Meet Frerieke van Bree. She's the founder of Students for Humanity, an initiative which aims to empower the youth in Khayelitsha by giving them a voice online. Hailing from the Netherlands, Frerieke first saw the need for online skills in South Africa's poorer areas when she was teaching youth art and leadership.

Students for Humanity is giving a voice to a segment of the South African population that is seldom heard clearly, but which has a lot to share. The blog posts, all written by students using the computer labs at Centre of Science and Technology (part of False Bay College), tackle a range of topics: a comparison between Zuma and Obama; violence against homosexual people in Nyanga; youth using colonialism as a scapegoat – to name but a few.

Frerieke aims to extend the project to include networks of students and teachers from around the globe. She's already helped out by Eline Elias (a 19 year old Dutch student) and André Vermeulen (a South African software developer living in the UK) – both of whom found Frerieke online.

Click here to find out how you can help...

We spoke to Frerieke and got the low down on Students for Humanity...

What was the inspiration for this project? How did it come about?

Through teaching underprivileged students in Khayelitsha, I saw the need for students to know that they matter and raise their voices in order to make a real change for themselves and in their communities.

My family and friends back home in The Netherlands often have no clue what challenges South Africa is facing. I believe that true transformation in the world requires respect, understanding and cooperation. This, we can only reach when we listen to each other, relate and connect. By being here in South Africa (2.5 years now), I experienced that my true passions in life are:

  • creating a space where the unheard voices can be heard
  • connecting different worlds

    I love technology (I received my Msc in Architecture at the Technical University of Delft, The Netherlands) and I strongly believe that technology can facilitate a space where real people can make the connections to make a real change in their life and the lives of others.

    Creating a website with underprivileged students was my main intent when we (my mum, some friends and me) registered the Dutch organization in 2007. The form, the shape, the software have all changed; the concept of the website stayed: create a global awareness for projects/challenges that South African young voices identify and profile online.

    How does the teaching take place?

    The teaching up until this point has taken place via group lessons at the school, using a projector and screen. André has published a great educational video about the web online, which we unfortunately haven't been able to watch (due to the bad connection). I think that a guide (whether that is online or a printout) can be of help during the learning process.

    I do experience that the students need a lot of one-on-one attention and that they need to gain practical experience of working with the computer and being online. For most of you reading this, using a computer is almost like a basic need to your daily existence. We take our knowledge for granted. None of those students have a computer or internet at home, few have a mobile phone.

    Do you think that the learning in this project is a two way process? Are the Khayelitsha students teaching you at the same time you teach them?

    I am not lying when I say this: the most I have learned in the past 2.5 years has been through being with those students in Khayelitsha! Their commitment, hopes and stories inspire me to take on my own life.

    The first part of the project consists of providing the students with leadership skills (how would you be able to go out into your community, source stories and do interviews if you lack a basic self-confidence?). We meet weekly. The students grow weekly. A beautiful thing to see. They open up to me and each other and the students realize that it is in their power to make a difference in their community.

    Read this comment that Mkuseli left on his blog post:
    "Thank you to everyone who made the comments for me I really needed those words, those encouragements words are helping me to wakeup everyday."

    If only the website could have this influence on each person that gets to see it, I will be a happy person and I am sure there is a learning/appreciation you get out of it (whether you are in The Netherlands, USA, UK or Africa...)

    How can projects like this help with community upliftment?

    Like Ghandi said: be the change you want to see in the world. Students get to realize they can make a change. They see that reaching out to their global community provides them with personal skills, important connections and more inspiration to take on their own community. They are really inspired to write about challenges that their communities are facing and believe that many things they have got to say, even their own government doesn't know about. Raising awareness will increase a local and global focus and lead to concrete action in the communities.

    To give you a great example: one of the students, Mfundo has started his own organization called 'Each one must teach one' a great concept, where youngsters teach skills to children in their communities. He was very shy when he started writing the story and didn't really acknowledge the great thing he is doing for his community. People from The Netherlands and the USA have connected via the comment section with Mfundo, their responses have made his passion and confidence grown. Who knows what good things can come when Mfundo starts writing about the specific needs?

    I do not believe that an aid-model based on donations will cause the biggest difference in the world, but I do know that in order to receive donations, the best you can have is a personal connection.

    What are your plans for the future of the website?

    We'll soon start a podcast (2 award winning South African podcasters will come and give podcast workshops). We'll connect buddypress to our Wordpress MU (which allows the students to create their profiles and communicate). We'll organize mobile phones (simple, but with camera/video) for each student, to source stories, start a twitter stream. We will make the website multilingual.

    Besides that we'll open up the website to different privileged and underprivileged 'teams' of students from all over the world. We'll start challenges between the global 'teams' to create global cooperation.

    We'll raise funds/partner with other organizations to supply underprivileged communities with the skills, connectivity and materials to participate in the project.

    We'll use mobile phones in rural African places to source and upload stories. We'll use mobile banking to receive donations. We'll train trainers and students to create sustainable solutions and local initiatives.

    How can the public get involved?

  • Visit the site and leave a comment
  • Spread awareness (send out an email/facebook message to all your friends)
  • Donate – time (come and teach)
    – skills (developer, designer, user interface, marketing, business)
    – resources (money, mobile phones, internet, other...)
  • Share contacts (potential participants in other African countries? other countries?)
  • Let us know your ideas!