured landscape with 1001 pilot projects and 1001 wikis and information centres.

This is terrible from the point of view of the persons in marginalised areas living in poverty, who could use some co-operative assistance!

On the other hand, however, ICT4D is a new research field and claims are being staked out by the new miners. The field will settle and the most influential (not necessarily best, but good enough) projects will gain so much influence that they will become de-facto concentrators allowing better use of synergies and forcing more standardisation in the field.

As this process continues, eKhaya ICT will hopefully be able to play the role of intermediary and agent - as not bound to any research goals - trying out new techniques and making real headway for the people who need help the most by making and crossing bridges between research programmes, cultures and sides of the digital divide.

Obviously the competition will also start in the commercial sector, soon (I am not talking about VoIP, I am talking about innovative ICT technologies). But I think we have a head start in terms of technological know-how and quality standards. And if someone else does a better job, we'll try join them - after all the goal is to help.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 25th 2007 09:05

Progress Report - June 2007

This is just a brief blog, to say that despite our recent diversification, our core business of bridging the digital divide is looking healthier and healthier. After a very successful German interlude, setting up potential contacts and used technology supplies there in the form of a non-profit organisation, I have now made contact with three very interesting and helpful projects:
  • LearnThings in Johannesburg / a great training programme based on HTML, Flash and Javascript, they have been in Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, etc. and also have a strong presence in the UK,
  • OLPC - South Africa / this is a very big and very exciting project, owing to the nature of the community behind it, we'll most likely be working together in the Eastern Cape on our schools project,
  • and Rael Lissoos / a man with his hands on all the latest wireless technology, a track record of installation in rural areas and township areas and maker of the VIKO box - a server based education platform offering Video In - Knowledge Out capabilities. http://www.viko.co.za/
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It seems ever more feasible to create a business dealing in software for bridging the digital divide...
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 19th 2007 10:21

Putting some back

Well things have been very busy at eKhaya ICT. This morning at about 1am I submitted a major revision of the wikipedia article for ICT4D. What was there was just a bit stunted, so I had to do something about it. However, writing an encyclopedia article is really quite tough. I suppose it becomes easier with time, but it is quite different to writing a paper. What you see here represents quite an investment of time and patience... Deep respect to all the Wikipedians who have built that amazing facility.

In the intervening 2 weeks since I last blogged, I have gotten the people on board to start a new German/International non-profit organisation that should support grass-roots ICT4D with the specific aim of introducing Web2.0 technologies to help put Africa on the Internet.

I also spoke to the Free University of Berlin. I am quite hopeful that we will be able to expand the research component which is present thanks to the University of Fort Hare.

So telegrammatically, that's kind of what has been going on. I can't give away too much right now though, so if all this sounds very interesting to you, perhaps you want to email me. eKhaya Contact
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 18th 2007 09:48
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