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BT, Infinite Family open lab and minds in Johannesburg

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BT today announced the opening of Infinite Family’s mentoring laboratory in the Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg, allowing township teenagers to interact with role models who teach, discuss, challenge, and encourage.

Keith Matthews, general manager, BT Sub-Saharan Africa. (Image: File)

Infinite Family’s volunteer video mentors are located in 58 countries, including South Africa, and 39 US states. This containerised facility represents a major advance in video mentoring in the townships. 

The new facility uses technology provided by BT to give teenagers in Alexandra access to high performance video-conferencing solutions, enabling them to engage with their mentors around the world, share video and get help with homework remotely by using modern collaboration tools.

 The laboratory is the brainchild of Amy Stokes, founder of Infinite Family, a US-based organisation that connects communities ravaged by HIV/AIDS in South Africa with employees and individuals through Internet mentoring. The new facility is a prototype and is funded by BT.

Keith Matthews, general manager, BT Sub-Saharan Africa, said at the opening ceremony, “BT is once again proud to collaborate with Infinite Family and be involved in this project as it reaches the most vulnerable in our society.

The project enables youngsters to significantly improve their career prospects by acquiring much needed computer skills. It is a logical continuation of our local involvement and builds on the previous work BT has done in establishing the Nkosi’s Haven Village communications centre.”

“One of the keys to successful mentoring is to have a place that is conducive to a good experience—a place that works and that mentees want to go to. This new lab is that place,” says Amy Stokes, founder and executive director of Infinite Family.  “It will benefit mentees and mentors alike by making the whole experience better – more reliable, comfortable, and private. This wonderful new facility goes a long way toward improving the quality of the mentoring experience, the primary goal of which is to augment what is learned in school and at home to help kids improve their confidence and self-reliance as they prepare for their lives as young adults. I’d like to thank again BT for their support. The lab was designed on a pro-bono basis by Perkins + Will with assistance from atelier ten. The manufacturer is South Africa-based, Absolute Container. Internet Solutions provide the connectivity required for the video bandwidth.”

Some of the improved design elements that make this laboratory a special place include:

• Use of laptops instead of desktops for improved energy efficiency
• Battery-powered back up to ensure continuity
• Solar shading canopy to reduce the heat-gain from the sun 
• Ability to strategically place the container for optimum orientation
to the sun and prevailing breezes
• Features a wall of recycled water bottles, serving as a thermal mass
to provide passive cooling inside the lab
• Constructed using as many recycled materials as possible
• Windows strategically placed to provide natural ventilation and
• Will grow a “vine wall” for additional shading and cooling within
the laboratory
• R-5 insulation to mitigate the majority of extreme climate
• The laboratory will ultimately be adapted for solar panel energy

Keith Matthews added, “BT is pleased to sponsor this pioneering development and we are thrilled by the green elements of the lab’s design and operations. Being a responsible and sustainable business leader is one of BT’s strategic business priorities. This is at the core of our Better Future strategy. We will work for this laboratory concept to be replicated elsewhere in South Africa and make a difference to computer literacy in this country. Mentoring in our disadvantaged areas should become much more widespread. Last year across the globe, we invested nearly £32m in community activities, including supporting BT staff to volunteer time during the working month to contribute their expertise to worthy causes. This priority is also at the heart of BT’s activity in South Africa. BT staff will be keen to volunteer their time to assist Infinite Family and make this laboratory a resounding success.”

Staff Writer

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