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A German, an American, a Zimbabwean, an Australian and a South African Get Into a Car...

Sound like a joke? Well it's not. We were an anthropologist, a soccer captain, a programmer, a sociologist and a social entrepreneur, and we were on our way to go and watch the opening game of the soccer world cup on a SolarWorld solar TV, several kilometres from the South African ESKOM grid (Lutz Scharf, Micah Rose, Susan Hansen, Rick Strickland and Ron Wertlen). SolarWorld had chosen the installation sites in early Summer and so the cold and unseasonal rain that met us as we turned off the N2 to head down to Nkwalini meant that the outdoor TV set could not be used. It also meant that the soccer training camp was curtailed due to the short daylight hours, something that the American planners had not counted on.

Still the soccer camp which included watching World Cup games on TV and practical exercises on the fields of Nkwalini (as bumpy as they are), brought some new insights about the game to the community and strengthened the bonds between visitors and community members.

It is my hope that we'll be able to get funding for a solar powered soccer field for a sport school or academy at Nkwalini. This is something that the community members can see immediate value in, and which could in an environmentally friendly manner lengthen activities in Winter (in particular) in a community which does not have much else and which is very passionate about soccer. This is something I have noticed during my time in the community and also on the that icy cold afternoon of the 11th of June 2010 in a dark community hall, when 300 community members (with only 2 Vuvzelas) cheered on the Bafana Bafana, in a gripping opening game.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 27th 2010 08:11

Behind the scenes: eKhaya ICT and OLPC at Mndwaka

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Summary:

We chose Mndwaka JSS for a film shoot with OLPC, because they are a pro-active school, consistently winning the local singing contest despite the poor conditions there. The OLPC programme is a vital piece of the puzzle because sustainable development of infrastructure in rural African areas can only work if it happens hand in hand with development of the communities' knowledge.

An English translation of the show and link to the video

Photo gallery of the film shoot at Mndwaka.

Photo gallery of shots made by the learners themselves using the XO camera.

Background and explanation:

eKhaya ICT recently went on a field trip to demonstrate two older XOs (B-1) to a rural school. The request from the camera team was a rural school with the worst possible conditions and it should be a junior secondary school, as the XO is targetted at ages younger than 15 yrs (although it can be used by anyone, of course!).

It was quite difficult to decide whether to do the project at all. eKhaya ICT has tended to work with more senior schools, with Grades 9 - 12, and we knew if we asked our contacts at the junior schools, they would jump at the idea, although they didn't understand the details of the shoot. We were very careful to say that we could not promise any result, besides the exposure gained through the video. We explained that it was only a short video and that it would be shown overseas. That did not matter to the school principal, Mr. Gqokoza. He explained that they were interested in any cooperation at all with eKhaya ICT. If you are in a situation such as the one experienced by Mndwaka JSS, you will clutch at any opportunity. Mr. Gqokoza convinced us. We went ahead and did the demonstration.

We chose Mndwaka JSS, because despite the poor conditions there, they have consistently won the local school singing contest - they certainly showed us why!

Mndwaka JSS has 2 regular classrooms and about another 4 makeshift ones for 722 children. 18 teachers are responsible for the classes. Many classes take place out doors, which means that bad weather interrupts school. There is no running water and the solar system installed about 7 years ago was stolen in 2005.

The enthusiasm of the school's excellent choir almost put a halt to filming. Their singing accompanied all the shots in the classroom and all the interviews. Sadly, somehow their song does not appear on the final product. Then after the interviews, the school wanted to thank us for coming and put on a show of tribal and modern dancing. Their dancing showed us that these children, these teachers and this community, has no interest in being labelled as rural and archaic - they want to move with the times and are hungry for a connection to the rest of the world. I hope the camera team will have a chance to put together the great footage they got of the learners dancing up a storm, as they promised. It would be a shame to show the teachers at Mndwaka only a 6 minute clip in German for all their trouble!

I am convinced that this connection can be made by a programme such as the OLPC using minimally invasive education to support the classical education. I am sure that such a connection will greatly benefit these rural communities and the whole world in turn. Arguments that computers cannot help where there is no water, no food, no transport and no electricity miss the point. I believe that sustainable development of infrastructure in rural African areas can only work if it happens hand in hand with development of the communities' knowledge. A balanced programme is required to help the communities build their infrastructure themselves so that they become empowered. An empowered community cannot be impoverished.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 13th 2007 03:50

Bulungula Incubator

This is a vibrant happening crowd... check them out:
http://www.bulungulaincubator.org/

This project combines sustainable growth, solar and environmentally friendly operations, and a complete development concept (in its birth stages) for the Bulungula Community.

I hope to learn a lot from them.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 25th 2007 05:35

Chat with Dave@Bulungula

Western Culture, while producing some fantastic technological, artistic and societal wonders based on a rational scientific approach, is still a culture which has not developed appropriate measures for the human instincts to posess and control. The instinct to procreate while not being reflected in the birth statistics is pandered toward in sexshops and on the internet (some might say that these are appropriate places for it). In this sense then, western culture is no better than any other culture.

In fact one might suggest that it is worse than all other cultures. Its nett effect on the world is that it consumes the majority of the resources in the world and produces by far the most greenhouse gases, and is continuing to do so. Further, it has through its "success" encouraged developing cultures (such as the Chinese) to follow in its footsteps.

Yet, there are experientially rich cultures where consumerism is unknown, and people also lead happy and fulfilled lives. Isn't it time more of this kind of life attitude makes it onto the internet? Can one even reflect such experiential content digitally? YES, of course it's time, and YES, with rich content (multimedia), one can provide a glimpse of the experiences of people in other cultures.

It might also be important to digitise information for purposes of information and preservation of the culture.

Dave plays an excellent devil's advocate suggesting that the western world is the root of all evil. Fortunately, I don't believe in good or evil, as they are very much bound to static perspectives. Rather I argue that the world is to be understood in terms of interacting complex networks which span different dimensions.

A static perspective is something that will definitely prevent you from seeing these dimensions. (See also A challenge for everyone - change your perspective)
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 21st 2007 06:36

Critical thinking: German vs. RSA media

Since moving back to South Africa, I have been struck by how poor the standard of reporting is in this country. In particular, there is a lack of questioning about underlying causes. So often am I left wondering "Why?!" after reading an article in any of the SA papers. Statements and events are reported unquestioningly - the reason why cabinet voted one way and not the other is not investigated, nor is the gas emitted by decaying fish that kills 5 fisherman named.

In Germany, I had come to expect such investigations and in depth explanations, which I could then go and verify for myself in many cases.

I have since come to believe that the reason for this hole is twofold - first, the lower literacy rate means that some of the knowledge required to think about such questions and to find them interesting is missing. This is a problem in the education department. Secondly, such questions are not interesting because of the authoritarian manner of South African society (Heather wrote a great critique of a Carte Blanche wikipedia article, which echoes this sentiment). This manner is mutating and changing for the better I believe.

As we come to espouse and value other perspectives than ours, we come to see that facts often have a depth that extends beyond a binary black & white face value.

The internet promises great progress in the introduction of critical thinking and broadening of horizons, not only at schools like Zwelenqaba, but also in the developed areas of the planet.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 7th 2007 08:39

Dell Foundation is Sole Computer Hardware Sponsor

I just heard that the Dell Foundation has increased its sponsorship of the project and will be providing all hardware for the Zwelenqaba S.S.S. solar school project! That means 35 Dell laptops with high-powered specifications enabling a vast array of applications are going to be in use in the schools involved in our project.

This is an absolutely fabulous thing. The Educators and learners are already activated and very excited about the project taking place and things are moving forward rapidly now!

Thank You very much Dell Foundation for enabling our project with hardware!
Ron Wertlen, eKhaya ICT
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 2nd 2008 08:43

Dell Foundation sponsors Zwelenqaba school project!

Yesterday I heard that the Dell Foundation in South Africa approved the sponsorship of the SELF Solar school project at Zwelenqaba SSS. The application was handed in on behalf of the school by eKhaya ICT.

This is a clear stamp of approval as far as I am concerned. We asked for a donation of half the computer hardware equipment for client workstations and received it. We will be receiving 10 laptops, and knowing Dell, these will have more computing power than the other llow-power machines we install. Most likely, we will be able to install a distributed file-server infrastructure on the laptops.

The use of laptops and low power solutions will greatly lower the cost of the solar power installation and free up power for other uses such as peripherals, multimedia tools and basics such as cell phone charging and lights.

Good news for the year end and a great way to start into the construction phase!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: December 11th 2007 08:27

Eastern Cape ICT Summit

Very encouraging words were heard at the EC ICT Summit in Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay) this morning from the Hon. Noxolo Kiviet, the province's Premier. Her prime rationale for why the EC government and Premier's Office is so interested in ICT development in this province, is that, "ICT's can mediate the relationship between citizen and state." Technology can "braoden the presence of state" for people especially in rural areas.

This is the enlightened stance that can bridge divides in our province between the impoverished rural areas and the highly developed sectors in cities and rurality. Ms. Kiviet called for an information driven approach to land reform, something that must surely happen as racial lines still distort the reality of the people populating this land.

Ms. Kiviet also told me that she has thrice in the last month been at schools in the Elliotdale area, near where our solar schools project has been realised and is running, and that her interests are aligned with the truly broad base. I believe that Ms. Kiviet will continue the kinds of broad based policies that we have seen from her female predecessor, Nosimo Balindlela. This bodes very well for our province.

Siyabulela!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 17th 2010 09:12

Hinter den Kulissen: eKhaya ICT und OLPC an der Mndwaka Schule

Übersicht:

eKhaya ICT arbeitete zusammen mit dem Schweitzer Fernsehen an einer Dokumentation über OLPC (Ein Laptop pro Kind-Programm). Wir wählten die Mndwaka Grundschule für diesen Film, weil sie eine sehr ambitionierte Schule ist, die immer wieder den lokalen Gesangswettbewerb gewinnt, obwohl sie sehr arm ist. Das OLPC-Programm fügt sich sehr gut in unsere Strategie der nachhaltigen Entwicklungsarbeit ein, denn eine Entwicklung der Infrastuktur in ländlichen afrikanischen Gebieten ist nur möglich, wenn sie parallel zu einer Entwicklung der Bildung läuft.

Link zum Video auf SF.TV (Dateigröße 130MB)

Webseite zum Film auf 3Sat

Fotogallerie vom Drehtag an der Mndwaka Schule

Gallerie der Fotos, die die Schüler von sich selbst mit Hilfe der Laptop-Kamera machten

Hintergrund:

eKhaya ICT wurde kürzlich von einem schweizer Filmteam kontaktiert, das einen Kulturbeitrag zum Thema OLPC drehen wollte. Deren Auflagen waren eine ländliche Schule mit sehr schlechter Ausstattung und möglichst junge Schüler, da der Laptop vorrangig für Schüler unter 15 Jahren entworfen wurde.

Es war sehr schwierig zu entscheiden, ob wir dieses Projekt überhaupt unterstützen sollten. eKhaya ICT arbeitet z.Z. eher mit Oberschulen. Es war klar, daß jede Grundschule, die wir kontaktieren würden, uns und das Filmteam mit offenen Armen empfangen würde, bevor sie die Möglichkeit hätten zu verstehen, worum es sich bei dem Film handelt. Wir mußten also sehr vorsichtig sein und erklären, daß wir keine weiteren Versprechen, beispielsweise bezüglich einer Laptop-Ausstattung geben könnten. Wir erklärten, daß es sich nur um eine sehr kurze Dokumentation handeln würde, und daß der Film nur in Europa gezeigt wird. Der Schuldirektor, Herr Gqokoza war dennoch damit einverstanden sowie grundsätzlich an jeder Kooperation mit eKhaya ICT interessiert. Wenn man Schuldirektor eine extrem armen Schule ist, dann greift man jede Gelegenheit beim Schopfe, sei es auch “nur” eine Langzeitinvestition. Er überzeugte uns, und wir begannen mit den Filmarbeiten.

Wir wählten die Mndwaka Grundschule aus, weil sie eine sehr ambitionierte Schule ist, die immer wieder den lokalen Gesangswettbewerb gewinnt, obwohl sie sehr arm ist. Für die 722 Schüler stehen nur zwei reguläre Klassenräume und vier weitere provisorische Klassenräume in unfertigen Häusern, z.T. aus Blech, zur Verfügung. Viele Unterrichtsstunden müssen draußen abgehalten werden, was dazu führt, daß der Unterricht oft unterbrochen wird. Es gibt kein fließendes Wasser und die Solaranlage, die vor sieben Jahren installiert wurde, wurde im Jahr 2005 gestohlen. Trotz alledem sind die Schüler voller Energie und Tatkraft, was uns in beeindruckensder Weise während der Gesang- und Tanzvorführungen vor Augen geführt wurde.

Der Enthusiasmus des Schulchors hielt uns fast vom Filmen ab. Es wurde während fast aller Interviews und Drehs in den Klassenräumen gesungen. Leider wurden letzendlich nur Sequenzen ohne Gesang im Fernsehen gezeigt. Nach den Interviews dankte uns die Schule für unser Kommen mit einer Tanzvorführung mit Stammes- und modernen Tänzen. Dieser Aufwand zeigte uns, daß sich die Schüler, die Lehrer und die Gemeinde dagegen wehren, als ländlich und archaisch bezeichnet zu werden. Sie wollen mit der Zeit gehen und lechzen förmlich nach Anbindung an den Rest der Welt. Ich hoffe, daß das Filmteam sein Versprechen wahr macht und aus der Fülle von Filmmaterial eine schöne kleine Dokumentation herausschneiden kann, damit diese wunderbaren Aufnahmen nicht verlorengehen. Es wäre schade, wenn wir den Schülern und Lehrern der Mndwaka Schule nach all dieser Mühe nur einen kleinen 6min Clip auf Deutsch zeigen könnten.

Ich bin überzeugt, daß die Anbindung der Entwicklungsgebiete an die entwickelten Gebiete mit Hilfe eines Programmes wie des OLPC funktionieren kann, in dem minimal invasive Methoden die klassische Art des Lernens unterstützen. Ich bin mir sicher, daß die ländlichen Gebiete von dieser Anbindung profitieren werden, und dadurch auch der Rest der Welt. Wer argumentiert, daß Computer nicht helfen können, wenn nicht genug Wasser, Essen, Elektrizität und Mobilität vorhanden sind, hat etwas grundsätzlich nicht verstanden. Ich glaube, daß eine nachhaltige Entwicklung der Infrastruktur in afrikanischen ländlichen Gebieten nur funktioniert, wenn sie Hand in Hand mit der Bildungsentwicklung der Gemeinden geht. Ein abgestimmtes Programm ist notwendig, das den Gemeinden hilft, ihre Infrastruktur selbst aufzubauen, um Macht über ihr eigenes Tun zu gewinnen. Eine so gestärkte Gemeinde kann folglich nicht mehr verarmen.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 18th 2007 09:02

Interviewed by Cristina Karrer at Mndwaka JSS

The highlights of the interview were undoubtably:
  • The singing of the Mndwaka JSS learners for at least an hour in the background - they even got on the camera crews nerves because of sound quality. Such enthusiasm simply cannot be dampened!

  • The way the children and teachers together tackled the XOs working as a team to unravel the mysteries of the devices was great to see.

  • The opportunity to explain why communities need to be lifted holistically - that one cannot prefer one form of infrastructure at the detriment of another, e.g. roads vs. internet. And indeed that the OLPC project must go ahead and pilot in the area near Zwelenqaba.

  • When questioned about justifying the high cost of OLPC, replying: well how much is the Iraq war costing? In environmental and dollar terms.
I will try to post soon when the clip will appear on German and Swiss TV, and also make available a copy here.

Mndwaka JSS is about 4 kilometers South of Tafalehashi as the crow flies and a candidate for the solar school computer lab project as a satellite school. It is definitely an energetic school with some dedicated educators who are doing great things under difficult conditions. I hope the Department of Education keeps it's promises and delivers the much needed infrastructural upgrade.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 28th 2007 03:31

Kat Valley Trip

Beautiful hot sunny weather on the 24th of April accompanied me on a trip up to the Kat Valley. I had heard from Jane Burt, a geographer working in the area, that there are a number of schools without electricity there. The area has a stunning natural beauty, and it is an echo of the Transkei region's poverty. However, the citrus farming in the Valley means that the entire valley is criss-crossed by loads of power lines. In fact, there is a power line within a few metres of every school I visited. However, several schools are not wired up, and one school that was wired also had no electricity because they had failed to pay.

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I visited:
  • Picardy Junior Secondary School (on the old system Grade R to 9)
  • Buxton Primary
  • Nojoli Primary
  • Balfour High School
  • and Maarsdorp Primary School
Please visit the gallery to see photos.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 26th 2007 12:38

Learnthings Workshop Report

The first Learnthings workshop was held from the 14th - 18th of July by Susanna Ackermann. The outcome of the workshop was quite positive. Partly, the initial phase is an alignment of the teachers interests, the available resources and the learner's needs. Susanna did a great job in introducing the teachers to the resources at the computer lab and in making the programmes work for the teachers as they wanted to also. It was also important to awake new realisations about the possibilities to organise information through computing and to see mark sheets in a spread sheet instead of on paper. Susanna was very professional in her attitude - one could clearly see that she has long experience with the rural situation, she was always calm and focused on the outcomes.

Susanna could also confirm our realisation that there are teachers with good skills at the school:
"Fortunately there are teachers with really good skills and I am convinced that they will transfer knowledge and hand-held some of the others, who had their first experience with working with computers."
The full training report, which mirrors the fairly chaotic environment at the school is available here (Learnthings training report).

Thanks very much for your effort Susanna!

Fortunately this is only the start. This week, we will be working out a further training schedule for teachers at the three schools and we will see to it that the resources steadily gain in value to the schools by virtue of their use.

LearnThings Training Report - SELF.pdf
Download this document in Adobe PDF.
[download]



By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 28th 2008 09:18

Meeting with the Imagineer and Alan Levin

On my recent Cape Town trip - where I was overwhelmed to be back in the traffic of a thriving globalised metropolis and confronted by totally diverse choice vectors - I was very glad to be able to link up with Alan Levin and Kurt Ackermann (a.k.a. the Imagineer). Alan is heading up an ISP outfit called Vanilla and working with Rael Lissoos on bringing really inexpensive communications to the impoverished townships in South Africa. They are doing this in a company called Dabba. I expect to hear a lot more from them. Kurt is a consultant on new economy matters, especially rebranding, startup strategy and long term business forecasts and consultancy. They both have a keen interest in ICT4D and improvement of social conditions for the poor. Kurt also has connections to the Bulungula Incubator.

What did I learn from my conversation? Here are some highlights:
  • Make it local. Successful projects are carried and work through the energy that locals put into them. This simple fact of sustainable development is also mentioned by several development agencies (a good reference for this is S. Batchelor, S. Evangelista, S.Hearn, M. Pierce, S. Sugden, M. Webb. ICT for Development Contributing to the Millennium Development Goals: Lessons Learned from Seventeen infoDev Projects. World Bank, Washington D.C., Nov. 2003). Other approaches such as automation (including software based projects) depending on machines inevitably break down after time. Only structures built on and by the people in an area can have any hope of being truly sustainable. At eKhaya ICT, we hope that long-term chaperoned use of the internet can help build sustainable projects, but we are definitely focusing on specific projects (for now).

    This echoed a conversation I had with Ann Price at Buccanneers, who has been involved with a lot of grass roots development projects in the Eastern Cape and is an acknowledged expert in the field. She maintains that a project should be started to document successful projects - be they in growing organic food for communities or education projects that have made a difference. Communities need to see what successful projects look and feel like and that they are actually run by ordinary community members in other communities.

    Technologically speaking, we did stray around the topic of P2P telecentres for rural areas. I will have to go into more detail about that later (when eKhaya ICT has the technology).

  • Don't depend on government. This was a suggestion that was not new to me. The Dwesa project which I have been involved with at the University of Fort Hare was started without governmental consultation. Since then, of course as the programme has grown and shown great promise, various departments have become interested and have even donated machinery (one computer). Indeed dealing with government and foreign NGOs can tax one's patience and it seems that Alan and Kurt's experiences have led them to espouse tactics of avoidance. In the long run, however, we need total solutions on this continent - solutions which will lead to a culture of increased responsibility and greater social awareness. That can only happen if local ward councillors, relevant government departments and other forms of elected and bureaucratic structures become involved and thus themselves more pro-active. These structures should be dependable, we should be able to count on the people we vote for to make our voices heard in government. However, when running a pragmatic and goal oriented project, I agree with Kurt and Alan that one should minimise risk where it is unacceptable and find ways to achieve goals without government if necessary - while liaising with government as progress is made to widen perspectives.

  • There is nothing like a face to face meeting to help make connections and to promote the exchange of ideas and understanding. That is a great reason to visit buzzing places like Cape Town often. The internet can help and setup such links, but only in specific cultural contexts.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: December 31st 2007 04:25

No comment

This blog has gone a little quiet recently - of course because I have been working hard. I just submitted a paper to the SATNAC conference. It's quite relevant to what eKhaya ICT is doing and will soon appear on the website ready for the perusal of 100 interested readers. For the meantime, you can just get it here on this blog.

ekhayaict4d.pdf
Download this document in Adobe PDF.
[download]



By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 15th 2007 09:32

Nokia "wireless village" in Eastern Cape

Rhodes University and the university of Fort Hare Dwesa Project, often mentioned on these pages, is most likely to be bolstered by a new arrival on the scene. The Nokia "wireless village" is a ultra-low cost GSM mobile base station with a radius of about 10 kilometres. The business model is that an operator runs such a wireless village allowing free calls within the cell and charging very little for calls between such cells. Calls out of the operators low cost network are charged at regular rates. The concept is on trial in various parts of Africa. On my visit to the Meraka Institute in June, I first heard of the "wireless village" and that it had been rolled out in Mozambique and other places in Africa, and that an installation or two were coming Meraka's way. Owing to Rhodes' close links to COFISA (Cooperation Framework on Innovation Systems between Finland and South Africa - think COoperation-Finnland-SA), they managed to attract some of the wireless village to the former Transkei - congratulations!!
The Dwesa Project gains momentum with this addition of essential high-tech gadgetry. Mobile technology is the way to quickly roll-out applications in Africa, and we are going to be concentrating more on software for mobiles at eKhaya ICT (more about that later...).
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 10th 2007 07:27

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

Rural Access to ICTs Crucial for DoE

On the 31st of January 2008, I met with the Eastern Cape Department of Education ICT coordinator, Nygel Jones. What I presumed would be a meeting with just Nygel, grew into a largish gathering as the DoE showed up with 9 participants. The meeting generated such great interest because it is about improving rural access to ICTs. The Eastern Cape Province has a very large number of rural schools. At the same time, they have been mandated to educate all teachers regarding ICT integration in their regular teaching within 2 years. But what use is that at a school which is in a marginalised rural area? And how can such a school operate despite all the infrastructural problems (not to mention ESKOM load shedding). These are the same problems that are being pondered by the Nelson Madela Institute at the University of Fort Hare (more about that in another post) and in fact the rest of Africa.

What came out of the DoE meeting is that all assistance, research and experimentation on the issue is most welcome. The DoE wants to fulfill its mandates by being actively involved in third party projects. This participation ranges from checking of curriculum to ensure standards compliance and relevant suggestions in this regard to feasibility assessment/evaluation of the project after the fact to determine how reproducible our model will in fact be. What the DoE does not seem to have understood though - and why third parties are necessary in such a process - is that the model is not sustainable unless the communities involved carry a major part of the costs. In fact, the ICT projects must also supply the revenues to the communities so that they themselves can pay for the infrastructure improvements. This means that although the DoE is instrumental in getting the facilities into schools, the larger value of these facilities must be realised and made available to the communities. Such models require integral support through techology, including software. These are just the kinds of models we are busy creating together with the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University.

Currently we are intensifying efforts to get the code in place and the models out in the field. According to our project schedule (Roadmap) we are currently on time for an H2/2008 launch.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 13th 2008 09:38

SF.TV comes to Eastern Cape for eKhaya ICT led OLPC pre-pilot

It looks like we are getting some initial international attention for our project location. Next week I shall be demonstrating XO-1 OLPC hardware at a junior school near Tafalehashi. Actually, I will just play a facilitatory role, the demonstrators will be the kids themselves. Antoine van Gelder, the local OLPC-za champion has warned me that the little learners will quickly grasp some of the possibilities and soon be doing head-spinning things on their little $100 laptops.

Recording the action will be Crisitna Kerrer leading an SF.TV camera team. I am looking forward very much to the outing and hope to learn a lot from it!

I hope that the exposure will help the school that will take part in this "mini-pilot" to improve their conditions and infrastructure. Perhaps when the rest of the world looks at what we have in our backyard the DoE will be forced to step in and do something about these poorest of our schools.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 17th 2007 08:35

Solar Computer Lab Opening in Rural Area 1st of August.

This is a press release I wrote in a hurry to publicise our opening. It seems like the turnout will be quite good, despite the late efforts at publicizing it. Nosimo Balindlela is not coming, she just stepped down as Premier of the EC.

The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) unveils a new concept lab: a 25 computer laptop laboratory with local video streaming server, wireless mesh network connecting 3 neighbouring schools, peripherals and Internet access, powered by pure solar energy. The laboratory is installed at Zwelenqaba Senior Secondary School in an impoverished remote rural area in South Africa and is being launched on the 1st of August 2008. The project was made possible by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, with additional support from other sponsors including JPMorgan Chase, Dell South Africa Development Fund, Dabba Telecommunication, Learnthings and eKhaya ICT.

Near Nelson Mandela's birthplace of Qunu, an Apartheid legacy still rules everyday life. Families of migrant mine workers lived in rural isolation while the men of the families dug out the precious ore which helped build the country. Today, 14 years after Apartheid, roads are slowly being rebuilt, and grid electricity is slowly being extended to vital hospitals, clinics and schools. Mr. Mandela's 90th birthday proclamation that "poverty has gripped our people", really applies here. What is more, South Africa is experiencing a shortage of electricity as its parastatal power company is failing to meet unprecedented demand. Following rolling brown outs ("load shedding") earlier in the year, the country's power supply is balancing on a thin edge.

The South African Department of education has set itself ambitious goals to have all school leaving learners computer literate by 2012. These goals cannot be met unless the necessary infrastructure is provided to schools. SELF's solar computer laboratory is one way to provide schools with much needed infrastructure, without burdening the electricity grid further. Also it is a model which can easily be applied in the rest of Africa, where grid electricity is almost unknown. SELF decided to use laptops in the laboratory, for several reasons: they have low power consumption, can be safely stored overnight and can be used in classrooms that don't have electricity and thus integrated into any curriculum lessons anywhere in the school. The brand new laptops were donated by the Dell South Africa Development Fund and are equipped with wireless technology, which allows the laptops to access a wireless mesh network. The mesh network shares resources among the three schools that are involved in the project: Zwelenqaba Senior Secondary School, Bafazi Junior Secondary School (JSS) and Kwa'Ntshunqe JSS. The resources shared on the network are multimedia learning tools on a server and Internet access points. Plans exist to extend the network to join other nearby school networks. Resources on the Video-In Knowledge-Out (VIKO) server donated by Dabba Telecommunications include 1500 hours of video tuition and several interactive lessons.

Learnthings has donated digital curriculum content that will enable teachers to teach more effectively by providing stimulating material for learners. This material is part of a corpus developed for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) e-Schools project. Learnthings has provided and is in the process of providing training for teachers on how to effectively integrate Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), into their teaching. Further a programme for cultural exchange and remote training via Internet is being developed together with the learners at the school by eKhaya ICT. The ultimate goal of this effort, the Eastern Cape Schools Participatory Internet Training (ECSPIRT) programme, is the inclusion of rural learners and communities in the digital society. Cooperation with the Nelson Mandela Institute (responsible for Bafazi JSS) and the Department of Education as well as Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare are also being started to maximise use of the laboratory through teacher training and technical support. An innovative programme by the Universities is being tested to improve sustainability of the ICT infrastructure in rural areas. All of these activities link into SELF's Solar Integrated Development (SID) Model, which is being developed to help make remote communities self sufficient for all their needs.


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 27th 2008 09:51

Solar Powered Computer Lab Completed

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The work of the past months has been rewarded. The Solar Powered Computer Lab is completed and fully functioning. Now the real work begins - to ensure that the lab and infrastructure are put to good use and to slowly make the lab sustainable through this effort. What this means in practical terms, is that we will be looking at new applications of the available computing technology to produce value for the community - whether this is in terms of generating money somehow for the community through computer usage or whether it is in terms of value to the community such as matriculants getting University bursaries as a result of the programme...

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The official opening of the school infrastructure will be on Friday the 1st of August 2008 at 11:00 am. The guest list already is gathering some interesting luminaries:
Mike Eckhart, President of the American Council of Renewable Energy (ACORE), Robert Freling - Director of SELF. I will post more names as they show up on the radar.
There is also still much work to be done in terms of bringing this effort under the roof of the Department of Education. We welcome more cooperation and collabortion with the Department.

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We are working on getting the photo galleries up to date... :-) Just another item on the ToDo list...

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 20th 2008 09:12

South Africa's First Solar Powered Computer Lab?

I don't know how they researched it, but the Grocott's mail is calling our "solar powered computer lab"(*) a South African first, and it may very well be. As one adds up all the work we have put into this project, motivating the community for over a year, a careful selection of sub-contractors for some of the work, coordination of needs, interests and publicity, all required to launch the project successfully, I can guess why this has not been done before.

Some more facts about our solar computer lab:
( Since we are using laptops, which are locked away in a safe, there is an installation time. )
  • with the power cables and mice at their stations (as they usually are), it takes one person about 10 minute to take the 25 laptops out of the safe and attach them to their leashes.
  • to ready the classroom from scratch (i.e. power cables and mice are not at their stations) it takes about 30 minutes.
(*) By "solar powered computer lab", we mean a computer installation counting at least 20 computers and peripherals including but not restricted to printers, copiers and projectors, in a dedicated room powered solely by solar power.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 18th 2008 03:48

Successful Launch of Solar Computer Lab

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Yesterday the school launched it's solar computer lab with visitors from the Department of Education at Elliotdale (local), Idutywa (cluster), and East London/Zwelitsha (province), Nelson Mandela Institute, Telecom Techniques , Roshcon, Dell Development Fund SA, Dabba Telecomm, SELF and eKhaya ICT - a very good turnout indeed.

Image at top: Mr. Mamane holding a business economics class - introducing how word processing works.

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Guest of honour Robert "Bob" Freling is given a certficate of appreciation at the event. It was a day on which no one left empty-handed. And heart-felt thanks to everyone involved from me! It was a fantastic day.

And a great vote of thanks to SELF for doing this self-less work (not to mention the other sponsors).

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 2nd 2008 05:03

Sustainability is key

Di Hornby is someone who has been helping people in impoverished areas for many many years. As Director of the Centre for Social Development at Rhodes University (now under Cathy Gush), her activities were focused more closely to Grahamstown and Grahamstown East in particular. The Raglan Road Multi-Purpose Centre, which is now by all indications flourishing (a new library is being built, the centre sees hundreds of young children using the facilities in particular the BingBee kiosk and adult computer literacy classes are booked out) was a particularly successful intervention, in which ICTs also played a role. Since then Di has moved her efforts further out into the bush. North of Grahamstown at Kwandwe game reserve several communities are prospering owing to her efforts and those of the Kwandwe funded foundation she leads: the Angus Gillis Foundation. There is one thing Di does not compromise on, and that is, that communities must do the work themselves. The foundation is there to make things happen easier, to provide advice and an arm to lean on. As she puts it, "we are here to walk next to you, not infront of you. We don't lead the way. And as your strides become more and more confident and your progress faster, so we will gradually fall behind. Then you'll find one day that you do not needs us any more. But until that day we are prepared to walk beside you as long as it takes." This is Di's metaphor for the spirit of sustainability. No hand outs.

The standard method is this: a community must propose and implement improvements itself for an entire year, before it receives any great financial support. The foundation helps by organising and advising and generally supporting (holding hands). A community working group is established among the poorest individuals. They are taught how to save and how to collectively pool money and resources and to implement projects to further their aims. Within the first few weeks, a champion or two are identified. This is one of the main points at which the facilitators actually actively participate in the processes going on, since they suggest the role of the champion and also nominate the champions, providing reasons why these people should take leadership roles and asking everyone to support the motion. The rest of the time, the community is making its own decisions and prioritising tasks as it wishes. With an active community and an engaged leader - most of these participants are women by the way! - after a year there are usually results the community can be proud of and some sort of momentum is built up. If not, which may also happen for a variety of reasons, the programme is discontinued.The next phase is to match the savings of the group with foundation money Rand for Rand, to enable larger projects, safe in the knowledge that the group is established, can deal with crises and has a positive track record in completing projects.

The way Di talks and thinks is quite clearly outcomes based. After I had explained to her the SELF solar computer lab project we are working on, and the training programme we are initiating - about which I had some misgivings, because it involves rewarding teachers for extra-mural work, which they are actually meant to do within their job description, Di immediately proposed a possible solution. Payment is restricted to bonuses, and involves making the learners independant. So after an intial phase of additional teacher work, training, etc. the computer lab can actually be run by the learners who should be self-organised. The exact nature of how this can work may be explored in another blog post. This is a neat solution to the problem, which promotes win-win-win situations! Everyone wins, and one avoids the trap of demotivating people because funds eventually run out. Instead the value of the activity itself is promoted, which makes it much more sustainable and this will hopefully have short- and long-term benefits for all the learners in the programme!

It was a very exciting meeting - it highlighted many of the problem areas in our project of which I was aware and proposed solutions to the problems. Thank you Di!
[Ron Wertlen, eKhaya ICT]


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 24th 2008 08:02

The Hawthorn Effect

Showing people you care, lifts morale and makes them work harder and better. It doesn’t really matter whether your long-term intervention is ICT’s health or whatever. The argumentation doesn’t quite hold for short-term relief, as when water is delivered to the thirsty.

This is something that Amartya Sen in his Development as Freedom skirts around. He is an economist, and he is used to writing to audiences which pooh-pooh such soft thinking. But reading between the lines, reading meaning into the examples he uses (often from his native India) one senses the importance of humanity, caring and interest in the actual recipients (not the machines) as highlights.

Fortunately this effect has been given a name – The Hawthorn Effect – and described in scientific terms. Finally a piece of hard science, that even economists can bite into. The cynic will say that marketers and managers can also bite into it – great motivate people to do more work for the same price. But Mr. Cynic, consider this: are the people happier than before? Probably, productive people are happy, intrinsically motivated people are happy. It’s not about the money, it’s about the feeling you take home at the end of the day. Try it out Mr. Cynic…

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 22nd 2011 08:00

Travels with Bob

From the 26th of February until the 1st of March, I had the great experience of going to deep rural schools in the OR Thambo district of the Eastern Cape, South Africa, together with Bob Freling. I had planned us a tough schedule, with a lot of driving, and very little buffer time for bad weather etc. Fortunately the weather was great except on the first evening, when fortunately the rain held off until we were on the main road.

We rearranged the schedule on the fly, keeping to all the fixed appointments, but squeezing in additional meetings with local IT savvy people, educators, and even Professors at Rhodes University and the university of Fort Hare. In the four days we spent on average over 5 hours a day in the car, often driving the Transkei's (*) dangerous roads in the dark. Needless to say, we had both focused on what we feel is an extremely important project: developing a prototype solar driven computer lab, which enables scholars and communities in the most remote regions to cross the digital divide. I am not aware of any other such project going on at the moment.

On our travels we met many very enthusiastic people. While many of the schools felt let down by the Department of Education, it was the department that gave us a lot of support and encouragement in getting to just the schools that we visited, and that also took the time to explain the difficulties they faced. Managing the schools of such a densely populated and neglected region is tough. A lot of perseverance is required.

Almost everywhere we went, it seems, new and innovative schemes are being planned and tried out to address the most pressing needs of deep rural schools: clean water, adequate food, learning materials and a better education. It may take a while, but the problems do not seem to be insurmountable.


Here was where we went:
  1. Kokstad (Seven Fountains Primary School)
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  2. near Umtentu (Baleni S.S. School)
  3. Khululeka
  4. Mtambalala
  5. Ntile (Ntafufu S.S. School)
  6. Port St. Johns
  7. Libode
  8. Qanqiso J.S. School
  9. Mpume J.S. School
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  10. Zwelitsha
  11. Alice
  12. East London
(*) the region is often called by its former homeland name, and consists today of Alfred Nzo, OR Thambo districts and parts of Chris Hani, Ukhahlamba and Amathole districts.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 12th 2007 10:47

Trip 17 April 2007

Another trip behind me. It is always exciting to go into deep rural areas, far from the well-trodden trail. The people are so friendly and every headmaster seems to have pride in his job and to be willing to share a story or two on any topic one wishes to approach. I visited:
  • Twalikhulu JSS

  • Seview SSS (When I was told by a pupil which road I had to take to get there I thought they were playing a prank - a simple guttered track through a rocky field! But that is the road!)

  • Gwebityala SSS

  • Zwelenqaba SSS
and also called at
  • Kwantshunqe JSS

  • Putuma JSS

  • Kotyana JSS
And here is a shot of Gwebityala, with a bit of the surrounding area in low quality...

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I had a very good philsophical discussion with Dave at Bulungula about the merits of the introducation of ICTs in rural areas. I guess that will make a good basis for a post at a later stage... :-)
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 18th 2007 01:00

Visiting Zwelenqaba S.S.S.

Last Thursday I went and had a closer look at Zwelenqaba Senior Secondary School.

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It is situated in an area which is very remote, despite it's proximity to Mthatha, the local city. Many teachers live in Mthatha (as is the case for most of the nearby Senior schools), as there are practically no services here. Grid electricity is expected to arrive in 5 years or more, and clinics and schools are using solar energy. That's a pretty good thing! However some of the installations are old and the remoteness inspires neglect. On the part of the authorities and on the part of the locals.

Empowerment!

What a dream: get the local people to involve themselves in changing their own environment for the better in a way that suits them! Everyone I spoke to was dissatisfied with the status quo. But the change that should be initiated is like an unknown path in the mist. As the mists shift, the path seems to branch then go left, no right... Some guidance and knowledge are required.

The biggest problems at the school are thus:
  • Lack of teaching resources.
    1. Books or computerized information sources.
    2. Since the solar installation fell out (it is still in tact, needs maintenance), no use of multimedia.
    3. Chemicals for the science lab.

  • Hungry learners (exhausted by long way to school).

  • In the winter months, lack of water keeps learners away.
[These are basically problems we have seen all over the former Transkei and Ciskei. ]

Empowerment means doing things yourself. Even if you make mistakes.

It is a dream that the affected persons empower themselves and start to address these problems themselves:
  • Lack of teaching resources - how about mobilising local resources to get the solar installation fixed?

  • How about experiments with simple materials like vinegar and sugar?

  • How about a vegetable garden that does not require large-scale ploughing?

  • How about cooking vegetables from the garden for the learners?
All the problems and the environment in general, with its very high unemployment rate, result in a lack of motivation for learners as well as teachers. To break through, one needs to set up a positive spiral, taking small steps to improve conditions so that people involved feel and are in control. But external help is definitely required for the first steps.

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New impetus needs to be provided by networking the schools amongst each other and allowing exchange of ideas, and increasing competitiveness. One of the instruments that seems to work well is the singing contest. I really need to visit one of these singing "show-downs".

One can imagine further competitive events in a virtual space, if a network is installed with wide-area connectivity.

Besides all of that - there is the accesibility to information online. I think we will need to filter what is on the internet, in order not to confuse the learner's, but there are some high quality sources freely available, and one can use these in the classroom to improve knowledge building and ultimately the local living conditions.

The way to improvement means, learning from mistakes (and also the mistakes of others, where possible).

Please note: I am not bashing the DoE. The Education Department is doing what it can to alleviate these problems. A lot of the folks at the department come from here and have family here. South Africa is doing its best to work this thing out (was 20% of the budget allocated to education?). But, then there are huge disasters like the School Feeding Scheme (sorry, I don't have a link here yet as a reference) which this year failed horribly to meet its goals in the Eastern Cape. I'll try to address these issues in another blog about corruption and incompetence.

PS: Here is a link to my Google Earth school locations coordinates. You do need google Earth to look at this stuff.
More Schools at Google Earth
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 7th 2007 09:08

Visiting Zwelenqaba S.S.S. (Part II)

(unpublished) Here are the friendly people I met with at Zwelenqaba:



Standing (L-R), Mr. Chawa, Mrs. Ndaka, Mrs. Mlawu, Mrs. Ngxalana, Mrs. Siswana (Members of the school governing body), Mr. Yankey (Teacher), Mr. Mvelile (Tribal Chief), Mr. Jebe Jebe (Chairman of the schools goevrning body), Mrs. Ngqiva (Teacher), Mr. Genukile (Principal of the school), Mr. Wertlen (eKhaya ICT).
Seated (L-R): Mr. Ndika, Mr. Mbangasini, Ms. Gonco, Ms. Mthawupheli (Learner Representatives), Mr Ziduli (Teacher).
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 7th 2007 07:27

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

Vulnerability and Empowerment

Recently, the following exchange occurred on the Dwesa mailing list of Rhodes University. I got permission to reprint it here, from Mario Marais and Caroline Khene. It was in response to a news article on CSIR training programmes in marginalised rural areas targeted at cyber-security (which I take to mean specifically security in a networked computer environment).
Ron:
What I always wonder when I read these stories is: have there been any reported cases of rural marginalised/disadvantaged computer users being defrauded by cyber-criminals or mobbed by facebook users, etc.?

Mario:
Not sure about that Ron! I'm not involved in this project, but what we have encountered is lots of PCs at schools that are crippled by viruses. What has your experience been?

Caroline:
I agree with Mario. They are in fact the most vulnerable, given they are not as informed about risks on the Internet. When we were in Dwesa, the youth were always downloading stuff from the Internet. Also, who knows who they'll meet online. Furthermore, the new services being introduced, e-government, e-business etc, obviously involves the circulation of private/sensitive information. There are a number of ethical aspects when it comes to ICT4D.

Ron:
I agree with Mario too.

@Mario: Viruses appear on computers almost immediately when we install
them anywhere. Even without Internet (which is restricted to only a few
computers at Nkwalini labs), almost all computers are infected because
of music and video sharing and outdated [Virus] scanners.

I also agree with any form of training and time spent in the community.
This is essential.

@Caroline: I agree that there are strong ethical aspects in ICTD. And
one thing we must encourage is empowerment and playing to strengths of
the rural people! So I do not agree that people in the rural areas are
the most vulnerable (especially as they are for the most part unbanked,
offline, have limited English knowledge and in general very very
cautious around technology). I would even go so far as to say that this
perspective promotes disempowerment of the rural people who do have a
culture and are in many instances proud and capable within their social
context.

Caroline:
@Ron. Yes you do make an important point. But perhaps you may have misunderstood me. I am referring to people who use the Internet or have
access to it via various projects or mobile phones. Informing them about risks in using the Internet or mobile services in fact empowers them. If we assume we all have a culture and are capable in our contexts, why then do we still need to inform each other about information security issues. Everyone, whether rural or not, needs to be informed. We are all vulnerable, but our advantage is that we are more informed (or not).

Ron:
Good points, yes, security should be part of any curriculum, and because it hasn't been in many cases, some people are more vulnerable than others - to paraphrase you, Caroline.
I think Caroline was quite kind to me in this debate. Of course, our aim is to get rural and uninformed people into the Internet more, so to argue that the rural people are not vulnerable because they are offline is to argue against our own work in ICTD!

The main point I was trying to make though, is once again the idea that everyone has strengths that development can and should play towards in order to activate the person who is the object of the development. There can be an uneasy relationship between development worker and target of the development work. The way out of this uneasiness is through "informed consent" -- an ethical consideration that research must be initiated in an open manner and results kept transparent. Such ethical considerations are fortunately anchored in the Rhodes University Ethical Standard, which applies to our work.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 26th 2010 11:53






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