Walk into the Sappi KwaDukuza Resource Centre in Stanger – and you will be met by an extraordinary sight. Within the walls of those neat and pristinely kept premises, you will find rows and rows of youngsters poring intently over computers – which is in itself not an unusual sight in this age of computer games and ready access to technology. But add to the mix the fact that many of these youngsters come from rural villages, many without electricity, and the picture takes on a new perspective. Then, add to that the fact that most of these kids are here voluntarily and are doing homework assignments, and you are bound to do a double-take.
In June 2013, it is thirteen years since opening its doors for the first time and the phenomenal popularity of this successful centre has not waned. In the 1990s, educational resources like books, science equipment and computers were in short supply at many of the schools. In response to the particular problems of the iLembe area of KwaZulu-Natal, the KwaDukuza Resource Centre was founded by Sappi to help fill the gap experienced by all the schools in the district to provide access to resources to as many people as possible. Today, Sappi remains the principal funder of the Centre. “As one of the major industries in the area, Sappi was constantly being approached by schools with requests for assistance. We were happy to help, but with some 90 schools in the area it was not easy, so we came up with the concept of a centre supplying resources to everyone in the area by establishing this central facility”, says Andre Oberholzer, Group Head Corporate Affairs for Sappi Limited.
Since first opening in 2000, the centre has provided internet access to thousands of people – learners and adults who have flocked here from day one and from the outset; the importance of the digital village was paramount. As it was important to make sure that members knew how to use the computers a logical step was to introduce computer literacy classes, which are still popular among the young and old. Saturdays are extremely busy, as are the afternoons when school is out, when learners line up, waiting to get a turn at the computers.
They come to do research for school assignments and projects; they send and check e-mails, prepare curricula vitae and apply for jobs, bursaries and the like. In short, this free internet connectivity gives the centre’s thousands of members – many of them normally unable to afford such luxuries – the opportunity to be part of the cyber-connected world, using a facility which is increasingly critical to people and serves to bring people and communities closer together.
The time they get to spend on the internet is managed by the dedicated staff and the amazing volunteers who work at the centre. The staff make sure that everyone gets a turn and can share fairly in these free world-class facilities that have been made available to them.
One of the most astounding aspects of this popular centre is that in more than a decade of daily activity, it still looks like the day it opened. There is no graffiti on walls or worktops, no gum stuck under desks – in fact everything is in excellent working order and is neat and clean. The children that come to the Centre are quiet and orderly. They respect the Centre and appreciate the fact that they can work in pleasant surroundings that are well-maintained, clean and neat. The Centre management believes that a key to the success of the Centre is that it has been established in partnership with the community. By charging a nominal subscription fee, it has ensured that those that come to use the Centre’s facilities feel a sense of ownership and participation in its overall success.
A central lending facility catering for educators and learners from Grade 1 to 12 exists with resources that include biology models and chemistry sets, teaching material, television monitors, video players and overhead projectors.
The Sappi KwaDukuza Resource Centre is also the hub for a myriad of seminars and workshops that are presented and also offers a range of skills development programmes, which include Maths Science and Technology programmes and teacher training programmes as well as its ongoing technology classes presented at its TechnoLab, a facilitation centre where learners are given lessons in the basics of robotics, engineering and technology that is both computer-based and has practical application.
Administration services like printing, faxing, photocopying, lamination, and bookbinding are also provided at a nominal cost.
The Centre is run according to strict business principles, and in accordance with Sappi's own business ethic. As a nonprofit organisation, it is managed by a board of directors drawn from members of the local business community and educationalists with many years of experience in the non-governmental organisation sector. The Centre still relies on donations and sponsorship from the business sector, but is constantly expanding the services it offers with the ultimate aim of being self-sufficient.
The Sappi KwaDukuza Resource Centre has enjoyed more than a decade of operation with all the signs that it will be around for another decade after this and will continue to set the national standard for centres of its nature around the country.
To view the Sappi KwaDukuza Resource Centre in the Prodder NGO Directory, click here