Zanzibar Pi-oneer Maintenance

In early October, staff from the Potential Enhancement Foundation (PEF), Powering Potential’s sister organization in Tanzania, traveled from the Tanzanian mainland to the archipelago of Zanzibar to perform system maintenance and parts replacement on Pi-oneer computer systems. The team was led by Eng. Albin Mathis, PEF’s Executive Director. 

Albin and his crew were warmly welcomed by the teachers and staff of the 16 Zanzibar secondary schools in which Pi-oneers are used. To make the best use of their one-week visit, the crew met with and trained these professionals at three separate training centers, where they also made the system repairs.

Pi-oneer was introduced to Zanzibar by Powering Potential in 2016. Pi-oneer is an innovative teaching tool, comprised of a Raspberry Pi computer with a mobile projector, screen, solar recharging unit and RACHEL offline educational content that includes Khan Academy videos and Wikipedia articles. The Pi-oneer emphasizes portability, in that teachers can take the system into classrooms to display video and other teaching materials to students.

Pi-oneer system. From top left, clockwise: projector, Raspberry Pi computer, speakers, mouse, keyboard.
Missing from picture: projection screen, solar recharging unit

At a unit cost of $1,000, the Pi-oneer system is a great starter set. It serves as the perfect initiation into solar-powered computing.

The visit to Zanzibar gave the team good insight into strategic planning for maintenance. In the five years since Pi-oneer was installed in Zanzibar, the technical team has been communicating with teaching staff via the WhatsApp messaging and video application. Zanzibar is at a distance from the mainland headquarters of PEF, making it difficult to plan frequent visits.  

The team learned that WhatsApp alone is insufficient as a troubleshooting tool. They found that the equipment was not, in a number of cases, being maintained optimally by those in charge of using it. This was due to a number of factors. Teachers were transferred from one school to another and newer teachers were not always well-trained. Some teachers lacked basic troubleshooting skills. Some were unfamiliar with all of the components of the system.

Several valuable lessons were learned as a result of this visit; primary of which is that onsite equipment maintenance and training of teachers needs to be done more frequently. New teachers need to be educated uniformly regarding the composition, functioning, and troubleshooting of the Pi-oneer system. They also need to be better trained on how to navigate the educational content. 

All in all, the trip to Zanzibar was a success, in that the systems are now up-to-date, the teachers are better informed, and the tech team is better equipped to deal with future maintenance and training issues.

PEF Technical Manager Denis Christopher demonstrates usage of the Pi-oneer system

A highlight of the trip was the team’s visit to the Ministry of Education-Zanzibar (MoEZ), where they met the Director of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Mr. Omar Said Ali.

Mr. Ali is most willing to coordinate our program initiatives with MoEZ and he would like to see PEF one day pilot a SPARC computer lab in Zanzibar, as the next step forward in solar-powered computer integration.

PEF and Powering Potential have enjoyed good relationships with all levels of national, regional, and local leadership throughout the fifteen years of our existence. During this time, the country’s president, ministers, and ambassadors have met with our Founder, Janice Lathen, and they all have been impressed by and supportive of our work. 

In 2015, Tanzania’s then-president, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, wrote to Janice, who participated in an Education Week fair, 

“I was really very impressed with the good work you exhibited at Dodoma. I therefore encourage you to continue with your efforts to enable people in rural areas to enjoy the benefits of information and communication technology.”

Our maintenance team received positive feedback as well from those whom they trained at Zanzibar. Among the quotes was this, from teacher Mkubwa from Makoongwe: “I would like to welcome the team again …as this was a very useful session.”

The teachers are now better equipped to use and maintain the Pi-oneer system. The PEF team returned to the mainland energized and with increased knowledge about educating teachers and keeping equipment in top physical condition.  A win-win for all!

Please continue to support Powering Potential so we can reach more students and upgrade existing equipment. Thank you!

Students and staff from Zanzibar schools

Virtual Lunch and Learn

On June 24th, Powering Potential Inc. (PPI) was pleased to host a Lunch and Learn event, via Zoom. The event was moderated by PPI board member Laszlo Schneider. The panel included Janice Lathen, PPI’s Founding Director and President; Mr. Sabasaba Moshingi, Treasurer of PPI’s partner organization in Tanzania, the Potential Enhancement Foundation (PEF), and Eng. Albin Mathias, PEF’s Executive Director.

PPI is celebrating happily its 15th anniversary this year. Janice Lathen spoke about how the idea for Powering Potential came to her. While on safari in Tanzania in 2006, Janice visited the Bankija School and greeted the students in their native Swahili. The youngsters were thrilled to hear their language spoken by a visitor and Janice mutually was overwhelmed by their enthusiastic response.

Janice knew right then that she wanted to do something to enhance the students’ education. As a computer entrepreneur, she decided to return to Tanzania with 10 computers and stay for one month to teach the students how to use the computers and to engender in them the joys of technology. She was then informed that there was no electricity to power the hardware and thus was born the idea for Powering Potential, whereby solar power and offline digital educational resources would make computer usage possible in underserved rural communities.

Today, Powering Potential can proudly report the following milestones:

  • 97 programs have been implemented;
  • 34,000+ teachers and students have embraced digital education in rural settings;
  • 60% of respondents report continuing their education beyond secondary school;
  • 58% of respondents report securing employment because of their technology skills;
  • 3,000+ students have enrolled in Tanzanian national ICT curriculum for secondary schools.

Eng. Albin Mathias of PEF can appreciate these statistics more than most. He told the Lunch and Learn attendees that when he was a student, he was eager to learn about computers, but he “never had the chance.” To him, access was everything and, when he finally met Janice, he understood that what was not possible for him would be so for the thousands of students who follow in his footsteps. Today, as Executive Director of the Potential Enhancement Foundation, he helps to make realities of students’ dreams.

Mr. Sabasaba Moshingi, a banker by profession, faced a great workplace challenge by not knowing how to turn on a computer. He understood all too well how important computer knowledge and access are to young people, and when he met Janice Lathen and he learned what she was doing in Tanzania, he quickly “fell in love” with PPI and PEF. Today, he enthusiastically encourages others to join in supporting the work of the partner organizations, so that many more students can consider a computer a necessity and not the “luxury” it currently is for so many.

Right now, we are raising funds to install a SPARC+ lab at the SoitSambu Secondary School in the Ngorongoro District of Tanzania. In 2014, the school received a SPARC lab complete with five computers. Presently, 700+ students attend SoitSambu. SPARC+ will increase the total number of computers available to them from five to 20. The program requires expanding the solar energy system, upgrading the computers and software, installing the Tanzanian digitized secondary school curriculum and providing training to students and teachers. This project is budgeted at $24,000. Please help us to reach this goal by donating to SoitSambu.

After SoitSambu, our next project is an installation of a SPARC lab at Nanenane Secondary School at Morogoro, Tanzania, where 800 students attend classes. And we have big plans for future installations.

The Lunch and Learn attendees were curious if PPI plans to expand outside of Tanzania and Peru, the two countries in which PPI now implements its programs. Janice Lathen indicated that she receives lots of requests from schools in other countries eager to utilize PPI’s programs and she hopes that PPI will be able to entertain such requests, going forward. Expansion will be possible with the advent of additional funding, which is why our kind supporters are the lifeblood of Powering Potential.

Powering Potential looks forward to future Lunch and Learn sessions. Please sign up for our newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn to keep up with the latest developments.

SPARC Plan for Nanenane School

Powering Potential is excited to announce that the next scheduled SPARC project will occur at the Nanenane Secondary School in the Morogoro District of Tanzania.

SPARC (Solar Powered Access to Raspberry Computing) is a complete system that enables students and teachers to access a wealth of information without the need for electricity or the internet. It consists of a solar-power system, five user computers, a projector, a digital library, digitized Tanzanian secondary school curriculum, and training for students and teachers.

The Nanenane School is populated by 50 teachers and more than 800 male and female students and they are uniformly enthusiastic about the installation to come, according to the school’s headmistress, Ms. Sarah Yassin Madabi. Ms. Madabi added, “I am very excited to have this project in our school. We have been waiting for a long time to have this opportunity, so we can fulfill our goals of improving academic performance.”

The Morogoro District is a town rich in vegetation and it is surrounded by the beautiful Uluguru Mountains. The region also boasts a number of colleges and universities, which is good news for secondary school students in the area. The success rate for students who complete the programs offered by Powering Potential translates into 60% of students continuing their education beyond secondary school.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Powering Potential Inc. The Nanenane School will be the 35th school to benefit from a PPI program. To date, more than 34,000 students and teachers have benefited from our unique brand of digital education. These statistics are very meaningful to us and we have reached these milestones with your help!

Everything we do at Powering Potential depends on the wonderful support of kind friends, and for this, we thank you most heartily. Please donate generously so that we may continue to bring education and enlightenment to deserving students in Tanzania and Peru.

(Photos by Muhammad Mahdi Karim and Thomas Sauli)

SPARC Completed at Serengeti School

Powering Potential is pleased to announce that the Rigicha Secondary School in Tanzania’s Serengeti District is the latest recipient of a SPARC solar-powered computer lab, with installation completed in May.

The SPARC (Solar Powered Access to Raspberry Computing) program consists of five Raspberry Pi user computers, three servers, a 300-watt solar energy system and training. The computer lab is equipped with offline digital educational content and the Tanzanian digitized secondary school curriculum. Content includes Wikipedia articles, Khan Academy videos, medical reference books, e-books of world literature from Project Gutenberg and other materials.

Solar energy is employed because it is reliable and green, with negligible running costs. Raspberry Pi computers are specially designed to withstand heat, humidity and dust. They use low energy, which makes them the best choice for solar. They are also powered by open source software.

In 2014, the Rigicha Secondary School received its first computer installation with the arrival of a Pi-oneer, an innovative teaching tool consisting of a Pi computer with offline educational content that includes math and science videos, a mobile projector, a projection screen, and a solar recharging unit. 

Powering Potential remains deeply grateful to Mr. Sabasaba Moshingi and Tanzania Postal Bank for getting us started at Rigicha with a grant in 2014.

SPARC is an important step forward for the school, which currently welcomes 541 students and 14 teachers. The students are so pleased and grateful for the advent of SPARC.

An informal poll of students indicated that they have big plans for utilizing the computer training that they received. Esther said she’d like to go on to teach others how to use computers. Amina wants to be a doctor. Ester wants to be a pharmacist. Mashaur is focused on becoming a journalist. Janeth wants a career in nursing. Bhoke wants to be a lawyer. Others mentioned careers in teaching, science, and technology. They all felt strongly that learning to use computers will help them achieve educational goals and obtain good jobs. And a number said that learning computers will help them to achieve their dreams.

When was the last time that you helped someone achieve his or her dream? Isn’t it wonderful to know that you are doing so when you make a gift to Powering Potential? Please donate today, and help to make a student’s dream come true! Thank you!

As we celebrate our 15th anniversary, we look forward to our next implementation. SoitSambu School is slated to receive a SPARC+ computer lab, the phase that follows SPARC. SPARC+ includes a total of 20 computers for students and teachers. Onward and upward, as we say at Powering Potential!