Sunday, October 30, 2011

Catching Up

Internet connectivity is not great here in South Africa. That we have definitely discovered. I ran through 3 days worth (or 1 GB) in less than a day trying to upload photos. Now I know I must wait to share all of my shots until I get home. I will show some here and there when I get a chance to.

I'm going to skip to today, Sunday, since it is so fresh in my mind. If I would have been smarter, I would have just blogged in Pages and then copied and pasted it here. Now I know for tomorrow.

This morning five of us decided to take the "Walking Township Tour." What a wise decision we made! It was really amazing and quite an eye opening experience. To see how people live and how many live this way was shocking! We were are truly, truly blessed!

We started by heading to District 6. While we sat on a road that was situated between the two roads that served as boundaries, our guide Ivey, gave us a brief history of the area. I can't even begin to share it with you as I don't want to get it wrong, so here is a link to the museum website.

From there we traveled to what they call the "Cape Flats." They call them this because when you look out from Table Mountain, all that you see is flat lands. Here is where the Cape Town townships lie. There are several and we visited two or three this morning. Ivey seemed to know everyone as we traveled along, which was great to see.

The first place she took us to had many hostels. We were able to view the inside of two. One original and the other refurbished. To know that more than one family stayed in the first hostel location was amazing. They were squeezed in, all family members sleeping in one bed with two other families in the room as well. There were few furnishings and they had very few things. It made me very sad to see these living conditions, but this was not the worst we would see today.

The second hostel that we visited had been refurbished and the people that lived their were the owners. There was fresh paint on the wall and the family had furnishings and a tv. This was much more livable and yet I still thought back to my first apartment which was much bigger just for me and there were at least 7 people living in that small environment. These people were very lucky and very proud of their home.

Before we left, we shopped at her friends stand near the hostels. He was from Nairobi, Kenya and a very thankful man. We each bought trinkets to bring home and share and he thanked us very much for supporting him and his family.

I think this is all I have time for tonight as we have an early morning. Maybe I will work on typing more on my way in tomorrow morning.

Before you go to sleep tonight, be sure to thank everyone around you for all you have.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Second Full Day in South Africa - Johannesburg/Pretoria

So today was our second official day here in Joburg and our last. We were up early and headed to the Meraka Institute to talk with them about ICT. We were all very pleased with the discussions that we held with the people there. They came from very varied backgrounds, (ie. marketing and music, Navy torpedo specialist, social sciences, etc.) but work well together as a team creating ingenious projects!

During the introductions we got off on a tangent about mobile devices. Adele had some great viewpoints on the two ends of the mobile device user spectrum. While we might have several devices that we use for several purposes (I am guilty of this) many in Africa and the less privileged may share one cell phone with several people. It was also interesting to hear how they might have one phone but several sim cards that they exchange throughout the day to get the best rates available. Many will also skip a meal to pay for air time. She also said that they use their phones for all purposes. While we may use our phone to talk, a camera to take pictures, a laptop to type papers, etc., they will use the one device for everything. There are even some situations where all the information for one village is held on one device. South Africa also has cell phone coverage across the entire country, though some areas may be spotty.

We also continued to discuss mobiles and how to get them into classrooms. We talked about the debate of whether students should bring their own devices to use in school or should schools provide a 1 to 1 situation. Very interesting since this might come up at North Schuylkill.

Another large chunk of the day was spent discussing the Digital Doorway project. This is one of the coolest things I have ever seen or heard of! The man behind it was pretty cool as well. He dressed up (in jeans and a tie dyed t-shirt) because we were coming today and he had a pair of those sneakers with the toes in on. He and his team created computers that are placed on the veranda of a building in a village where there are no computers. They bolt them down and they are created to be all-weather machines. Several new prototypes are being built based on issues that they've had at some of the locations as well as new prototypes for the countries were some of these machines are deployed that they would be able to afford and build in their countries. They are not connected to the internet and have an internal database with information and games. They wanted to make it as educational as possible.

So they place these machines in these villages and then monitor how they are used. From the first drops they learned a lot and are still working on new features to add, such as a bluetooth dongle that will allow the users to send themselves information and videos to their phones. The most important thing about this project is that it is making an impact on the communities and users. The users are learning skills that make them employable. There was one instance of an 80+ year old man who had his grandchild or child take him to the computer. They typed in his name and he was happy because he saw a computer and it knew him and he knew it. There were many more stories similar to this as well.

Due to the time here, I'm going to sign off tonight, but I will be sure to post more tomorrow, hopefully while we are at the airport waiting for our flight to Cape Town. Topics will be Dr. Math, Mathletes, Cornwall Hill High School, our tour of Pretoria, and Lesedi Cultural Center.

Links can still be found here and my pictures are being uploaded here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

First Full Day in South Africa - Johannesburg

Greetings from Johannesburg, South Africa! It is the end of my first full day here in South Africa and I am taking some time to sit and think through everything that happened. It was a wild and crazy ride for sure!

Today we started with a history lesson, which was very interesting. Then we had a meeting with a man from the Department of Education. He told us a lot about what they are doing with technology on the government end. Then we took a ride through Soweto. So different from being here in the city right now! We went to lunch at a restaurant called Roots. We sat outside on a patio and did a lot of people watching and picture taking. The kids coming home from school were very cute. They would stop and wave or pose for us to take their picture!

Then we went to an orphanage. There were 200 children there who were orphaned because their parents died from complications due to the AIDS virus. Some of them were infected and others were not. The numbers of people still affected by HIV/AIDS here is unreal. One in three women between the ages of 25 and 29 are infected with the disease. Their life expectancy rate is only to the age of 47 too, which is very young to die.

Tomorrow we will be spending the day talking with teachers at the Meraka Institute. Then tomorrow night we will be going to the Lesidi Cultural Center. This will be our last night in Johannesburg before we leave for Cape Town.

See this link for information about the places we visit.

Here are the pictures from today.