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. Mahabi 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!

SPARC+ Plan at SoitSambu School in Ngorongoro District

Powering Potential has set its sights on installing a SPARC+ computer lab at the SoitSambu Secondary School. SoitSambu is located in the Ngorongoro District, Arusha Region of northern Tanzania, home to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Arusha National Park among other natural wonders.  

The original SPARC lab was part of our three school project in the Ngorongoro District that we completed in July 2014. One of those three schools, Nainokanoka Secondary School, was successfully upgraded to a SPARC+ lab in January 2017.


Nainokanoka Secondary School in 2017

The SoitSambu Secondary School has faced hardship. An accidental fire in 2015 completely destroyed one of the boys’ dormitories, rendering them homeless. Thankfully, there were no injuries, but the year-long rebuild caused delays for other initiatives. This school has more than 700 girls and boys and they continue to flourish with active enthusiasm for their education. We are excited to return there.  


Solar energy system equipment

Our plan involves increasing the number of computers to 20, expanding the solar energy system, upgrading the Raspberry computers and software, and installing the Tanzanian digitized secondary school curriculum from Shule Direct. The staff will also benefit from new training. The arrival of the PEF team always creates excitement among the student body. (PEF is our partner organization in Tanzania.) The students are inquisitive, eager to learn and even volunteer to help!

Every project we undertake is made possible by dedicated individuals like you. Your role in our cause is vital to enhancing opportunities for students lacking resources that we take for granted. Give the gift of education by donating today!

SPARC+ Upgrade at Kabasa & Mekomariro Schools

Last month Powering Potential completed SPARC+ (Solar-Powered Access to Raspberry Computing) upgrades at the Kabasa and Mekomariro Secondary Schools in the Bunda District of Tanzania, Africa near Lake Victoria.

Three Bunda schools received original SPARC labs in 2015 and with this project all three schools now have a SPARC+ lab with 20 Raspberry Pi computers and digital content. In the video below, check out what Dorcas thinks about the new computers at her school.

The Bunda District is one of seven in the Mara region. Home to just under 350,000 inhabitants, it is also the birthplace of Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere. Rolling grasslands and wooded hills dot the landscape for children walking to both Kabasa and Mekomariro for their education. Electricity and other resources may be scarce, but the enthusiasm of the students for learning is abundant. 

Students unpacking computers at Mekomariro
Students unpacking computers at Mekomariro

Upgrading to a SPARC+ lab entails expanding the solar grid, increasing the number of computers in each lab to 20, and providing additional training for the staff. This means a combined total of 900 students at the Kabasa and Mekomariro Schools, girls and boys, will benefit from the programs we provide! Technology education will also give these students a stepping stone towards both higher education and employment in Bunda’s more populated areas, which in turn will raise the standard of living in their native villages.

The schools built additional tables and chairs for their expanded computer lab and the other expenses were funded by Moneygram Foundation, an initiative started by Moneygram to increase educational resources for the world’s children. We thank them sincerely for their generosity in allowing us to expand education opportunities for students in Tanzania.

Founding Director Janice Lathen also highlighted Hon. Stephen Wasira for his participation. “These two SPARC+ upgrades complete a Bunda District project that was started in 2015 with then Minister of State, Hon. Stephen Wasira. The involvement of this high level government official smoothed the path to implementation. We thank him for his facilitation efforts and the Bunda District Council for their support.”

Powering Potential remains committed to a future where accessible education is a reality for remote schools. By utilizing solar power, open-source technology and Raspberry Pi computers, we are bridging gaps in regions which traditional infrastructure has left behind. Our next project is a SPARC computer lab in the Serengeti at the Rigicha Secondary School. 

Our efforts continue because of amazing readers like you who are moved to contribute to our cause. Donate today. Thank you!


Tanzanians Kickstart SPARC Lab in the Serengeti

Rigicha Pi-oneer

Mr. Sabasaba Moshingi, CEO of Tpb Bank (formerly Tanzania Postal Bank), knows the power of a good investment.

For years, Mr. Moshingi has partnered with Powering Potential and invested his time and energy in the education of Tanzania’s students. He is the treasurer of our counterpart organization, the Potential Enhancement Foundation (PEF), and in 2014 secured a grant through the bank allowing Powering Potential to install a Pi-oneer at Rigicha Secondary School in Tanzania’s Serengeti District.

Now Powering Potential is excited to announce the next phase of this collaboration: installation of a SPARC lab (Solar-Powered Access to Raspberry Computing) at Rigicha Secondary School.

Mr. Moshingi has pledged $5,000 for this new lab and the school community is contributing a secure room with tables and chairs. To open the lab in the fall of 2020, Powering Potential needs its supporters to join Mr. Moshingi and the school community to fully fund this $20,000 project. Donate today

This project builds on Tpb Bank’s grant to Powering Potential to install a Pi-oneer at Rigicha Secondary School in 2014

With the Pi-oneer — a solar-powered Raspberry Pi computer loaded with digital educational content, a handheld projector and projection screen — teachers enhance their lessons with audiovisual aids without needing electricity or the Internet.

While the Pi-oneer introduced digital content to Rigicha’s classrooms, this new SPARC lab will give the students a hands-on opportunity to explore digital content themselves. One SPARC lab has five Raspberry Pi computers, three servers containing educational content including the Tanzanian digitized secondary school syllabi, two solar panels, three batteries, and supporting equipment, and ten students can use it at once. Just like the Pi-oneer, the school does not need grid electricity or the Internet to operate the lab. 

This computer lab is essential to furthering Rigicha students’ education. Without enough teachers and with outdated textbooks, these students simply do not have the same opportunities as students in other countries. This lab will supplement the formal education they receive, and it is an opportunity for students to learn computer skills that will prepare them for the job market. 

As Mr. Moshingi says, technical knowledge is necessary for everyone: “Janice and her teams (Powering Potential and PEF) are doing a great job in helping a good number of students from disadvantaged poor and rural Tanzania to have access to ICT (Information Communication Technology), a prerequisite knowledge in today’s globalized world. Any support that can be offered to them to expand their noble services to Tanzania is highly appreciated.”

Because of the bank’s generosity, we have a good start towards our goal, and now we are calling on our supporters to join Mr. Moshingi and complete the funding of this $20,000 project to install and administer the lab. This cost includes the solar and computer equipment, local transportation to the school, program administration, and two weeks of training and materials to teach the school’s teachers and students how to use and maintain the computers. 

We know that just like Mr. Moshingi the supporters of Powering Potential understand the power of a good investment too. You know that education and opportunity are the keys to unlocking the full potential of students. Invest today in the futures of these students, and help us reach our goal of fully funding this lab. Donate.

Peril in the Amazon during Covid 19

Just before Covid-19 began dominating headlines around the world, Dana Rensi, Powering Potential’s Regional Director for Latin America, was back at work in the San Francisco School located in the Belen District of Iquitos, Peru. A brand new SPARC lab with 25 Raspberry Pi computers had been installed in the school last summer by the Powering Potential team with a grant from Learning Equality.

Dana arrived on February 23, 2020 to train nearly two dozen teachers in the lab on its maintenance and usage. Mid-March marked the official start of the school year in Peru, which meant only in-service meetings among the teaching staff were conducted. It was an opportune time to get the teachers ready. 

Then the shutdown happened.

Martin Vizcara, President of Peru, at the 3/15/2020 press conference

On March 16, the Peruvian government entered a state of emergency after informing the public of a mandatory shut down. Since March 16th was also the first day of school, students across the nation were alerted to stay home. Businesses were shuttered. Waterways, airports, and roads were closed throughout the nation. In less than 24 hours, Iquitos became a ghost town.  

“I’d been watching the Covid issue even before I went back to Peru,” Dana said. “When the shutdown happened, I got online, bought another plane ticket for March 31st even though I already had one for April 15th. Then I immediately started emailing the Fulbright commission in Peru, the U.S. government, and everybody else.”

Along with the government mandate came the nationwide closure of schools and strict quarantine guidelines. A curfew was instituted from 6 p.m. – 4 a.m. Food became scarce at the local markets. Fresh water delivery, a critical service due to the polluted water surrounding Iquitos, suddenly became difficult to acquire. Regulations required officers to arrest and fine people for failing to wear masks outdoors. 

The Belén District in Peru

The shutdown would eventually strand more than 7,150 travelers within Peru’s borders. Of those 7,000, Dana was among the 1,400 Americans facing a global pandemic that was quickly spreading to the jungle. She was sequestered blocks away from the Plaza de Armas de Iquitos and turned her tiny apartment into a command center. Manning two mobile phones and a computer, she began contacting everyone she could regarding the situation. 

“You have to understand something about the situation in Peru,” Dana said. “They don’t really have medical care there. They don’t have Covid tests. They have only one hospital in Iquitos for Covid, but there was an infected nurse. So they had to move everyone and sanitize everything. Their best defense was to lock everything down.”

The Fulbright Commission was among the first of the organizations to respond to Dana’s alert. Representatives there put her in touch with the Peruvian Embassy, which asked her to be a Citizen Liaison Volunteer (CLV). After a background check, the Embassy had her gather information on all U.S. citizens in Iquitos. Dana made a Google Form for people to enter their information and forwarded daily updates to the Embassy. She also found vital information on everything from the availability of medical supplies to viable transportation companies and permits. The Embassy used this data to obtain permission letters enabling these services to work during the quarantine and solidify travel arrangements. Through Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp groups like #StuckinIquitos, Dana also strove to keep everyone calm during the next two weeks. 

Alia Afshar, DAI Director of Project Delivery in the Middle East & North Africa

It was through one of these social media groups that Alia Afshar, DAI Director of Project Delivery in the Middle East and North Africa, got in touch with Dana. In Peru on a spiritual retreat for two weeks to celebrate her birthday, the shutdown stranded Alia and several other tourists at the sanctuary. 

“Dana is, to me, a real hero,” Alia said during a discussion with Powering Potential. “She was frantically working with the authorities. It really blew my mind, and I work in war zones where everything is down to the details.  She did such an impeccable job. ” 

Barbara Land, Executive Director of the Nevada Building Hope Foundation was also doing work in the Peruvian jungle in March. Her organization provides a variety of critical services to remote villages along the Amazon River and had just finished building a new high school for students last October. Barbara would eventually join the #StuckinIquitos group chat regarding her own situation. “I would see Dana telling people to continue working with the Embassy,” Barbara told us. “For people who work down there, we know how wonderful the Embassy is. We became friends that way. She understands the culture.” 

Peru’s shutdown created panic among the tourists. Within a week, throngs of people arrived in Lima with the intent to leave, only to find the airport closed. Entire groups camped out at the air force base waiting in lines that never moved. Others were still stuck in remote lodges without a way to get back to the main squares. Coming back required boats, none of which were allowed on the water. 

It fell to Dana to find boat drivers and transportation services so the Embassy could create letters and permits to ensure their businesses would not be fined for traveling during the quarantine. It would eventually require three permits from the water police to even take a boat for twenty minutes. After this, buses were hastily found and granted permits to pick up travelers from the remote sites on the rivers. Even so, a larger problem loomed: flights. 

With Lima and its airport bombarded by crowds, the Coronel FAP Francisco Secada Vignetta International Airport in Iquitos was allowed to open. Located only 4.5 miles from the downtown area of the city, it had not serviced international flights for some time. Locals spoke of popular routes to Panama and other regions of South America that had been long discontinued. Despite the Covid-19 crisis, very few there thought this situation would change. Lima, they said repeatedly, was the only way to leave.

Over the course of two weeks, the Embassy negotiated with the Peruvian government for approval regarding a flight. Once this hurdle had been cleared, the next one was asking for a chartered flight from Latam Airlines, the premier carrier for Peru. Through hard work and a touch of the miraculous, a flight plan was finally arranged that would fly directly to Miami. If successful, it would be the first such flight to leave Iquitos in over twenty years. Letters of transit for both river and land travel also had to be obtained from the Embassy for people to make it safely to the airport.

Trees recently planted by Project Amazonas

Don Dean, Tree Committee Member and Board Member of Project Amazonas, had also been affected by the shutdown. He is one of many dedicated individuals working on the conservation and restoration of the Amazon Rainforest. In addition, they reintroduce native species back into their natural habit there. In mid-March, he’d been overseeing a group of undergraduate students from North Carolina when the government went into a state of emergency. He was one of many people to secure a flight home due to Dana’s efforts.

“As Dana mentioned, it was a mess to get out of the country,” Don recounted. “They shut down the streets and rivers. The airports were closed. We were all in limbo after that. Dana took me by the ear, said ‘fill out these forms,’ and just got it done. She worked diligently to get everybody.” 

Alia concurred, further emphasizing the importance of Dana’s contributions. “To be fair, my position was unique — I was at a private sanctuary. Everything was running normally for us, but going to Iquitos for the 24 hours we were there was terrifying. Dana organized transport and a place for us. She worked locally through Peruvians. The confidence level and commitment were just through the roof.  She had printed packets for all of us with permits to travel to the airport. I was in awe.”

Dana Rensi waiting to board the flight to Miami

On March 26th, 2020, 107 Americans left from the airport in Iquitos after health screenings, Dana among them. All wore masks and gloves. Some spoke openly about the people and work they’d left behind. Others stood silent with pensive expressions, fearing the flight would be canceled. Yet the flight and its passengers landed without incident in Miami. 

It would take two additional flights for Dana to return safely to Oregon, but her work didn’t stop when she landed. Even during her self-quarantine, she continued working to gain transportation and flights for others still struggling to get home from Peru. When asked to expound on their feelings at being back on American soil after such ordeals, all of those featured in our story expressed various levels of shock and gratitude.

“Police and military were everywhere in Peru,” Dana explained. “They checked your papers. You were arrested and fined for not wearing a mask. I am shocked that some people are not taking it seriously. I know my connections were what enabled me to help people on the ground. I am really thankful for the U.S. Embassy and the Peruvians. It was a huge operation.” 

Barbara Land & students at the new high school in Ayacucho Village

Barbara had a similar reaction. “Peru is on total lockdown. We got into Dulles airport in the middle of the night and not one person had a mask on. Nobody was taking precautions. That’s the way it was all the way to South Carolina to Phoenix to Reno. I’m still surprised.” She added that those with a calling to help in the Amazon should prepare now. “We all are there to help one child, one person at a time. That’s better than nothing. But if your project is not sustainable, you’re wasting their time. It’s their responsibility to love and respect that jungle and all that lives there. See the world through the eyes of the people you are living with. Do your research. Then join us.” 

“It was humbling,” Alia said of her experience. “Latam Airlines was wonderful and had medical staff there. They took temperatures. It was jarring that there were no quarantine guidelines in Miami or JFK.” She also offered some advice to her fellow Americans. “Being safe will cost us things in the long run. Sure, everybody wants to go back to their old lives, but it’s going to slow down a path to recovery. Remember: there’s no playbook for this.”

“I think the Peruvians were way ahead of the states in terms of preparing and taking action out of necessity,” Don commented. “They could also impose huge fines on people during the quarantine that stick because the authorities attach them to their national identity card. So these are effective deterrents. I understand that. It’s easier to enforce. But it’s all a waiting game now to get back to our work.”

Dana, Alia, Barbara, and Don felt they’d left behind a situation without easy solutions. According to a statement from the United Nations Development Program, the first indigenous leader in Peru tested positive for Covid-19 mere days after the shutdown. In addition to national quarantine protocols, non-residents were immediately restricted from entry into the Indigenous and Territorial Reserves under orders from the Ministry of Culture. Over 2,000 communities also chose self-quarantine measures to further isolate themselves from exposure from tourists. 

Though vital steps have been taken to ensure the health of the Peruvian people, the state of education there remains critical. According to the World Education Blog, MINEDU (the Peruvian Ministry of Education) has created Aprendo en casa as a distance learning initiative for the nation’s students operating through telecommunications companies. Most children in impoverished districts like Belén and remote areas of the jungle, however, do not have computers or the Internet. The children are simply at home without even access to food. For them, the pandemic is a very real struggle for survival.

Dana is currently collaborating with Patty Webster, CNN Hero and Founder of Amazon Promise to address these issues. In a recent letter published on the home page of their website, Patty explained her organization’s commitment to delivering medicine, medical supplies, and infant formula to local hospitals in the fight against the pandemic. Dana is also asking the Peruvian government to release the food stored in the nation’s closed schools to feed the poor, including the children of the San Francisco school whose only meals consisted of those they received during the school day. 

A photo taken by Amazon Promise during a food distribution drive

“I do want to go back,” Dana said. “Powering Potential has the only solar Raspberry Pi computer lab installation in Peru working among the poorest of the poor. Anita Gil Avila is such a dynamic school principal. She’s there day and night. We picked the right person to partner with. I am so grateful to Learning Equality and the other team members of Powering Potential. This is a huge opportunity for the people. They really need our support.” 

If you would like to learn more about the Covid-19 situation in Peru you can follow the latest updates on the website for the Ministry of Health – Peru. We encourage our readers to support Powering Potential’s effort to provide technology education in the Peruvian Amazon when the schools resume regular operations. To donate, click here.


The New SPARC+ Lab at Sazira Secondary School

Thanks to a generous grant of $13,000 from the Collegiate Church Corporation, a private donation by tech entrepreneur Charlie Wood and $3,800 of in-kind services, in October we successfully upgraded the SPARC lab in Sazira Secondary School to a SPARC+ lab of 20 computers! The students have been very excited to see their school receive additional technology.
Social Media Manager Denis Christopher and ICT Manager Neema Lyimo installing additional Raspberry Pi computers
The Sazira Secondary School is located in the Bunda District in Tanzania near Lake Victoria. Our sister organization, the Potential Enhancement Foundation (PEF), was on-site to complete the expansion of the SPARC lab we initially installed in 2015. Along with more Raspberry Pi computers, PEF expanded the solar grid by adding six 120W solar modules and 7 new @100ah deep cycle maintenance-free batteries. In addition to an offline digital library (no internet required), office productivity software, and a coding program, this new lab also provides access to the digitized four-year Tanzanian secondary school curriculum from SHULE Direct, a Tanzanian company.
The PEF team giving technology training to local teachers
PEF provided a three-day training session on-site with the Sazira Secondary School staff. An ICT teacher also participated fully during the installation process. Impressed by these efforts, the Bunda Town Council sent a letter of appreciation commending our efforts at the Sazira School. The Council has pledged to both maintain the lab and conduct regular site visits to oversee the project.
The New SPARC+ Lab at Sazira Secondary School
Our award-winning SPARC (Solar Powered Access to Raspberry Computing) labs are currently installed in three schools located in the Bunda District: the Sazira, Kabasa, and Mekomariro Secondary Schools. As we head into 2020, a generous grant from the MoneyGram Foundation is enabling us to implement SPARC+ lab upgrades for the Kabasa and Mekomariro Schools. All three schools have students who will ultimately benefit from the technology education we provide by going on to pursue additional education and employment. The result is a raised standard of living in their home regions, which in turn leads to better health care and resources for generations to come.
The PEF team adding solar panels at Sazira Secondary School
We are passionate about our mission of enhancing education in some of the world’s remote regions. From our pilot expansion into the Peruvian Amazon to our attendance at the United Nations for Agenda 2030’s Sustainable Development Goals in Education, we have our eyes set on a future where resource deficits no longer block access to education. As an African Affiliate of the Open Source Initiative, we are also dedicated to utilizing open-source technology in every SPARC lab and giving students the opportunity to take innovation to new heights. These efforts are only possible because of incredible supporters like you. Please join us in our efforts to install SPARC+ labs in other schools this upcoming year by donating today!

PEF Nominated for Energy Globe World Award 2019

Our sister organization, the Potential Enhancement Foundation (PEF), was 1 of 3 organizations nominated in September for the Energy Globe World Award in the Youth Category for their Educating Through Technology program. PEF was also among 24 organizations known for using cutting-edge technology to solve major environmental issues impacting our world. All nominees were given an all-expense-paid trip to Finland for the Energy Globe World Award Ceremony in Espoo, Finland on November 12 and 13.

Austrian energy pioneer Wolfgang Neumann founded the Energy Globe Award in 1999. It has now become known as one of the highest environmental awards given to an organization for its efforts. The Award Ceremony itself is responsible for spreading awareness of sustainable projects with missions to protect and conserve existing resources on our planet and/or to find creative ways to utilize renewable energy towards this same goal. This year’s ceremony was live-streamed globally and covered by international media. Nominees are distinguished in five categories of impact: Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Youth. The winners in each category also divided a prize pool of $10,000 euros.

This year’s 20th Energy Globe World Award Ceremony began with the Energy Globe Days Conferences on November 12-13th, which included two days of talks given by both nominees and international professionals who have dedicated their lives to environmental causes. After an opening by Prof. Taina Tukiainen, Day 1 included presentations on Sustainable Solutions to Fight Climate Change; Communication for Sustainable Acting; and Water as the Base of Life. Day 2 consisted of presentations on Waste and Sustainable Usage; Energy, Access and Sustainable Usage; and Circular Economies.

Eng. Albin Mathias Fiita, Executive Director of PEF, gave his presentation on Day 1 along with other projects that establish Communication for Sustainable Acting. The talk included highlights of both PEF’s mission to bring sustainable solutions to remote areas of Tanzania, Africa by installing SPARC (Solar Powered Access to Raspberry Computing) labs in schools lacking vital resources.

“It was a wonderful experience to be at the Energy Globe Award Days,” Eng. Albin Mathias Fiita said after the ceremony concluded. “Although we did not win the trophy, being one of the finalists and attending the Energy Globe Days was a great experience for me and PEF. In the two days of Final Project Presentations, I was able to learn a lot from global sustainable projects presented by fellow finalists from different organizations around the world. The Swahili proverb says “Mkaa Bure si sawa na Mtembea Bure,” meaning that those who travel will always learn new things. I believe our Educating Through Technology program fits well for creating sustainable communities as the program empowers youth through access to quality education by providing technology infrastructure and training to the community, which otherwise would have been impossible. Maneka Gandhi, the chair of the Jury, along with others loved our project for the same reason. I believe this is a good start. I’m looking forward to more!”

Eng. Albin Mathias Fiita holds the plaque given to PEF

The Awards Presentation Ceremony began after all presentations concluded, bringing together an outstanding array of global talent in various innovative industries. Maneka Gandhi, the Former Indian Minister and Chairwoman of the International Jury gave her greetings to the audience. Next, each category was announced with the nominees taking their place on stage to receive a ceremonial plaque and recognition for their extraordinary efforts to make the world a better, cleaner place. PEF shared the stage for the Youth Category with two other nominees, UWICER for its Himalayan Environmental Rhythms Observation and Evaluation System (HEROES) project in Bhutan and the Moldovan Environmental Governance Academy (MEGA) for its MEGA Game project.

The 2019 Energy Globe World Award winners & nominees

The winners of the 2019 Energy Globe World Award are as follows: Bioestibas SAS, Columbia (Earth), Go-Ahead London, UK (Fire), NGO Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education & Culture, Morocco (Water), Hubert Palfinger Technologies GmbH, Austria (Air), a group of Finnish Companies: Fortum, ST1, Neste, HSY, Finland (Air), Moldovan Environmental Governance Academy (MEGA), Moldova (Youth). A complete list of winners and nominees can be found here.

The efforts of PEF, which are supported by Powering Potential, are possible because of generous readers like you. We encourage you to make this cause your chosen charity for the holiday season of 2019 and help us continue giving the gift of technology education to schools lacking vital resources. To donate, visit here.

A New SPARC lab in the Peruvian Amazon

After more than a decade of dedicated work in Tanzania, we turned our sights to the Peruvian Amazon this summer with a pilot expansion of our award-winning SPARC (Solar-Powered Access to Raspberry Pi Computing) program. The San Francisco Rio Itaya School in Iquitos, Peru is now home to a brand new lab equipped with 15 Raspberry Pi desktops for student use.

Peru, like Tanzania, is a fascinating country with an amazing cultural scene. A full two-thirds of the country is covered by the Amazon Rainforest. This alone would make Peru a serious destination for many travelers to explore, but it also houses additional wonders like the Andes Mountains, the Sechura Desert, Lake Titicaca, and Rainbow Mountain.

Yet all this natural beauty comes with a high price. Though this country is the 6th largest producer of gold, some areas of Peru are severely underdeveloped and unsuited for large-scale industrialization. With the Amazon River surrounding its borders and backed by the thick canopy of the Amazon rainforest, remote areas have survived conditions that almost defy description. 

The lower part of the Belen District in Iquitos, Peru

Belén, often called “the floating city,” is one such region. It is one of four districts in the metropolitan city of Iquitos, which is known as the largest city in the world that is accessible only by air or water.

The people of Iquitos are ever watchful of the river and all too aware of its power. “La langosta dormida es llevada al arroyo” is a popular Peruvian proverb among boatmen meaning “The sleeping lobster is carried away by the stream.” They recognize that the same river giving life to the rainforest can exact a very real human toll.

For these reasons and more, Iquitos presented unique challenges for Powering Potential. Expanding into a South American country also required expertise in Spanish, the educational setting and the culture.

The San Francisco Rio Itaya School

San Francisco School is built two stories up on stilts because flooding is an annual event in the lower section of Belén, which is located on the floodplain of the Río Itaya. Most of its 65,00 inhabitants live in homes constructed from basic materials that are on stilts or built to float on the river. Children play and swim in contaminated water used for drinking, laundry, and waste disposal. Most people have parasites and dwellings are often swept away by floodwaters made increasingly worse by deforestation practices and the resulting erosion. The rainy season has also been problematic and longer in duration in the last two decades. 

Under the leadership of Director Anita Gil Avila, San Francisco School is the pride of the neighborhood. As our team worked on the lab, the children practiced marching and singing for the national holiday celebration to be held there. A week later, another community gathering celebrated the 40th anniversary of the school. The building is used for both primary and secondary school. Younger students attend from 7:30 am to 12:30 pm and older ones in the afternoon. We watched students arriving and leaving on homemade wooden boats (as we did, also). Most wore uniforms and all carried smiles.

PPI Management Team Members V. Ena Haines and Rich Segal, Ph.D. with PPI Volunteer Joanna Segal (center) approaching the San Francisco School

Dana Rensi, PPI Regional Director, Latin America led the Management Team pilot expansion. An Educational Media Specialist in Ashland, Oregon and a recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, she previously spent a year as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Iquitos. After receiving a grant from The Foundation for Learning Equality, she returned to the San Francisco Rio Itaya School to install our first SPARC lab on the South American continent.

Dana Rensi, PPI Regional Director, Latin America with the installation grid

PPI Management Team Members V. Ena Haines, retired Director of Information Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University and Rich Segal, Ph.D., Computer Scientist at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center were also on-site to help with the installation. Joined by PPI Volunteers Joanna and Annie Segal, this dream team completed the lab with record speed while interacting with students eager to get a first glimpse of the computers.

PPI Management Team Member Rich Segal, Ph.D. in the new SPARC lab

The SPARC lab captivated students and teachers alike during its construction. No doubt it will continue to do so as the student body begins to utilize the wealth of digital content now available for use. Dana will spend two months this fall working with teachers and students, particularly using Learning Equality’s interactive Kolibri product to support one primary and one secondary grade in math. The lab also features a Pi-oneer, which is a 512GB RACHEL Pi, an AAXA P300 Projector and a portable battery pack combined for use as an audiovisual teaching tool. This kit allows teachers to use material from the virtual library in any classroom in the school.

PPI Management Team Member V. Ena Haines with a student

This incredible success would not be possible if not for the generosity and compassion of readers like you. We encourage you to learn more and get involved with our efforts in the Peruvian Amazon! 

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