Students in at the Zwelemfundo Public School in East London, South Africa are learning in new and improved classroom facilities now thanks to a collaboration between the United States and South Africa.
With funding from the U.S. Africa Command, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District worked with the U.S. Embassy in South Africa and local partners to design and build the new facility – which includes several new classrooms, replacing existing buildings primarily made of sheet metal. The facility will go a long way toward reducing overcrowding, with classrooms previously overflowing with nearly 100 students in a single class.
“Zwelemfundo is a public school and it’s not rural, but rather close to the city center, but is in a quite impoverished community,” said Project Manager Mark Dold with the Office of Defense Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in South Africa. “The space they had was inadequate for a proper learning environment and that’s why we chose this school in collaboration with the host nation Department of Basic Education.”
The building also includes improved building infrastructure like restrooms and the team also upgraded and repaired existing security fencing to help students and staff be able to better focus on teaching and learning at the facility.
“It’s an amazing experience being able to deliver Humanitarian Assistance projects like the classrooms in Zwelemfundo,” said Project Engineer Angela Tugaoen with Europe District’s Special Projects Office. “The projects are not really fancy, but they make such a huge impact and the children and teachers are so appreciative. It makes you really proud.”
The work is just the most recent example of the ongoing collaboration between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Embassy and local South African partners on Humanitarian Assistance projects funded by AFRICOM.
Beyond schools, the U.S. government is supporting South African efforts to improve access to healthcare – particularly in rural areas. As part of that, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is managing renovations to Montebello Hospital in the KwaZulu-Natal region. The work is augmenting South African efforts to build expand medical facilities there geared toward facilitating treatment of tuberculosis, or TB, and particularly patients with drug-resistant TB. The overall intent is to reduce the spread of TB and drug-resistant TB in general and to mitigate its impact to the community.
In addition to the recently finished Zwelemfundo Public School and the ongoing work at the Montebello Hospital, the Europe District team and the embassy are in the planning stage of a handful of additional school and clinic projects in South African communities.
For schools, this includes similar classroom improvements to address overcrowding and overall learning environment with two potential future locations in the planning stages.
For healthcare facilities, two clinics have been identified for similar improvement projects – another in the KwaZulu-Natal region and one in the Eastern Cape region. Like the Montebello project, the projects center around expanding on existing medical facilities, providing new space for waiting rooms, labs and consultations to ultimately expand the capacity and functionality of existing facilities. These medical projects are in addition to the Mgwali Clinic improvements project successfully delivered in the Eastern Cape in 2019.
Dold described the partnership involved in delivering these projects, explaining that once the ODC works with the host nation to identify candidate projects, AFRICOM then coordinates for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct initial site visits to scope the feasibility or projects and prepare cost estimates. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also supports the contract management and project management aspects of the HA projects.
“The Corps is instrumental in assisting us with these projects,” Dold said. “Having the Corps’ assistance, especially the technical assistance has really been great to move these projects forward.”