OLPCorps Tulane University & UC Davis – Sierra Leone

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.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

You have a fantastic blog! Thanks for sharing about DCI – it really provides some nice context for your work. As always, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

Comment by Bryan Stuart

Thanks for keeping us updated. As a family member of one of your crew, I’m always interested to hear about your most recent experiences. Sounds like your making good progress. It’s good to know that there is some sort of defined selection process for the lucky recipients of these XOs. Good luck to you all.

Tom Robinette (Katie R’s dad)

Comment by Tom Robinette

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