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Uncertain what to do after completing his Geo-Informatics degree at Stellenbosch University, year-long volunteer Charl van der Merwe made contact with Axium, describing his skills and enquiring if they could be useful. Given that we’ve been hoping to develop more practical ways of processing the large amounts of data collected for our programmes, we very gladly said “Yes, please!”

KH: Hey Charl. What led you to Axium?

C: I was looking for an adventure, and I found it!

[But rewinding to a moment before that because we need some backstory…]

C: So I studied at Stellenbosch University for four years. I did my undergrad and honours there in Geo-informatics, which is basically geography and computers. It’s all about getting a lot of geographical data in, processing and making sense of it, to get a useful output.

KH: Your background before Stellies?

C: I grew up in Stellies. Went to school there, started studying directly after school. Finished studying, came here.

KH: Your main project has been building dashboards for our data. How’s that going?

C: It’s a continual project. I’ll be doing it for the rest of the year, but the majority of the work is done. I have the templates so now I can just change it up as teams ask for stuff.

KH: Is that something that can continue to run after you go?

C: Yes. I’ve created a bit of documentation on it and the fact that it’s always linked to the database means it’s automatically updating itself.

KH: Cool, so that’s a big project you’ve jumped in on, but how have you found settling into Axium and Zithulele otherwise?

C: It’s been great. The people are cool, it’s always an adventure. Things don’t ever go as planned, but it’s been fun. Being on the tech team, all the tech responsibilities get handed to you even though you’ve never done it before (laughs). So it’s not just building dashboards, it’s fixing computers and building alarm systems and stuff. So it’s fun. A steep learning curve sometimes, but we’re the only people that can do it otherwise you have to get someone from outside.

KH: Figuring it all out.

C: Exactly, and combining the tech world with living in a rondawel is also cool.

KH: Yes you’re staying in a homestay now. Can you tell me how you got set up with that?

C: We started at the student house, but it’s a bit more expensive and not sustainable for the whole year so we started looking for a homestay. Ruan or Michelle found a place. We spoke to the family and they said we could move in. It’s me and Philip living there. It doesn’t have water and electricity, has one room and we’re staying on the family’s ground.

KH: A bit of an adjustment?

C: A bit, but it’s nice. We’re also staying close to some of the other Axium employees, just across. We have a bit of coffee in the morning together sometimes, look at the sunrise. That’s really nice.

KH: Are you also doing a whole bunch of DIY making furniture?

C: Ja, we recently installed out own hanging closet using rope and reeds. We’ve got a lot of plans.

[I’ve been told that Philip and Charl have gone for a more “minimalist chic” look than others and am planning a visit soon to see what this means]

KH: Trying to think if I have any last questions. Ooh, have you gotten super into eating amagwinya?

C: Yes.

KH: What do you think your weekly average is?

C: I’m trying to keep it at one a week, but my average is going up to about 2 and a half a week, I think. I’ll need to build a dashboard for that to check out my consumption!

KH: Please build me one as well! I think we need a staff amagwinya roster.

C: Name and shame (laughs).

With this noble intention set, I let Charl climb off his plastic chair and venture back into the technological realm, glad to know a bit more about a long-term volunteer who brings very particular and needed skills to our team.

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