A simple request for a used math book blossomed into a project that will introduce computers to the students and staff of a rural South African school.
Jon Bragdon, computer electronics teacher at the St. Croix Regional Technical Center in Calais, recently had his students refurbish eight MacBook computers for visiting Grade 9 math teacher Sarah Koshana Khosa to take back to her 600-student Qokiso High School in Demulani, Mpumalanga Province.
"She would have been happy with a single discarded math book that she could copy lessons from, but none of the six schools I contacted had any," recalls Bragdon. "So it was decided to see how many computers my students could make out of spare parts."
"I've loved mathematics since I was a little girl, and I want to pass that on," stresses Khosa, who recently spent two weeks visiting schools in Washington County with longtime friend Georgie Kendall of Perry. "Starting a math project to teach grades 6, 7 and 8 has been a dream of mine for many years. The computers [Bragdon] worked on in Calais will motivate the kids and make my job as a ninth grade teacher much easier if the students are learning what they know in the younger grades."
"I will have lessons prepared for them each week," she says of her math project students. "All students are welcome to apply [and have] access to these computers; offering an opportunity to learn computer skills and technology tools to help them with their school work will open up a new world of economic possibilities for our students in rural South Africa."
Bragdon explains that the computers were among a large number of identical machines acquired in 2002 under the Maine Laptop Initiative and originally intended for middle school students in grades 6, 7 and 8. "They were deaccessioned by Calais Middle-High School eight years ago, later reconditioned by students in the Calais High School JMG [Jobs for Maine's Graduates] classroom and then, after several more years, replaced and retired from the classroom. They were returned to my class for student technicians to repair, refurbish, restore and find homes for."
"I think an important part of educating kids is for them to become actively involved in helping the community," adds Bragdon.
Sarah Khosa met Georgie Kendall in 1999 when the latter was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Demulani village in rural northeastern South Africa, "and we became friends then," says Khosa. This was the teacher's second trip to the U.S. to visit with Kendall, and she spent a portion of her two-week stay talking to students at Charlotte Elementary School, Robbinston Grade School and East Grand School in Danforth.
Tropical diseases and illnesses such as malaria have resulted in the creation of a large population of orphans in South Africa, and Kendall points out that Khosa has been using her own money to educate and clothe these often forgotten youngsters. Including the cost of a school uniform, which is mandatory, $50 will sponsor one year of school for a South African orphan.
"Education is a privilege, not a right, in South Africa," stresses Kendall. "So far, Sarah has worked with over 100 families in her rural community, which has many more than 100 orphans. These children live with grandparents, other family members and, sometimes, neighbors."
Anyone wishing to donate to Sarah's Orphan Project and sponsor a student for one year can contact Georgie Kendall at 853-6685 or e-mail her at <GeorgieKendall@gmail.com>.