Charity celebrates a decade of transforming IT Education in Africa
On Thursday 9th October, Gloucestershire-based charity IT Schools Africa (ITSA) – a leading UK supplier of recycled computers to Africa – celebrates a remarkable decade of transforming IT education on the continent. In just ten years, the charity has sent over 44,000 recycled computers to eight African countries, equipped over 1,500 schools with computers, trained over 750 teachers and provided an estimated 3 million children with access to IT.
To mark their 10 year anniversary, the charity is holding an Open Afternoon and Evening Reception for its many supporters and partners. Beginning with a showcase of ITSA’s work at its HQ in Cheltenham from 14.30-16.30 on Thursday 9th October, the celebrations then continue at St Luke’s Church Hall from 17.00-19.00 with a buffet dinner, speeches and presentations from key ITSA spokespeople, and stunning African dance performances from Denise Rowe (of Baka Beyond renown) and Ann Blagden. There will also be a live Skype link with students at Blantyre School in Malawi, the grateful recipients of a fully equipped IT lab installed by ITSA, complete with 40 recycled computers.
ITSA was founded by local Cheltenham businessman, philanthropist and Rotarian, Michael Ratcliffe, following a visit to Africa in 2003.
Michael Ratcliffe, Chairman of IT Schools Africa, recalls: “Discovering that a real thirst for education amongst African children was being hindered by a major shortage of text books and IT equipment in African schools, I left frustrated that nothing was being done to resolve the situation. Returning to the UK, l was excited to spot an opportunity to match the need to dispose of used computers in the UK with the demand for IT equipment in Africa, and IT Schools Africa was born.
“My dream was that the computers we sent to Africa would transform children’s lives by giving them the IT skills they need to succeed in the modern world,” Michael continues. “And I’ve been delighted to witness ITSA grow from a small start-up to the major operation it is today, improving the prospects of millions of African youngsters and helping the countries we work in to participate in the digital economy.”
Renovating an old warehouse in Cheltenham, ITSA began operations in October 2004, collecting used computers from businesses, organisations and the general public before refurbishing them and distributing them at low cost to schools in countries like Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. ITSA now sends between three thousand and four thousand computers a year to its programmes in these countries, also delivering technical support and IT teacher training in recipient schools. The charity also ensures the sustainable disposal of all computers at end-of-life.
ITSA receives substantial support from organisations and individuals across Gloucestershire as well as UK wide. Since 2004, the charity has received computer donations from503 businesses, 386 schools, 147 public bodies and 2,129 individuals. Blue chip donors across the country include BSI Group, Bovis Homes, Compass Group, City and Guilds, Mitsubishi, Chelsea Building Society (now Yorkshire BS), Royal College of Music, SAB Miller and Stone Group. Leading Gloucestershire IT and facilities company, Commercial Group, is a major sponsor and Rotary clubs across the country also play their part, collecting computers on behalf of the charity. ITSA is also supported by a team of 15-20 committed volunteers at their office and warehouse in Leckhampton.
Tim Barnes, Programme Director for ITSA says: “Our 10th anniversary celebration is an opportunity to thank all our many generous supporters across the country. They have helped us do some amazing things in Africa and the achievements of the last ten years would not have been possible without them. “
In addition to creating positive lives in Africa, ITSA actively supports the local community in Gloucestershire. Working in partnership with schools and local organisations such as Ruskin Mill, the National Star Centre, Prospect Training and CTEC, the charity provides work experience placements for school children, young people with special needs and the long-term unemployed. The charity also runs computer refurbishment workshops in three prisons across the country, enabling the prisoners to gain useful skills while helping children in Africa.
In the last year, ITSA has opened four complete, state-of-the-art, 40-computer IT labs at large secondary schools in Blantyre and Lilongwe in Malawi. The charity is now fundraising to complete many more such labs, with the long-term aim of equipping all the country’s secondary schools with similar facilities.
Catherine Chisale, Headmistress of Zingwanga Secondary School in Malawi, one of the recipients of a new IT lab, says: “This lab has made our dreams come true – finally, our school is entering the IT age. Now we will be able to train many more pupils in computing and our teachers and pupils will be able to reach out to the world through the internet. We are most grateful to IT Schools Africa.”
Tim Barnes, Programme Director for ITSA says: “Looking ahead, we urgently need support to continue to grow our programmes in Africa and expand into new countries and we’re appealing to businesses and organisations around the country to help us. We need donations of funds and used computers to continue to create positive lives in Africa, please do get in touch if you can help, every small donation goes a long way.”