Solar panels raised on the roof of a school in South Africa thanks to Project Zulu and UWE Bristol

Issue date: 06 March 2014

The last of the 53 solar panels that will light up a school in South Africa have now been put into place thanks to the efforts of Project Zulu and the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

In 2012 a group of students and a lecturer from UWE Bristol set up Project Zulu to fundraise and to enable an extraordinary choir from Sithobelumthetho School in South Africa to perform to audiences around the UK.

The choir came to the UK in 2013 to share their talent through inspirational performances with school children in the West. The children raised many a roof with their exuberant performances, but now they have also achieved their fundraising ambition to pay for 53 new solar panels that grace the roof of their school less than a year since the visit to the UK.

The electric performances that dazzled audiences have provided the fuel that lights up their school with the funds and the power generated through sunshine; from the power for solar panels to the sunshine that the children left in the hearts of the people who were lucky enough to see them perform.

UWE Bristol has had an ongoing relationship with the school through a series of placement programmes set up by Ben Knight, a senior lecturer in Education at UWE Bristol, who has taken groups of teaching students to Sithobelumthetho School on numerous occasions.

Ben Knight modestly speaks about the way he galvanised support from students, University bosses, local schools, venues and choirs and says that the success of the project have left him with an enormous sense of calm satisfaction and some very exciting plans for the future.

Ben says, “Like any big idea it takes the involvement of so many people to make a project of this kind happen. We had excellent support from the University, the local schools who took part, the Colston Hall and the families who hosted the choir during their stay in the UK. It is quite something to reflect on what the children and Project Zulu has achieved.

“If we had simply organised a fund raising event and sent the money to the school it would not have had anything like the same impact on so many lives. The enrichment to the lives of so many through the international language of music will live on in the hearts of all of the people who took part. When I returned to the school last summer after the tour had happened the children all spoke about their memories of the experience and what it had meant to them.

“The choir stayed with families in Bristol and some of these families are now paying school fees for the children they looked after. The choir visited schools and put on joint performances around the UK culminating in a sell-out concert at the Colston Hall where the contributions came flooding in.

Mr Gina, the Head teacher from Sithobelumthetho School, said, “On behalf of Sithobelumthetho Primary School learners, staff and parents, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all who made our school tour possible. It was a wonderful experience for learners in particular. They always talk about England, and their experiences in UK. Special thanks to Ben Knight for having been the engine of the entire tour - your team was wonderful. I'm short of suitable words to thank the host families - your work of looking after our young children for such a long time, was really fantastic. The children always talk about their experiences which include how happy they were with their hosts. I would also like to thank Jaco Botha, the Technical Director of Solareff Company, and his team for their professional work done in installing the panels and for their constant follow up to make sure that we are happy.”

Ben Knight concludes, “The next stage of the project is to broaden the support to six schools in the same region as Sithobelumthetho School. We have some wild ambitions including trying to get the children a performance spot before one of the Rugby World Cup games. We will shortly be advertising an internship role for a coordinator to help set up the next visit.

UWE Bristol Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve West said, “This is such wonderful news and the entire project clearly shows why we call UWE Bristol, the University for the Real World. This project has reached out across generations and continents through the international language of music and enabled the school children at Sithobelumthetho School to be proud that they have achieved their goal with a little help from their friends at UWE Bristol and beyond.”

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