“The quality of education determines the quality of life,” is the Muessle mantra. “Developing nations are starved for leaders. Without quality post—primary education, there can be no true 21st century leaders.”
An improbable dream to introduce and spread computer literacy in Tanzania is near reality, 16 years later, because of the unwavering vision and efforts of a one—person Sarasota—based NGO, financed privately and with donations from friends and organizations and more recently funding by Rotary.
Stan Muessle, currently a member of the Rotary Club of Sarasota Sunrise, launched the initiative in 1997 with the Global Outreach NGO and set “new paradigms of education” in the East African nation by demonstrating to authorities how to revolutionize an archaic education system of shared and dog—eared textbooks and enter the computer age.
Muessle, 72, a retired marketing and product development executive who lives in University Park, has been making at least one or two long, tiring trips by air and bus to and from Iringa in Tanzania every year and spending several weeks there pushing the computer literacy project.
But he has now decided it’s time to make an extended stay starting end November of one year in Iringa, a town of about 125,000 people, so he can set in stone a framework to consolidate the support of community leaders and make Global Outreach and its partnership with Rotary a self—sustaining entity.
Muessle agonized about such a major commitment, but it became easier when his wife Betty, a former English teacher with a Masters in Social Work, decided to go with him to help out.
While Stan is overseeing the work of Global Outreach, which already has a local staff structure, Betty will be supporting its programs by teaching computer literacy in two of the secondary schools and facilitating service learning projects with Iringa-based universities. She also will be involved in programs to reinforce English language education in some Iringa primary schools.
In Iringa, roughly 500 teachers and 5,000 students have already benefited from computer literacy classes now being taught in 11 schools in the region. Hundreds now use the internet for research, and the number will grow with the help of Southwest Florida Rotary clubs which are raising funds to buy a bus to transport students from remote schools in to the digital libraries.
Equally important, the Tanzanian government has also bought into the computer literacy efforts. As part of a “Tanzania Beyond Tomorrow” program, the Ministry of Education is aiming to train teachers in technology use, with the Lugalo school in Iringa as the spearhead. The Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology has an initial target of two schools in every region and the British Council is helping with pilot Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Also helpful was a favorable article lauding the programs in Tanzania’s leading Guardian newspaper.
Muessle joined Rotary in 2008 and quickly welded links between three Rotary clubs — Sarasota Sunrise, where he’s a member, Bradenton and Iringa – and garnered strong support from Rotary International. Tanzania.
How did Muessle, who grew up in Portland, Oregon, and worked for IBM in the United States and abroad for 30 years, become so deeply involved in Tanzania?
Back up to 1997. Muessle went to Tanzania on holiday and to help his daughter, Mary, who was overseeing volunteers from North America in community improvement projects in and around Iringa. She had the first computer the locals of nearby Pommern village had seen and gave computer classes three hours a day while a generator provided electricity to her home.
Technology was virtually non-existent in education. There were few textbooks, and these were mostly outdated and well-worn, few or no libraries, and a lack of electricity in most schools.
Muessle got a few laptops from Mobil Oil, a client of the consulting business he formed after retiring from IBM. The laptops had to be charged while the generator was running on diesel and initially could only be run for an hour or two each day for teachers to use.
Next, he installed solar power and more teachers were trained. The school computer lab was a success and became a model for expanding computer literacy in the Iringa region, where there are more than 200 secondary schools with more than 100 tribes speaking different dialects. Primary school teaching is in Swahili, with all secondary school classes taught in English.
Muessle developed up—to—date education aids from 2004 with Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School in Bradenton — teachers and students burned CDs with teaching instructions and computerized text books, all of which could be easily updated.
The relationship evolved into a weekly 45 minutes to an hour Web cam exchange of ideas on academic and cultural issues with Lugalo secondary school. Saint Stephen’s teachers and students have spent up to two months of vacation time helping develop teacher and student knowledge in the Iringa region. The weekly videoconferences continue to be a highlight of Saint Stephen’s Global Initiative program.
The next year, coincident with Muessle joining Sarasota Sunrise, the ISSIL, the Iringa Secondary School Internet Library, was set up with the purpose of giving teachers and students access to the Internet so they can download educational material.
Muessle had the support of Iringa Rotary club and permission to use Iringa’s Kichangani Student Centre, a facility run by the local Catholic diocese, as a site for the ISSIL.
Tanzania An initial load of 20 computers jump started the ISSIL. The computers were linked by broadband over the phone system, which is unpredictable, and the linkup was slow and expensive. Teachers and students had to be trained in how to access learning materials on the Internet.
In 2009, teachers at Saint Stephen’s, Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota and the University of South Florida developed a curriculum for Iringa teachers and went there during their summer vacation to teach classes. Videotapes were made of the classes so Iringa teachers had reference material to look at when necessary.
In 2007, Muessle made an impressive presentation to Sarasota Sunrise as a guest speaker on the Tanzanian computer literacy drive and the club decided to help the project.
As area schools increasingly utilized teaching aids from computerized material and from the Internet, the Bradenton Rotary Club sponsored a new idea to supplement the ISSIL.
This was the ISSDL (Internet Secondary School Digital Library) to promote student self-study. Drawing on the exploding wealth of digital learning material worldwide, it opened in 2011, also has 20 computers, and is in a separate building on the Kichangani campus. The digital library held a grand reopening in late 2012 renaming itself “Windows to Knowledge.”
Two years ago Muessle began recruiting U.S. college students as summer interns. Eckerd College sponsored a winter term program that began helping to train teachers and students in Iringa. Global Outreach now works with international intern organizations to give opportunities to students looking for adventure and fulfillment. Last summer the Muessles’ adopted Tanzanian grandson, Crispin, was a member of the team.
In mid—2010, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete announced “Tanzania Beyond Tomorrow,” a plan forged between Education Minister Jumanne Maghembe, international NGOs and several major U.S. technology companies to use computer and communications technology to change the face of Tanzanian secondary school education.
Rotary International has given $70,000 — soon to grow to $130,000 – to date in matching grants. Other major donors include The Bank of Tanzania, the country’s central bank, the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam and the International Foundation, which supports NGO projects in Africa and elsewhere that promote development in agriculture, education, health and the environment.
What are the greatest challenges facing the Muessles in their year abroad? Both focused on what they are leaving behind as opposed to adjustments to life in Tanzania. Stan’s absence presents Global Outreach with a hurdle in fundraising and management activities in the U.S., and he is busy recruiting volunteers to help with the NGO’s technical and clerical demands.
Betty also leaves blanks to be filled, from the presidency of the James Joyce Society to Social Services volunteerism through St. Martha’s church and the Literacy Council at SCTI. She is also leaving a void in several golf groups and bridge clubs around University Park and the Meadows.
Anyone interested in learning about or donating to Global Outreach can visit its website at www.globaloutreachtanzania.org/