Simple innovation helps Africa's schoolkids learn

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Many children grumble about having to go to school, but 95 million children in Africa truly have something to complain about: They don’t have desks in their classrooms.

Millions don't even have chairs, leaving them to sit on the floor or outside, trying to write on paper or notebooks balanced on their legs or on the ground. It makes studying uncomfortable at best, and painful at worst.

"Sometimes you see them going outside to do an experiment," said Constance Moru, a senior teacher in South Africa. "They need to observe something and write, and they need to write on their legs."

In an example of where the private sector is stepping up to fill a gap where government can’t or won’t provide, South African public relations executive Madelain Roscher has started producing book bags with hard flaps that double as portable writing tables. The student sits on the floor, places the bag down in front of him or her, and opens it up, with the flap then sitting across the legs or flaps to become a writing surface. Roscher is getting corporations she works with like mining company Anglo-American to finance the bags, which cost $10 each to manufacture.

“We decided instead of just publicizing what everyone else is doing, we needed to come up with our own initiative to actually address the struggles children in South Africa face with regards to education,” Roscher told Fox News.

Her DeskBags are made of recycled vinyl from advertising billboards. The material is not biodegradable, so the project puts the discarded boards to good use, finding a home for something that would otherwise be tough to get rid of. This also creates jobs for the seamstresses who stitch them up.

Each bag is different, in terms of color and decoration.

“Very often it’s the only ‘new’ item that a child would receive in these rural areas," Roscher said. "If they do have school shoes, they are hand-me-down school shoes. If they do have school clothes, they don’t completely match or they’re a little big because it’s a hand-me-down item.”

Many of the DeskBag recipients live in shanties without tables or desks as well, so the bags are useful in the evenings for homework. They are a step toward tackling some of the hurdles that exist in South Africa, where 78 percent of state schools lack computers or libraries.

In a quarter of those schools, there isn’t even running water.

Roscher is keen to see the problems facing education tackled.

“I really believe that education is the vaccine to poverty in South Africa. Lots of people complain about the crime situation in South Africa and I honestly believe that only through education will we be able to sort that out.”

Currently, DeskBags is running a campaign to supplement the donations of corporate sponsors, with an eye toward making 2,000 of the bags per month. If you buy a bag, they will donate one to a child in South Africa. It costs about $26.

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