OLPCorps Tulane University & UC Davis – Sierra Leone

Broadband coming to Sierra Leone at a dial-up modem’s pace by Katie R
April 7, 2010, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Looks like Sierra Leone is looking at working to improve their internet connection in the semi-near future.  Check out an article on Global Post about it.  This would be great news for programs like ours!

Our first day with the kids and XOs by Katie McCarthy
March 9, 2010, 1:48 am
Filed under: Logistics, Teaching

If we thought the first 48 hours were crazy, we had no idea what the next three weeks would be like. Because of the delay in receiving our laptops, we crunched what we’d planned to do in 6-7 weeks into 3 weeks. And, these three weeks included Jamie leaving in the beginning of the first (we’re very happy he was able to see the computers with kids and help with the first day :)) and Katie R leaving in the middle of the third week.  At the time, we had no time to sleep, let alone post blog entries. While we planned to update the blog after arriving back in the US, as usual, life continued and we weren’t able to update it as quickly as we’d hoped. So, just in case, any of you were wondering, here’s a look at what our final three weeks looked like.


After the chaos of the past 48 hours, the time-crunched nature of our project continued with the first day with all of the kids. On Monday, Chelsea and I got to DCI at 6:30 am to finish checking and updating all the computers. We organized our materials, set up benches and chairs outside for the parents and kids, and prepped for the arrival of 95 kids with their parents. Luckily, we had tons of help, especially from some of the kids and awesome volunteers. Katie R, Jamie, and Banie joined us after appearing as special guests on a local radio station.

Mr. Banya showing off the computers

Mr. Banya showing off the computers

With more than a little apprehension, we greeted parents and families as they came in, checking in students and confirming their ages. There was some confusion when some kids tried to get computers who were not on our list. We did our best to allay the confusion and to help as many kids as we could.  Below are some pictures of the check-in process.

Katie M, Jamie and our helper, Isata

Katie M, Jamie and our helper, Isata

Signing in

Signing in

After checking in, parents and students headed outside to learn more about the program and class. Banie and Satta did an excellent job explaining, discussing the program, children’s safety, and the importance of child ownership, and Solomon showed off the computer and its functions. It was very exciting for us to see the DCI staff and volunteers in action.

Solomon, showing off the XO

Solomon, showing off the XO

Banie, talking to the parents about safety

Banie, talking to the parents about safety

We continued by distributing the laptops, having each child write his/her name of his/her XO, and asking the parents to sign their child up for a class session. We ended the session around 11am, already thoroughly exhausted.

The day continued with preparations for our first day of classes, finishing our computer updates AND (drum role please) establishing internet! Thank you Zain! Katie R, Chelsea, Jamie and I headed back to the Pastoral Centre in the late afternoon, completely exhausted but very happy with the day.

Introducing OLPC

Introducing OLPC

Our class calendar

Our class calendar

Safety and Parents' Roles

Safety and Parents' Roles

I attached our outline of the opening ceremony – we didn’t follow it exactly, but this is what we planned. It may be helpful for those planning similar projects. Opening ceremony info

In the news again by Katie McCarthy
September 29, 2009, 12:01 pm
Filed under: In the News

Hi All! We are working on updating the blog post receiving the laptops, but for the time being, please see the Tulane New Wave article about our project.


Also, you should look at this article, also from the Tulane New Wave, about Rwanda: http://tulane.edu/news/newwave/090909_rwanda.cfm

48 Hours of Pure Adrenaline by Katie R
August 7, 2009, 1:11 pm
Filed under: Logistics, OLPCorps

There are a number of cliché idioms that might be used to describe the past week or so here in Kenema, and specifically the 48 hours of pure adrenaline that made up last week’s Sunday through Tuesday.  For example:

When it rains, it pours.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Get  the ball rolling.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

When in Rome…  (“That expression doesn’t really apply to what I’m talking about.”  “I still don’t understand what it means.”  First person to name that movie gets a prize.)

After a month and a half of contemplating the futility of our roles in this program, at the brink of utter frustration and despair caused by our apparent customs-and-internet-problem-solving impotence (see XO’s Please Continued)… something happened.  Things started moving, things started going right.

Banie and Katie M with 20 boxes of XOs, transport bus in the background

Banie and Katie M with 20 boxes of XOs, transport bus in the background

On Sunday, July 26th at around 1:30 in the afternoon (start clock- 0hrs 00min), our shipment of brand new, bright green XO laptop computers finally, finally, FINALLY arrived at Defence for Children International’s Kenema office.  Well, 99% of them arrived, but that is enough for us to start the program, anyway.  We worked all afternoon to get them unpacked, numbered on the side with a Sharpie, serial numbers recorded, and NANDBlasted (software updated).  NANDBlasting went pretty well, although the copies that we made of the USB stick that Reuben gave us in Kigali did not work for whatever reason, so we made due with just the one original stick.

Though we had enough work to keep us at the DCI office until late into that night, a prior engagement brought us back to the Pastoral Center (our home away from home) on Sunday evening (clock- 3hrs 19min).  We had planned a big, huge birthday party for all the kids that live nearby and their families, to celebrate all of the birthdays that will happen in the next year when we’re not around.  We first met this group of kids around the Pastoral Center last summer, and they have proved to be not only great friends who kept tenaciously in touch with us over the past year, but also “cultural brokers” to help guide us as we stumble awkwardly through the inevitable cultural mishaps of international travel.  They are a wonderful group, curious and so smart, aged from 2 to 20.  Meeting them was one of my favorite things about coming to Sierra Leone last year, and the eagerness and potential I saw in their bright eyes was certainly one of the main inspirations in applying for the OLPCorps grant in the first place.

Pinata at the Pastoral Center birthday party, pre-riots

Pinata at the Pastoral Center birthday party, pre-riots

Having the birthday party on Sunday seemed like a good idea when we thought the laptops were going to be there Saturday, but both events on the same day was, well, hectic to say the least.  The party was certainly a success, though it started out a bit awkward with the parents and then almost turned into a riot at the end.  The party really got started with a dance competition (which was awesome), judged by the parents and separated by the youngest, middle, and oldest kids- we have some great video of that.  Next, we all went out to whack at (or flog, as the kids say) the piñata that Jamie and Chelsea had constructed out of palm fronds, cardboard, duct tape, stickers, and colorful plastic bags… which turned into an absolute, fist-throwing riot when the candy finally spilled.  It was actually kind of terrifying, and I was afraid that some kid was going to get trampled or smothered to death, or at the very least that the parents would all yell at us for endangering their children’s lives… but everyone survived and they actually all seemed to love the whole piñata ordeal.  We finished off the evening (clock- 7hrs 51min) with a veritable birthday cake, icing and sprinkles and all (it was even baked, Emily).

Eastern Radio had us as guest speakers on 2 of its hour long radio shows

Eastern Radio had us as guest speakers on 2 of its hour long radio shows

Bright and early on Monday morning, Jamie, Banie and I took a trip up Freedom Mountain to Eastern Radio 101.9 Kenema, the voice of justice and development (clock- 17hrs 07min).  We were the live guests on the hour-long morning show, which focused mainly on the long-awaited commencement of our project, telling the entire Eastern Region the benefits of these laptops for kids, and answering questions from callers.  Then we signed autographs for all the fans that lined up outside the radio studio after the show… ah, just kidding- we’re not that cool yet.  It was a pretty fun way to publicize, and the radio show host and callers had some great questions.  Check out an audio clip of the program below (sound quality isn’t too great, we’ll try and improve it when we can)… ok nevermind, internet connection is a bit slow.


Simultaneously, as the radio waves soared invisibly through town, Katie M and Chelsea headed off to the DCI office to set up for the first real day of the program- meeting with the parents and assigning computers.  We had all the kids (95!) and all their parents come to the office for a presentation on the class and responsibilities of the parents (clock- 18hrs 30min).  We had the kids sign up for class times, and then we handed out the computers (95!!) so that kids could put their names on them and decorate them with the formidable leftover sticker collection of Katie M’s childhood.  We’re keeping 5 of the computers as spares, and our own computers will go to the class teachers.  It was a bit chaotic at first- there were plenty of children who were not on DCI’s list who appeared and asked for computers.  For those who were on the list, when it came time to hand out the XOs, the message that we have a computer for each child on the list, it’s not first come first served, was drowned by the clamoring mass (kids and parents) that pushed, shoved, and scrambled to get their computers before the others.  Overall though, parents were receptive and eager, kids were thrilled, the entire region was notified, and the program was finally launched.  All by 11 am last Monday morning (clock- 22hrs 30min).

As if this wasn’t enough for one 24 hour period, Monday afternoon brought another advance in the battle against powerlessness.  We FINALLY got a successful internet connection at the DCI office- not a wireless one (yet!), but a genuine, real-life internet connection.  We had been working on this for the past month, as well, battling/getting the run-around from one piece-of-crap communications company who sold us a modem and service for a modem that just does NOT work in Kenema (it works in Freetown, yes. Kenema, no- they just don’t get it).  If any of you faithful readers are in the market for a modem that functions outside of Freetown, or at the very least a communications company that has any idea how to operate the products that it sells, I would not recommend SierraTel.

The previous week, with the finality of a very strongly worded letter delivered to the heads of the main office in Freetown, we had finally given up on SierraTel, resigned to the fact that we would probably just have to eat the money and time we wasted on their modem.  However, inspired by the working internet on our trip to Sahn Malen and not giving up on the idea of internet yet, we had another communications company, Zain, come out to the DCI office on Monday afternoon to set up their modem… and it worked.  Almost instantly.  It was amazing.  We checked email right there (clock- 26hrs 11min).

Tuesday the actual class started with the kids (more on that soon), though I didn’t get to see it because Jamie and I caught the early bus to Freetown (clock- 38hrs 13min) to drop him off for his flight home.  Not ones to waste a trip to Freetown, we walked straight from the bus station in Freetown to SierraTel with our worthless, poor excuse for a modem and copies of both our receipt and our strongly-worded letter to demand, even though it was probably hopeless, a full refund.  And it worked.  Almost instantly.  It was amazing. (Clock stop- 48hrs 00min).

Whew!  These 48 hours brought about the conclusion- in our favor- to several of the battles we’re been fighting since we arrived here.

Just to re-cap, in 48 hours:

  1. Computers arrived
  2. Unpack, number, record, NANDBlast
  3. Birthday party and piñata riot
  4. Eastern Radio
  5. Parent Meeting and XO assignment
  6. Zain modem and working internet
  7. Travel to Freetown
  8. First day of class with the kids
  9. Full Refund from SierraTel
  10. Jamie back to the U.S.

The rest of the week was still busy, but in a controlled, manageable way.  Faaez, from the other OLPCorps team in Sierra Leone, came to the rescue on Thursday like a wireless internet super hero, tights and all.  Thanks to his magic touch and the sweet Linux nothings he whispered to our server’s ear, we are now broadcasting the signal of our functioning Zain modem through the server and the wireless access points.  We have the first wireless internet spot in all of Kenema and probably the whole Eastern region.

Photo taken by one of the students on his XO in the first week of class

Photo taken by one of the students on his XO in the first week of class

The first week of class was great.  We’re still trying with our teachers to find the right balance between instruction and constructionism, but the kids are so smart and so eager, they learn so fast.  We have uploaded several pictures form the first week on our Flickr page that I would highly recommend.

The Most Productive One-Day Trip EVER by Katie McCarthy
August 6, 2009, 9:49 am
Filed under: OLPCorps, Technology

In an attempt to catch our faithful readers up with our continually chaotic lives post-XOs, here is a blog about our life pre-XOs.

You know when you are waiting for an important call – a call from the doctor, or from a job interview, or from Cox Communications – and you have been waiting all day? And, after waiting hours next to the phone, you decide to run to the bathroom because you have been waiting all day next to the phone. And, just when you sit down on the toilet, the phone rings. That’s what our trip to Sahn Malen was like.

As you know, we had been waiting weeks for customs to release our laptops. Being incredibly bored and not having anything else to do until our laptops arrived, we decided it was the perfect time to go visit the other SL OLPC team. Katie and I met two of their teammates when we were in Rwanda and they were pretty awesome. Although the morning started out with bad luck for me (freezing cold showers with no electricity and the water running out do not bode well for the start of the trip), the trip was uneventful. Upon leaving Kenema, we first took a taxi to Bo (the 4 of us with 6 of our closest friends – we were in a 5 passenger car – about an hour away). Once in Bo, we found another taxi to take us to Pujehun town. The road to Pujehun is about 30 miles paved and 12 miles unpaved – about 2 hours. We shared the taxi with our closest 9 friends (again, 5 passenger). When we arrived in Pujehun, we found that most of the motor bikers had been arrested the day before because they did not have licenses. We had planned on taking a motor bike to Sahn Malen… we finally found two bikers and ended up riding 3 to a bike with several backpacks. I’m still sore from trying to hold onto the bike with my legs and trying to keep my back straight (and not fall off the bike) with my stomach muscles. Excellent workout! It took us about 30 minutes by bike to get to Sahn Malen. The Hondas knew exactly where to take us because our friends were the only poo-mwis there. In fact, people in Bo even knew who we were going to visit (one of the Sahn Malen team members has dread locks, an unusual hairstyle for men in Sierra Leone, so they know who he is).

Thomas, our Honda driver

Thomas, our Honda driver

The village, Sahn Malen, is really rural and the team has one of the few generators in town. They get many of their supplies from Bo (which is 2-4 hours away, depending on the type of transportation). We got there in the mid-afternoon and went to see the other team’s set-up (very low tech but good). They power the laptops with the combination of a generator, individual solar panels, and a battery (powered by solar panels). They were building off of a previous deployment in December, working with peer educators and two local schools to provide XOs to all children in Class 5 (roughly, fifth grade). After observing their setup, we headed out to a “nearby” village (1 hour’s walk away) with another team member who was following up on mosquito net distribution project.

Scenic view along the way to Sahn Malen

Scenic view along the way to Sahn Malen

On our walk, however, Chelsea kept getting flashed on her cell phone by two of our DCI colleagues. (BTW, the term “flashing” refers to when people call your cell phone quickly, so you know they called, but not so you have enough time to actually pick up the phone. Because most people pay for their cell phones by the minute, calling people, especially when they have a different provider, can be expensive.) They kept calling but, of course, we had no signal because we’re in the middle of nowhere – literally. We were between two extremely isolated villages. We finally found a place where there were two bars but we had no units. So, we flashed them back. See the pictures below for a visual representation of how the call went.

Jamie, receiving the fateful call

Jamie, receiving the fateful call

Taking a picture of what might be a photo-worthy call

Taking a picture of what might be a photo-worthy call

Do we have laptops? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

Do we have laptops? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

Looks like a thumbs up... :)

Looks like a thumbs up... 🙂

Yay!! We got our laptops!!

Yay!! We got our laptops!!

Luckily our DCI friends called back to tell us our laptops had been freed from customs! Unfortunately, DHL was saying they couldn’t bring them to Kenema. (This was after we were assured by two reps in Freetown and 3 reps from the international office that they would be brought to Kenema.) After frantically returning to Sahn Malen, buying units and finding the best spot to make calls (stradling a gutter, interestingly enough), we called the OLPC rep in Boston and Emily, our amazing team member in Buffalo. We left a voice message for the OLPC rep (I think, a barely coherent message) and talked to Emily, who kept calling us back on Skype when we lost signal. I sat in a crouching position for about 15 minutes and in the middle of a puddle while we spoke. Then we called the DHL Freetown rep, who told us he would call back once he figured out the additional fee to transport the laptops toKenema (because they hadn’t figured that out before… ?). We thought they were trying to get more money out of us, but it turns out not to be so. Or at least, the charges were somewhat legit.

”]Katie, Katie, Jamie and Carlos [making a coconut whistle]
Captured Bush Baby

Captured Bush Baby

Back to Sahn Malen – we spent the rest of the evening eating pineapple and coconut, hanging out with Carlos and Faaez, meeting their team, setting up internet, and seeing what we later determined was a bush baby (thank you Wikipedia).

We stayed the night in Sahn Malen and departed early in the morning to head back to Kenema and get our laptops. We spent less than 24 hours in Sahn Malen, and it was the first day we had all been out of Kenema since we arrived. Too bad we didn’t leave earlier – we may have received our laptops earlier!

XOs! by Katie R
July 26, 2009, 11:42 am
Filed under: OLPCorps, Team Info

We received our laptops today!

Well, 99% of them anyway… we were missing one. More updates about that later.

“XO’s Please” Continued by Chelsea Rue
July 25, 2009, 1:46 pm
Filed under: Logistics, OLPCorps, Rants and Raves, Technology

The battle to get the laptops continues…

Inefficiency.  Lies.  Suspicions.

Do we have your attention International DHL PR staff person?  We certainly hope so.

Our laptops were freed from Customs on Wednesday (to our great relef and joy).  However, another struggle has presented itself.  Despite repeated assurances from the DHL Sierra Leone office that we would be receiving the laptops by Friday, at the latest Saturday at 1 pm, we are now sitting here at 6:40 pm posting this blog with nary an XO in sight.

Here is what we find troubling about this situation and the reasons we were given for the delay:

  1. DHL SL did not deliver on the day that they assured us (several times) that they would deliver.  This will delay the start date of our program once again, to the disappointment of 100 of the most vulnerable children in Kenema.
  2. DHL claimed that our shipment was delayed because it rained yesterday.  This is absurd.  It’s the rainy season.
  3. DHL SL is using a commercial bus to send our valuable shipment unaccompanied across the country, instead of using secure DHL vehicles.
  4. Not only did DHL SL use alternate transport for our shipment, upon our calls to DHL SL agents this morning, they were completely unaware of the shipment’s status or location.
  5. DHL SL gave several conflicting reasons why our shipment did not come as promised. First, they cannot deliver in the rain. Second, the vans had technical problems. Third, the van was full. If there was a problem with our shipment the night before, we should have been notified immediately.

    We look forward to Sunday where we will either be presented with our laptops (as most recently promised) or with ever more creative excuses.

    We welcome a response from any DHL staff who should happen across this post.

    This is Sierra Leone by Katie McCarthy
    July 20, 2009, 10:30 am
    Filed under: Rants and Raves, Team Info

    This is Sierra Leone…

    This is Sierra Leone.

    It’s remarkable how much one sentence can say. It’s even more amazing how the emphasis of words can change the meaning of a sentence. Four small words convey an important message.

    More often than not, it’s the first sentence we hear. “This is Sierra Leone…” followed by a shoulder shrug and averted eyes. We’ve heard it most notably twice. The first was during our customs exchange. In brief, it was implied to mean that in order to get our shipment through customs, bribery was necessary. This is Sierra Leone… if you want to get things done quickly, you need to pay someone. Corruption is a way of life, especially in a country where government jobs are highly prized but it takes months or years to get a paycheck. “This is Sierra Leone…” followed by a shoulder shrug and averted eyes. The second time we heard the phrase was when we were talking to DCI about volunteers to teach the class. We were told that people would not volunteer their time without some financial incentive. We should pay travel expenses; give them food; something to get them to help ease the burden of volunteering. Now, it would not cost our program much to pay travel expenses: a Honda (motorbike) costs Le 1000 (approximately thirty American cents). If we paid each volunteer to come each day for the duration of the program (about four weeks), we would spend about 60USD. Less than what most people in the US make in a day… but that’s not the point. We are looking for people to volunteer their time and talents to benefit their children. We’re bringing so many other resources and providing a program that will help their children (and we’re already supplementing the salary for some), that it is a little frustrating that people can’t pay for transportation. That they can’t invest in a project for a few hours each day to help kids learn to use the computers. Luckily, the last example was reversed when we said we were planning to give the volunteers we trained certificates presented at a big ceremony.

    That mindset seems prevalent in many parts of Africa. I’ve heard many a seasoned traveler use its parent: This is Africa, TIA. It’s the same mentality. Africa is some heart of darkness, only to be penetrated by the brave of heart and the tough of stomach. It’s not some place regular people want to go. It’s exotic, a place of mystery; it’s scary, a place to be fearful of. It’s a place where the do-gooders or the do-badders go to fulfill their mission. It’s a place to be developed; it’s a place to be exploited. It’s extreme. It’s not some place regular people want to go.

    But it’s not that simple, that dichotomous. No country… no CONTINENT should be brushed off so easily. Africa, and speaking from my experience in Sierra Leone, is a complex place of unique traditions, cultures, histories, and peoples. Imagine how absurd it would sound to say, “This is Asia” or “This is North America.” I’m sure some Canadians would be very offended by the latter statement. So, let’s look at the other statement I began with: This is Sierra Leone.

    This is Sierra Leone. Looking straight into your eyes, shoulders proud, small smile. A young man reads about genetics from an old biology textbook for fun. Little kids use their free time to learn to use a computer. Young adults spending their nights reading all they can on chemistry, literature, and physics on Wikipedia. Teachers at a workshop proudly display their books. Small girls confidently sing “Education is good for the girl child, for the family and also for the nation” in front of beaming parents. Sierra Leoneans value education, thirsting for information and knowledge; they do not take it for granted.

    This is Sierra Leone. Looking straight into your eyes, shoulders proud, small smile. People give us the special food, reserved only for select occasions, possibly leaving themselves hungry. Bikers, many of whom are ex-combatants, explain the new helmet law to me and point out where I can buy one. A stranger greets us in the street, laughing when we reply in Mende, and then teaching us new words, becoming a friend. Sierra Leoneans are incredibly friendly and hospitable.

    This is Sierra Leone. Looking straight into your eyes, shoulders proud, small smile. Fruit and bread vendors pick the perfect pieces to sell to us. They usually tell us the correct price, despite our lack of knowledge. Most people don’t try to take advantage of us. They search for foods we are looking for. Sierra Leoneans are honest and fair.

    This is Sierra Leone. Looking straight into your eyes, shoulders proud, small smile. LUCOWODA, the Lumbebu women’s organization, supports local women and runs a school focusing on vulnerable children and girl children (see the link for a video clip). Action Plus, an NGO, supports victims of domestic violence, advocates for better laws and justice, and sensitizes communities against domestic violence. Defence for Children International advocates and supports children, and diligently supports our program. Sierra Leoneans, who may have had other options, decide to serve their people.

    This is Sierra Leone. Looking straight into your eyes, shoulders proud, small smile. The fruit and vegetables are amazing, fresh and delicious. The countryside is beautiful. The rain bursts make the air smell clean and new. The torrential rain at night on the corrugated metal roof is a better way to go to sleep than any sleep machine I’ve ever heard. Sierra Leone, and its productions, is beautiful.

    This is Sierra Leone. Looking straight into your eyes, shoulders proud, small smile. Children of both of the major religions, Christian and Muslim, play and live together. Children of various tribes know and respect each others’ languages. Sierra Leoneans respect many differences that have divided other countries.

    There are problems in Sierra Leone. But the problems should not eclipse the virtues the country and her people possess. At a conference we attended this week, I was inspired by a returned Peace Corps volunteer, teacher, and Salone advocate. He was running the workshop where teachers created their own teaching materials, books. “Some people say Sierra Leone is poor and they cite the statistics. But if you look at your books, Sierra Leone is NOT poor. There is so much knowledge and beauty and so much worthwhile. How are you going to share this? What’s next?”

    Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth’s project in Kenema by Katie R
    July 20, 2009, 10:27 am
    Filed under: In the News, OLPCorps

    This project is a marathon, not a sprint. And during a marathon, there are times when things get slower, right? In the middle of the race, when the adrenaline from starting has worn off and the adrenaline of finishing has not kicked in, things slow down. Well, that’s where we are now. We’re in the middle of the race, coming up against several large hills. We’ve blogged quite extensively about the hills: our internet access and connectivity, and the ever present and mercilessly steep mountain of customs. But now, we’d like to provide an update of the long marathon, the part after we “Hit the Ground Running.”

    Since we have had so much time without the laptops, and we have been unable to begin the children’s classes, we’ve been everything we can think of to prepare for everything else.

    We finished a very thorough and very successful teacher training more than a week ago using our own personal XOs instead of waiting for our shipment of 100 to come in.  It lasted about twice as long as we expected it to – we had training all day, every day for about 2 weeks straight!  Our teachers and volunteers were so interested in learning, even when we said we were done, they stayed to explore, read and learn.  We try to look at this as one positive thing that came out of our quarantined laptops: if we had had them at our site sooner, the teacher training probably would not have gone on as long as it did before the classes started.  So, at least this way we know that our teachers and volunteers really have a good handle on the laptops.

    Throughout the training people would come and go throughout the day; but, for the most part, many of the teachers and volunteers came everyday and stayed for several hours, if not the whole time.  We had our DCI teachers, plus a volunteer or two from each of the organizations who contributed to the selection-of-children process and some representatives from the Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) in the four communities targeted by DCI. Additionally, some of the other DCI volunteers would drop in between the young adult computer classes that they teach in an adjoining room and some of our friends from last year that would just drop in to say hi and eventually end up in from of an XO for a little while…  In total, about 15 adults were exposed to the XO training in some form and about eight had extensive training. We set up a post-training evaluation on the server for them to access on the last day. We’ll include some updates on the evaluations once we’ve been able to look at them thoroughly.


    Barrie, Vanday, Banie, Katie and Katie during our Training of Trainers

    These teachers and volunteers will act in several capacities. First, those from the CWCs and the partner organizations will act as satellite troubleshooters, child protection advocates and XO community advocates. They will be able to communicate with the DCI staff in case of any problems and they are familiar faces for the kids.  If only we had some kids for our teachers to teach…

    Actually, we do have kids for the teachers to teach.  DCI has finalized a list of about 80 kids for the classes, with the option of adding more depending on if any of the 100 XOs are broken beyond repair when they arrive.  Since our project is more of a community center set-up instead of school set-up, DCI collaborated with some of the other child protection organizations in town to include kids within our age range from their programs.  We’ve had a lot of time to think about the schedule and outline of teaching for the kids.

    The schedule for the classes, because it is summer vacation for most of the kids, is pretty flexible.  We tried to break it down so that we can balance between not having too many kids at once and having kids for a long enough period of time so that they can leave with a fully or almost fully charged battery.  There are three class session times (morning, mid-day, afternoon), with two classes of 12-15 kids during each session.  Each child will have the opportunity to come a half hour before or after their class session to charge their laptops.  If only we had the laptops so we could bring in the kids…

    The curriculum is also slowly coming to fruition. Paul and Barrie, our DCI teachers, having spent some time mastering the XOs, are putting the finishing touches on our curriculum.  We brainstormed a bit last week about material beyond computer skills, resulting in a curriculum cocktail of DCI’s mission (protecting the rights of children) and the background of four-fifths of our OLPCorps team (international public health) as material for the classes.  We decided use the XOs (supplemented by e- texts, internet research, and guest speakers) as a tool to educate our young pupils on important public health and human rights topics, teaching them computer skills along the way.   We’ll split up the weeks among small learning projects on malaria, recognizing basic symptoms of illness (headache, stomach ache, etc.), hygiene, the international rights and responsibilities of the child, as well as local laws in Sierra Leone that protect children.  Guest speakers, friends of ours from the Kenema Government Hospital and Eastern Polytechnical College, will come in provide talk about some of diseases and hygiene, while DCI staff will cover the human rights arena.  Kids can use this info as the starting point for some of their learning projects, and can research more information as their interest dictates.  An cool example that Banie (one of the DCI staff) gave… after a some basic info on malaria, kids can use Wikipedia to look up additional information on it, can go online and find a picture of a mosquito to see what it looks like, use paint to draw their own mosquito, and use Scratch to make an animation showing the mosquito biting a person and transmitting malaria into their bloodstream.  We thought that was cool, anyway.

    Another great resource that we’ll incorporate into our lesson plans (thank you, Emily!) and make available to our pupils and, possibly just as importantly, their parents and families is an electronic version of a book called Where There Are No Doctors.  It is handbook written for anyone who wants to do something about his or her own and other people’s health.  Even where there are doctors and medical centers nearby, it is a great resource with guidelines on how to recognize common health problems, what to do about them, and when to go to for help.  If only we had our laptops so we can start classes…

    Still waiting for our laptops on the new benches...

    Still waiting for our laptops on the new benches...

    We also have the part of the DCI offices all ready to be our classrooms.  We’ve commissioned and received tables and benches for the children to work on and oriented them in several different configurations- they’re currently empty and lonely in the main classroom instead of supporting the weight of little bodies and eager minds…

    We built a shelf for the server and access points; figured out where plugs are and where power strips should go so that each child can be plugged in while in class, we even (almost) have internet set up (more on that later).  We successfully Nandblasted one of our own XOs to make sure it would work (it did).

    Stickers and Buttons

    Stickers and Buttons

    We brought T-shirts for our teachers and our volunteers, to be handed out at the opening ceremony, along with some beautiful certificates of appreciation.  We even have little XO buttons for each child and stickers for kids when they master an activity.  If only we had classes to use them in…

    We have met with staff from the DCI Headquarters office in Freetown, with the Deputy Director of Education in Kenema, c

    ity council members in charge of education, etc. to explain the project and ask for their blessing.   We even had a spot on the radio this week about the project, or at least, Mary, Margaret, and Elizabeth did…  The radio journalist didn’t catch our real names, so he just made some up.  Either way, it was about our laptop project, and people in town heard and they are excited.

    We are excited too… and we are running out of ideas on things we can do to prepare…

    T shirts close up

    OLPC Kenema T-shirts

    If only we had our laptops.

    Teachers Training Teachers by Katie R
    July 20, 2009, 9:31 am
    Filed under: Teaching

    Book on Common Diseases that Affect Children, made by teachers at the Bo FoSL Teacher TrainingLast Friday our group got to take its first jaunt outside of Kenema (excluding Freetown of course), and headed to Bo, an easy 45 minute taxi ride. The ride was cramped (although we’ve had worse), and cost about $2 a person.

    We went there to give our project presentation to a teachers workshop. The workshop was called Teachers Training Teachers and was led by Katherine and Richard Frazier of Friends of Sierra Leone (FOSL), and was also supported by Schools For Salone (SFS). Drs. Frazier (both Sierra-Leonean Peace Corp volunteers from 70’s) had found that school teachers of the area felt paralyzed by the lack of available educational materials. The goal of the workshop was to show them that they did not have to sit idly by, waiting for funding and materials, but could instead reach out to their community, find people of particular skills, learn from them, and make their own book! To show them that this was possible, that is exactly what they did during their week long training.

    The 73 teachers were split into groups. Each group decided what they wanted to write a book on, what education level they were targeting, spent a couple of days researching the topic (going to meet and speak with the local clay-pot makers or the blacksmith etc…) and then wrote up what they learned. This exercise gave them a sense of empowerment and showed them that there was already a wealth of knowledge within their communities.

    Kid and Katie M reading book on malaria, made by teachers at Bo FoSL Teacher Training 5At the end of the week there were 15 finished books with the following subjects:

    • Common Diseases that Affect Children
    • The Unprotected Water Well
    • The Making of Gari
    • The Buying and Selling of Agricultural Products
    • Baby Growth Food
    • Garbadge Collection in Bo City
    • Malaria is a Dangerous Disease
    • Science and Indigenous Technology: Charcoal Production
    • Pa Kanu Needs to Support his Children: Aluminum Pot Making
    • Making Gara Cloths
    • Pa Ngoka the Distiller Need Money to Pay School Fees
    • Joe’s Journey
    • Teenage Pregnancy in School
    • Blacksmiths Workshop

    Our team was so impressed with the final results we wanted copies for our pupils. Fortunately, the facilitators of the workshop had scanned each book and made electronic copies as well. So, we bought a CD of the books (in the form of a donation to FOSL). We are planning on putting the information onto our server. That way, all 100 children will have access to these wonderful books!

    Although we felt slightly awkward presenting our technologically advanced computers at a workshop that was targeting the feeling of paralysis felt by teachers who don’t have adequate school supplies, Drs. Frazier were able to eloquently connect the work that we were doing with the work that the teachers were doing in the workshop. They also used our project as an example of the benefits and potentials of grant writing. Their words were very inspirational and we were very happy to have participated in such a great event.

    If you would like more information on FOSL, please visit their website at: http://www.fosalone.org

    Do they have a fourth of July in Sierra Leone? by Katie McCarthy
    July 9, 2009, 9:34 am
    Filed under: Team Info

    Yes, and they celebrate it.

    Did you ever take that quiz with trick questions, like “Do the British have a fourth of July?”? I remember taking the test to big family gatherings and laughing at my unwitting cousins and relatives when I was able to trick them with the quiz. While the answer to the fourth of July question is yes for any country (of course a country has a fourth of July, they might not celebrate it as a holiday), in Kenema, Sierra Leone, the fourth of July was celebrated in a fun, if not traditional, method.

    Last year, the Tulane students and many friends celebrated in a somewhat traditional way – we gathered together, played games, ate a lot of food, and lit things on fire (although our items included lighters and turning on our cell phone flashlights). So, the stage was set for a grander operation this year, as several Sierra Leoneans were already aware of our strange traditions.

    The day started out rather mundanely – we woke at 8am, got breakfast, and planned to rest before working on OLPC projects. But shortly into our rest, we were interrupted when the kids came to remind us of a promise made earlier in the week. Masa, one of the kids who lives near the Pastoral Centre, said she would teach us how to make butterscotchy, a treat we enjoyed last year. So, we hiked down to their house (just outside the Pastoral Centre grounds) and spent a very enjoyable morning making butterscotchy.

    Making Butterscotchy

    Making Butterscotchy

    As happens often, our presence created some attention and before the morning was over, we had accrued quite a crowd of neighborhood children. After distributing the butterscotchy appropriately (and sneaking several pieces to small children), we headed back to our rooms to work on the XS, the server OLPC gave us, but not before promising to return to join them for lunch after we were finished work. We continued diligently to figure out the server, solving many problems and probably creating more, and returned to Masa’s house (and Alhaji’s, Pabai’s, and Mama’s) for a lunch of groundnut soup, or ‘niki soup-wi’ (Mende). After lunch, we played games with the kids – football, Miss Mary Mack, the hand slap game, and sat around. The kids, remembering it was American Independence Day, started singing songs they would sing during their independence day. Somehow, the games morphed into a full blown celebration including music, dancing, singing and other performances. All the kids got in on the fun and we were the willing audience. The festivities only ended when we had to go to a meeting with DCI.

    Now, if you’re keeping track, it’s a Saturday evening. Needless to say, we weren’t particularly thrilled to attend a meeting at 6pm on a Saturday. But, like the rest of the day, it turned out to be a pleasant and productive event. DCI was having a country-wide planning meeting with their country director and each headquarters’ program managers were present. We met with them, discussed our project in greater detail, and let them explore the XOs a little. They were very encouraging and hope to attend some of the events we are planning over the summer. Overall, a productive meeting.

    After our meeting, we headed back to the Pastoral Centre, to celebrate. Our celebration included sitting at the bar with Fumba, Augustine and the night guard, making guacamole (yum!), drinking Star beer (not so yum), and enjoying the cooling rain.

    While we missed out on fireworks, weren’t able to eat gumbo or hot dogs, and definitely were not surrounded by red, white and blue, the day turned out to be one of the best celebrations I’ve had. Katie R has said (usually after eating a particularly delicious meal) that she would be perfectly happy to die at that moment. I would describe that feeling more as perfect contentment and happiness, wanting nothing more from the world at that moment. That’s how I felt last night, sitting in the bar at the Pastoral Centre, eating guacamole, listening to the rain, in Sierra Leone. Perfectly happy!

    Katie M

    Getting a modem to work… by jamesko
    July 6, 2009, 12:19 pm
    Filed under: Technology

    One of the goals of this project is to provide internet access for the XOs. However, trying to get it has thus far been quite an adventure. When the team first arrived, they spoke with the telecommunications company SierraTel, and they told us that they could provide a modem and internet no problem, but that we would have to wait because it would take them a day or two to get the modem. While we were waiting, tragically, one of their employees died. The staff told us that they would be mourning for the next few days and that we should return on Thursday. When we went back on Thursday, they informed us that they were still mourning and that we should check back the following day to see if they are still mourning or not. So we did. And they were.

    The following week we spoke with them again and they told us that they would be unable to get the modem for us and that we needed to get it from Freetown ourselves (but that they could help with any difficulties we might have while setting it up). Fortunately, this was at the same time I was flying into Sierra Leone and Katie and I could pick up the modem when she came to get me. We went to SierraTel and got the modem fine. However, when we went back to the guesthouse, set up the modem and tried it, it didn’t work. We went back to SierraTel and Natasha, our agent, fixed it (it was a simple fix, changing the network type from EVDO to CDMA). Apparently, in Freetown EVDO should be used but while in Kenema we would need to use CDMA.

    Since we got to Kemema one of two things has happened while trying to connect to the internet. (1) the modem gets no signal, or (2) we get a signal, but when we try to connect, we get an error message that says that “the remote computer is not responding”.

    Last Friday we spent several hours at the SierraTel office here in Kenema on the phone with “tech support” from Freetown. Our efforts were fruitless. The man in charge in Kenema, Ellis, told us that on Monday a man named Christopher would be back and he was the expert who could fix our problem.

    Today is Monday. This morning we got a call from Ellis and he informed us that Christopher will not be coming back until Friday. Damn…

    So here is where we need some help from all you tech savvy readers out there. As we wait for Christopher, we are trying to answer the following two questions:

    (1) SierraTel personnel tell us that only 3 or so computers can get internet at once on the modem that we are using; while in Rwanda for the training, our team was told that due to the server and access points we would be able to provide internet to all of the computers no problem. Who is right?

    (2) This is not really a question, and we will know more once we get the modem to work, but does anyone have any advice or comments for us as we prepare to connect the modem to the server? Has anyone tried using this modem before (modem details below)? The setup will be different from the one that our team has done before (in Rwanda, the modem was plugged into the wall, where as our modem here is plugged in using a USB connection.)

    For anyone who thinks that they may be able to help us, we would really appreciate your input. Details of the modem that we bought are as follows and photos are below:

    4th of July and Beyond 083


    Huawei Technologies CO., Ltd.

    EC266  USB Modem

    CDMA2000 1x

    EV-DO Rev. A

    Key Features

    High speed wireless access with CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Rev. A

    Send and receive E-mails with large attachments

    Compatible with laptop and pc

    Plug and play

    Receive diversity


    Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP or Windows VISTA

    128 MB RAM or above

    100MB available hard disk space

    USB interface


    CDMA2000 1xRTT 800/1900MHz

    CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Rev. 0 800/1900MHz

    CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Rev. A 800/1900MHz

    Customs by jamesko
    July 6, 2009, 12:16 pm
    Filed under: Logistics

    The ball is rolling. And now, the waiting game…

    This post is a continuation of “XOs Please…”.

    So after my arrival, Katie R and I spent a couple of days in Freetown to try and resolve the Customs issue, as well as pick up a modem from the head SierraTel office (per the office in Kenema’s instructions). Our… “adventures” with the modem will be saved for a future blog.

    So why have we been having problems getting our laptops released?

    Although his intentions were not malicious, our in-country contact unfortunately tried to tackle the complex shipping and customs process solo, without communicating with the appropriate DCI personnel (their Logistics and Operations Manager). As a result, what he thought was a duty-waiver form, was in fact not, and what he confidently assured us was taken care of, wasn’t.

    As of a week ago, our team, customs and DCI were seeing three different situations: our team was under the impression that all appropriate paperwork had been filled out; Customs was appropriately imposing a duty fee (as we didn’t have the correct duty-waiver form); and DCI was in the dark about the whole thing.  It took hours of digging and probing the agents at the DHL and our shipment files, along with the help of the staff at the DCI headquarters office in Freetown, to bring this whole situation to light.

    Where did that leave us?

    After discovering what had gone wrong, there was still work to do. The DHL employee told us that we would need to pay Le 500,000 (about $150) to the National Revenue Association (NRA) as a duty waiver fee , and that we had to write a letter to some Commissioner (which he graciously helped us get started on) and bring them to him the following day.  So, at 9am the following morning, we showed up with our letter and money only to then be told that the Le 500,000 was the NRA fee and that the DHL agent himself would need Le 300,000 (about $90) for “documentation and acceleration”.  When we (naturally) objected to paying additional fees beyond the previous quote and pressed the DHL man for further explanation, our friend from DCI stepped in to help elucidate, succinctly and clearly, why it was necessary.  “What he is trying to say,” our DCI rep explained, “is that this is Sierra Leone…” (What we heard: The Le 300,000 was for DHL and to grease the palms of the people whose signature we would need if we want to get our laptops before the end of the summer).

    It was a classic bait and switch, but at least it was one step closer to the liberation of our laptops.

    As of Friday, our paperwork was just about complete and duty waiver almost granted.  We expect the rest to go through today, which means that the laptops will be free to go and on their way… to Freetown?  DHL has been trying to convince us on more than one occasion that, once our shipment is released, we will have to pick it up from their office in Freetown and transport it to Kenema ourselves because they only have the resources to transport small packages all the way to Kenema… even though the receiving address in the contract is in Kenema (not Freetown)… and even though DHL actually has a functioning office in Kenema… and even though there were two big painted yellow DHL vans outside the office that would have plenty of space…

    We were told we would be getting the final signature today (Monday) and receiving the laptops sometime later this week. So now we’re waiting with our fingers crossed…

    Hit the Ground Running by Katie McCarthy
    June 26, 2009, 4:55 am
    Filed under: Teaching

    First Days in Kenema 049Chelsea, Katie R and I arrived in Sierra Leone less than a week ago (as I’m writing, we arrived almost 5 days ago). Already, we have met several times with our partner organization, Defence for Children International (DCI); been introduced to various partners and stakeholders (including the Kenema reps for the ministries of Education and Social Welfare and the local police); participated in a partner organizations meeting; set the tentative schedule for training of trainers and the children’s classes; and plan to start our TOT sessions tomorrow morning. Whew!

    All of this was possible because of DCI. While OLPCorps has been criticized for sending naïve college students out into the African development wilderness, it’s important to remember that a qualifying factor for deployment selection was partnership with and support from a local non-governmental organization. And, we were very lucky to have found and partnered with such a collaborative, welcoming, competent, and DEDICATED group. The project coordinators, social workers and interns work together with a shared mission of protecting and bettering the lives of children. The staff also recognizes the value of computer and IT skills, and they have worked to incorporate them into their programs. One of the reasons we thought of DCI when applying to OLPCorps was because they had set up a computer lab and initiated training for youth. The program was so popular that they added additional classes and still had to turn students away.

    DCI is very invested in the project. They welcomed us graciously into their organization, pulling out all stops to make this program work. Before we arrived, they contacted various child protection agencies with which to collaborate and decided that, since this project was just a pilot, they wanted it to affect as many communities as possible (since the number of children affected is limited). In collaboration with their partners and community leaders, they developed a list of vulnerable children who should benefit from the program. The list includes children from their projects (helping children that are in the justice system, including both victims and perpetrators) in addition to children from their partner organizations: the Blind School (the children are not blind; they lead blind family members around to beg for money), Ben Hirsh (an organization that caters to street children and orphans), and other local community groups.

    Thus far, we have not met the children who will benefit from the project. However, we plan to “interview” each child at the start of the program, asking them about their computer experience, what they want to be when they grow up, if they like school, what is their favorite subject, what is their favorite game, etc. This will serve as a method to get to know each child and as a way to evaluate the program quantitatively, as we hope to have post-deployment interviews as well.

    Our teachers are two DCI employees, both of whom have technical experience. Paul is the IT instructor for DCI’s computer lab, and Barrie is a social worker with computer experience. Both show an avid interest to learn more about the XO. In addition to our two main teachers, DCI has enlisted each partner organization or community to send a representative to learn how to use the XO and volunteer during the classes. This person will act as an advocate and a local resource for the children they represent. Because many of the people we’re training already have some technological experience, we hope they will be more willing and excited to participate in learning this new system. From a brief introduction to the laptop, that seems a good assumption.

    Most people that we’ve talked to are excited about the possibility of extending the program, so they are invested in ensuring its success. We’ve already had several adults ask us to buy more laptops so their children can benefit. They see the immense value and opportunity presented by the laptops. DCI and others we have met want to make this program work, so that more children can receive laptops. They are already imagining a time when there is one laptop per child in Sierra Leone. It’s very clear that they genuinely care about improving the lives of children.

    XOs please… by jamesko
    June 24, 2009, 10:21 pm
    Filed under: Rants and Raves

    Over the first few days in-country our team has been very impressed with the level of enthusiam, but much more importantly, the level of preparation our partnering organizations have shown. As a result, we have almost finalized the list of participating children, community leaders are on-board and actively contributing to the development of the project, and we have made great strides towards solidifying cheap (relative to our original options), reliable internet.

    If only we could get our laptops….

    In an attempt to avoid the hassle of arranging the transportation of 100 laptops from Freetown to Kenema (a 5 or so hour journey), we asked DHL to deliver the shipment of XOs directly to Kenema (instead of the UNICEF office in Freetown). This may not have proven to be the best idea, as our shipment is now stuck in Customs and they want about $750 to release them (unlike the shipment for the other Sierra Leone team who had them delivered to UNICEF and had to pay no such fee). As these laptops are a charitable donation, gifted with the intent of advancing eduation within Sierra Leone we are quite dissapointed that the government would delay their arrival and impose such illegtimate  fees.

    Despite the profound efforts made by one of our contacts, Joseph Zombo, and others, attempts at getting the XOs released have been fruitless thus far. Thankfully, we are in contact with members of the other Sierra Leone team (who have valuable contacts and are anxious to help), DHL, UNICEF, OLPCorp, and, our team met with the Anti-Corruption organization a few days ago (who offered to help if we were unable to resolve the matter ourselves). Our hope is that everything will be resolved in a timely fashion, without part of our operating budget having to be diverted to pay unnecessary Customs fees, and we can start classes sometime next week!

    Again, a special thank you to all of those who have been working with us to try and resolve this issue! Your efforts are greatly appreciated.