An African teacher who recently visited Winthrop University bought $1,000 in classroom equipment for students, thanks to a Rock Hill donor who read about him in The Herald.
Gerald Kwake, who teaches science and math in the central African country of Cameroon, purchased two whiteboards, a laptop, a microscope and other items with the donation from Judy Coffey McIntosh of Rock Hill.
“My students feel very privileged to have an American offer teaching aids to them,” Kwake told The Herald from Cameroon.
Kwake, 30, posted pictures on his Facebook page of students using two portable whiteboards, a microscope and other equipment he bought with the donation. He also bought a laptop, speakers and an energy store, he said.
“My students now get more engaged and involved in my lessons,” said Kwake, who teaches chemistry, biology, physics and math to classes with as many as 140 students of different ages.
“They feel that because they have these gadgets, they have no reason to complain much, and they have an obligation to perform better than the classrooms without,” he said.
An item about the donation was also posted on the Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, where Kwake lives and teaches.
Earlier this year, Kwake spent six weeks at Winthrop, observing science classes at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill and attending workshops with a group of 20 teachers from around the globe.
Kwake was a teaching fellow through a U.S. State Department program, Teaching Excellence and Achievement, or TEA. Winthrop has received a grant to host the program for the last five years.
A March 9 article published in The Herald quoted Kwake talking about some of the challenges he faces teaching in a developing country.
Kwake, who said he earns a monthly salary of around $350, said he planned to spend about $189 of his money to buy a rechargeable projector and $30 for 10 miniature microscopes for his students.
McIntosh, who read The Herald article, wanted to help Kwake better serve his students. She contacted A.J. Angulo, a Winthrop professor of curriculum and pedagogy who wrote the grant for the teaching fellows’ cultural exchange program.
Angulo said he suggested McIntosh wire a cash donation to Kwake after he returned to Cameroon in March. He said most fellows don’t have much space to transport items home with them.
Angulo said he put McIntosh in touch with Kwake via email and the two worked out the details of the donation.
“It’s a moving story,” Angulo said. “And it’s one that we’ve seen all along in the last five years, just not in that way. We haven’t been able to capture all the things that have happened in the last five years.”
McIntosh said she wanted to make the donation in memory of her late husband and longtime Georgia and South Carolina educator, the late Wayne McIntosh, whose career included posts as an assistant principal and coach at Northwestern High and principal at Indian Land and York Comprehensive high schools.
The article “brought me to a perfect confluence of my getting a tax refund at the best time and a man in Africa’s sincere desire to motivate and educate his students,” she said.
“Although Gerald only makes about $350 a month, he was trying to squeeze out enough money for a microscope. I was moved and felt called upon to respond.”
McIntosh’s donation was not the only help Kwake received.
Students in Kelly Chavis’ Northwestern High School biology classes, where Kwake was an observer, collected $200 in donations to buy him a mini projector with a battery pack. Chavis said they ordered the projector for Kwake from Amazon after learning he planned to buy it himself.
“Some (students) gave what they had in their pockets, and some gave as much as $20,” Chavis wrote in an email to The Herald. “I was beyond amazed and humbled by the willingness of the kids to help make a difference in another part of the world.”
Angulo said people in the Rock Hill area have donated clothing and textbooks to other participants in the teaching fellows program in past years, though the donations have not been as large as the one given Kwake.
“Rock Hill citizens are very generous and compassionate, and they share quite a bit,” Angulo said. “It’s unfortunate that there is a limited amount the fellows can take back with them.”
Marshall Jones, a Winthrop professor who taught a technology workshop to Kwake and other fellows during their visit, noted that Kwake has “the first whiteboard in his school in Camaroon. Just a whiteboard that you write on with a dry eraser.”
“One of the things about a donation like that is the multiplier effect,” Jones said. “Gerald will use that in his classroom, but he’ll let other teachers use it as well.”
Jones said mobile wireless coverage in Africa is “pretty good in urban areas” and that Kwake had a cellphone. But he said Kwake’s class did not have access to a computer before the donation enabled him to buy a laptop.
Jones and Angulo both said Kwake is a high-energy person who became a leader of the international group during his visit to Winthrop from January to mid-March.
Angulo described him as dynamic. “There was a special quality about Gerald that struck me as being somebody the public needed to know,” he said.
Kwake said he has stayed in contact with McIntosh, and sent her pictures and videos of his students using the equipment her donation enabled him to get.
Kwake also said he believes the teaching equipment he now has is a source of greater motivation for his work in the classroom.
“I plan my lessons better and make my class more practical,” he said. “I have more contact with my students now, less time on the board. I now teach with videos, making it easier for me to explain complex ideas.”
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077