North Delta resident Bonnie Sutherland has been honoured by the University of British Columbia for her work in educating students, both at home and abroad.
Earlier this month, Sutherland was named the recipient of the 2017 UBC Alumni Teacher Award, which recognizes “outstanding achievement by alumni who are making exceptional impacts in the lives of their students and learning communities.”
Sutherland graduated from UBC in 1969 and taught in Delta for 15 years before retiring in 2003, including stints at Ladner and McCloskey elementaries and Seaquam Secondary. She was one of the latter school’s original staff when it opened in 1997, and introduced the district’s advanced placement program.
But her contributions to education aren’t limited to Delta. In 1992, she and her late-husband Donald started the Afretech Aid Society, a non-profit that aims to “provide educational resources, computers and even build schools where there is a great need.”
The organization also works with Rotary World Help Network (Sutherland is president of the North Delta Rotary) to equip hospitals with much needed specialty items such as ultrasound machines and surgical instruments to improve care for children.
“Bonnie Sutherland’s tireless efforts to increase literacy, and therefore reduce poverty, have had an extensive positive impact around the world, from British Columbia to Africa,” said UBC Faculty of Education Dean Blye Frank.
Each year, Afretech sends about 30,000 books to Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, something Sutherland says couldn’t have happened without the support she got from the Delta School District.
“Afretech would not have been able to do what it has done over the years…were it not for the many years Delta School Board supported us,” Sutherland said. “We had the use of a room, first of all, in various schools, and then in a portable at Delta Manor until June, 2015. That allowed us to process many, many books for shipment: elementary, secondary and university resources.”
The district’s support has also been instrumental in helping Sutherland with Write to Read, a program that delivers books, libraries, computers, tablets and high speed internet connections to remote First Nation communities in B.C.
To help students in remote locations gain access to knowledge available to the rest of us via the Internet, Afretech has developed ARES (African Ruggedized Education Solution), a rugged computer server with pre-downloaded open-source databases, built to withstand heat, dust, power surges and even its users.
“In Africa, and a lot of places, an expert in computers is someone who knows where the button is to turn the power on,” Sutherland said. “We’ve gone back into situations where three or four computers have been destroyed. People have tried to jam things into the USB ports and so on.”
There are two types of ARES servers: the library server, which connects to 40 devices, and the classroom server, which can connect with 20. The library server costs $500 to install and the classroom server costs $200.
ARES contains everything from Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg (a database of thousands of copyright-free books) to Hesperian (a personal health guide) and Khan Academy (a series of videos teaching elementary and high school lessons).
“Bonnie’s leadership throughout her career in public education, coupled with her tremendous community service with Rotary and the Afretech Aid Society, exemplify the spirit of the UBC Alumni Teacher Award,” Frank said. “We are extremely proud of Bonnie’s work.”
For all the good work she has done, both at home and abroad, Sutherland is reluctant to take all the credit.
“What can I say but I am very very honoured,” she said. “But, you know, when you receive recognition for things like this, you realize you must acknowledge that nothing happens in a vacuum. I have wonderful volunteers and we are on this journey together.”