Project Goals at HaMakuya

After my second visit to HaMakuya, I knew I needed a third. Reflecting on my experiences with Tshulu Trust, a local anti-poverty initiative, I formed a plan to establish an English-learning resource center in HaMakuya. The center would be accessible to students from a local high school (with 600 students) and 13 primary schools (300 students in each). Adults from the community also would have access to the center. I applied for a Davis Project for Peace Award to fund the project, and, fortunately, received the award.

There was much I needed to accomplish in order to establish the Makuya Empowered Voices Resource Center:

  • Provide a furnished building with electricity. It was my responsibility to design the building, act as construction-site manager, and contribute my own manual labor. The project required a foundation, walls, plastering, windows, doors, inverted roof, reed ceiling, and painting and installation of two murals by a local artist. Countless local individuals made the design and construction of the center possible. Construction workers alone contributed more than 1,000 man-hours of work over eight weeks.
  • Form an advisory committee of local educators and a team of local youth who would volunteer their time to help run the center.
  • Purchase, transport, and install computers in the center, and equip each with Rosetta Stone software for learning English. We expect that the center will provide Internet access in two years.
  • Organize the details of the English-language education program, using Rosetta Stone software as the foundation. I would mainly introduce the Rosetta Stone lessons, and then individuals would have up to an hour per session to study with the software.
  • Acquire books for the physical library.erin post 3 pic11

My team and I finished constructing, electrifying, and furnishing the resource center in three months. While we were knee-deep in the final construction phase, I was also arranging for Computer Aid International London to ship ten refurbished computers to us. They arrived during the eighth week of the project, so there was little time to waste. I spent all the time I could getting the computers up and running with the invaluable aid of Paul Marais, an ecoarchitect who builds beautiful rammed-earth houses, who assisted me with many of the technical aspects of the project. After many adventures up the mountain where we could gain Internet access with a cellular modem, Rosetta Stone was successfully up and running.

Our advisory committee established these goals for the center:

  • For residents of HaMakuya to have the confidence and ability to communicate and act in a way that encourages free exchange of ideas and responsible community action.
  • For HaMakuya to be a place that reinforces confidence and empowerment in its residents by fostering a culture and a space that places value on intellectual pursuits and personal development.
  • For residents of HaMakuya to be able to comfortably express themselves in English.
  • For Makuya Empowered Voices Resource Center to instill a level of confidence associated with self-expression in English and community action that has a positive effect on community life generally, and the classrooms of HaMakuya Primary schools and the Secondary school.erin post 3 pic22

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Erin Wilkus

Erin Lynn Wilkus is a recent graduate of Reed College who has spent the past three years conducting research in rural areas of South Africa. As an undergraduate she studied biology and therefore her initial research focused on ecological issues. As Erin’s exposure to South African cultures and rural communities expanded, her research questions increasingly focused on merging social and ecological questions to promote conservation issues and sustainable development. In 2009, she spent three months in HaMakuya, a rural village at the border of Zimbabwe, researching how human settlement and use affects populations of South Africa’s charismatic baobab tree. During her spare time, Erin taught English and math at a local high school and tutored other individuals. Through that work she came face-to-face with the systemic education problems in the community. In 2010, Erin received a Davis Project for Peace award ( — a grant to fund creative grassroots projects that promote peace throughout the world. She used the award to develop a resource center called Makuya Empowered Voices Resource Center (MEVRC) in HaMakuya focused on communication and environmental action—qualities central to making long-term change in community-based development and conservation. Since English-speaking skills are essential for local residents to transcend the socioeconomic boundaries established during apartheid, a critical reason for establishing the center was training people to use computers and to study English with Rosetta Stone language-learning software. Erin never had a knack for languages, but she learned to speak Latin American Spanish in two months with the help of Rosetta Stone. She introduced Rosetta Stone at the resource center, in large part because of the positive experience she had using the program years before. Erin is currently initiating a volunteerism program based in HaMakuya that will begin in June 2011. The project will work in collaboration with Tshulu Trust (, a locally run, anti-poverty initiative. Through this program, volunteers from Ireland and the United States will work together with local residents to improve the standard of living in the region.
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