Peru project grows with Scratch workshops

Regional Director Dana Rensi at a conference table with her presentation on Scratch software

Dana Rensi, PPI’s regional director for Latin America, spent the month of March in Peru providing training and working to further develop the computer labs installed by PPI.

She conducted two training workshops with primary and secondary school teachers at the San Francisco Rio Itaya school in Iquitos, Peru. Nearly twenty teachers participated in the training workshops, including the principal of the school. The educators learned how to use Scratch, a coding program developed by MIT. It is a visual programming language designed for children that cultivates skills in creative problem solving, collaborating to develop solutions, and developing systematic thinking.

Teacher gives a "thumps up" after successfully completing a training activity

Teachers learned to use and work with Scratch for the first time during the workshops. They eagerly engaged with the program, learning to animate and adjust images through the “Animar Un Nombre (Animate a Name)” activity. After participating in the workshops, teachers are even more excited about the ways that they can engage their students in the computer lab to build their digital skills.

Ms. Rensi shared “My favorite part of the workshop was watching them learn and develop confidence in solving problems. When something is not working the way you want, you have to think about why. The activity develops problem solving skills. It is fulfilling to see learners create and come up with inventive solutions.”

Scratch has a simple and intuitive interface to help students learn programming using objects and attributes such as color, size, positioning, and movement. Without the need for deep knowledge in coding, Scratch users gain new skills that enhance their knowledge and performance in the computer lab as well as throughout their education and future employment.

Using computers to animate and change visual images is distinctive because it requires active learning. Rather than passively watching a video or presentation, students and teachers have to engage with the software to solve problems and develop solutions to complete the activity. These skills are important beyond the classroom; the students learn how to use creative thinking to develop solutions to questions and challenges in all areas of their lives.

Support more teachers and students in the PPI community!

Teachers learn to use Scratch software in a computer lab

Update from Gyekrum Arusha Secondary School

We installed the computer lab at Gyekrum Arusha Secondary School in September 2023. Recently, we caught up with students and teachers at the School to find out how the computer lab is helping them. 

Rihana Robart, Form 4 student at Gyekrum Arusha School, shared the impact of the computer lab on her education and opportunities. “Powering Potential’s computer program has helped me in improving my grades and performing well in exams. Also, at home we have a laptop, so the knowledge that I have gained here about Word, Excel, and designing websites has helped me at home in helping my father and my family and they feel happy.”

Student Rhianna Robert smiles next to a computer at school

Larson, a Form 2 student, conveyed his appreciation for the donation of the computer lab to the School: “I would like to thank Powering Potential and its donors for providing us with the computers because now we can learn ICT in our subjects.”

Student Larson smiles standing next to a computer in his classroom

Gyekrum Arusha School teacher and computer lab manager Eligi Tairo reflected on the importance of the computer lab for the School: “The program is important because it gives our students skills in how to type, how to use Microsoft Excel, and how to use PowerPoint for presentations. This is a project that opens our school to the external world. We are so proud to have digitized learning and we are bringing ICT into our teaching and learning process.”

Teacher and computer manager Eligi Tairo smiles next to a computer in the classroom

The Karatu District Project is planned to include a total of 23 schools, all of the secondary schools in the District that do not currently have computer labs and the supporting solar infrastructure. One of the first seven schools selected to receive computer lab and solar power installations in the Project, Gyekrum Arusha School is located just outside the city of Karatu and was founded in 2007. The current enrollment is 516 students – 341 girls and 174 boys. 

These resources open doors for the students by equipping them with technology skills needed in the 21st century global economy. With the support of our generous donors, the students and teachers of Gyekrum Arusha School are making strides toward their educational and future goals!

Support students like Rihana and Larson by joining our community of donors!

Exciting News: Welcoming The Addax and Oryx Foundation to the Powering Potential Family!

We are excited to announce that the Addax and Oryx Foundation has become a new funder of Powering Potential! 

The Addax and Oryx Foundation is a leading funder of projects that target the root causes of poverty in Africa and the Middle East. Their generous support will enable us to reach more students in Tanzania with our award-winning solar-powered computer program. 

This new funding will help us to provide 446 girls and 350 boys in two schools in the Karatu District in Tanzania with access to solar-powered computers, digital libraries, and training materials. With these resources, students will be better prepared to succeed in school, secure employment, and become productive global citizens!

This is a major milestone for Powering Potential, and we are grateful to The Addax and Oryx Foundation for supporting our mission to enhance education through technology in developing countries. Their investment will make a real difference in the lives of young people in Tanzania and help them reach their full potential.

Stay tuned for more updates as we embark on this exciting journey together. 

Powering Potential Continues to Empower Youth with Successful Installation of Computer Labs at Oldeani and Chaenda Secondary Schools

In our relentless mission to empower the youth of Tanzania through solar energy and technology, we are thrilled to announce a remarkable achievement – the successful installation at Oldeani and Chaenda Secondary Schools in the Karatu District

The new computer labs will contribute to leveling the playing field for students in Tanzania, who often don’t have access to the same resources as students in developed countries. “In bridging the digital divide through these newly installed computer labs, we are not just providing technology but also dismantling barriers to knowledge. We are grateful to our donors and partners for making this possible, and we are excited to see the impact these labs will have on the lives of students and teachers,” commented PPI Executive Director Caitlin Kelley.

The halls of Oldeani and Chaenda Secondary Schools are buzzing with the promise of a brighter future as solar-powered computer labs stand ready to ignite young minds. These new learning hubs represent more than just equipment; they symbolize opportunities that will shape the future of countless students. 

Stay tuned for updates as we continue to empower youth, one computer lab at a time.

Board Member Visits Tanzania

Phil Brandt, Board Secretary of Powering Potential Inc. (PPI), just returned from Tanzania, where he visited four Karatu District schools that recently received SPARC+ computer labs (Solar Power Access to Raspberry Computing.) These schools are part of a 23-school group slated to receive SPARC+ over three years (fiscal 2022-2025.) Our record of success in Tanzania makes it possible for us to scale up, so we can make our programs available to hundreds more secondary school students.

Planning the visit

Due to the pandemic, it has been four years since PPI has visited Tanzania, though we’re in constant contact virtually and through social media. Phil was compelled to make a visit, saying, “I felt that there are things you can only learn by actually visiting the schools and it is important to have someone observe the program from a different lens.” His goal was to learn about SPARC+ by dealing directly with community members, students, teachers, headmasters, and government officials.

Phil understood some of the challenges in the Tanzanian education system and he had questions. He wondered, for example, why so few students who pass the Form 4 national exam go on to Form 5. (In Tanzania, four years of secondary school, known as Ordinary Level, or Forms 1-4, lead to two years of Advanced Level, or Forms 5-6).

He also wondered how best to ensure that computer labs are used efficiently. 

Phil was deeply interested in strengthening ties to our constituents, friends, and officials in the Tanzanian educational community. And, upon return to the U.S., he was eager to report his findings to his Board colleagues, in order to confirm or adapt our strategic direction. 

In Karatu 

In the Karatu District, Phil visited the Mlimani Sumawe, Endabash, Gykrum Arusha and Domel Secondary Schools. He was impressed by the sense of ownership that everyone with a stake in education – headmasters, teachers, community members, and government officials – felt toward the computer labs. (The local government registers computers as assets for which the schools are held accountable.)

During Phil’s visit, Riaz Abeid, manager of Tanzania’s NGOs (non-governmental organizations) within the Regional Administration and Local Government, asked to observe two of the labs. Upon arrival, Mr. Abeid queried headmasters and teachers about lab usage in daily lessons and he even examined the labs’ furnishings, all in the spirit of ensuring that students get the most from the investment. Phil came away encouraged by the alignment of education with government and he was confident that the oversight and accountability placed on schools will ensure that SPARC+ will deliver an impact beyond what PPI could do alone.

Phil brainstormed with headmasters and teachers about making downloaded software content relevant to each teaching subject, in order to better engage students. They also discussed the concept of teachers mentoring teachers; that is, teachers with more lab experience could advise beginners how best to engage students by leveraging multimedia.

The Impact

Time and again, Phil saw the impact that SPARC+ — 20 Raspberry Pi computers with a projector, dedicated lab, and teachers and staff trained to use and maintain the equipment – has made in the schools and in the broader community. 

Phil’s big takeaway, was, “The students are eager to learn!” In a school with as many as 600 students, they worked in small groups of two or three per computer. He is curious to learn what impact SPARC+ will have on learning outcomes over the next year, which we will be determined through monitoring and evaluation.

Phil observed that the students do not take SPARC+ and its capabilities for granted. They are adapting well to the labs. In a few months’ time, they’ve learned how to access lecture materials and take quizzes on their own. Teachers are grateful for the training and for the benefits SPARC+ provides to students. And in the greater community, imagination has been ignited regarding how computer labs can provide new opportunities to students.

The Challenges

In evaluating his experience, Phil recognized that there are barriers to educational achievement, though he saw definite signs of hope.

Among the challenges are not enough schools and teachers, insufficient infrastructure (e.g., electricity), and food insecurity. In some locales, students walk more than six miles (10 km) each way to attend school. Schools are exploring the possibility of boarding students, so that they can use the labs in the evenings and avoid the dangers inherent in commuting.

The Future Beckons

On the plus side, students are becoming increasingly self-sufficient as they master the labs. And, with limited resources, each school is creative about maximizing learning opportunities.

SPARC+ is helping by removing educational barriers and empowering each student to pursue their chosen path., As Phil concludes, “The goals are ambitious, but, having visited these schools, I could feel the optimism and that the communities see a path forward.”
Powering Potential warmly thanks Phil Brandt for making this enlightening and empowering journey. We also take this opportunity to thank PEF Executive Director Eng.Albin Mathias for all that he does to implement SPARC and SPARC+ in Tanzania.

Dream Come True at Nanenane

Nanenane Secondary School students and teachers are the latest beneficiaries of a SPARC (Solar Powered Access to Raspberry Computing) computer lab program donated by Powering Potential Inc. (PPI) in partnership with Potential Enhancement Foundation (PEF).

PEF Executive Director Eng. Albin Mathias handed over the SPARC Lab to the Headmistress of Nanenane Secondary School Ms. Sarah Madabi during a brief ceremony held on July 27 in Morogoro Region where the school is located.

The newly installed system will enable students and teachers to access academic materials online 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 donation is part of the mission of PPI in partnership with PEF to use technology to enhance education and expand opportunities for students and teachers especially in remote areas with limited electricity and internet.

“This is a dream come true,” declared Ms. Madabi excitedly after receiving the computers in front of a section of students and teachers who witnessed the handover ceremony. She said installation of the system augers well with the school’s renewed commitment to improve academic performances of its students.

She continued: “The SPARC program will surely transform all of us academically. Long-term we want Nanenane to be exemplary among public schools in the region and possibly the entire country in terms of academic performances. Installation of the SPARC therefore sets us on the right course towards realization of our dream since all the notes and materials required by students are readily available and can easily be accessed digitally.

We worked hard and actually had to be patient to convince PPI and PEF to install the system here, therefore it goes without saying that we shall fully utilize its benefits and jealously protect the system to ensure its longevity.”

The school contributed to the project by providing a secure room with tables and chairs for the computer lab and has also set aside funds for repairs and maintenance.

Ms. Madabi said the school is grateful for the donation and is not taking it for granted, well aware that numerous other schools are desperate to have such system installed at their schools but have not been as lucky due to budget constraints. However, with a population of over 1,000 students and 50 teachers, she says the school could do with the second SPARC+ lab whose package includes additional 15 computers and expansion of solar system.

The Executive Director of PEF Eng. Albin Mathias commended the school’s administration for its efforts and resilience to convince PEF and to prepare for installation of its first SPARC lab. “You kept us on our toes to ensure we install the system and today we are all glad and excited to see this happening.”

Eng. Mathias expressed hopes that the system would be properly used and serve as an eye opener to most students, hence trigger tremendous improvements in their academic endeavors as well as the overall performance of the school.

He challenged the entire school community to fully utilize the newly installed system and protect it to ensure it operates optimally and for the intended purposes. He pledged that PEF and PPI will continue to assist the school in whatever way possible including finding donors to facilitate installation of the SPARC+ lab.

SPARC+ at SoitSambu in Ngorongoro, Tanzania

SoitSambu Secondary School students and staff were all cheers and smiles in January as they received a SPARC+ program (Solar Powered Access to Raspberry Computing) from Powering Potential whose mission is to use technology to enhance education and expand opportunities for students and teachers especially in remote areas with limited electricity and internet.

Experience the installation during this one minute video.

Located in Ngorongoro District, Arusha Region in Northern Tanzania, SoitSambu Secondary School is among the latest beneficiaries of Powering Potential’s donation of SPARC+, a complete system that enables students and teachers to access a wealth of information without the need for grid electricity or the internet. It consists of a solar-power system, 20 user computers, a projector, an offline digital library, the digitized Tanzanian secondary school curriculum, and training for students and teachers. The school received its first SPARC lab (five computers) in 2014 and was excited to receive 15 additional computers this time.

We interviewed 15 year-olds Sofia Omar and PrayGod Godwin who could not hide their enthusiasm and expectations for the future following the installation of new computers at their school…

Sofia Omar:

At 15 years of age, Sofia Omar could not hide her joy when for the first time a computer came to life right in front of her, turning a new page in the story of her young life.The last born in a family of three, Sofia who enjoys science subjects believes availability of a computer means that she can pursue her dream without much effort.

“Having access to a computer has really changed my life and opened the doors of opportunity in my life, because with my dream of becoming a doctor, I know that this will help in so many ways,” she says, noting that she wants to become a doctor in order to help her community fight diseases and improve people’s health.

The Form Two (grade 9) student further says that apart from learning subject matters, the computer and  its programs are a good one-stop center for refreshing the mind, which challenges her thinking capacity. Rural schools, by their very nature, are more isolated geographically, and tend to be less affluent as well. This can result in fewer enrichment opportunities for their students, but with the donation of computers, children can have the chance to peek at the rest of the world.

She is grateful to Powering Potential for the donation of the computers and urges fellow students to fully utilize the computers to improve academically.

PrayGod Godwin:

PrayGod Godwin, a 15-year-old and the last born in a family of seven, is always excited about the prospect of working on a computer and foresees great opportunities ahead of him. He says that since computers came to the school, learning has become easy and fun, which supports his ambition of becoming a doctor one day.

“I have gained a lot from the computer and transformed the method of learning since they were donated to our school, in terms of accessing learning materials,” he says. The Form Two (grade 9) student says that not only do rural students benefit from educational tools and increased access to information and resources through the computers, but they grow and mature from the networking and connection created by technology.

He says that when he informed his parents that he was using a computer at the school, they were thrilled with the news, foreseeing a bright future for their child, with loads of opportunities which were not available to them. He further says that with access to computers, he is sure that the performance rate at the school is going to improve drastically, because for them accessing information was a major challenge. He calls upon his fellow students to embrace learning through the computer and fully utilize the tool to improve their performance in class, because it will be the best for their own future.

“We are really happy about the donation of the computers to our school…..they make a huge difference to us, especially for remote schools like ours,” he says.

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.