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!


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


Mar 9, 2020

Zanzibar Computer Classroom Update #3

Hello from Zanzibar!


Since our last update in December we have been hard at work expanding our IT course offerings, adding equipment, and maintaining the existing equipment within the IT classroom.  Our students’ knowledge continues to expand, and their newfound IT skills have been put to work on other school projects and their business plans.  We are happy to report that we have received an additional $700 for the IT classroom, which we have already put to good use.  We are excited about a number of upcoming fundraising opportunities through GlobalGiving and we hope to raise the remaining funds for the IT classroom in the next few months.  There are exciting things happening as a result of your generosity and we’re very happy to share them with you today!

Additional Courses

As we reported in December, there were a number of students waiting for the launch of our Intermediate IT classes.  We are delighted to share that in the beginning of February we launched our Intermediate IT course and began our second round of Beginning IT courses.  The IT classes at Welcome Ideas are some of the most requested classes and we have been able to easily fill all of the available openings in each class.  In fact, now that we have been able to enroll more students in our IT courses, the IT classroom is full of students even when class is not in session.  Students have been using the computers to write their business plans, prepare assignments for other classes, and practice some of the skills they’ve learned in class.

Our biggest limitation currently is the number of computers available for students (both within class and after class).  We still have space for 13 additional computers which would double our capacity and allow us to consolidate duplicate classes, offer additional classes, and train more students.

Skill Development

Students in our classes continue to improve their typing skills, with many of the students doubling their words typed per minute over the course of the last few months.  Each of our classes offers a typing component to help further develop the students’ efficient use of a keyboard.  It’s been exciting to see the students go from using only 2 fingers to hunt and peck on the keyboard, to comfortably using all of their fingers to compose documents using the keyboard.

In addition to improvements made in typing skills our Intermediate IT students are creating mail merges in Word using Excel Spreadsheets.  They’ve been practicing writing client letters and promotions using their mail merge capabilities and they have been excited to see how they can integrate data across the Microsoft Office platform.  Our Beginning IT students have successfully mastered the use of all of the key Microsoft Word formatting tools and have begun learning how to write basic formulas/functions within Excel.  While some of the students are still building their confidence in using a computer, we have a good number of students who have been able to unleash their creativity and design some amazing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.  If you could see these students blossom like I have, you’d have no doubt that your donation was being put to very good use.

Upcoming Courses

The most requested topic within IT is web design.  We have a number of students who are starting or expanding their own small tourism businesses and web design is not just something that student are interested in, it’s something that would have immediate practical impact for a number of our students.  We are working on securing internet for the school, so that we can either offer a stand-alone web design course or incorporate it into some of our existing courses.

In addition, we are currently offering a Tourism & the Sharing Economy course for which we would like to utilize the IT classroom in order to facilitate hands on learning with platforms like AirBNB, Uber, EatWith, etc.  This hands-on learning would provide the students with valuable experience and expertise as they work on opening their own small tourism businesses.

Equipment Purchases & Maintenance

We used some of the $700 we received since the last update to purchase a projector dedicated to the IT classroom.  Prior to this purchase, we only had one projector in the entire school which had to be shared between the classes.  When the projector was in use by another course, students would have to huddle around the teacher’s computer to watch the day’s lesson and demo.  This was less than ideal, and the new Epson projector we purchased has a great picture which is bright enough for the students to see even on the sunniest days of the Zanzibar summer.

In addition to the purchase of the projector we have had additional electricity costs to operate the air conditioning as Zanzibar has been experiencing some exceedingly hot summer days.  We have also had to repair the air conditioning unit which hadn’t been operating properly.  Now, with a new projector and working AC, the IT classroom is a great learning environment for our students!

Financial Update

There is just a little over $7,000 needed to purchase the last remaining computers for the IT classroom.  After purchasing the projector and repairing the air conditioning, the remaining funds have been set aside but are not quite enough to purchase another computer.  Each computer is approximately $500 and although we would like to purchase the remaining 13 computers all at once, we will purchase them individually as we raise the funds so that we can increase the capacity of each class. 

If you would like to continue your support of Welcome Ideas and our IT Classroom, GlobalGiving will be offering a matching campaign called “Little x Little” which will begin on March 23rd.  Be sure to check your emails from GlobalGiving for more details.

Thank you again for your support of this project.  Your generosity has helped our students tremendously and we look forward to the next time we can update you about all of the amazing things our students have done as a result of your support.




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