Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Small Success with Big Implications

Today, a student from Mmaweshi Primary School really impressed us. Throughout the newspaper project, we have mostly been working on understanding how to write articles based on personal thoughts and opinions. We haven’t been able to add much about outside research or opinions. Luke, a 7th grader, was working with three other learners on an article about the lack of a health clinic near by. All of the learners were contributing their thoughts into the article. After letting them work for a while, we looked over and realized that they had added quotes into the article from a local community member! Not a single one of us had asked a learner to do this or even suggested it at this point. Luke told us that he had interviewed the community member the day before, meaning the he had thought out his topic the day before and taken the initiative to think up questions to ask for his article. We were all amazed. Not only was this great for the newspaper but also showed us that the newspaper project is actually helping them critically think and be creative.

We talked with Luke about telling his classmates about what he did and now we can only hope that they will want to take the same initiative as he did!

Newspaper Successes: An Update

This week we have employed a local from Sagweshi village to help with the project. Ronnie studied journalism at university and is now unemployed, much like most of the area. His English is perfect and he works really well with the kids. He has been with us at Driehoek and Mmaweshi and will be with us at Katane later this week.

Mmaweshi, which has been most promising with the newspaper, really took advantage of what Ronnie had to offer. Slowly, the learners’ articles are developing proper headlines and conclusions. Using our explanations for the newspaper as a base, Ronnie has been able to help the kids understand their purpose for writing better. He has really been an invaluable part of the newspaper

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Getting Electricity... Cutting Costs… Selling Generators… Sustaining the Project… Yay!

When we walked into Mmaweshi Primary School this morning, I didn’t even notice the fact that there were power strips plugged into the wall with XOs charging through them. I got caught up in working on the newspaper right away… I sometimes have tunnel vision. Then, I heard Gordon say my name. I turned around and saw him turn the switch of a power strip on, making it turn red to show that it was receiving power. He had a really goofy/excited smile on his face, which made me look at him like he was a little crazy, until I realized….


The government has been promising electricity to Mmaweshi for well over a year now, but the electricity never came. We have been told all summer that the electricity would be installed “any day now,” but to be perfectly honest, I had given up hope. To see the power strip light turn red, and to realize what that meant, was one of the happiest moments of this project so far. The teachers ran up to us with big smiles on their faces, and we literally all hugged and high fived because we were so happy (cheesy, but true).

This change has made a huge step towards permanently sustaining this project in the future. Up until this point, we have charged the laptops at Mmaweshi (and at Driehoek) by using generators. Gas for the generators costs about 30-35 rand each month. Our partners at Thusanang also had to deliver this gas to the two schools each month, taking their time and also taking more money out of our budget for travel costs.

Units of electricity are actually very cheap here, once electricity has been installed and turned on. Fourteen units of electricity cost 10 rand (approx. $1.25). To give you an idea of how much electricity “one unit” provides: we charged 15 laptops for 3 full hours today while the student s used them, and only went through 1 unit of electricity. We are estimating that they will need approximately one unit of electricity a day to charge the laptops (this is probably an over-estimation, though, as many of the students got electricity turned on in their homes at the same time, and as the students will be receiving individual solar panels for their laptops in the near future). This means that, to charge the laptops, Mmaweshi should need approximately 25 units of electricity a month, which can be purchased for 15-20 Rand ($2-3).

Of course, the first thing that Mmaweshi’s principal says to us is “You are going to pay for our electricity now, right?” Paying for electricity at Mmaweshi for an indefinite amount of time is definitely not a step in the right direction for project sustainability, so we had to put our celebration on hold to figure out how we are going to deal with this new change. We came up with a plan of action that we are all really happy with. We have decided that we will pay for enough electricity to cover charging the laptops through the end of this school year (December). By December, Mmaweshi will be expected to cover its own cost of electricity, and to continue to make charging the laptops a priority. This gives Mmaweshi 5 months to figure out a plan of action so that we aren’t just springing this on them.

AND… we get to sell the generator that we purchased for Mmaweshi last year!!! We bought it for 4000 Rand ($500), and it is still in great condition, so hopefully we will get most of our money back so that we can use it to sustain the project in other ways.

All in all, we couldn’t be happier! Maybe Driehoek will be next???

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day in the Life: July 15, 2009

6:45- Wake up very exhausted from working so late the night before.
7:30- Load the laptops into the car.
8:00- Arrive at Katane Primary School with Rosi, our translator for the day.
8:15- Start the students on editing their newspaper articles. Four separate groups work on four articles, one at a time and each added their own editing. The learners correct grammatical and spelling errors as well as typing errors and sentence coherence, all in English. Surprisingly, they were all extremely interested in this activity.
9:15- Help the learners to think of more topic ideas and start them on article writing. By this point in the week, about three fourths of the learners understand the concept of writing an article and are able to do it themselves.
10:15- Work on Scratch with the learners and actually have some of them do it correctly.
11:00- Take an adventure to the health clinic in Sagweshi Village. It consists of a 20 minute drive up a mountain (whoever decided to put it there was an idiot). If you walk, it’s about an hour; I couldn’t image trying to walk it when healthy, and definitely not when I’m sick. Plus the dirt strip (road) is full of gaping holes and large rocks (one of which we get stuck on).
11:10- Save a distressed baby goat that has a paint-can stuck on its face. Watch it reunite with its mother.
11:25- Get a private tour of the health clinic. It is surprisingly nice considering the state of the village, but it is government run. We also meet the mother of one of our students who recognizes us immediately and “is very excited to meet the people her daughter talks about so much.”
11:50- Adventure back down the hill and be 20 minutes late to Mmaweshi.
12:20- Arrive at Mmaweshi, start on article writing.
1:15- Read the most adorable and amazing article ever: Jan writes about how the laptops are his tool to the future and how much he uses them in school. He also writes about how thankful he was for us from One Here…One There to be at Mmaweshi.
1:30- Canadian journalist, Sonya, arrives. She is writing her graduate thesis on our project, so we catered to her until she gets the hang of what we were doing and starts helping out with the learners.
2:30- Try to have a meeting with the Soul Buddyz, but have it turn into a 45 minute performance. Meeting is postponed due to time constraints. Realize our original documentary idea may not go as planned.
4:00- Unload and charge laptops.
4:30- Send out emails at the Internet Café; meet Sonya for some personal interviews about the project. Blogs are postponed because the café closes.
6:30- Eat dinner back at Thusanang Trust.
7:30- Meet with Gary at the Pot and Plow. We talk about Swaziland (he used to live there) so that when we go we have some kind of idea of where to go and what to do.
8:30- Start the process of counting laptops. First we have to separate the old ones by school and match each one with its learner. Then we have to count the new ones. After three weeks of dragging laptops around we don’t know if they’ve all been returned every day. Next we count the “extra” laptops. These are the laptops donated from Larry Weber and KYP.
9:15- Freak out because we think we are missing 20 to 30 laptops (we find out later we are not, don’t worry OLPC)
9:45- Decide we need a fool-proof system set in place when we return the laptops to the schools.
10:00- Work on specs for the Newspaper application. This involves drawing out each page of the application exactly how we want it to look on screen. We also design each newspaper template. We also do much needed laundry.
11:00- Try to work on blogging and other things but accidentally pass out until morning.

Total time working: 16 hours and 15 minutes…and you don’t even know about everything we did the next day.

Newspaper Update

Our goal of creating a new XO application is going to be completed. We recently partnered with a group called SEETA ( who agreed to work with us on our project. Their team leader, Manusheen Gupta, had a meeting with us through Google Chat where we discussed our goals and ideas. He was very supportive of our idea and agreed to design the program. He and his team will design the program based on our specs that we send to him. The project is scheduled to be finished on August 7th; soon after we should have our first edition of the newspaper printed and distributed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Future Leaders: Examples of Our Students' Work

Our students are really starting to catch on to the whole newspaper idea, so we wanted to share some of their work with everyone! Our students wrote the following articles after they chose a topic that is important to them. They also took pictures to go along with their articles and helped one another to translate the articles. The students are currently working on editing (which they really enjoy doing, as crazy as that sounds) so these articles have not been edited. Enjoy! And feel free to be impressed- we are, but maybe we are a little biased towards our learners. : )

Our Community Health Clinic
(Newspaper Section: Health)
By: Joanne Bopape

At our place [segwashi]there is a clinic but is too far from where we are staying.If you are ill,you can even die on a way to a clinic because is a long distance with sloppy and gravel road.There is a mobile clinic that comes once per month to help those who are unable to get to the main clinic.The mobile clinic operxates in a nearby pre-school.In helps those who are ill and to prevent-P.T.O infants against polio,measles and cholera,It also helps with family planning and prevent people against coughs and other diseases.My with is to have a nearby clinic sothat we may not suffer when we are ill and not to pay too much money to go to the clinic.

Soul Buddyz
(Newspaper Section: Health)
By: Ntswaki Manganye

The name of MMaweshi soul buddyz is Mmaweshi soul buddyz club. We started our soul buddyz at 04 septermber 2007. In soul buddyz we make songs, fun, and a HIV/AIDS drama. With soul buddyz we need to protect our community,school and our friend’s. To those who have HIV/AIDS we want to send this massege to them they must be free where ever they are and even they are with people who are HIV negative they must be free every where. What they must know is that we love them wherenever they are HIV posetiv or not they must be free every where.

Katane Primary School Rook Destroyed in Storm
(Newspaper Section: School)
By: Lydia Mamabolo

The day i will never forget.

It was on tuesday June 2009 at the midnight when our school is distroyed by the wind.We have been suprised in the morning when we came to school we got our school distroyed.all of us we have shoked.because of distroyingof our school all pupils where scared to attend our subject by the way school was looked.the dicision that our principal was tooked is to reported to the medla.thobela fm our hope is that.government can support our school.the one thing that i thank to god is there is no one.damege of our paricular.and there is no injuries.

(Newspaper Section: Sports)
By: Virginia Mogashoa

in my school has the ground of girl.She play a netball onwednesday every after school only.every wednesday ladies play netball after the ground only ladies play,there is on space for boys. our ground is not good as it is sloppy and has gravel.we need it fo be paved. the ground is near the school.

Lack of Teachers at Mmaweshi Primary School
(Newspaper Section: Sports)
By: Sara

our school is running in short of teachers or educater, and therr is also a lack of education,because of this proble.
We have only two teachers running four(4) classes,from grader to grade7 and there are d more leaners will of leaners.
when one of the teachers is absent we dont have lessons classes we are sent to our home..
as learners we were thinking maybe it could it be if our circuit management could send us some teachers for the sake of gaining pure and safe knowlledge.
if we could have five or more educator we could be able to improve our Vocabularies and our studies as well as our knowledge.
Andmore leaners will come to attend school at Mmaweshi Primary School,because theyn will be noticing our improve ment, toward education.
Next time we will be working and successfully and will thank all the teachers who helped us to gain knowledge while we were growing.
we wish our dreams of having teachers atour school,could be blessed and come true one day.
we will be greatfully to wake up one day and enter the school,and being introduced to new educator.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Newspaper Project Stress: Memorization vs. Creative Thinking

This week has probably been the most stressful week of our project. We started the newspaper project at all three of our schools, and found that we have a lot more work to do than we originally thought. On the first day, we asked the students to pick a topic that they are interested in, take a picture that goes along with the topic, and then write about it. Some of the students got the idea and wrote really good articles, and all of the students were excited about the project. All in all, it was a success. The next day, we asked the students what sections they wanted in their newspaper, such as “Education,” “Sports,” or “Health and Environment” … this is where things started to go down hill. The students didn’t seem to understand the concept of newspaper sections or how specific topics would fit into those sections. After talking to the teachers more, we found that the students have seen newspapers, but only ones that are written in English. Because most of our students only speak Sepedi, they have probably never actually read a newspaper, which makes writing a school newspaper somewhat difficult.

Next, we asked each student to pick the newspaper section that they are most interested in and then write an article that fits under that section. Unfortunately, a lot of students wrote completely random things, such as “My name is _______. I am in grade 5. I attend ______ school. Etc.” The students who understood that they should pick a specific section, such as “Sports,” would generally end up writing things like “Sports are when people run and play games together. I like sports. My favorite sport is soccer. Etc.” They are confused about how to construct a story or article, probably because they have rarely been given the opportunity to write and express themselves before. Their entire education system seems to be based on memorization and copying to the point that they are confused when they are asked to think creatively. We weren’t too discouraged at this point, though, and continued the project with high hopes. For the next couple of days, we continued to ask the students what they were interested in and then we asked them to write about those topics. When a student seemed to be catching on, we would have them read their article to the class so that the other students see a few examples.

This plan seemed to be working. After a couple days of practicing and sharing good examples with the class, we asked each student to write about a topic that they are interested in at home and then bring those topics to the workshop the next day. The next day, some of the students came with amazing articles… really amazing… too amazing. As one girl was typing her article, I asked her if she wrote the article (it was written in perfect English and her English skills were not too advanced). With an excited smile on her face, she told me that she did write it. I asked her if she copied it from a book. With the same excited smile, as if she was doing something really great, she responded that, yes, she did copy it from a book. Another student proudly told me that her older sister wrote her article (which she was now typing into her XO). The students have been so conditioned to get ideas from books or other people and then memorize these ideas that they proudly admit to copying. They aren’t trying to cheat… the idea that copying is bad does not even occur to them. We have worked for the past few days to explain to the students that we value their thoughts and that we want them to write the articles using their creativity, but we still have students come to class every day with work that is not their own. It can be really disheartening to see really bright students so boxed in that they don’t even know all of the amazing things they are capable of.

I don’t want this entire blog to be all doom and gloom… there have been some really positive moments over the past week. First off, we can see the excitement in the kids’ eyes over having the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. Carolyn, Gordon and I nearly start jumping up and down every time a new student comes out of their shell and writes something amazing. We have also learned a ton of information about our students’ lives and the villages where they live. The students that we are working with have talents, interests, and obstacles that we didn’t know about before we started this project. The students are starting to understand that other people value their opinions and that makes them even more excited to be a part of this. In the end, this project will be worth all of the stresses and disappointments that we have faced this week. Our goal now is to continue to work on this project and to have a first edition printed at each school before we leave on August 18th. I know that that sounds like a lot of time, but because we have to work separately in 3 schools, it will be a race to the finish. We have two more days at the schools this week, and we are hoping to collect a few more amazing articles.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Internet Is Not Simple

I had little to do with setting up the Internet during last year’s deployment because of my lack of technical skills. This year, we are down nine people so we can’t be as picky about how we work on the internet. We’ve been working at the winter camp on fixing the Internet at Driehoek and Mmaweshi (we haven’t been to Katane yet, but their Internet is also broken).

Mmaweshi’s Internet runs off of an MTN (an African phone and Internet provider) card. It is basically a sim card with a set amount of megabytes worth of Internet that is connected by a USB. We connect the MTN card into the server and distribute the connection through a router, which the XOs connect to. Unfortunately none of this is working correctly. The MTN card works in a normal laptop, but our server will not register the card. Our only current solution is to use one of the awesome servers that OLPC provided us and start from the beginning with a completely new server and set-up. This weekend will be spent experimenting with the MTN card and the new server to see if we can get wireless Internet.

Driehoek’s Internet is a completely different story. Four weeks ago we were able to go to the school and connect directly into the Ethernet, and it worked. For no apparent reason, this stopped working. We have been waiting for our routers to arrive in the mail since we got back from Kigali, and they finally came today. We thought this would fix our Internet problems. Before we could even try working the Internet we had to make sure the server worked…it didn’t. All of us tried (with our extremely limited knowledge of computer programming) to connect the XOs to the server, but we all failed. After calling our tech-person we were told that we would have to go through a new set-up for the server before we could even consider using the Internet. We gave up on our original idea and decided to use one of our laptops to fix the Internet. Using the laptop as a base, we connected our new router into the Ethernet which connects to a signal receiver on top of the school and nothing happened. We then messed with all of the cords, changing them out and verifying the connection, then checked the electricity connection and everything seemed to be working. We narrowed down the list of causes of the problem but still had no answer. Finally we got a hold of our Internet provider who asked us to find a black box about the size of a shoe box. We found no such box. He reacted by yelling repeatedly about how the box was supposed to be there and never should have been removed. So after a few hours of messing with the Internet, we found out that this black box cleaned the generator electricity and without it, the electricity had blown. Now we’re on our way to Tzaneen to get new black boxes so that our Internet will work at least one school.

NOTE* since this was written, we have figured out the internet at Katane, but we had to have our provider come out and fix it.

Kids Can Learn A Lot In One Year...

After finishing our first week of our Winter XO Camp, we realized that the learners (South African word for students) have advanced far more than we thought they would have since last summer. They were finishing tasks in 10 minutes that we thought would take an hour, and some students were even teaching us about programs that we never showed them and are not familiar with ourselves. On the one hand, this is great news because it means that the students are using their laptops for learning. On the other hand, it also made us realize that the learning projects we had planned are too simplistic and that the students will be able to finish them in a couple of days, rather than a couple of weeks. We had to regroup, taking the students’ advanced skills into consideration, and come up with a new, more appropriate learning project…


When we started discussing a new learning project, we wanted to make sure that we chose something that will empower our students and encourage their creativity. We saw last year through our Problem Profiles project that the students have a lot of thoughts and opinions about issues affecting their community, but they don’t have an outlet to express themselves. A school newspaper, where the students choose the title, design the logo, choose the column topics, take the pictures, write the articles, and print/distribute the final product throughout their community, will give the students the opportunity to have a voice. Creating a school newspaper has endless possibilities- the students can have a community events column, a school column, a comic strip, a sports column, etc etc… the students will be able to explore a wide variety of interests from writing to graphic design to photography to translating, etc, etc… and the newspaper can be distributed through their local community, neighboring communities, and even the local or national government.

We introduced this new learning project at our schools today and both the students and teachers were incredibly excited. As soon as one of the teachers at Driehoek understood what we were trying to achieve, her eyes got really wide, she started talking a mile a minute, and literally ran out of the room where we were talking to go explain the project to the students. The students were really interesting to watch throughout the day because we could tell that they aren’t used to being given so much freedom. A lot of in school learning here is based on memorizing and regurgitating information, so they were somewhat confused at the beginning of the day when we asked them to brainstorm topics that they may be interested in writing about. At first, the students started copying articles from an example newspaper that we had passed around into their XOs, as if this was a typing project. After a couple of students understood the project, though, everyone seemed to catch on quickly. By the end of the day, the learners had written several articles, complete with pictures imported from Record, on fascinating topics such as the history of their schools, one school’s missing roof, a local cultural dance group, and their school garden. We were really impressed at the progress that was made in just three hours. With such enthusiastic support from the teachers, we can’t wait to see how this project will grow in the future.

The project does pose one obstacle that needs to be addressed: The XO does not currently have a program suitable for formatting a newspaper. The Write program does not offer text boxes and the Paint program, which does offer text boxes, does not have the ability to format text. It is our goal to fund the design of a new XO program similar to Microsoft Publisher. The program should come with some basic newspaper templates already formatted with textboxes and color schemes, and also allow the students to design their own layouts. If possible, we would love for the program to include other publishing options such as templates for magazines, flyers, pamphlets, newsletters, etc, but for now we are mostly focusing on the newspaper portion.

Designing a new program for the XO takes both time and money. We would like for the new program to be designed and on our learners’ laptops before we leave on August 18th, which would be very possible with the right amount of money. We have $1500 left in our “Learning Projects Budget” that we have decided to allocate towards the creation of this program, but we are worried that this will not be enough to motivate computer programmers to complete the project by mid August. We are actively fundraising and seeking qualified programmers to ensure that the program is created because we truly believe that not only our learners, but all learners using the XO, will benefit from it. We are looking at alternative, but much less appealing or effective, way to publish and print the newspapers in the event that the new program is not finished by August.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

She's Slow and She Always Will Be: The Transformation of One South African XO User

One girl from Mmaweshi named Monica has really impressed me this year. Last year we worked very diligently with every student on an individual basis to make sure that they would completely understand how to use the laptop before our three weeks were over. There were a few students who had a very hard time learning to use the laptop and were way behind the rest of the class. It seemed like no matter how hard we tried these few students just didn’t get it. At first we thought it was a translation issue so we asked the teachers to help translate the directions we were giving. This girl Monica was one of these students. When I asked for one of the teachers to help me translate for her, the teacher responded by telling me not to waste my time on her because she has always been slow and always will be. I was completely shocked and didn’t know how to respond. I felt bad and refused to give up on her. By the time we left, she was better but still not up to the average level of the other students.

Less then one year later I'm sitting in the winter camp when Sara, the principal of Mmaweshi, calls me over to Monica’s laptop. She says “Caro, you must look at this one!” I look at the screen to see that Monica has drawn different shapes all over the screen and filled them in with different colors and written something about herself in each one. I immediately thought back to last year and was so excited that the student that the teachers were willing to give up on had improved so much in just ten months. Monica is not the only one who has improved though. Every student has learned new things on their own and improved greatly. After working on a program for just one day, the entire class at Driehoek knew how to do it the next day without asking a single question. Three days into the winter camp I’m already so excited by how much these kids have learned.