OLPCorps Tulane University & UC Davis – Sierra Leone

“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?”

    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.

    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?)

    The OLPC Roller Coaster by Katie McCarthy
    June 16, 2009, 4:21 am
    Filed under: OLPCorps, Rants and Raves

    For those of you from the Pennsylvania area, or those who have visited – this week has been like the Batman ride at Dorney Park – zero to sixty miles per hour in three seconds, with several loops following.

    roller coasterI (Katie M) haven’t had much time to reflect on this week’s events. It seems we are shuttled around, constantly going, with little time for introspection or reflection. And, as those of you who know me well, this does not make me a pleasant person to be around (Katie R disagrees- she thinks Katie M was still pleasant this week). So, now I plan on taking the time to reflect and hopefully gain some insights and resolutions. On that note, please bear with me as I take you on the roller coaster that has been the last seven days.

    Day 1 – Saturday, June 6

    Left for Rwanda today – Also on the agenda, a phone interview with a CDC office in Tanzania about the fellowship I applied for and driving into the Bronx to visit my great aunt and aunt. Doesn’t make for the best mental stability (or stomach), but somehow almost everything went off without a hitch. I arrived in Brussels early, met Katie R, and got through security without problem.

    Day 2 – Sunday, June 7

    In Brussels, Katie R and I navigated the airport with skill and grace… we follow signs to gate T69 (note: there is no T terminal – it’s actually a part of the A terminal but they make you go through additional passport and visa screening for those travelling to Africa). We discovered wireless internet costs 20 Euro for 4 hours and, without 4 hours to spare or 20 Euro, we passed on the internet and prepared for our next flight by trying to figure out whom else waiting for the plane might be a part of OLPC and comparing notes on our mental images of OLPC people. Our BRU-KGL flight also passed without problems, with all of our luggage arriving in a timely fashion, passing through the easiest entry procedures I’ve encountered, and meeting up with our OLPC bus once in Kigali. The rest is mainly a blur of people, places, and smells – but Kigali made an impression. As Sierra Leone (and Freetown, in particular) is my only source of African country comparison, Kigali is incredibly developed. The roads are smooth with clear signs, markings and pedestrian crossings; there is extensive landscaping; and there is relatively consistent electricity. These ideas made it through my jetlagged mind before I passed out for the night.

    Saturday and Sunday were the 0à60 mph part of the roller coaster.

    Days 3-6 – Monday, June 8 – Thursday, June 11

    Let the loops begin! Monday passed through a series of highs and lows – breakfast was wonderful; meeting people from all over the world continues to be incredible; but listening to endless lectures about OLPC with poor sound systems. In addition to the long day of lectures, introductions and technical sessions (the latter of which actually were helpful), we attended a “happy hour.” Now, I’ve nothing against happy hours, but by this time, I was exhausted and desperately looking forward to passing out on my bed.

    Tuesday came much too early, as our Guest of Honor (Paul Kagame) required intensive security procedures prior to beginning the sessions, requiring us to get up at 5am. “Jet lag” and “5am” should never be in the same thoughts. Look to our other post for more information about Tuesday. In addition, Katie and I were accosted by a misogynistic politician, who upon refusing to shake our hands or look at us, proceeded to tell us (and the other Sierra Leonean team, males) of our project’s ultimate failure.  Katie R had to leave the immediate area in order to avoid instigating physical confrontation.  Wednesday and Thursday continued in a reflection of Monday, with a little more constructionist teaching but much less structure. The highs included learning how to take the laptops apart and collaborating with other teams; the lows included long sessions, unconstructive teamwork and dashed hopes of sustainability (see: Caught in a Ponzi scheme).

    For details on Friday, see “Spinning Cats and Petites Histoires.”

    Day 7 – Saturday, June 13

    Saturday dawned bright and early! The day began with a beautiful trip to the southern part of Rwanda to visit the King’s Palace (an amazingly detailed, handcrafted hut and a Belgium-bribe house) and a trip to the National Institutes of Museums of Rwanda (I think that was the title). The King’s Palace was very interesting, as we learned about Rwandan culture, history, and hairstyles. However, the National Institutes only concerned the history of Rwanda until 1987, when the facility was built, and carried a disclaimer about the authenticity. The afternoon continued with a full lunch, people jumping in the hotel pool (not our hotel) and a poorly organized technical session. I was a little disappointed by the technical session, considering it was one in which I was most interested. The day ended with late night plans for Sunday (another post later).

    “…Like little girls are passionate about… err… other things” by Katie R
    June 16, 2009, 4:20 am
    Filed under: Rants and Raves

    Due to the fact that the issues in this post strike a very significant chord in my heart, that they are indeed my passion and motivation for choosing the career field that I chose (Public Health, but specifically women’s health and rights), this took a significant amount of time and care to compose.  It is in Gender and laptops?response to the conference that was held more than a week ago, and so in order to retain a more coherent chronology to our team’s blog, I reserved this spot for the post before it was ready, and Katie M and I continued to publish posts about subsequent events.  We’re now filling this spot in…

    Gender and laptops.  Nothing to do with each other?  Maybe.  “Leave it alone, Katie R” part of me says. “You can find gender inequality issues under a rock in the middle of a crater on the moon; don’t go looking to find cracks in a decent cause; pick your gender battles- some matter more than others…”  Maybe.  I tried to brush off some of the early wisps of smoke that tickled my sensitive gender fire alarm.

    For example, during one online chat seminar months ago in which OLPCorps teams were sharing ideas on topics for learning projects, a few did mention that their summer learning programs were going to “focus specifically on science and technology, obviously.”  This might seem intuitive at first (laptops=technology, right?), but to tout the program under such a title risks marginalizing little girls before the program even begins.  In cultures where strict gender roles/delineations/limitations are still pervasive both in practice (i.e., types of jobs available for women) and in perception (i.e., value of sons compared to daughters), a program emphasizing science & technology in the title rather than learning & education (which may appeal to genders more equally) automatically carries the connotation, whether subconsciously or not, that it is geared more for little boys than little girls.  Luckily one of the OLPC staff present at the seminar did respond that the programs should be more broadly focused, as the XOs are meant to be used for everything from music to art to photography to, yes, computer programming skills, but not just science & technology.

    Another question/concern came up and was never addressed when, at the same learning seminar, I received no response to my inquiry as to whether any of the other teams were taking measures to ensure that little girls were as involved in the laptop programs as little boys.  It seems that most teams are deploying their 100 laptops to schools.  In the U.S., assuring equal access to both boys and girls in a situation like this would be solved by the method of deployment.  Because all kids are enrolled in school, no extra gender considerations are needed.

    This is not the case, however, in most African countries.  The male to female ratio of school enrollment is alarmingly disproportionate, with more boys than girls enrolled in school in many countries and a gap that only widens as students get older.  Deploying laptops to children that are already enrolled in school in Africa means, in most cases, that little boys will be much more likely to benefit from the laptops, and little girls, who are more vulnerable to start with, are left in the dust.  However, there is little that a team of university students (OLPCorps) can do to change this inequality with their 100 laptops in a matter of 10 weeks.  I understand that, I really do.  I was just wondering if any of the teams (or OLPC, for that matter) had thought of it in terms of their deployments.

    As it turns out, Nicholas Negroponte (the chairman of One Laptop Per Child) did refer to gender in terms OLPC deployments on Tuesday at the big opening ceremony for both OLPCorps and the Center for Laptops and Learning in Rwanda (see Caught in Ponzi Scheme).  Negroponte made clear that little girls would not be left in the dust at OLPC deployment sites and he sees an important role for them in the sustainability of programs.  For example, children in a rural town in Cambodia were so concerned about taking good care of their new equipment, Negroponte explained to the audience, “that the little boys had their sisters make bags for their laptops.”  Ah, yes.  Making bags.  A very important role for little girls to assume to help ensure that their brothers receive a quality education.

    Negroponte conceded that some little girls may, like their brothers, have an interest in learning, though he seemed to stumble a bit on what it is, exactly, little girls could be passionate about.  When talking about how to enhance learning opportunities, he emphasized that children must first be passionate about learning.  Passionate about learning “like little boys are passionate about football,” he explained, “or like little girls are passionate about… (awkward pause)… other things.”


    But, what is it exactly that is so offensive about his remarks?

    A casual observer may not think Negroponte’s comments all too problematic. So a male, middle-aged, MIT professor doesn’t know what little girls like to do?  Big deal.  For all we know, Negroponte is very much a proponent of gender equality.  But, as the figurehead and spokesperson of OLPC at a high-publicity conference, Negroponte was addressing an audience of important government officials from all over Africa, some of whom (see The OLPC Roller Coaster) may already have misogynistic tendencies.  It is disappointing that Negroponte not only reinforced gender stereotypes (assigning football to boys and implying that little girls aren’t or would not be passionate about football), but was dismissive or unaware of the potential little girls have to be passionate about the world (beyond sewing bags).

    As a prominent proponent of what could be (and is described by members as) an exponential improvement in education, Negroponte should be more vocal about the powerful potential these laptops have at improving gender equality, as much as he should be aware of the potential that propagating unhealthy gender roles and dismissing little girls’ potential has at deteriorating gender equality.

    For instance, women’s education is one factor that has been shown to have a consistent and strong relationship to improvements in a wide range of health factors over the years, from decreasing high fertility rates (number of births per woman) to enhancing child and family health to decreasing poverty on a whole.  When educating women is overlooked and undervalued, and little girls are less likely to go to school at all or more likely to drop out of school early, the entire population bears the subsequent health burdens.  OLPC, with its mission to create quality education opportunities for every child, is in the powerful position to be the starting point in bridging these gender disparities.

    Contrary to the underlying tone that I detected in Negroponte’s remarks, little girls are just as passionate, curious, and eager to learn about the world as little boys, and supplying them with a powerful tool like the XO could allow them continue learning whether the misplaced cultural values around them allow little girls to be enrolled in school or not.  In fact, OLPC has made significant and laudable strides in this direction in some places, such as Afghanistan.

    In addition, while large problems like domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and sexual violence seem to dominate the violence-against-women discussion, smaller issues tend to make the most difference in people’s lives. Like is the case with stress, the smaller, daily stressors lead to lower quality of life than the big, life-changing stressors. Does a woman have to walk through an unsafe area to get water? Does the girl child get as much attention from parents and elders while growing up? Do women see powerful examples in their lives to emulate?

    If little girls were given the same education as little boys, they might have the tools to fight the cycle of discrimination perpetuated against women worldwide, and also specifically in the African countries with OLPCorps deployments.  With better education, women would have access to more job opportunities, would be more capable gaining the financial independence needed to get out of violent relationships, would have other livelihoods to turn to before resorting to sex work.  These girls could become agents of change in their communities.

    If this progress toward gender equality and toward improvement in the lives of women is a flame, then women’s education is the kindling, and OLPC is in a unique situation to provide the igniting spark by ensuring that little girls get XOs, especially those not in school….

    However, when organizations, or the individuals that represent them, fail to recognize gender equality in their public statements, there is small hope that little girls, their rights, and their equal potential will see significant progress any time soon.

    Caught in a Ponzi scheme by Katie R
    June 16, 2009, 1:44 am
    Filed under: Rants and Raves

    Well, maybe not exactly a Ponzi scheme…

    Tuesday launched the new Center for Laptops and Learning here in Rwanda as well the initiation of the OLPCorps team. The launch included a day-long conference with all the pomp and circumstance that one might hope for to both maximize publicity and garner support from potential investors: OLPC country representatives from places where the government was supporting the project (Uruguay, Rwanda and Haiti); government officials from African countries (those that support the project, those whose motivations are purely political and a little misogynistic); Rwandan students who toted around and presented their XOs; even the president of Rwanda made an appearance (who seems to be a pretty legitimate champion for development and education for his country). Nicholas Negroponte, the CEO and a zealous champion of OLPC, was also there. The day, while defined by a packed schedule, consisted mainly of politicians fluffing themselves. Here are the key points that Katie and I took away from the session.

    One laptop per child… not possible with 100 laptops given to the OLPCorps teams. It’s just not. So what is really the objective of OLPCorps?

    Here’s where the Ponsi scheme part comes in… According to Negroponte, OLPCorps was designed with the main objective of, not improving educational opportunities for kids as I originally thought (or was led to believe), but instead igniting a grassroots movement in our respective African countries that inspires community members to call on their governments to join the OLPC bandwagon. In other words, Corps teams deploy 100 laptops to 100 children in a community with much more than 100 children. The community is exposed to the greatness of the XO laptop, those who don’t have laptops want them, and so the community puts pressure on the government to reform the education system, and spend 75% (this figure was an example given by one of the government officials at the conference) of the education budget on a bulk purchase of XO laptops for the country. So instead of improving education in our deployment communities (this would be only a minor objective/possible side effect of the program), OLPCorps teams are supposed to spark jealousy within the community, thus igniting the so called grassroots movement. Brilliant? Or an underhanded way of going behind the governments’ back?

    Now, I don’t know exactly how grassroots movements ignite, but if this method were possible (i.e., citizens in several African countries calling upon their government to provide a useful tool), wouldn’t that have happened already with, for example, food, clean water, health care, or roads???

    So that’s why there’s no plan for sustainability on OLPCorps side (i.e., tech support, more laptops/Corps teams next year in the same spots- do they really expect us to fundraise $18,000 to deploy 100 more laptops to our site??)… OLPCorps deployments are not supposed to be sustainable. They’re not even supposed to be successful on their own.

    A final gem of the day, provided by Negroponte, was his response to a question about evaluation of laptop education projects, in order to provide some evidence-based recommendations for future deployments and to help convince governments who are considering XOs but might still be on the fence. “Laptops are like electricity,” Negroponte argues. “You don’t need to prove electricity.” Really Nick?