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Change Agent

Powering Potential puts technology in schools in Tanzania while respecting local cultures

Janice Lathen brought more than computers to a remote part of Tanzania. She brought a window on the world.

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Powering Potential did not impose itself on the community, she says. The citizens of Karatu came together to do something important for their children – provide an education, a priceless investment, she says.

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“I am also working with the head of the Information Technology department at the ministry of education and the head of the monitoring and evaluation department. I want to work in harmony with the Tanzanian government,” Lathen says.

Karatu has about 200,000 residents, mainly subsistence farmers who grow corn, wheat, and barley. Part of the area is affected by drought, though it also has a very fertile stretch bordering the famous Ngorongoro National Park of Tanzania, other national game parks, and world-famous Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The 20-plus computers at the school run a program called Remote Areas Community Hotspots for Education and Learning (RACHEL), whose content is proving invaluable to the students.

“The students do not have a library, and although there is abundant educational content on the Internet, in order to access it schools need a fast, dependable Internet connection, and most schools in Tanzania do not have such a connection. That is why the RACHEL content is so important,” she says.

The RACHEL content is always available on the school’s server, meaning a constant Internet connection isn’t needed to acess it.

RACHEL is the product of the nonprofit organization worldpossible.org, which has been excited by the impact that its content is having on the education of the students in Karatu.

A high school student at the school, David Naman, recently researched genes using the school Internet and RACHEL.

“I was exposed to so many details that I could have not retrieved them since the school has no books,” he says.

Another high school student, Peter Cosmas, said he could easily get information on a conference in Berlin using RACHEL.

Similar benefits were expressed by the headmaster, Justine Joseph, who said teachers at the school were benefiting greatly from RACHEL and from Internet access, when it is available.

Peter Mbwambo, the Karatu District Education Officer, says that the project is timely, since it will help the students to learn about new technologies.

“In the long run, Janice is preparing the students and the school management to develop a sense of collective ownership, which we are ready to support,” Mr. Mbwambo says.

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