Apr 30, 2021

Zanzibar Computer Classroom Update #6

Abdulsatar (Abdul), In-Country Director
Abdulsatar (Abdul), In-Country Director

In mid-April the president of Welcome Ideas, Kenn Scott, returned to Zanzibar to begin work on reopening the school.  The following is a letter from Kenn to provide an update to all of the generous supporters of our GlobalGiving project:

Dear GlobalGiving Donors,

Hello from Zanzibar!  It is great to be back in East Africa, although I’ve forgotten just how hot it can get on this little island.  After my self-imposed 2-week quarantine, I’ve been venturing out in the community to determine the best way to safely reopen the school.  Abdulsatar, our In-Country Director (pictured above), has been instrumental in determining the best path forward for the school reopening in a manner that is safe and protects our greatest asset, our students & staff. 

It is a different world in Zanzibar; with a few exceptions, you’d hardly know we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.  Despite the recent coronavirus deaths of many prominent Zanzibari and Tanzanian officials, masks and social distancing are the exception and not the rule in Zanzibar.  Masks are worn by employees in some hotels and tourist shops and temperatures are checked on arrival in the airport.  Otherwise, Zanzibar is the same as it was pre-coronavirus.

This reality presents a challenge as we implement our safety procedures for the school, since our students do not see social distancing or mask wearing outside of Welcome Ideas.  Despite this, we will be implementing the most comprehensive coronavirus procedures on the island – with daily temperature checks, masks provided to and required for anyone entering the facility, hand sanitizer in all classrooms and at reception, hourly handwashing, smaller class sizes, enforced social distancing, and intensified cleaning procedures.  

We are as excited as our students are to see them back in the classroom building their skills, but we recognize that there is a big need for education around our new procedures.  We are working on an in-depth Coronavirus Orientation to help explain these new policies to our students so that they can be safe at school and at home.  We want our students to be role models throughout Zanzibar on how to help prevent this virus from spreading to others.

The computer classroom that you helped build will be relocated to one of our larger rooms, to allow for proper social distancing.  We’re currently going through the schedule now to determine how we can offer more classes to ensure every student has the opportunity to continue developing their IT skills.  As we raise more money for this project, we will be able to have more computers so that we can increase the opportunities for students to join our IT classes. 

Although it has been a long road, we are so excited about what 2021 will bring.  I would like to leave you with a few pictures that I think you might find interesting (see below).  As we work on reopening the school, we realized that our water supply system was failing.  Our landlord hired some fundis (workers), to dig us a new well.  As you can see by the pictures, this was an amazing and labor-intensive job as all of the digging was done by hand.  The good news is the fundis were successful and the new well seems to be meeting our water needs!

Thank you for your continued support!

Kind regards,

Kenn

A fundi using just a pick-axe to dig our new well
A fundi using just a pick-axe to dig our new well
All of the dirt and debris from the new well
All of the dirt and debris from the new well

Links:

Dec 31, 2020

Zanzibar Computer Classroom Update #5

Greetings from the US and Zanzibar!

 

2020 has been a tough year for Welcome Ideas and for nonprofits around the world.  It has been some time since we provided an update, so we wanted to share the latest information on the status of Welcome Ideas.  Since we lasted updated you, the school was closed as result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we were in the process of working on our reopening plan.  We had hoped to reopen the school this past fall and were actively testing different remote learning possibilities for our students.  Here is an update on each of these initiatives and on new reopening plan.

 

Remote Learning Update

Unfortunately, we ran into a number of challenges with our remote learning plans (including student equipment, Zanzibar bandwidth, financing, and a number of technical & regulatory issues).  As a result, we were unable to implement our remote learning initiatives, but we were able to develop some content and technical infrastructure for the future.  We are still exploring the utilization of distance learning, but on a smaller scale.  Our hope is to use distance learning for some of our immune compromised students who will not be able to attend in person classes until a mass vaccination program has been implemented throughout Zanzibar.  If we are able to target our distance learning efforts to just a few students, we can better utilize our limited financial resources to help those individuals overcome the technical, equipment, and bandwidth issues.

 

Fall Reopening Plan

As we created the reopening plan for the school, we wanted to ensure that we kept our students and staff safe.  With the limited medical resources available on the island, it is important that we do not create a situation where Welcome Ideas becomes a place where the virus is spread.  In addition to temperature checks, social distancing, increased cleaning, improving ventilation, and mandatory mask policies we planned to monitor community transmission through case counts and test positivity rates.

 

While we have the equipment and policies in place to conduct temperature checks, ensure social distancing, provide increased cleaning & ventilation, and provide every student with masks we are unable to assess the level of community transmission at the present time.  The government of Tanzania declared victory over COVID-19 in June and has not provided updated case counts, test positivity rates, or death counts since April.  Although much of the population was wearing masks and practicing social distancing in April, May, and June, these preventative measures quickly fell out of practice after the government’s June announcement.  Although we are not able to accurately assess the case counts for Zanzibar or Tanzania, we do know that the case counts in neighboring countries, where these preventative measures are still in place, continue to climb.

 

In addition, although international travel has resumed to Zanzibar it is very expensive and is plagued by uncertainty as a result of travel bans from stopover countries, constantly changing testing requirements, and quarantine requirements.  In addition to some of these uncertainties, the worry of contracting the virus on long-haul international flights makes it difficult for us to recruit international volunteer teachers at the present time.  These travel challenges and the expiration of work & resident permits for our primary teacher (and organization president) have kept him stuck in the U.S.

 

As a result of our lack of understanding of where the current case counts stand, the lack of preventative measures being practiced in the community, and the difficulty of international travel encountered by our team, we put a hold on our fall reopening plan to ensure the safety of our students and staff.

 

Current Reopening Plan

Our current reopening plan is dependent on a variety of factors, but we are hopeful that we will be able to reopen the school in the next few months.  We are looking to partner with a private health clinic to vaccinate our students and will practice all of our COVID-19 preventative measures until we are confident that the pandemic in Zanzibar is contained.  We want to ensure that we are good stewards of your generosity and do not create a situation that would be an embarrassment to you or our organization.

 

As we enter 2021, we continue to appreciate your generosity.  As a result of the challenges of 2020, your financial support is appreciated now more than ever.  We look forward to our next update, where hopefully we can celebrate the reopening of Welcome Ideas together!

Links:

Jul 7, 2020

Zanzibar Computer Classroom Update #4

Our student (Hassan) modelling a mask
Our student (Hassan) modelling a mask

Normally, the report begins – “hello from Zanzibar!”  However this month, I must say hello from the US (where I have been stuck since the end of March as a result of the coronavirus crisis)!  Our update this quarter will be a little non-traditional as a result of the crisis’ impact on the world and Welcome Ideas.  This report will focus on two areas:  the impact of coronavirus on Welcome Ideas & Zanzibar and our plans for safely reopening Welcome Ideas.

Impact of Coronavirus on Welcome Ideas & Zanzibar

To help the Zanzibar community combat COVID-19, Welcome Ideas made the decision to temporarily close after the first official case was reported in Zanzibar in mid-March.  The following day, the Zanzibar Ministry of Education instructed all schools to close.  Prior to this, and after the first cases had been reported in East Africa, we had instituted social distancing policies, rigorous classroom cleaning & sanitizing, handwashing guidelines, and provided hand sanitizer to all students.  We also conducted a COVID-19 workshop to explain our new guidelines, discuss the coronavirus’ impact on the world, and combat some of the myths that had been taking over social media for several weeks (including black people are immune from coronavirus, lemon juice will prevent you from contracting coronavirus, and Africa is too warm for a coronavirus outbreak).  During the days following our workshop students greeted each other with the Hawaiian Shaka instead of a traditional handshake, we exhausted our supply of hand sanitizer, and after each class students assisted with cleaning and sanitizing the classrooms.

Tourism was the largest economic driver on Zanzibar before coronavirus, however at the end of March, Tanzania put a halt to all incoming international flights to combat the spread of the virus.  Almost all hotels, tour operators, and other tourism supporting businesses on the islands closed – leaving thousands unemployed and turning the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Stone Town and all of the beach resorts into ghost towns.

Although the coronavirus has put a pause to many of our students’ plans to open their own tourism businesses; many of our students have found ways to help the Zanzibar community cope with this crisis.  A number of our students have made masks to help stop the spread of the virus, some have built handwashing stations in their community, and others have used the time to teach English to their neighbors.  We are very proud of the work of our students and continue to offer them virtual support as they plan their businesses.

Through the month of April, Tanzania conducted testing and reported all confirmed cases in accordance with WHO practices and guidelines.  However, at the end of April, Tanzania stopped publicly reporting new COVID-19 cases.  Although Tanzania has opened its airports to international flights and tourists, many foreign embassies are advising their citizens against travel to Tanzania/Zanzibar until the government is able to resume its transparent reporting of new COVID-19 cases.  As a result, the tourism industry is not yet on a rebound – which is understandable as the coronavirus continues its’ grip on the world.

With the high levels of unemployment in the tourism sector, we anticipate higher interest and enrollment in our next series of courses.  Additionally, as many tourism businesses shut down, we see this as an opportunity for our students to establish their businesses as the tourism industry begins to rebound.  In the past several months we have been working hard to assess the resources that we will need to scale up and have tried to identify potential sources of funding (which are fewer and fewer these days).

Our Plan for Safely Reopening Welcome Ideas

Although many schools in the West were able to quickly transition their courses to an online learning model, we have not been able to successfully implement a similar scheme in Zanzibar because of two critical factors:  first, most of our students do not have access to a computer outside of the school and second, if we were able to offer content viewable by smartphones – even if students could borrow smartphones from a family member – the cost of data to view online content would be prohibitive to  most of our students.  While this solution is not completely viable, we have designed a system for students to view courses online via their smartphone as part of our reopening plan.  We will be using money raised from donations to help defray the data costs for our students and will be working with our students who do not have access to a computer or smartphone to help them borrow the resources they need.  Our virtual classes will begin later this month and will be our first phase of reopening.

Our second phase of reopening will be to offer in-person instruction to smaller groups of students.  Although the government of Zanzibar authorized the reopening of schools just this past week, we have decided not to offer in-person classes until we can be better assured of the safety of our students and staff.  Once we are at a point of offering in-person instruction we will be implementing temperature screening, small class sizes to allow for social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing of classrooms between every class, and hand sanitizer available in all classrooms.  Additionally, we have been working with local tailors (and students) to secure masks for our students to wear.  Masks will be required everywhere on the Welcome Ideas campus.

We are also working on attracting members of the local community with tourism background, who currently may have a lot of free-time, to volunteer as instructors and guest lecturers for some of our courses. 

Should we receive the additional funding for our IT classroom to buy the remaining 13 computers needed, we will convert one of our smaller classrooms into a satellite IT classroom to ensure appropriate social distancing.  Our IT courses remain some of our most popular courses and we are working diligently to ensure we continue to offer these courses to our students even as we are presented with these new conditions.

Thank you again for your support of our work and our students.  Although there is much uncertainty, we are excited about the amazing potential and creativity of our students.  We hope that you and your family are safe and healthy and we look forward to updating you again soon as we work with the Zanzibar community to overcome this crisis.

One of many community handwashing sinks
One of many community handwashing sinks
Welcome Ideas Students' masks from local tailor
Welcome Ideas Students' masks from local tailor
Welcome Ideas Online Learning Portal
Welcome Ideas Online Learning Portal

Links:

 
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