OLPCorps Tulane University & UC Davis – Sierra Leone

OLPCorps Redeemed by Katie R
June 18, 2009, 12:49 pm
Filed under: OLPCorps

Training in Kigali has come to an end. As various teams depart, and we prepare for our last day in Kigali and our flights to Freetown, we’ve come to several conclusions about OLPC, the Corps, our time in Rwanda, and the purpose of our project.

The past 10 days have been full of highs and lows, as mentioned in previous posts (see “The OLPC Roller Coaster”). But several important points come to mind as well as some things we would like to emphasize. This experience has greatly exceeded our expectations. The training, especially the technical sessions, were well thought out and designed. They were informative, helpful, and encouraging. Even when they went poorly (some of the teacher training sessions), the lessons to be learned were emphasized and provided excellent learning experiences. And, in reference to the teacher training sessions, they renewed our resolve to continue working in developing countries and underserved areas.

While we had doubts about OLPCorps, we are extremely supportive of it coming out of these 10 days in Kigali. The program gives us tons of flexibility at our sites, but also tons of responsibility in making it work. And, we truly do think that college students are the right implementers of such a problem (or at least, not the wrong ones). The OLPCorps teams (and staff!) we have met here have enormous drive, initiative, enthusiasm, fresh ideas, and diverse experience.  Additionally, the networking that OLPCorps created between teams was invaluable for exchanging ideas, cooperating and learning about other cultures and customs.

Our immensely positive experience in Kigali would not have been possible without the OLPCorps staff – Brian(s), Paul, Reuben, Nia, Lynn, David, and others. They did an excellent job in organizing a vast group of students, all with different skill and experience levels.  They covered pretty much everything that we wanted to cover so that we feel very prepared for our project.  They also addressed issues as they arose and planned the conference/training sessions very well.

For example, after the formal conference with Negroponte, Kagame, and other government officials, in which Negroponte made several off-putting comments (see “Caught in a Ponzi Scheme”), several teams felt discouraged or overwhelmed by what Negroponte said the stated objectives of OLPCorps were. The OLPCorps staff responded to the raised concerns and provided excellent feedback about what they saw as the intended objectives of the Corps and what realistic expectations of our projects should be. While there seemed to be a disconnect between what the OLPCorps staff and Negroponte said, it was reassuring to hear that this project was worth our time and money to bring this project to various sites in Africa.  Maybe, for those of you with an M&E background, Negroponte was describing impacts of the project while OLPCorps staff was focusing on the outcomes. Here are some of the objectives and advice the OLPCorps staff provided for us:

  • “Create excitement around the XO” – If you do this, governments will take notice; but you don’t need to go through the government.
  • OLPCorps teams to connect with each other to create a network of empowered and enthusiastic young people. (If young people won’t do this, who will?)
  • “Create quality learning experiences for 300,000 kids”
  • On sustainability
    • Identify who will continue the project. The best thing to do is to find a few people like ourselves who are excited about education, excited about the XOs, etc. They can be from the NGO, government, or citizens.
    • Keep fundraising

We really felt that the OLPCorps staff and the training here in Rwanda redeemed the mission of OLPCorps in our eyes, especially after the off-putting remarks of Negroponte last week, and re-confirmed to us that our project and OLPCorps as a whole is truly worth our time, and worth the investment that OLPC is putting into it.  And, the XO is a valuable learning tool. It made us excited to arrive at our site and get working.

With this in mind, we came up with a specific goal for our project: to reach out to vulnerable children in the community to encourage learning and empowerment… because a big part of it is doing something special for kids without parents or kids effected by the conflict.


3 Comments so far
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I think you’re noticing the difference between what Negroponte wants – more XO laptop sales – and what everyone else believes in – changing education across Africa. These are not mutually exclusive goals, but they don’t always compliment each other.

Comment by Wayan

Good for you! We feel much better that things are turning out to make some sense.
Yes indeed, “or at least, not the wrong ones”, but us old geezers would want you not to forget us, “If young people won’t do this, who will?”. Do not just remember us as a source of funds, but as genuine team members in the effort.

Comment by Yama Ploskonka

It’s great to hear you got a lot from the workshop. As you know, we’re always looking to refine it so let’s touch base to find ways in improving it for ’10. We’re working on the customs issues now. Do stay in touch with Paul from UNICEF. He’s a great guy. Lesson learned for next year–always go through UNICEF in SL. We’re doing what we can stateside. Keep at it. Hope Sierra Leone is great. I do miss it dearly. Beautiful country. More soon.

Comment by Paul

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