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.

Project Infrastructure and Environment

OLPC recently posed some questions about the infrastructure and environment of our project and asked us to post our responses to our blog. Here is the information, mostly describing the schools that we are working in:

We are working in three rural schools in South Africa, all of which are less than 15 minutes apart. All of the teachers and students that we have encountered are very receptive to us and our project. We tried to get to know our students on the first day we worked with them by doing an “Ice Breaker” with the Speak activity. We had each student write “My name is (name) and I like (a word that starts with the same letter as their name).” The students then stood in front of the class and played their Speak sentences for everyone. The students laughed a lot and, since then, have generally not been too shy to ask questions or share their work with us. All of the teachers in our schools have some form of higher education leading to a teaching certificate and each school has at least one or two teachers that are very dedicated to running the XO program in our absence. Each of our schools also has unique characteristics, strengths, and challenges that affect our XO deployment.

Mmaweshi Primary School: Mmaweshi is the smallest school that we are working in. Its infrastructure is average in that it seems to have enough desks, chairs, chalk, paper, etc, but it does not have enough money to buy any books. Also, the school has no electricity and charges the XOs off of a generator. Fortunately, the government is considering bringing electricity into the village and the school, so the generator should be temporary. The students had not used computers at all before our group brought 100 XO laptops last summer. This summer, the students seem to be universally literate in basic computer skills and many of the students in grades 5 and 6 show an advanced understanding of their XOs. Last year, students at Mmaweshi used their XOs to write about how their school lacks a decent supply of clean water and how this affects their lives. The school’s biggest problem is its unmanageable teacher to student ratio. The school only has two teachers to take care of 72 learners in grades P-7. Though both teachers are very dedicated to the learners at Mmaweshi, it is incredibly difficult for them to fully teach all subjects in all grades. We hope that the XO laptops will provide students an opportunity to explore and learn new subjects even when their teachers are busy with other students or classes. Aside from this, the lack of community growth is putting Mmaweshi at risk for school closing. We will be getting in contact with the local government to keep the school open.

Driehoek Primary School: Driehoek is a new school that was completed about a year ago. The buildings are very nice, but Driehoek also lacks basic teaching necessities such as books. Driehoek is prepared for electricity and even has light bulbs in the fixtures, but still has no source of electricity running to the school. As of right now there are no plans for electricity to be brought to the school. Obviously, the school lacked the funds to purchase computers or offer computer training before our group brought XO laptops last summer. After using their XOs for almost a year, the students seem to be literate in basic computer skills and interested in learning more advanced programs. Driehoek has 7 teachers to 177 students, so though they are probably overextended, they are in a better position than the teachers at Mmaweshi. We again hope that the XO laptops give the children more opportunities to learn when their teachers are busy.

Katane Primary School: Even though Katane is the only school we are working in that has power, it has the worst infrastructure overall. The 2 kilometer road that leads to Katane is literally eroding away to the point that it is not safe for cars to drive or children to walk on it. It is in serious need of repairs, but neither the school nor the government has the money to fix it. The school is also missing a large portion of its roof on one building because a winter storm tore it off. The missing roof was the first thing that the principal talked to us about when we visited the school, so we know that he is very dedicated to fixing the problem, but that he does not have the necessary funds to act. The school does have advanced technological equipment such as printers, copy machines, and PCs. The school also has a large number of books that are used by the students, and it seems to have basic teaching materials such as chalk, paper, pencils, etc. A school in Sweden donated approximately 10 old desktop computers to Katane before our team brought XO laptops last year, but the principal has explained that the computers were never used- they use too much power and do not have programs designed specifically for children. The school has thrived since receiving its XO laptops last year, using the laptops regularly during school hours and even starting a weekly after school program where the students can use their XOs together.

A Day in the Life #2

June 31, 2009

6:50am- Wake up, get ready for the day.

7:15am- Pack the car with fully charged laptops, plug in laptops that have a low battery so that they can charge while we are at our morning camp session- we did not have time to charge enough laptops to last us the whole day last night, so we will have to make a stop back at Thusanang after our first session to pick up the laptops that we plug in now. (The laptop batteries last for about 3 hours, and we hold 6 hours of camp, so we can’t use the same laptops all day.)

7:35am- Leave for Mmaweshi Primary School for our morning XO camp session.

8:00am- Begin the winter XO camp at Mmaweshi. Help 48 students with laptop projects for 3 hours (very mentally draining). Try and fail to set up the internet at Mmaweshi.

11:00am- Leave Mmaweshi, go back to Thusanang. We unload the laptops that were used at the morning session and load the laptops that have been charging. We also left too early to pick up a sack lunch from the Thusanang kitchen this morning, so we quickly make some sandwiches and each grab an apple before heading back out.

11:40am- Leave for Driehoek Primary School

12:00pm- Begin the afternoon camp session at Driehoek. Help 65 students with laptop projects for three hours (even more mentally draining).

3:00pm- Head back to Thusanang to unload the batteries that were used today and plug in a group of laptops to charge for the camp tomorrow. We can only charge about 35 laptops in at a time, and we need to charge 200 everything. Last night, we charged laptops from 3:00pm-12:00am and we still had about 30 laptops left to charge when we went to sleep (these were the laptops that we plugged in this morning). We seriously need more power strips so that we don’t spend 9 hours charging laptops each night. Unfortunately, we have already purchased all of the powerstrips in Haenertsburg (which was only 3). That means that we need to make a trip to Tzaneen, a larger town about 30-40 minutes away, to make a few purchases.

3:30pm- Leave for Tzaneen. After searching for the Tzaneen mall, we find a store that resembles a Wal Mart/Target. We buy 4 new power strips (yay!), 2 4GB USBs, 3 1GB USBs, and 5 soccer balls that will be used in our learning project at Driehoek. We also desperately need some US/EU or US/South Africa converters for the laptops that came with US chargers, but we can’t find them anywhere. We’ll have to try again another day. Buying the USBs took forever!!! The store had the strangest policy that required me to tell an employee how many USBs I wanted of each kind, take a piece of paper from the employee with the information written down, then take the piece of paper to the register, pay for the USBs (which I have not yet received), and then take the receipt back to the electronics section to actually get the USBs. Things in Africa always take longer than expected.

5:45- Leave Tzaneen, make phone calls on the car ride home:

1.) Neo- Neo ordered routers for us last week, which were supposed to arrive last Tuesday. They are now a week late, so we need to track the routers down. He tells us that he got a call yesterday saying that the routers should arrive soon and that we should be expecting them.

2.) Rueben- We have several tech questions to ask Rueben, the tech guy at OLPC, but we don’t have his number. Out of our 100 new laptops, about 20 of them will not let us update their firmware, so we are hoping that Rueben has heard of this problem before and has an easy solution. First, we call Bryan to get Rueben’s number. Bryan gives us the number, but tells us that Rueben is on a bus is Rwanda and may not be able to talk. We decide to call him tomorrow.

3.) Karel (tech guy at Mmaweshi)- We need to call him about why the internet at Mmaweshi is not working, but we don’t have his number. We call Shelley (woman at Thusanang who runs our project when we aren’t here) to get it. She tells us that we only pay for 350 megabites of bandwich each month, and that we may have used all of our bandwich for the month of June. Since tomorrow is July 1st, and our bandwich may reload and fix the problem, we decide to wait until tomorrow to call Karel.

6:30pm- Back at Thusanang. Add the new power strips to our crazy mess of chargers, unplug laptops that have a fully charged battery, and plug in more laptops to charge for camp tomorrow.
7:00pm- Dinner (finally)

7:45pm- Gordon and Carolyn head into town to e-mail donors and upload pictures for OLPC. I stay back at Thusanang to work on XO camp activities for tomorrow. We want to teach the students how to link their laptops so that they can chat and share work, but we realize that the students are not using their personal laptops for the camps so their names will not be correct when they try to chat… that would get very confusing, so we decide to wait to tackle this activity until after we assign the laptops to individual students once school resumes in 3 weeks. Instead, we decide to plan other activities, including calculator races, searching for information in Browse, and working on an Ecoschools project.

9:15pm- Continue to rotate the laptops that need to charge for tomorrow about every 30 minutes while we read/journal/blog/relax/etc.

11:00pm- Sleep, hope that we have another good day at the XO camp tomorrow.

Monday, June 29, 2009

2 Schools, 3 Team Members, 110 Students, 200 Laptops (Winter Camp Day 1)

Winter Camp Day 1


We arrived at Driehoek over an hour early so that we could eat our lunches which consisted of a cliff bar and an apple. Over half of the students had already arrived at 11:00, but the camp didn’t start until 12:00. At the start of the camp we walked into a completely full classroom with people still trying to fit into seats. At some desks there were 4 students stuffed into seats that most wouldn’t have sat more than two Americans. We had over 60 students in one small classroom. As we walked all of the students were singing their school song at the top of their lungs to welcome us. They definitely showed how eager they were to be there.

We passed out the laptops and posed for some photos to be taken for Driehoek’s Eco-Schools competition, which is a world-wide student involvement program that encourages students to make their schools environmentally friendly. We had the students take pictures just like at Mmaweshi’s, but luckily we didn’t have the same complications. The students were slightly slower at Driehoek which might be because they are a bigger school so laptop use is more limited than at Mmaweshi, but they were still very bright and picked things up quickly after a little interaction. They all managed to upload their photo into the Write activity and then took the initiative to write 6-7 sentences about the photo. The students had snapped tons of pictures of Savanah, Gordon, and I and were then asking us all kinds of questions so they could add it to the descriptions of their pictures. The whole thing was a bit odd but flattering.

After giving the students a short break we worked in the Paint activity. They all tried out drawing their school and some of the pictures were really impressive: much better than I could do in Paint using a laptop mouse pad. They were really getting into the Paint activity so we stood back for a bit and let them work. The students were all over the classroom sharing their work and showing the younger students and older teachers who attended the workshop different tricks in Paint. Unfortunately with an hour left in day 1 over half of the laptops died at nearly the same time. We tried replacing them with other laptops, but they weren’t charged correctly either. We had to explain to them that we made a mistake and they would have to share the laptops for the rest of the camp because we had completely run out.

Lastly we had the kids explore the laptops so we could get a better idea of what they were wanted to learn. Just like in Rwanda and at Mmaweshi, the kids opened scratch and were asking all kinds of questions on how to use it. It was really inspiring to see that they are still all so excited about the laptops. We had to end a few minutes early again because of the lack of charged laptops (which will no longer be a problem because we are seeing to it that all of the laptops are fully charged). They all reluctantly turned off their laptops and handed them in and promised they would be back tomorrow.

It wasn’t the end of the day there though. We went back to Thusanang and are currently charging the 200 laptops (about 30 at a time) and making various phone calls to people to plan the after school sessions, check on the status of our routers, and plan for tomorrow’s camp.

200 Laptops, 6 Boxes, 3 People, 1 Car (Winter Camp Day 1)

Winter Camp Day 1:


On our first day of the winter camp we went to Mmaweshi in the morning and Driehoek in the afternoon. We had to transport all 200 laptops to the schools using one compact car. We filled the boxes that the XOs were shipped in and stacked them in the car. We fit 200 laptops in 6 boxes. All 6 boxes and Savanah, Gordon, and I also squeezed in. We arrived at Mmaweshi to find the students already waiting there for us. Sara, the principal, showed up a few minutes later to let us into the school. The students helped us set up a classroom and 45 children and parents filed in and took their seats.

The turnout at Mmaweshi was great: much more than we had imagined would come to the smallest of our three schools. Almost all of the 6th and 7th graders from last year were there along with students from the other grades. We started off by giving a short speech thanking everyone for taking their winter break to come to the XO camp and thanking the schools for allowing us to use their facilities (without them we would have had nowhere to hold the camp). From there we got right to work.

We needed to judge the level of the students so after turning on the laptop we had them open the Record activity. It was easy to see which students had used the laptop before because they were already taking pictures as I gave the directions. The newer students were having trouble with the mouse pad and clicking on programs, but luckily, the students from last year were eager to help in any way possible. It was definitely a peer-to-peer learning environment. Every time a student or parent had a question the older students were there to help.

Everyone went outside to take pictures with their XOs and then we showed them how to name the photos and upload them into the Write activity. We had a few complications because students closed out their Record activity before we could give the next instructions so they had to start over. After we circled the class a few times answering questions the students had all copied their photo and were writing about it. After this we decided to give them a chance to explore the laptops and open programs they wanted to know more about. Many of them opened Scratch, just like in Rwanda, and then called one of us over to show them what it could do. Now we know to make time to spend learning scratch later in the camp.

Next we had everyone draw a picture in Paint of their school. No one really listened, but it wasn’t a problem. The students took the initiative to make their own drawings. We even had one student, Mack, who drew a 3D truck just using the mouse pad. The students were really enjoying this, but because the laptops had not been fully charged they started to die. Pretty soon there were so many laptops dead that we had to end the camp a half hour early so that we would have enough laptops for Driehoek. We said our goodbyes and all of the students said they would be back tomorrow for the 2nd day of winter camp.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Highlighting IU OHOT

OLPC recently asked our team to send them basic information about the following topics so that they can create a one page "At A Glance" that will be used to promote OLPCorps. This will give anyone who is interested an overview of several different areas of our deployment.

Deployment: Haenertsburg, Limpopo, South Africa


One of our schools, Katane, is on the power grid, so we only needed to provide power strips and outlet converters to get the Katane laptops fully powered. The laptops are charged during the school day and then the students can take them home at night. Our other two schools, Mmaweshi and Driehoek, were not on the power grid when we came last year. To mitigate the problem, we purchased generators and arranged for gas to be delivered to the schools regularly. The schools use the generators to charge the laptops during school and then the students can take them home at night. Unfortunately, most of the students do not have power at home, so even when they leave school with a fully charged laptop, they only have approximately 2 hours of use each night. In order to provide the students with more efficient power, our team purchased 160 solar panels to distribute to students who do not have power options at home. This way, the children will be able to use their laptops outside and conserve the battery for using the laptops later in the evening, after the sun has gone down. We also hope that providing individual solar panels to the students will drastically cut down on the amount of time that the generators are used at school, cutting down on fuel costs. Our solar panels will arrive in mid-July, so we will distribute them when the students return to school from winter break.


Our end goal is to saturate the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students in our three schools. We achieved saturation in 5th grade and partial saturation in 6th grade at all three schools last year, providing 20 laptops to Mmaweshi, 36 laptops to Katane, and 34 laptops to Driehoek. This year, we are providing laptops for the new 5th grade students at each school, again achieving saturation in the 5th grade class. After this summer, the 5th and 6th grade classes will be completely saturated, and they share their laptops at certain times with the 4th and 7th grade students during school hours.

With our old and new laptops combined, we have 200 laptops to use at our winter XO camp this year. We sent letters to each school that could be sent home with their students, inviting anyone who has an interest in the XO laptop to attend the camp. Our goal is to provide training to as many people as possible through these training sessions. At this time, we are not sure how many people will attend, but we believe that 200 laptops will more than provide saturation at each session.


One laptop was stolen out of Driehoek school. The school immediately reported the stolen laptop to the police, and the police are currently investigating the theft. They have made several trips to the school and appear to be taking the case very seriously.

After one year, we were given 8 broken laptops from the schools. Four of the laptops have broken screens, which could be fixed, but we do not currently have the spare parts necessary to make the repairs. The other 4 computers had broken batteries to the point that the computers would not turn on (this is different from a simple charging problem), so we replaced the malfunctioning batteries with extra parts from the 4 laptops with broken screens. This leaves us with 4 laptops that need to be replaced. We are going to keep the broken laptops for additional spare parts in the future.


Our internet situation is somewhat confusing at the moment. Two of our schools (Katane and Driehoek) receive donated internet from a local provider, Procom. To make the internet work on the XOs at these two schools, we need to plug an Ethernet cable into a router, which makes the internet wireless so that all of the XOs can get online. We needed to purchase new routers this year, which have not yet arrived. We believe that internet will work at both Katane and Driehoek once we receive the new routers.

Our third school, Mmaweshi, is different because it is in a location that does not allow it to receive internet from Procom. Mmaweshi receives internet through an MTN card which we have to pay for.


Ownership was a key issue that required a lot of deep thought last summer. Our goal was to make one child the official owner of one laptop, while also providing a system of oversight and accountability. We ended up writing contracts that were signed by each student who received a laptop. These contracts stress that the students are the owners of the laptops, but that owning a laptop comes with certain responsibilities , such as caring for the laptops and not abusing them in anyway (pulling keys off, hitting them, breaking the screen, etc). It is explained in our contract that One Here… One There (our organization at Indiana University), Thusanang Trust (our local partnering organization), and the schools have the power to take the laptops away if they are being abused. This system has worked very well. For instance, one student was found pulling keys off of his XO. The school was able to take the laptop away for one week and then have a detailed discussion with the student about why his laptop was taken away and how it would feel to be the only 5th grade student without an XO. The laptop was returned after the student promised to properly care for his laptop in the future, and there have been no further problems.

All of the students are allowed to take their laptops home in the evening after charging them during the school day. We distributed surveys last month to all of the students who received XOs last summer. When asked how many days each week the students use their laptops, they overwhelmingly responded 5-7 days. When asked how many hours each day the students use their laptops, nearly all of the students said at least 2 hours, and some students (presumably those with power sources at home) said up to 5 hours. The students do not take the laptops home over extended breaks for safety reasons, and because most of the students would not have the means to charge the laptops at home. Now that we are providing individual solar panels to the students, this issue could be readdressed so that the students could take the laptops home over breaks.

Goals for 2010:

We have 3 main goals for the coming year:
1.) One of our schools, Katane, has an established after school program where the students meet once a week to use their XOs in a constructionist learning environment. We would like to establish similar programs at our other two schools.

2.) We would like to achieve saturation in the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students at our three schools. This would require us to deploy approximately 100 more laptops next summer.

3.) Lastly, we would like to increase local community involvement. This could include more community members being involved in the after school programs, or simply more community leaders visiting our schools to see first hand the benefits of these projects.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Internet Update

Our internet situation is definitely dismal here compared to what I had expected. I was under the impression that the internet was going to be fully functioning by the time that Carolyn, Gordon, and I arrived. I visited the three schools for the first time on Monday, only to find out that none of the schools have working internet. Apparently, there was a problem with our servers when the Joes arrived, so our tech guy, Neo, came to from Johannesburg to fix the servers. Unfortunately, these repairs were never tested before Neo left, so we have no idea whether or not they worked. We will know whether or not the servers work when we get our internet problems worked out… which is a whole other issue…

When they left for Kigali, internet was working at the schools, but only through an Ethernet cable into a single computer. We need Routers to make the internet wireless so that all of the XOs can get online. We tried to purchase the new routers in Johannesburg when we got back from Kigali, but we couldn’t find the correct routers at any of the stores, so we ended up having to order them… They were supposed to arrive yesterday, but there is no sign of them yet today (Africa time works a little differently than US time).

Ordering routers turned out to be only a small problem in the grand scheme of things, though. We thought that we would be able to plug the routers in and have wireless internet, but that isn’t going to be the case. We plugged our personal computers into the Ethernet cable at the schools on Monday, expecting to have internet, and found that it did not work at all. This could be because the internet settings were changed on our laptops in Kigali, or it could be a bigger problem with our internet connection or provider. We are hoping that the problem is with our computers and not with the internet connection, but we really don’t know. We won’t be able to tell what the problem is until we get the routers here, which could be days. Until then, we are waiting for the routers, and hoping that they fix the problem. If we receive the routers and the problem isn’t fixed, we will have to start making calls. Our last resort would be to call someone back down here from Joburg to look at it- transportation + lodging + wages can be expensive, and considering that we already paid a tech person to be here for 2 weeks, calling him back down seems wasteful and inefficient.


Our deployment is lucky because most of our power issues were taken care of last year. One of our schools had power when we came last year and we have purchased generators for the other two schools. We also provided each school with power strips and outlet converters since we ordered the laptops with US plugs last year. Unfortunately, things do come up, and we ran into some unexpected power issues today. Over the past two days, we have collected all of the old laptops and power strips that were given to the schools last year so that we can update and charge the laptops. Because we won’t have the capacity to plug in 200 laptops at a time at our XO camps, we need to have them fully charged before we begin each day. This means that we have to charge 200 laptops each night. We charged all of the laptops today because we are leaving for two days tomorrow and we need them to be fully charged for the first day of our camp on Monday. Normally, we would just charge large numbers of laptops at one time using the power strips and rotate the uncharged laptops into the power strips as other ones become charged. When we started to plug the laptops in, however, we found out that about half of the power strips from last year no longer work. We are down to charging about 20 laptops at a time, with each laptop taking an hour or so to charge... It is taking forever. Considering that we will have to charge 200 laptops every night for the next 3 weeks for our winter camp, this system is definitely not going to work. We are going to have to drive to Tzaneen sometime this weekend to get a few new tech items such as 4GB USB sticks, so we are going to go ahead and purchase some new power strips (that hopefully last longer than a year). Power strips aren’t a huge expense that will break our budget or anything, but small unexpected costs like this can add up and interfere with other plans. Hopefully, the new power strips will solve the problem and we won’t have any more power issues this summer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What I Want to be When I Grow Up...

What do you want to be when you grow up?

The kids at each school answer this question differently, but they all dream big. They strive to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, and many other prestigious professions. Just like kids all around the world they want to go to school so that they can do what ever they want when they get older. The XO laptop allows them to get ahead in education and become closer to their dreams; it can also be a resource for finding more opportunities in life.

During our winter camp sessions at Katane we will be working on an "XO Job Fair." After talking with Wilemina, we learned that the students are already use the laptops to create cv's. We are going to combine their work with cv's into a job fair. The students will research "what they want to be when they grow up" and create cv's based on what they already know and what they find out while doing their research. After this they will be able to research jobs, careers, and fields related to their interests. They whole idea of this is to open up new paths for them in life. Hopefully they will be able to find countless opportunities and goals to work towards.

At the "XO Job Fair" the students will make a presentation using their XO. They will incorporate browse, record, write, paint into their presentation and then share with the other students what they can do in the future.

To add to the job fair, we will also incorporate what the students have been learning in their math classes by having them learn how to create charts and graphs on the laptops. They will chart the interests of their students into different career areas. This will also show them all of the different opportunities there are within one area.

By the end of this learning project the students will be exposed to many new and interesting professions they never knew existed, they will learn more about their fellow students, they will find out more about their own interests, they will be able to successfully use the laptop for their studies in math, and they will master their skills on other XO programs.

A Day in the Life #1

Since joining the deployment team this summer, I have realized that a lot of people don’t really understand what exactly goes into making an XO deployment work. (I definitely did not understand the process before I became involved in it.) For example, when our team was in the process of registering this project through Indiana University’s Overseas Studies Office, it was suggested that 13 weeks would be way too much time to complete this project, as if we would distribute computers for a week or two and then sit around enjoying a two month vacation. (To be fair, the IU Overseas Studies Office is neither the first nor probably the last to feel this way, it is just one example.) To dispel any myths or misunderstandings about how we are spending our time, I am going to try to do a “Day in the Life” blog every week or two... here is the first, detailing what we have done today:

June 22, 2009

7:30am- Wake up, get ready for the day.

8:00am- Today we need to drop letters off to each school explaining our winter XO camp so that they can pass them out to the students. We already wrote the letter and had it translated from English into Sepedi, but then we realized that we needed to make a couple of changes to the times and dates listed on the letter. I went to Nancy's (our translator) office at 8:00am to make the small changes, only to find out that the computer system is down at Thusanang (the organization that we stay with). We have no letters. The schools are expecting letters today...

8:45am- We have to make an unexpected trip into town to re-type and print the letter at an internet cafe. We run into another problem when we realize that there is misinformation in the letter but we can't change it because we do not speak fluent Sepedi. We decide that the information is not terribly important and that we can probably just take it out. In order to do this, we tape a piece of white paper over this paragraph (yes, very professional, we know) before leaving to make copies at one of the schools.

9:30am- Leave for Katane. We need to make 100 copies of the letter that we made at the internet cafe and leave some at Katane to give to the students. We find Wilemina, the teacher in charge of the laptop program, who takes the letter to make our copies... we wait.... wait... talk to some kids... wait... eat some Sump (lunch that the kids eat)... wait... this is taking entirely too long... wait a little longer... Wilemina comes back and tells us that the copier ate our paper (stupid paper/tape idea) and the copies were not legible. Someone is now re-typing the letter. We wait a little longer, but use the time to talk to Wilemina about what the kids are currently learning and what programs they already know on the laptops. We find out that the school would like us to work on resumes with the kids (a very simple 'resume' to get them thinking about their future), so we develope a learning project around this idea with Wilemina while waiting for the copies. We then had to collect any laptops that need to be repaired (2) and the power strips that we gave each school last year. We need the power strips to charge the XOs during the camp. We wait a little longer for the copies... yes, still waiting... wondering if the copies will ever come... and they finally do! It took two hours, but they are perfect. As we leave, we get into a really interesting conversation with the school principal and ask him if we can interview him sometime soon. He is thrilled to help us.

11:30am- Leave for Driehoek. Everything goes very smoothly. We give the letters to the principal and collect any laptops that need repairs (2) and the power strips.

12:00pm- Leave for Mmaweshi. Everything goes very smoothly again. We trade the letters for the laptops/power strips, and we're off!

12:20pm- Leave to head back to Thusanang. Grab some lunch. Now we need to update the firmware and reflash the 100 new XOs that arrived yesterday. (We already unloaded them and marked them with their serial number on their handle for easy access when we distribute them to the kids). Each XO needs to have its firmware updated before we can begin a process called NandBlasting, which reflashes large numbers of computers at a time. In theory, we should be able to update the XOs firmware one by one and then immediately move them to NandBlast, so we would be updating and reflashing at the same time. We ran into another little obstacle, though, because both updating and NandBlasting require a specially formatted USB stick, and we only have one. We could copy the USB, but we don't have a stick with enough memory to hold all of the information, and the closest store with USB sticks is 30 minutes away. That means that we have to update the firmware on all 100 computers before we can begin NandBlasting. A small setback, but still slightly annoying.

1:00pm- Gordon, Carolyn, and I leave "the Joes" behind at Thusanang to update and reflash the XOs. It isn't really a 6 person job. We are now back at the internet cafe. We have a lot of e-mailing/communication to catch up on- as you can tell from the date of my last post, we have NOT had good luck with internet availability. Our schools have internet, but the organization that we are staying with does not. After I finish blogging, we need to make a few phone calls to set up exact times and plans for our after school program, which starts in 3 1/2 weeks. After we are done catching up here, we will head back to Thusanang to help the Joes update/reflash- I'm sure it will take the remainder of the day.

We'll need to have a group meeting tonight to prepare for tomorrow- we need to go to the three schools to collect ALL of the 100 laptops that were distributed last year so that we can update/reflash them (same thing we are doing to the new laptops today) and have them to use duing the workshop. We encourage anyone who is interested to come to the XO camp, even if they do not have an XO, so we need to make sure that we have as many on hand as possible. It should be a busy day!

Summer Learning Schedule

A lot of thought has gone into our XO workshop schedule for this summer. Last summer, our team worked in the local schools all day everyday for 3 weeks, which greatly disturbed their normal curriculum. Therefore, our school administrators do not want the XO program to happen during school hours this year. Fortunately, the schools will be on Winter Break for 3 weeks during the deployment, which will allow us to administer XO camps at each school. Because we have three schools and three weeks of winter break, we originally thought that we would be able to have a week long camp at each school from 8:00am-3:00pm everyday. These plans had to be reconsidered when we were told that sending the students home for lunch would not be acceptable and that we would need to provide a full meal. We do not have enough money in our budget to provide a full lunch to approximately 75 people everyday for 3 weeks, so we decided to break the days up into morning and afternoon sessions at different schools. We will teach at one school in the morning from 8:00am-11:00am, and then move to a different school in the afternoon from 12:00pm-3:00pm, providing a light snack at each session. We also wanted to schedule the camp sessions at different times at each school so that everyone has the opportunity to attend- maybe a student who could not attend the week of morning sessions at the winter camp will be able to attend the week of afternoon sessions. After winter break ends, when the students return to their regular school schedule, we will work with the students in afterschool workshops from approximately 2:30pm-5:00pm each weekday afternoon.

We hope to review basic computer skills in a very constructionist manner for the first week of the Winter Camp (our 6th grade students have had XO computers for a year now and have been sharing them regularly with the 4th, 5th, and 7th grade students, so we should be able to quickly move through these skills), complete an in depth learning project during the second week of camp, and then work on new programs such as Scratch and E Toys during the afterschool programs. Of course, the students may be too advanced or not advanced enough to follow these plans, and we will remain completely open to change. Our current schedule (which could, of course, change at any moment) is:

June 22-June 29:
This week will mostly be concerned with logistical needs. We need to make sure that we have permission to hold our weekly XO camps at the schools, finalize our afterschool workshop schedule, meet about what our role should be at the after-school programs (since these are already regularly scheduled events, do they have regular lesson plans? Should we plan something? how advanced are the students skills so that we know what kind of lesson to plan? Etc), finalize learning projects after getting more teacher input, contact local newspapers about covering our project, and address a problem with electricity at one of our three schools.

June 30-July 6th:
We will hold our winter XO camp at Mmaweshi Primary School each weekday morning from 8:00am-11:00am. We will hold an additional winter XO camp at Driehoek Primary School each weekday afternoon from 12:00pm-3:00pm. Details about learning projects for the camps to come.

July 7th-13th:
We will hold our winter XO camp at Driehoek Primary School each weekday from 8:00am-11:00am. We will hold an additional winter XO camp at Katane Primary School each weekday afternoon from 12:00pm-3:00pm. Details about learning projects for the camps to come.

July 14th-July 21st:
We will hold our winter XO camp at Katane Primary School each weekday from 8:00am-11:00am. We will hold an additional winter XO camp at Mmaweshi Primary School each weekday afternoon from 12:00pm-3:00pm. Details about learning projects for the camps to come.

July 21st-August 13th:
We will focus on our after school programs during the last 4 weeks of our deployment. We will spend each Monday running a teacher training workshop at each school, each Tuesday will be spent at Mmaweshi Primary School, each Wednesday will be spent at Driehoek Primary School, and each Thursday will be spent at Katane Primary School. The workshops will be held from 2:30-5:00 with exact learning projects to be decided on later this week, after getting more input from the teachers.

Kigali Training Workshop

Our team has just returned to our deployment site in South Africa after an intense training workshop in Kigali, Rwanda provided by OLPC. The workshop covered a large range of topics and definitely strengthened our deployment. OLPC tech expert, Reuben Caron, taught corps members how to reflash large numbers of XOs at a time and how to set up servers and access points. We were also given in-depth training in several advanced programs on the XO, such as Scratch and E Toys. We engaged in a lot of small group discussions about learning projects and sustainability. It was really useful to exchange information and ideas with the other corps teams because it shed new light on the potential of our own project. I felt that the most useful days at the Kigali workshop were spent working in schools in Rwanda where XOs have already been distributed. Most of us spent one day working with teachers and one day working with both teachers and students. As someone who did not participate in the IU South Africa deployment last summer, I found the classroom time in Rwanda gave me a better idea of how to deal with language barriers, how to communicate basic technical skills that may seem second nature to me, and how to recognize when to move through the lessons faster or slower. Other than a few problems with logistics/communication (bound to happen in Africa), the workshop was great and I’m really glad that I got to be a part of it. Now we are ready to get to work in ZA!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why We Joined OLPCorps

We joined OLPCorps because we believe in the power of education and its ability to revolutionize the developing world. OLPC's use of technology as a vehicle to improve education is both obvious and ingenious. Anyone living in the United States can see how technology has revolutionized education in the past 10-15 years, creating a greater educational divide between developed and developing nations. We believe that providing computers and internet access to students in developing nations will close this growing divide and empower them to be a strong force in today's globalized world.

We support OLPC specifically because we believe in its core principles and beliefs. We love that OLPC values a grassroots approach, making sure that projects have local community involvement and support. Too often, international organizations try to impose programs that they have constructed without consulting the local population, which are rarely successful and end up wasting valuable time and money. I also love that OLPC works to put power directly into the hands of young people. Studies in the United States have shown that children make decisions (unconsciously) about their future, such as whether or not they will attend college, around age 11. It is incredibly important to empower children at a young age to believe that they can set high goals and achieve them. We can't wait to see how this new and innovative education program changes young children and their communities around the world.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Metz Grant:
We were awarded $5000 by the IU Student Foundation Metz Grant in order to purchase 200 individual solar panels for the laptops. These solar panels will allow us to move away from the unsustainable generators that we installed last year as the student's primary source of power. The generators are not very efficient as they require gas to be delivered to them each week. Because they are installed at the schools and many children do not have power sources at home, the students could only use their laptops at school, which greatly cut down on the time that they could spend learning and exploring. The individual solar panels will allow children to use their laptops at home for more hours, and they are more cost efficient and sustainable in the long run.

IU Student Association:
We were awarded $4900 by the IU Student Association to subsidize our flight costs to South Africa and Rwanda.

Individual Grants:
Carolyn and Gordon were each awarded $2000 from the IU Hutton Honors College International Experience Grant and Savanah was awarded $2500 from the IU Hutton Honors College Professional Experience Internship Grant. These grants will subsidize the cost of transportation and accomodations.

The 2009 Team

Our 2009 deployment team consists of 4 returning members and two new members. We have a wide range of skills and interests that we believe will work in our favor. Get to know the 2009 team...

Savanah Franklin is a senior at Indiana University majoring in Economics and International Studies with concentrations in sub-Saharan Africa and Integration and Development. She spent last summer interning with Femme Développement Entreprise en Afrique, a microcredit organization in Dakar, Senegal. She is currently working on her senior thesis, a statistical study of the effectiveness of World Bank and IMF aid on GDP growth in sub-Saharan Africa and is excited to take part in her first XO deployment.

Joseph Shikany graduated from Indiana University in May 2009 with majors in Marketing and Operations Management from the Kelley School of Business. He is proud to be a member of this project because he believes in the use of technology as a primary tool for developing nations. He was a member of the One Here…One There Indiana University South Africa deployment in 2008. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with family, friends, and reading.

Joe Peoni grew up in Indianapolis and currently attends Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, majoring in Public Financial Management. He had the pleasure of being a part of the 2008 IU One Here... One There deployment. He is currently working on this year's OLPCorps deployment, and applying for internships in Washington D.C. for the fall of 2009. He will be going to South Africa in mid-May to assess where the project is at from last summer, then going to Rwanda for the summit, and returning to deploy 100 more laptops in Haenertsburg.

Carolyn Commons is 19 years old and from Indianapolis, Indiana. She is a freshman at Indiana University, majoring in International Studies with a concentration in Global Health. She became interested in One Laptop Per Child through her brother and then joined his team going to South Africa for the 2008 laptop deployment. Eventually, after graduation, she hopes to work doing something in medicine in sub-Saharan African.

Born and raised in rural Indiana, Gordon Lang now attends Indiana University and is pursuing a degree in nursing. Ever since a trip to Tanzania several years ago, he has been interested in sustainable development projects in Africa, and is looking forward to this XO deployment. In the future he hopes to assist in implementing clean water solutions and malaria prevention projects in West Africa.

Joe Delehanty grew up in Indianapolis, IN. He attended Brebeuf Jesuit Prepatory School in Indianapolis, and became an Indiana University student in the fall of 2005. He is twenty-two years old, and currently lives in Bloomington, IN. He has three majors: History, Economics, and Germanic Studies. He is currently working on a honors paper in History, which will deal with the comparison of the Volstead Act of 1919 and the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 and their effects on race relations. Joe was also a part of the 2008 One Here... One There XO deployment.

What We've Been Up To: October 2008-May 2009

It was immediately apparent when our team returned to the US in 2008 that we wanted to work with XO laptops again in the future. We knew that our project had a major impact on the lives of children in Haenertsburg, but we also knew that there was much more to be done. (You can visit our 2008 blog at to read about last year's deployment.) The prospect of raising enough money to buy 100 more laptops and accompanying equipment seemed daunting, especially in the midst of such a widespread economic downturn, so we were overjoyed when we found out that OLPC was starting a new internship program for university students called OLPCorps (largely due to the hard work of Paul Commons and Bryan Stuart, we love you guys!). OLPCorps gives teams of university students 100 XO laptops and up to a $10,000 stipend for equipment and operating costs.

We went to work immediately on drafting the required 750 word proposal and accompanying wiki page that explains project details. You can view our wiki and project proposal at Being accepted into OLPCorps was no piece of cake- the application process was strenuous and the competition was tough- but on April 18th, we found out that we were 1 of 30 teams chosen out of more than 220 applications to participate in the 2009 OLPCorps.

We have spent the last few months planning and fundraising for our return to Haenertsburg. We will once again be partnering with Thusanang Trust and working in the same three local primary schools with the new 5th grade class. This summer will be different because our team will spend a total of 13 weeks implementing this project, rather than only 3 weeks like last summer. The extra time will give us the opportunity to document our project in the way that it should be documented, to work on larger projects such as a South Africa wide XO workshop weekend, and to spend more time teaching the students about educational programs on the laptops. Joe Delehany, Joe Peoni, and Joey Shikany are currently in South Africa evaluating the effectiveness of last summer's deployment. We want to know what worked for the students, what problems they faced after we left, and what we can do to strengthen our deployment this summer. We will also spend 11 days in Kigali, Rwanda (from June 7th-June 17th) for an all expenses paid training workshop for all of the 30 OLPCorps teams.

We are all very excited about what we can accomplish this summer so be sure to check back for regular updates!