Monday in a Picture – Wikipedia

In late 2017, I was at home browsing Reddit as I had done many evenings prior. I’m not sure what I had searched or what sequence of clicking had landed me on this page. At first glance, I thought it was one of the internet’s jokes. One thread read “…Wikipedia offline…”. My interest piqued, I decided to take a look.

The Wikimedia Foundation decided years ago that they would make the entire Wikipedia database available to the public. In other words, someone could now download the entirety of Wikipedia’s content and have access to it without internet connectivity. Various programmers and organizations developed offline browsers that could be used with the database files. One such organization is Kiwix. The Kiwix platform uses .zim files and features many products from the Wikimedia Foundation including WikiVoyage, Wikitionary, and Wikiversity.

With knowledge of this possibility, I immediately thought about conversations at the school during the past year. Our students were trying to keep up in the information age without reliable access to information. We had a computer lab, but no internet connectivity. I spoke to my head teacher and counterpart about the possibility of equipping the computer lab with offline Wikipedia. They agreed, but wanted to see something in action. I decided that I would put together a proof of concept presentation. I downloaded Kiwix for Windows and the Simple English .zim file. When I showed my colleagues how the program worked, they began to share my excitement. My head teacher requested that we move forward with the larger Wikipedia files. I spent half of November and all of December downloading Wikipedia for Schools, Wikipedia (in English) without pictures or videos, and other wikis.

Now, the 2018 academic year is under way. The computers in our lab are now equipped with the offline Wikipedia resources, and I am teaching students and colleagues how to use the software. Many of my colleagues and students are very excited. The software is being used by teachers to brush up on some subjects. Students are using the software to better understand the topics covered in class and to prepare for their external exams in term three. Throughout this term, students have stayed after school to study and print Wikipedia articles to use at home.

Last week, I was invited to another volunteer’s school to present on the Wikipedia resources to their students and staff. Apparently, their students really enjoyed the presentation. On the day following the presentation, they convinced their teacher to take them to the computer lab. Once there, they debated advantages and disadvantages of social media use. One of the teachers at their school also took her students to the computer lab to better understand iodine and its properties.

I’m beyond excited to see this project taking shape. In my vision for Swaziland, all schools would be using Wikipedia offline if they don’t have internet access. I’m also excited about chipping away at the digital divide. The picture above (taken by one of my students) is of me teaching my Form 4 students about the various wikis.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – A Bug’s Life

Swaziland has opened my eyes to many new things. I have a newfound love of ice water and mangoes. Learning siSwati has introduced a culture of depth and tradition. I have also taken a special interest in the small critters I see in the rural community.

Apparently, this is a thing for PCVs in many countries. A PCV in Mozambique organizes and curates an Instagram account (@woahinsecto) featuring insects from all over the world. Growing up in an urban environment, I found insects to be a nuisance. When I did journey to more rural places on family vacations, the insects were huge and had stingers that left itchy bumps. The only insect that had redeeming qualities was the firefly because it lit up the summer sky.

I’ve seen creatures here that are truly stunning. Some of the tiny critters are extremely hairy. Other critters are incredibly colourful. A couple of weeks ago, I was at school heading to class when I saw the critter pictured above. I thought it might jump when I got close, but it didn’t. It did start walking away. Luckily, I was able to get close enough to snap this picture.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – According to @woahinsecto, the creature above is the Pygromorphidae and their colors are a warning to predators that they are chemically protected!

Monday in a Picture – Sihambile eWakanda

Warning: This post does have some spoilers regarding Black Panther.

I’m writing this on Wednesday 21 February. Today, students from 14 different communities across Swaziland came together to journey to Wakanda. Some students and chaperones traveled for hours to Swaziland’s only movie theatre. As I journey back to school with my students, I’m tired and happy. My heart is full.

For many students, this was their first trip to the cinema. They were excited. I was excited. Everyone was excited. The students were able to meet and fellowship with other students from around the kingdom. And as an added bonus, they got treated to the cinematic experience that is Black Panther. After the movie, several students gave a Wakandan salute and two thumbs up. I was able to speak with some of my students after the film about their thoughts and reactions. One student said that he enjoyed the film overall, but that he was really appreciative of how the ancestors were intertwined into the story. To see T‘Challa consulting his late father in the ancestral plane was powerful. Another student was enthralled with the relationship between Africans and Black Americans as he sought to understand why Killmonger wanted to destroy Wakanda.

I must say that I have a newfound appreciation for the teachers and other responsible adults who chaperone field trips regularly. If you haven’t experienced this film yet, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a cinematic delight.

The above picture was taken just before the students went into the theatre to see Black Panther. On a related note, I never knew how difficult it was to get 70+ school children to stay still long enough to take a picture.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – Sihambile eWakanda means “We went to Wakanda”.

P.P.S – Here’s a picture of me, my counterpart, and our top students (per last year’s results).

Monday in a Picture – Of Legos and Robots

Recently, primary and high school students from all around Swaziland gathered at the University of Swaziland – Kwaluseni to compete with robots. The competition, which promotes science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in Swaziland, was sponsored in part by the U.S. Embassy, the STEM Foundation, and the Royal Swazi Sugar Corporation. More than thirty student teams competed. 

The students were tasked with using legos and a small computer to build and program an autonomous robot that could navigate a course and compete various missions. Some missions included delivering one structure to a specified location in the course, and retrieving an item from a location in the course. The students in the picture above are completing final checks before their robot attempts the missions on the course. 

In the end, a team from U-Tech High School in Big Bend won the competition, and will be journeying to compete in Johannesburg. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Monday in a Picture – Testing

We are currently in the third and final term of the academic year in Swaziland. The biggest focus of term three is exams. Earlier this month, Form 3 (equivalent to grade 10) and Form 5 (equivalent to grade 12) students started writing their external exams. Think standardized testing with the highest of stakes. 

All other high school students will begin writing internal exams in November as schools prepare to close in early December. While internal exams are designed by a school’s teachers and vary from school to school, external exams are designed and written by the Examinations Council of Swaziland. Schools typically bring in external moderators, called invigilators, for the external exams while a school’s teachers will serve as invigilators for that school’s internal exams. 

Upon successful completion of the Form 3 exams, students earn a Junior Certificate. For this reason, the Form 3 exams are sometimes referred to as the JC exams. With a Junior Certificate, students can apply to various vocational schools around Swaziland. Upon successful completion of the Form 5 exams, students earn an ‘O’ level certificate. This is equivalent to a high school diploma, and is needed to attend university. In the picture above, the required notices are posted outside of one of the classrooms being used for external exams. Students are not allowed to bring extra materials into the exam room, and typically leave their bags lined up outside of the room. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Monday in a Picture – Mother Bear

There are numerous organizations that offer aid to people around Swaziland. Some of these organizations are based here in the kingdom. Some organizations offer financial support while others inkind support and supplies. 

One such organization is The Mother Bear Project. Based in Minnesota, the organization sends hand knit (or crocheted) bears to young children in developing nations affected by HIV. Volunteer knitters are asked to either hand knit or crochet a bear from a given pattern. The knitted bears are a labor of love project seeks to comfort affected children. 

Last week, I completed a distribution of Mother Bears at one of the primary schools in my community. The students were very excited with big smiles as they received the bears. The above picture is a selfie of me with some of the children after receiving the bears. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Sweet Dreams – Waiting for POTUS

Because I am posted in a country where I might contract malaria, I have been given an antimalarial medication called, “Mefloquine”. One of the side effects of this medication is lucid dreaming. The following is what I dreamt last night (as best I can remember). 

Somehow, the church that I grew up in was now a school as well. For some reason, I was back there. I think I was working in some capacity in the office. I was infamous for denying the students whatever they wanted. I was the “no” guy. 

There came a time when the pastor of the church/school announced that the President of the US would be visiting the church/school. There were no classes that day, but everyone still came to work because the president was coming. There was a grand entrance hall that had been cleared of everything, presumably by US Secret Service. There were two rooms, one on each side of the grand entrance hall. The church/school staff was in the room on the right. I was in that room. We were all waiting for the president to arrive. The doors to our room were open and we could see the grand entrance hall. 

All of a sudden, the Peace Corps Swaziland Safety and Security Manager comes in to advise us that the president is coming, and closes the doors as people are running up to the doors to get a glimpse of the president. Eventually, everyone makes it out into the grand entrance hall to form a receiving line. I’m on that receiving line on the right. A Secret Service agent is definitely standing beside me. My pastor, who may also be the headmaster now, comes up to me and tells me that I’m being assigned to the Secret Service as a liaison between the church/school and the president’s people. We start arguing about how that’s not what I want to do. He ends up giving me a special lapel pin and a communications radio, while I thought why don’t I get a gun like they do. 

Onward. 
Be kind to yourself. 

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Monday in a Picture – Yebo Thishela

I teach. My school and community have been very welcoming and receptive to my teaching. My students ask questions and engage in discussions. While some classes have lessons prescribed and guided by the Ministry of Education, I’ve been given much freedom to adjust to meet the needs of the students. 

Lessons have included drugs, love, and consent among other things. The phrase, yebo thishela (pronounced yay-bow tee-shay-la), is one that I hear often. It’s direct translation is “yes teacher”. This picture was taken during a lesson with Form 1 students. 

This week, my students will start taking their internal exams on various academic subjects to showcase what they’ve learned so far in the school year.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Ummiso and Sabaca (NSFW)

Last week, I was fortunate to attend a school dance competition. Schools from all over the Manzini region gathered to showcase their skills. 

Ummiso (pronounced oo-me-see) is a Swazi traditional dance performed by young unmarried girls. This tradition is rooted in the grand Swazi tradition of Umhlanga (pronounced oom-shlan-ga).

Sabaca (pronounced sah-bah-click c-ah) is a Swazi traditional warrior dance performed by boys and men. In each ummiso or sabaca performance, there is singing. Occasionally, there are drums. A fellow teacher explained that Swazis communicate and tell stories through songs. The songs sung during the competition are no different. 

I’m very proud of our students, and all of the hard work that they did to prepare for the event. They represented the school and the community very well.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – School Lunch

The schools in Swaziland serve lunch every school day. The daily menu is minimally varied. Some days, the students are treated to soupy beans with rice. On other days, the afternoon delight is non-soupy beans with rice. 

School lunch costs are included in the annual school fees assessed to secondary school students. All primary school students and some secondary school students are fully funded by government. 

At lunch time, students line up outside of the kitchen with her/his dish and eating utensil. Four or five older students are responsible for serving their classmates. They set up a table with at least two basins filled with rice and at least two basins or buckets filled with beans. After being served, students sit around the school grounds while enjoying lunch. Students can supplement their lunch with snacks from the bomake market. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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