Owned by married couple Howard and Wendy, Giakonda is an IT support business based in Swansea, which provides a range of IT support, training and website design. However, there is something very different about this company.
A few years ago, after being commissioned to work on a website for Swansea University, Howard and Wendy came across the work that one of the university groups was doing to support school children in Zambia.
It came to their attention that many schools in Zambia had absolutely no power running to the school, completing depriving them of many basic school functions. Having reached a time when they described themselves as wanting to “give something back” they set about looking at what they could do.
In 2015, they went on their first trip to install solar panels having fundraised, applied for grants and put up some money themselves to fund the project. They described that on their first day, the head teacher apologised for only 100 children having arrived at school that day; the rest being too frightened to walk to school because a lion had wandered in from a nearby area. On another occasion, work was slowed down by a crocodile who had found his way into the school drains!
As they began installing solar panels in these very new circumstances, Wendy and Howard also supplied welsh-manufactured Raspberry Pi computers which access the internet and are powered through solar power.
Later, Giakonda began to introduce RACHEL (Rural Area Community Hotspot Education and Learning) – a vast offline teaching resource which provides lesson plans, videos and much more. This tool meant that schools could provide teachers with many more resources without the financial issue of always accessing the internet, as well as avoiding its distractions for students!
Of 26 schools without power that Giakonda aim to provide with solar panels and laptops, they have so far finished work with 7, and are heading back in September to continue to provide solar panels and training for the teachers.
The value of this work is difficult to explain to those of us who have had easy access to the internet for many years. One teacher said that whilst she had been teaching students about computers for years, many of them had never seen or touched one. Another head teacher described themselves as only now feeling like a proper head teacher, because they had the power to turn on the lights and to use resources such as RACHEL. Having solar powered lights means that children no longer have to take exams by torchlight.
Since the project has taken off, Giakonda have established a charity, Giakonda Solar School. To find out more and support the project visit: www.giakonda.org.uk