“No one can take away your talent or your education. These are key to your future.” These words were spoken by Winnie Nywebeni from Zwelihle at her graduation from a free, community-driven, mobile-based digital literacy course.

Winnie Nywebeni speaking to fellow SHARP digital graduates last week at the Zwelihle Community Hall.

“SHARP Digital provides a great opportunity for young people to learn new skills and get ahead. Don’t destroy your lives,” motivated Winnie, the eldest of a group of more than 40 students to receive their digital literacy certificates. They are among the 250 adults and children trained by SHARP in digital literacy since January this year. The average age of those attending the courses so far is 20, with some as young as 13 and up to 70. Of the adults, most are unemployed and 70% are women.

SHARP Digital is the initiative of Cath Croxton of Stanford and Olwethu Petros of Zwelihle in Hermanus. In January, they jointly established the not-for-profit organisation (NPO). Its aim is to provide starter digital literacy skills to first generation and first time users of the internet and digital technology to ensure these users can enter and begin to participate in South Africa’s increasingly digitally connected 21st century economy.

And the statistics show how limited our digital skills actually are. “At least 80% of South Africans are either not connected to the internet or struggling to use it,” says Cath. “There are a lot of people with smartphones, but we assume that they know much more than they do. In reality, most people who are connected use their smartphones for Facebook and WhatsApp and are unaware that they can use them for the same things we use computers for.

SHARP Digital graduate Nontlantla Golotile, 31, mother of seven-month-old Mandilakhe.

“Because our courses work on a mobile device,” says Cath, “learners can learn on the device they have in their own homes. Or they can come to one of our workshops or centres and learn on our tablets. This is a really flexible and authentic way for students to learn about how to use digital – it also means they are learning by doing.” And with only 22% of households having a computer at home, it makes sense for students to learn on a mobile device rather than a computer.

SHARP, an acronym for Sharing, Hunting, Access, Roles/Responsibilities and Protect, has Diginkokhelis (Inkokheli means leader in IsiXhosa) from the community who are there to support learners, facilitate workshops, and build awareness among the people who could benefit from what SHARP offers. Wonga Makalima is based in Zwelihle and has been with SHARP since the beginning. Ally Msweli is based in Gansbaai and joined the team in July. And in Stanford, people wanting to do the courses can go to Chaldine Moses.

To date, SHARP offers one course called ‘Your Digital Life’ and by the end of the course learners can search the internet for content, protect their devices and their personal content using passwords, and use data more efficiently. They have an email address and know how to use it. They can create digital documents, spreadsheets and presentations and all on their phones. They have also been introduced to the critical evaluation skills needed to be wise digital users.

Next year, the NPO plans to offer new entry-point courses, with themes ranging from ‘Using digital for your business’ and ‘Online banking’, to ‘Is it real?’ (discerning fake from genuine news) and ‘How to apply for a job online’. However, before they start creating these new courses, they will run more focus groups in the community to find out perceptions of need. Nothing is ever done without buy-in from those who need it the most.

Fellow graduate Nontlantla Golotile, 31, mother of seven-month-old Mandilakhe who attended all the classes with his mom, says she is looking forward to starting her own business one day but for now she feels confident to apply for a job in a supermarket. “I finished Grade 10 only and one day, maybe, I’ll go back and finish Grade 12, but first I want to see my baby grow before I think of going back to school myself,” Nontlantla says.

Recently, SHARP Digital has been celebrating. In October, they held a graduation party with learners who had graduated from the course this year. And last week, they were proud to present their story to the Overstrand Municipality’s Connectivity Summit. Cath says: “There were two main messages to come out of the summit. One was the need to provide internet access to the more disadvantaged communities to build economic transformation. The other was the need for skills to enable them to utilise it.”

SHARP Digital is a community-based organisation and has many people in the community to thank for their support, including William Ntebe and Fikiswe Gxamesi of the Zwelihle Youth Café, from where the Hermanus operation first began operating; Olwethu Petros from Petros Media for supporting the idea and helping to drive it in his community; Luvo Bomwani from the Local Economic Development team at the Overstrand Municipality for recognising the potential of the project and making it easier for his team’s clients to use the service; the OK Foods supermarket at Gateway which donated the drinks and snacks for the graduation party; the dance group, The Mighty Eagles, from Gansbaai; the Zwelihle Young Brothers, an a capella quintet who sang at the graduation party and also the Connectivity Summit; and the Hermanus Rainbow Trust for incorporating the course into their Parenting Worx programme.

SHARP Digital is opening real digital doors to some of our communities’ most disadvantaged people and it cannot do this alone. As a non-profit organisation with public benefit organisation status it can issue donation tax certificates to people who would like to support what it does. However, it is also looking for partnerships and collaboration to open more digital doors for more people.

For more information or to make a donation, contact Cath on 078 254 5693 or cath@sharpdigital.co.za or visit www.sharpdigital.co.za.

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