LONDON — When you think of a classroom, you probably don’t imagine one in an eight-tonne freight container.
But that’s exactly what has just been shipped to Bulawayo from Britain, thanks to students at South Tyneside College.
The “classroom in a container” is headed to Bulawayo, packed full of books, computers, desks, instruments and other teaching necessities. Generous people and firms from across the region donated the items over the past nine months, which will be used to transform young students’ lives.
South Tyneside college governor Les Watson, 64, who came up with the idea, worked at the Youth Contact Centre School in Bulawayo, during the 1980s, but was shocked by its decline when he went back to visit last year.
Once thriving, the school used to have 700 students, but now only has around 40, so Les began to seek donations to help restore it, with Siemens donating the container.
Les, from West Boldon, said: “This marks the end of nine months hard work and commitment by the college. Staff, students and governors have contributed their time to raise funds and collect and collate donations.
“Importantly, the project would not have progressed without the generosity of local businesses and the many individuals who have contributed financially, and jazz musician Ken Hewitt, who has been a source of inspiration.
“While we may regard everything in the container as out of date or just unwanted, to the young people at the Youth Contact Centre it will be a different story.
“They will have text books to learn from as well novels to read at their leisure.
“They will be able to gain new skills in IT and music, which will greatly improve their employment prospects in a country where youth unemployment is very high.
“This has been a rewarding project that reflects the caring nature and generosity of communities in the North East, who are always willing to help those less fortunate.”
Des Young, Siemens’ asset services director, said the firm was supporting the initiative because they were dedicated to helping enrich and enhance teaching and learning.
He added: “I’m extremely proud that we are able to help significantly enhance the economic and social prospects of the young people in Bulawayo.”
When the container is unloaded, it will be converted into a recording studio to support the students’ music making.
Airline Emirates donated £250 worth of book vouchers, and other support has come from shipping services firms Solar Solve Marine and Advanced Inspection and Marine Services.
Lindsey Whiterod, chief executive of South Tyneside College, added: “Les has been tireless in his devotion to this project and I’m delighted that the college has been able to play its part.
“Staff and students have rallied to the cause, and it has been an honour to be part of something that will make such a real difference to the lives of so many young people.”
The ship is expected to arrive in Bulawayo in late August.