OLPCorps Tulane University & UC Davis – Sierra Leone

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


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.

Pointed Pith!! Chelsea Lambasts Journalism to Extreme Degree! by Chelsea Rue
June 24, 2009, 7:37 am
Filed under: In the News, Rants and Raves

Pithy comments, sensationalist and alliterative phrases, quotes taken out of context, tongue in cheek sarcasm (well, I quite like this last one).  All of these have come to characterize journalism over the last few years, particularly in America.  And I don’t like it.  I don’t like it one bit.  I used to have a great deal of respect for journalism.  As a youngster, I saw the discipline itself as a laudable and human rights-driven support for freedom of information and journalists as noble paladins on a quest for Truth with noble intentions of sharing it with the masses.

The coverage of the Iraq War (and basically every broadcast news story I’ve happened to catch on network stations since then) destroyed my childhood opinions in a wave of somber faced, fear-mongering reporting and images to be found 24 hours a day.  To my mind now, journalism isn’t about granting free and unbiased information about current events to the public.  Print or broadcast, it’s all about ratings, circulation, and the unending attempt to one-up the other networks/hosts/newspapers/reporters with larger type font, more startling graphics, and ever-more catchy titles assigned to tragic disasters with human casualties.

Oh, and tickers along the bottom of the screen.  Apparently those are mandatory.

Of course there are exceptions to these incredibly heavy-handed and clumsy (dare I say sensationalist) descriptions: many of them.  And just because I find most journalism distasteful, I am not implying that people should stop keeping abreast of current events.  News is important.  Information is necessary.  I just personally would prefer to receive my information without any of the blatant marketing gimmicks.

Particularly not in a self-appointed watchdog organization who should be above such tricks.

And especially not when said watchdog organization feels compelled to quote the blog of a project I am associated with out of context in a somewhat hyper-critical article in order to support whatever point the author was trying to get at.

I am referring to an article by the OLPC watchdog site, OLPC News.  Despite its rather innocuous moniker, OLPC News is not associated with OLPC the organization (beyond, it seems, attempting to discredit the OLPC initiative OLPCorps by latching onto minor quibbles, feeding them steroids, and posting them right up alongside the valid complaints and news stories).

In this article (OLPCorps Africa Weeks 1-2: A Training Roller Coast), OLPC News quotes from my team’s blog 3 times.  One of these quotes is well within its intent (note that I did mention valid complaints against OLPC; I would never claim that a watchdog is unwarranted or that the majority of the OLPC News articles are unfounded).  Another quote actually inspired the name of the article (although not in the way the original blog author intended…Real World roller coaster indeed).  And the third was clearly a weak and desperate attempt to turn a small joke about jet lag into a negative portrayal of the entire Rwanda training exercise (for a true critique of the Rwanda training exercise by our team, please see OLPCorps Redeemed).

In general, I don’t understand why OLPC News felt the need to stretch the boundaries of truth and intent in this article to imply that OLPCorps is doomed to failure and disgrace in all its aspects and activities when there are valid critiques to be made which could lead to constructive dialogue and actionable alternatives.  At the risk of being self-promoting, here are 2 such critiques by our team:

“…Like little girls are passionate about… err… other things” and Caught in a Ponzi Scheme [Please note in the interest of being completely transparent:  the second blog was quoted correctly in the article, and—though I personally believe the article itself could have been vastly improved by expanding upon the ideas expressed beyond repeating them from our blog—I have no complaints about the context in which the quote was used.]

Overall the OLPC News article was a poor attempt to draw many disparate ideas into a bland argument that OLPCorps is commercial in nature rather than humanitarian, and that the OLPC training regimen was poorly planned, and that Rwanda deserves no credit for developing itself on humanitarian aid dollars, and that OLPCorps volunteers need to get hands-on development experience but should also be really proud of what they’re going to accomplish, and…what was the point of that article again?  It changed topics so many times I got whiplash (as though I were on a roller coaster).

The point remains that my team and I are here to bring something good to a group of wonderful and deserving children through the support of a generous and charitable organization.  We are happy to both accept and offer constructive criticism about OLPC Corps, its mission and its standard operating procedures.  We are not happy with being used to help fuel a piece of writing that would rather skew and misshape an idea to prove an initiative unsalvageable instead of presenting a balanced and valid assessment of flaws found within OLPCorps and offering some alternative ideas or suggestions.

Or at least if we are going to be used, we’d prefer it to be in a well conceived article with a clear point of view and an unambiguous conclusion.

(Was that pithy enough for you?)

We’re famous!! by Katie R
June 3, 2009, 4:35 pm
Filed under: In the News

Our first publicity!  Check out this article posted about our project on the Yucaipa Now blog, part of the San Bernardino County Sun newspaper’s website.  (Katie R is from Yucaipa, CA).  Next will be the New York Times.

Yucaipa Now

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India, Sierra Leone Place OLPC Orders by Katie R
June 1, 2009, 12:55 pm
Filed under: In the News

India, Sierra Leone Place OLPC Orders

XO Saturation

XO Saturation

It seems like we won’t be the only ones with XOs in Sierra Leone in the near future.  In addition to another OLPCorps team like us with 100 laptops like us in the south of the country, it seems that a Freetown-based human rights organization called Human Rights Respect Awareness Raising Campaigners (HURRARC) has also come up with a proposal to deploy 5,000 XOs to primary and secondary schools in Sierra Leone by 2011, a project that will cost over $1 million  USD. 

Way to go, Sierra Leone.  One step closer toward XO saturation!

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Laptops Bring World Peace? by Katie R
May 21, 2009, 1:24 am
Filed under: In the News
XOs bring world peace?

XOs bring world peace?

The title of a CNN article from March, 2009 about OLPC and the XO laptops caught my eye today- “Laptops bring lessons, maybe even peace”.

Hmm, I thought as I read the title of the article.  Really?  Laptops beign responsible for world peace?  I am a fan of the little XO’s, they are clever devices.  But world peace?  That’s pretty ambitious.

So, I read on.  And, sure enough, CNN not only came across with a valid point about the importance of increasing education (via XOs), but also made a poignant observation that applies directly to Sierra Leone and its situation after the end of its long and gruesome war that ended less than a decade ago. By way of this education, the article argues that kids will be less inclined to join dangerous extremists during potential future conficts…