Three CCI alumni who studied Information Technology at Fox Valley Technical College during the 2016-17 program year have started a program to bring computer skills training to underserved people in South Africa and Brazil. Nkululeko Victor Masombuka and Juliet Malambe of South Africa, and Daniel da Silva Farias of Brazil, were inspired by the U.S. culture of volunteerism and decided to make a change and give back by creating the organization IT Prodigies. IT Prodigies’s mission is to reduce the digital divide (lack of access to computer skills) by opening computer centers in underserved communities, where free computer classes will be offered to young people on the weekends to help them learn the skills that they will need to succeed in their future jobs. So far, IT Prodigies has received a generous donation of about 40 computers from a partner in the United States and are working on raising money for shipping, transporting, and setting up these computers to South Africa. We spoke to Nkululeko to tell us more about how this inspiring project came to life.
Could you describe what your project is all about?
NKULULEKO: Juliet, Daniel, and I are opening computer centers in 3 locations: Parnaiba Piaui, Brazil; Siyabuswa Mpumalanga, South Africa; and Sibasa Limpopo, South Africa. The centers will run as academic facilities to educate local students from these undeserved communities. We will take at least 30 students in each location and teach them basic computer skills and programming.
The academic side of the center will depend on IT volunteers whom we feel are qualified and fitting to instruct. Juliet and I will be teaching also. And once a month we hope to have a speaker from industry to motivate and present on differ opportunities. At least that’s what we looking at in our first year.
How does your project plan to bring computer training classes to South Africa and Brazil relate to IT Prodigies?
NKULULEKO: IT Prodigies is a non-profit organization that myself, Juliet, and Daniel created that seeks to reduce the digital divide (the gap between people who have computer access and those who do not). Opening these computer centers is the first outreach project for IT Prodigies.
How did you come up with the idea for IT Prodigies and your project plan to reduce the digital divide?
NKULULEKO: After the CCI Program’s midyear Pathways to Success Program, seeing all that everyone was doing and the different projects, we were inspired.
We [Nkululeko, Juliet, Daniel] all had our own action plans which were kind of similar, but what got us together was the U.S. Department of State’s Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) competition. Having good working relationships, we immediately formed the minimum 3 member group in order to apply for the funding provided by AEIF.
However the more we did research, the more we fell in love with our project and the impact it would cause if successful. We also discovered that South Africa, for example, has a youth unemployment rate of 51% -that is shockingly scary. The passion and the vision for the project became clearer, so we became even more determined. We are committed to make a difference with or without winning the AEIF.
In order to get these community computer centers up and running, your project depends on getting physical computers to South Africa and Brazil—how do you plan to make that happen?
NKULULEKO: In Brazil through the connection that Daniel has with some professors, we were able to get permission to use his college’s facility that has computers. But in South Africa were had nothing to start with, so the hustle began!
Juliet and I, from being on the board of the Student Government at Fox Valley Technical College, had many connections with key executive members of the college. And with the confidence and advice we received from our Program Coordinator, Allisen Stojanovic, and the Global Ed office, we approached the Vice President of Information Technology whom we had met once during a “Lunch with the Executive Board” event.
We explained the project and Fox Valley Technical College was more than happy to help—we received a donation of 40 computers, including some software. However we are responsible for the shipping of the computers.
What are your current plans for making the project come alive, specifically in South Africa?
NKULULEKO: In the next month we will be trying to raise funds and connecting with local government in South Africa to seek support … we have an entire curriculum ready to be implemented and a great project program.
The impact that Nkululeko and Juliet made in their host community during their exchange year was far reaching, and community members took notice of their efforts to serve their host community. After being elected by their college peers to serve as Vice President and Secretary for the Student Government Association at Fox Valley Technical College, Nkululeko and Juliet worked hard to get students involved on campus and in college life. Their motivation to act as agents of change after their exchange year inspired the local community and gained the support of U.S. community members including the President and Vice President of Fox Valley Technical College, Fox Cities Community Credit Union, various instructors at FVTC and other schools, and several churches. One U.S. community member was so motivated by their work, that she started a GoFundMe page to help raise funds to send the computers abroad and recently their project was featured on the local news.When asked about Fox Valley Technical College’s decision to help the cause by donating 40 computers to South Africa, Fox Valley Tech IT Manager Brent Schuettpelz said, “When these two approached us about what they were doing in South Africa, I think it was just a no brainer to say yeah let’s think how we can help you.”
Victor and Juliet’s efforts have even inspired the Global Education and Services at Fox Valley Technical College to work on a Study Abroad program for U.S. students who are studying IT to go to South Africa and provide upkeep, teaching and other services to Nkululeko and Juliet’s labs, once they are established. CCI Program Coordinator Allisen Stojanovic says, “It is a great partnership we are looking forward to building.”
Over the next month, Nkululeko and Juliet will be working on shipping the donated computers to South Africa and will continue to create and enhance computer skills training opportunities in South Africa and Brazil.