/ 25 April 2005

A safe place to get wacky

So you dream about taking a little bit of dis and a little bit of dat and recording your groove on your very own CD?

Well, you may as well dream of flying to the moon because you have to be rich or plain lucky to have that kind of technology available to you – right?

Actually, all you’ve got to be is aged between 10 and 18 and living in Johannesburg. And it doesn’t cost a penny to join up with South Africa’s first-ever Intel Computer Clubhouse officially launched in Newtown last month.

The Clubhouse, which operates outside school hours (truancy is not encouraged), is an airy space complete with an expansive green ‘thinking” table where youngsters can put their heads together to come up with new ideas. But what really distinguishes the space as remarkable is the wealth of cutting-edge technology. Fourteen Pentium 4s loaded with 30 of the latest software titles, two Intel workstations, film and photo technology are just some of the tools available for kids to try their hands at art, animation, filming, photography and developing their own websites.

The visual possibilities using this multi-media software, where images can be superimposed and colours manipulated and distorted, seem limitless. Judging by the youngsters’ creations already stuck up on the wall, with fish eyes and rainbows spinning in swoops of colour, the famous surrealist painter Salvidor Dali would have been out of a job.

Although it has only been operating for three months, it already has a membership of about 100 children, most from homeless shelters.

And there are already signs that the

Clubhouse is meeting its aim of providing a haven of creative opportunities to keep youngsters interested and not wasting themselves on the streets. One success story is that of Mandla Njokwane, a 20-year-old streetkid. Clubhouse manager Mildred Sono says they discovered Njokwane’s age when they were officially registering the children. ‘By then he was good with the software. We decided it was better to train him as a mentor than to chase him away. He was just a kid trying to realise his dream.” Njokwane is now one of the mentors and has worked in collaboration with other

children to produce a movie about life on the streets of Johannesburg.

The Clubhouse is a joint initiative between the Youth Development Trust and Intel. It is one of the latest of 53 such Clubhouses already functioning in 10 countries and is a partnership between Intel, the Museum of Science in Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory.

It is based on a ‘successful and replicable model that uses technology to enable under-served youth to acquire the skills and confidence necessary to live successful lives”, says Intel’s Steve Nossel.