OLPCorps Tulane University & UC Davis – Sierra Leone

XOs! by Katie R
July 26, 2009, 11:42 am
Filed under: OLPCorps, Team Info

We received our laptops today!

Well, 99% of them anyway… we were missing one. More updates about that later.


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?”

Do they have a fourth of July in Sierra Leone? by Katie McCarthy
July 9, 2009, 9:34 am
Filed under: Team Info

Yes, and they celebrate it.

Did you ever take that quiz with trick questions, like “Do the British have a fourth of July?”? I remember taking the test to big family gatherings and laughing at my unwitting cousins and relatives when I was able to trick them with the quiz. While the answer to the fourth of July question is yes for any country (of course a country has a fourth of July, they might not celebrate it as a holiday), in Kenema, Sierra Leone, the fourth of July was celebrated in a fun, if not traditional, method.

Last year, the Tulane students and many friends celebrated in a somewhat traditional way – we gathered together, played games, ate a lot of food, and lit things on fire (although our items included lighters and turning on our cell phone flashlights). So, the stage was set for a grander operation this year, as several Sierra Leoneans were already aware of our strange traditions.

The day started out rather mundanely – we woke at 8am, got breakfast, and planned to rest before working on OLPC projects. But shortly into our rest, we were interrupted when the kids came to remind us of a promise made earlier in the week. Masa, one of the kids who lives near the Pastoral Centre, said she would teach us how to make butterscotchy, a treat we enjoyed last year. So, we hiked down to their house (just outside the Pastoral Centre grounds) and spent a very enjoyable morning making butterscotchy.

Making Butterscotchy

Making Butterscotchy

As happens often, our presence created some attention and before the morning was over, we had accrued quite a crowd of neighborhood children. After distributing the butterscotchy appropriately (and sneaking several pieces to small children), we headed back to our rooms to work on the XS, the server OLPC gave us, but not before promising to return to join them for lunch after we were finished work. We continued diligently to figure out the server, solving many problems and probably creating more, and returned to Masa’s house (and Alhaji’s, Pabai’s, and Mama’s) for a lunch of groundnut soup, or ‘niki soup-wi’ (Mende). After lunch, we played games with the kids – football, Miss Mary Mack, the hand slap game, and sat around. The kids, remembering it was American Independence Day, started singing songs they would sing during their independence day. Somehow, the games morphed into a full blown celebration including music, dancing, singing and other performances. All the kids got in on the fun and we were the willing audience. The festivities only ended when we had to go to a meeting with DCI.

Now, if you’re keeping track, it’s a Saturday evening. Needless to say, we weren’t particularly thrilled to attend a meeting at 6pm on a Saturday. But, like the rest of the day, it turned out to be a pleasant and productive event. DCI was having a country-wide planning meeting with their country director and each headquarters’ program managers were present. We met with them, discussed our project in greater detail, and let them explore the XOs a little. They were very encouraging and hope to attend some of the events we are planning over the summer. Overall, a productive meeting.

After our meeting, we headed back to the Pastoral Centre, to celebrate. Our celebration included sitting at the bar with Fumba, Augustine and the night guard, making guacamole (yum!), drinking Star beer (not so yum), and enjoying the cooling rain.

While we missed out on fireworks, weren’t able to eat gumbo or hot dogs, and definitely were not surrounded by red, white and blue, the day turned out to be one of the best celebrations I’ve had. Katie R has said (usually after eating a particularly delicious meal) that she would be perfectly happy to die at that moment. I would describe that feeling more as perfect contentment and happiness, wanting nothing more from the world at that moment. That’s how I felt last night, sitting in the bar at the Pastoral Centre, eating guacamole, listening to the rain, in Sierra Leone. Perfectly happy!

Katie M

In Salone (Sierra Leone) safe and sound by Katie McCarthy
June 21, 2009, 11:59 am
Filed under: Team Info

Hi All,

Quick update that the Katies (Robinette and McCarthy) and Chelsea made it to Kenema, Sierra Leone, safely and with very few hassles. If you would like to contact us, email is always possible, but feel free to call at the numbers below. There is a 4 hour time difference from the East Coast to Sierra Leone, 5 between CST and here, and 7 between PST and here.

Katie McCarthy/3 – 232 (0) 33 126 157
Katie Robinette/1 – 232 (0) 30 942 929
Chelsea Williams – 232 (0) 30 942 906

When calling from the US, you don’t need to include the zero in parenthesis above.

Happy Sunday!

Munaho (Hello) from Rwanda by Katie McCarthy
June 11, 2009, 10:38 am
Filed under: Team Info

Kagugu 011Hello from Kigali, Rwanda! Katie Robinette and Katie McCarthy landed in Kigali late Sunday night after a total of 36 hours of flying between the two of them. Luckily, ALL of their luggage came through safe and sound!!! And, as yet more proof that they are in fact a snail and shell, their bags were identical. Black, large, green Tulane tag on the left and green, shiny, Mother-placed, ribbons on the right.

They are diligently working on figuring out how to take the XOs apart AND more importantly, how to put them back together; how to set up a server with Squid so we can cache webpages; how to make animations with a cat and change its colors (Scracth). While busily learning, they made time to meet the other teams from Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Cameroon, South Africa, and many many more.  They are also picking up (“gleening useful information”) from other teams. They put faces to the names of those lovely OLPCorps listserve emails and faces to the staff, who they’ve been communicating with for months but did not meet until now.

Other exciting tidbits: met President Kagame, learned all the Swahili words from the Lion King, got some sleep, ate passion fruit and Japanese plums, and met Nicholas Negroponte (more on that later).

The training has been very well run; it’s extremely interesting to meet the other teams; there are lots of hands on activities; and, unfortunately, the internet access is not as available as we expected, so please be patient in waiting for our responses.

Murabeho (Good bye) for now!

Why we joined OLPCorps… by Katie R
June 4, 2009, 5:27 pm
Filed under: OLPCorps, Team Info

Reason #1    We love Sierra Leone!

Katie R, Katie M, and Emily spent the summer of 2008 completing an internship in Kenema and not only fell in love with the place, but fell in love with the people.  They made several great contacts and gained an understanding of exactly what types of public health, human rights, and education programs were up and running in the area (and also what was missing).  They noticed a few things:

  • A wonderful groups of kids that lived near the Pastoral Center, where we stayed all summer, were the highlight of our time there there.  They were a smart, innovative, charming group and they had an insatiable desire to learn about the world around them.  We want these kids and kids like them to have a tool to continue learning throughout their childhood!
  • Though computer skills are highly sought after at this point in Sierra Leone’s development, there were few resources available to develop them!  One program in town had computer classes, but the fee to join the class put this option out of reach to most adults.  Kenema’s chapter of Defence for Children International did have a small computer lab and offered a limited amount of computer skills training to young adults for free, but their programs were so popular they ended up having to turn people away.  Finally, we found nothing like this for younger children.

Reason #2   We love education!

Throughout several of our public health courses, it seems that many public health issues can be traced, directly or indirectly, back to education and it seems that improving education is the first step to improving plenty of public health issues- from disease management, to safe hygeine practices, to reproductive health, all the way to poverty.

Reason # 3  We love having such an involved project over the summer

As recent grads and grad students, we must admit that this is a pretty exciting opportunity.  It’s  overwhelming and quite time consuming to be sure, but to be given the freeedom to implement a program like this on our own at this point in our careers (read: the very beginning), to coordinate the equipment, create and follow a budget, fundraise, communicate across the country and across the world, etc, etc, etc, is pretty rare.

Contact the team! by Katie R
May 19, 2009, 5:52 am
Filed under: Team Info | Tags: ,

If you want to learn more about our project, our team members, our budget, or just find out more about OLPC, visit our website at http://sites.google.com/site/olpckenema.

Also, if you want to contact us, you can email OLPCinKenema@gmail.com.