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Mission Possible: Send 24 Computers to a School in Africa before Thanksgiving 2010


Nate's original email

From: Nate Bloss [mailto:natebloss@gmail.com]

Sent: Saturday, October 09, 2010 1:18 PM

Subject: Computer Donations for Africa

Introduction and Purpose:

My name is Nate Bloss; I am a United States Peace Corps Volunteer currently serving as a teacher in northern Namibia (country located in Southwest Africa). I have spent much of the last year and a half working with my village and school on a project to raise money to construct a computer lab. Fundraising was completed and we began construction of the computer lab at the beginning of June 2010. However, shortly after construction commenced we learned we would not be receiving the expected computers from the government of Namibia we had hoped to get. We pressed on and finished construction in early September of 2010. We are now looking elsewhere for computers to fill our lab. We are writing to ask for any computers you may be able to dontate.

The school and surrounding community have contributed a lot of effort and money towards this project. It has been extremely rewarding to see the building erected, but also equally disappointing to see our lab sit empty and all our hard work go to waste. The response we've received from the government of Namibia has been equally discouraging. Over the past six months we have tried to contact them through phone, email, text message and in person. They refused to answer phone calls, emails and text messages; they even went as far as to hang up on phone calls. When I finally traveled eight hours to appear personally in their office, I was informed they could not help us at the time but would get back to us immediately. We never heard back from them. We decided we could not wait any longer and are now seeking your help.

The school I work at is called Onakathila Combined School. It is located in Onakathila Village in Northern Namibia. We have 562 learners and 19 teachers at our school. Well over the majority of the students do not have electricity or running water in their homes. They live in traditional huts and survive on a staple diet of millet. A number of the students are orphans due to the AIDS pandemic (Namibia has 20% of the population infected). The students come from many of the nearby villages. Many of the students walk between five and ten miles each morning to get to school. The school has very little access to resources, especially digital media. Over the past two years I have worked with my school to try and change this. The construction of the computer lab was a largest step forward in providing digital resources for our students.

Twenty four computers would provide the upper primary and secondary students of Onakathila Combined School with information and knowledge that could drastically improve their lives. As Namibia strives to become a developed nation, there is an overbearing need for a computer literate generation. The secretary at our school lacks any sort of typing skills and only has basic knowledge of how to operate a computer. The students in as high as grade eight have very little knowledge of information because of their lack of exposure. For example, they have never heard of World War II or dinosaurs. The majority of the students and parents alike have very little knowledge of the information we take so much for granted in the United States. Much of this information would be provided to them if they had access to computers.

What is particularly important to mention is the immediate effect computers would have on our school. We are fortunate to have two teachers that are trained in computers. One of the teachers has enough knowledge to be able to do tasks such as installing operating systems, installing other software, and replacing hardware components. Additionally, I have access to immense volumes of digital educational media through Peace Corps. If we received computers we would be able to wire them with internet. There is a special deal offered to Namibian schools that allow them internet access for a small monthly fee. I personally have extensive knowledge in computers that I would be able to pass on to teachers and students at my school. I have experience building and troubleshooting computers. I have also taking college courses in Cisco I, Cisco II, Operating Systems, Programming, and Computer Construction and Network Design. I would like to have the opportunity to pass this knowledge on to a generation greatly in need of it.

Building Details

Prior to joining the Peace Corps I worked and studied Civil Engineering. This allowed me to design and supervise the construction of the computer lab myself. The design was completed towards the end of 2009. Around this time we received a grant from the United States Embassy to fund a little over half of the cost of the materials. We spent the remaining six months fund raising in the community. We paid for about 20 percent of the building cost using the school fund, and about 20 percent through fund raising. The total cost of the building was close to $ 18 000 USD. We began construction in June of 2010. Construction was completed four months later.

The building is approximately 10 meters by 5.5 meters with a 2 meter square storage room inside. The storage room is meant to house the server computer. The building is well ventilated; it contains three windows on each of the north and south sides that allow for transverse air flow. The east and west sides contain air vents in the gable walls that allow for longitudinal air flow. The windows and doors are secured with burglar bars to protect from theft. The building was constructed of masonry and has a concrete floor. The building has been wired for electricity; four outlets have been placed on each of the north and south walls to allow for four rows of computers within the room. Each row will contain six computers; three of the computers will be placed on a table adjacent to the south wall, and three computers will be placed on a table adjacent to the north wall. This will leave an isle down the center of the room. The outlets on each side have the capacity to serve four computers each, for a potential eight computers per row. We prefer to put six computers per row to avoid overcrowding; with this configuration the room will house 24 computers and one server computer located in the storage room. Additionally, an outlet has been installed on the ceiling near the back of the room to provide for a projector.

What It Means to the Students:

The staff and students at Onakathila Combined School are thankful for anything you can offer us. The children here have very few, if any, possessions. They build things out of empty glass bottles, rolled up plastic bags or socks (useful for soccer balls), sticks and rocks (used to play games in the sand), old rope, and old wire (they use to make tiny cars). They don't have access to television, magazines, or movies.

One of the most discouraging aspects of teaching in Namibia is to the lack of motivation and ambition students have. The reason for their lack of motivation comes from their lack of exposure to the world. Many of the students have never left the village, and most of them have never left Ondangwa. They have very limited exposure to a life outside of village life and surviving off the land. Many of the more ambitious students have aspirations to be a doctor or engineer, but only because they have heard how much money these professions make. They have very little knowledge about what these professions do or how they would go about being one.

Bringing computers and internet to Onakathila Combined School would greatly broaden the students' horizons as well as offer them marketable skills that most Namibians don't have. It would be the single greatest thing anyone could do to better their future prospects.

Personal Background

I was born and raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Upon completing high school I moved to Terre Haute, Indiana to study Civil Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. After four years of study I completed my bachelor's degree in 2008. During college I had the opportunity to work with two engineering firms. After college I moved to California to work for a coastal Engineering firm. In November of 2008 I left for Namibia as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I completed my Peace Corps training in early January of 2009 and was immediately sent to a village called Onakathila in northern Namibia. The Village is located approximately five miles into the bush. It can be reached easily with a truck; however, in the rainy season a four by four vehicle is necessary. The nearest town to the village is Ondangwa. It is located about 12 miles away. Ondangwa can be seen on the attached map. The school is in the center of the village and is wired with electricity. The nearby homesteads and shops are the only homes with electricity. There are a few communal taps throughout the area that allow villagers to get water. Most of them walk

around 1 to 2 km to get water each day. The homesteads are constructed of sticks and straw. However, many of the newer homesteads are made out of traditional mud blocks or concrete blocks with corrugated aluminum roofs. The local language is Oshindonga, a dialect of Oshakwanyama. The villagers speak very poor English and communicate with each other mostly in the local language.

I live with a host family. Our homestead consists of seven traditional huts and a main building. The family resides in the main building and I live in one of the traditional huts. The homestead is enclosed with a traditional fence to keep livestock out. Each family in the village maintains a field; here they grow mahangu (millet, what bird seed is made from in the United States). The mahangu is pounded into flour and combined with water before it is cooked over a fire to make a type of porridge. This porridge is eaten for breakfast and supper. For supper it is eaten with soup and a few pieces of meat. The mahangu flour is also used to make a traditional drink. Most of the villagers (and me) drink this as their lunch. The village families also raise livestock. Most of the male students spend their afternoons and evenings herding the livestock. Female students spend their time working the field, gathering water, cooking, or doing other work around the house.

Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1980. It was governed under apartheid laws just as South Africa was. The effects of this are still seen widely today. Namibia is ranked highest by the United Nations for most unequal distribution of wealth in the world. Poverty and education remain a real problem for the Namibian Government.

I have lived in the village for almost two years now. I will complete my service in Namibia in December of 2010. At this time I plan to relocate to Kenya to continue my Peace Corps service building bridges.

Additional Projects:

I have a variety of other projects that I am working on with the school and community. I would like to briefly describe some of them to you so you can have a better understanding of what I do and what the village is like.

- We started teaching typing classes to a small group of students at the school. The school only has one computer, so we have been using an old type writer to practice on.

- I spent much of the first year working with a group of villagers to build a drip irrigation field. The field was completed in early 2010, and is used to provide food and income to villagers.

- We started a village fish farm in a nearby village pond.

- I worked with a national NGO to drill four bore holes to provide the village with free drinking water.

- Students here have been exchanging letters with two classrooms in the United States. It is very interesting to see the different cultural exchanges between the students.

- We have begun teaching music classes at the school. We were able to get two pianos and three guitars donated to the school.

- We worked to develop a school store to raise money for the school.

- We received donations to buy a school camera. We use the camera to sell pictures as a fund raiser.

- I received soccer equipment and 15 boxes of books for our library. The materials were donated from friends, family, and schools in the states.

- I've received 400 teddy bears to hand out in the village. Next month we will receive 1200 more teddy bears to hand out at hospitals and orphanages in Ondangwa.

- I designed a house that was recently built on my homestead by my host family. I've designed four other house plans to help a local contractor start a consulting business.

- I am working on the design of an orphanage that will house 200 orphans in Ondangwa if we receive funding.

- I spend much of my afternoons training students in athletics. We are currently training for a marathon in October.

Thank You:

Lastly, I would like to say thank you for any help you may be able to provide us. I can't begin to describe what it means to the staff and students at Onakathila Combined School. We are eternally grateful for your generosity.


Nate Bloss

United States Peace Corps

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