Rosetta Stone: Up and Running

I can honestly say that by the time the Rosetta Stone software was loaded on the computers, I was exhausted. I was also unsure of how the language-learning project would be received, and was anxious when it was finally time to teach the program.

One night after returning from a long day of construction, I returned to Tshulu Camp where I was staying and where the computers were. The first computer was up and running with the program and I was anxious for someone to try it. It turned out that many people were also anxious to use it. That night, as on most nights, I had dinner with Thompson Malala, a local man who is the maintenance manager and lives at the camp during the workweek. While we ate together, we discussed the Rosetta Stone software and he eagerly volunteered to try it out. The next day when he started using the program, I remembered why I had worked so hard for the previous two and a half months. It’s hard to explain how fantastic it was to see Mr. Malala using the Rosetta Stone program. He had hardly used a computer before, but after a few moments of getting adjusted to the mouse and keyboard and setting himself up as a user, the rest was a joy. Once he started the first lesson, the program ran smoothly and was so self-explanatory that I didn’t need to clarify anything to him. He was simply enjoying himself.

The next day, a dozen more people from HaMakuya had a chance to try out the program. I was happy to find Mr. Malala and his son Meshack working on it together, supporting each other throughout the lessons and even getting a little competitive over their final scores. I was more pleased to find that I didn’t need to teach anyone anymore because Meshack Malala was teaching Sarah Matshayi Mmbengeni, and Nndwakhulu Mudzanani was teaching Mukondeleli Munyai. I believe this list will continue to grow.

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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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