OLPCorps Tulane University & UC Davis – Sierra Leone


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.

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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

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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



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.



OLPC Limerick by emilycercone
June 16, 2009, 1:40 am
Filed under: OLPCorps, Teaching

This is Katie R’s and Katie M’s first attempt at using “Write” (a program providing similar functions as Word) together. They made a limerick! Below, Katie M is blue and Katie R is purple, as determined in Write. [The colors didn’t appear it the blog, so see “R” and “M” for reference :)]

Dear Katie, i think you do. I am going to add a sentence here. That’s great!

Hey stop interrupting my story!!!

There once was a snail named Katie. (M)
Her shell was the shape of a lady. (R)
She had a good friend (M)
That the school did suspend (R)
So she went to visit her matey, (M)
Katie! (M)



Spinning Cats & ‘Petites Histoires’ by Katie R
June 15, 2009, 6:05 am
Filed under: Teaching
Teacher training at Kagugu School in Rwanda

Teacher training at Kagugu School in Rwanda

On Friday we spent the day with one of the OLPC Learning Teams training teachers at Kagumu School in Rwanda, which already has 3020 laptops for its 3242 students, but is having some problems getting the teachers at the school to actually incorporate tme into their curriculum. OLPC has mentioned several times that training the teachers, and especially getting their buy-in on using the XOs, is one of the most challenging parts of implementing program. Some notes and observations on interaction with the teachers…

  • When teachers heard the word story, they thought of a written story. Getting them to make an animation took different vocabulary, such as the word animation.
  • It was fun doing a little project in Scratch- we went and took a picture of something outside and then used Scratch to add text, sounds, animation, etc. This required an adequate amount of time to actually come up with something, but not so much time that teachers start to develop Scratch project fatigue
  • They liked presenting the projects to the other teachers- the presenters seemed proud of what they had done and liked to see what others had done
  • One of the teachers suggested that we give out certificates (we were already planning on doing that, go team!)
  • Working in small groups or in pairs seemed most effective. Students were able to get their questions answered immediately, and teachers (the OLPCorps) knew immediately whether our responses were clearly understood
  • While some of the teachers took initiative and started thinking of ways to incorporate Scratch in the classroom, others teachers might have benefited from some ideas on what students can learn from Scratch.  With the teachers, more structure was better than less

Scratch is a program that uses commands to manipulate figures, pictures, text and sounds. One of the first things we learn to do on Scratch is how to make a cat spin around in a circle.