Project Phoenix aims to get Libya's kids into classrooms

Under-privileged children Libya could soon benefit from mobile classrooms if a humanitarian project gets support. Ruth Lawson talks to the unlikely duo behind Project Phoenix

Dr Gill Gillespie and US businessman Tommy Jordan
Dr Gill Gillespie and US businessman Tommy Jordan

Education is something that many young people take for granted.

Children the world over complain about having to get up early in the morning, wear a school uniform, do homework, or about their bossy teachers, but thousands of young people in Libya crave to get into the classroom.

Many parts of the country were ripped apart during conflicts of the last few years with school buildings ripped down and never replaced leaving a lost generation of children without access to the education they deserve.

And while progress is being made to get the country back on its feet, this could take years and in the meantime many children and teenagers are missing out on learning.

This sad fact has seen the pairing of Tommy Jordan - famed for his controversial You Tube video called ‘Facebook Parenting’ of him shooting his daughter’s laptop - and Northumbria University senior lecturer Dr Gill Gillespie , who is also director of international charity, Iranian Refugees Action Network.

Together the pair have launched Project Phoenix after coming up with the idea to develop mobile classrooms that can be deployed around Libya providing children, from early years up to teenage years, with educational resources.

But if it weren’t for a chance online meeting many months ago, the project may have never seen the light of day.

“It’s a complete coincidence how we met,” said Sociology lecturer Dr Gillespie. “One day I was delivering a class about the family and I came across this Facebook parenting video by Tommy Jordan but I’d never heard of him.

 

“We discussed it in class and everyone had different opinions on it. I used it as material then put it away and didn’t think anything about it.

“A few weeks later I needed a bit of work done on my charity and for some reason Tommy popped into my mind. So I got in touch with him online and asked if there was any chance of any help with an IT issue with my charity and he did it straight away and did it free of charge.

“My charity website has some Arabic names on there and I was surprised he could say them and we started talking about Libya and how he had been there before and he said he would love to go back.”

And this is where it all began for Project Phoenix but little did the pair realise then how this conversation would evolve into the massive project it is today and all in a matter of months.

Their initial idea was to help rebuild schools in Libya but that could prove to be a long drawn out process having to go through the Government and so they took inspiration from facilities like mobile libraries that are popular in the UK and ran with that idea.

Dr Gillespie said: “We were milling the idea of how we could help educate children in Libya over for a few months over Skype when the idea of a mobile classroom came up. What could be a better way of getting education without having to start from the bottom and rebuilding schools which would involve going through the Government and would take a long time.

A computer image of the mobile classroom
 

“You have mobile libraries so why not have a look at that concept for schools?

“Thankfully Tommy has a lot of contacts in the US who are designers and they got together and decided to give their time for free to design it.”

Since the first seeds were sown in February, scores of people across the world have given their time and expertise for free to help turn the idea of creating mobile classrooms and into a reality.

As well as designers, a whole host of other professionals from engineers to administrators have lent a hand to help Project Phoenix get off the ground in such a short space of time.

Tommy, who is CEO of IT firm Twistednetworx.com, said: “In my industry the reason my company does so well is because we are fast-paced. There’s no need to spend a year talking about something when you can just do it.”

And the North Carolina father, whose famed parenting YouTube video has been viewed by more than 38 million people, is keen on utilising the fans he has amassed through that for the greater good.

“I have 48,000 followers on YouTube and 50,000 on Facebook so we may have a capacity to effect change ,” he said.

In 2006 Tommy spent a lot of time in Libya working on IT infrastructure for the government and he admits to instantly falling in love with the place and the people. So when they idea of doing something to help and educate the children of the country arose it was something he was ready and willing to grab with both hands.

He explained: “I would love to take this to somewhere like Afghanistan but I haven’t been there. With Libya I know what it’s like, I saw how incredible and awesome these people are.”

A computer image of how the inside of the mobile classroom will look
 

All that is needed now is the support of donors to give generously so the first school can be build and taken to Libya where children will be able to start their education again.

Dr Gillespie added: “If 200,000 people all gave just £1 that would be enough to get two or three schools on the ground permanently.

“The idea is to get the first one on the ground as soon as we get enough money. Once we have that it will be ready to go within three weeks and after the first the costs should start to fall as you begin to buy in bulk.”

Currently all the designs are fully developed with companies poised ready to build the classrooms once enough money is banked to cover the cost of the first one.

The schools are powered by both diesel and solar generators to provide a fully outfitted, connected and air conditioned school room for 15 children that can even be dropped by helicopter into remote areas.

“These plans have to be seen to be believed,” said Tommy, who is currently visiting Newcastle so he and Dr Gillespie can continue their work in the same time zone. “The schools are ready to be built and deployed.”

Around $100,000 in donations is needed to complete the first school and place it in Libya.

Scores of people have already donated generously but much more is needed before the first unit can be built.

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