Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Late October - Early November

As of yesterday, people around the world can now purchase XOs through olpc's G1G1 program. To have a more effective roll out and to reach a greater audience, olpc is working its program through Amazon.

Grants, Grants, Grants!
The IU Student Foundation has the $5,000 Metz Grant which is awarded to IU student groups engaged in any number of activities. We applied under the International section and made it to the final round where we had an opportunity to present our project. After my presentation, I was certain I walked out of the room without the funding. There are days when you're just on your game and then there's days when you feel like cobwebs block any coherent thoughts. Well, it definitely was one of the latter. But somehow I pulled it off? I arrived in Cambridge the following day only to open my inbox with a "Congratulations" email. Needless to say, that was a pleasant surprise. The funds from the Metz grant will support alternative power costs for the learning environments we're working with.

A quick note of thanks to Becky Bennett for researching various large foundations. With her help, we now have more applications than we can manage. We're on the verge of wrapping up George Soros' Open Society Institute for West Africa Grant. Keeping our fingers crossed.

Last week I had a chance to meet some of the Global Minimum group in MA. We presented our Sierra Leone Initiative at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art. Unfortunately, the opportunity didn't afford many immediate returns but we've come across some possible connections which might lead to some additional opportunities.

Pre-Deployment Trip
We're still working out the details for this winter break's pre-deployment trip to Sierra Leone. Fortunately, I just received a grant from the Hutton Honors College which should fund a majority of this trip (Thank you Mr. Hutton!). Details are still in the works but we should have a bit more clarified after David has a chance to talk w/ Nicholas from OLPC this Thursday.

Poverty Action Lab
David had a chance to connect w/ Rachel, the Executive Director of MIT's Poverty Action Lab. PAL is a branch of MIT's Economics Department which researches best practices in anti-poverty models. Since Rachel is currently conducting a project in Sierra Leone, we're hoping for some collaboration in some manner. We'll see how the relationship develops. It may just be the connection we're looking for to provide credibility to donors who are considering funding our health-education intervention model. Time will tell.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Because of the continual support we've received from OLPC, we thought it would be appropriate to advertise their upcoming Give 1 Get 1 program. See Carolyn Taylor's flyer we'll be circulating throughout our networks to learn how you can get involved...

XO Camp Report - 26 -29 September 2008

XO Camp Report - 26 -29 September 2008
by Herman Mamasela, Kelebogile Seitisho, Kabelo Koma and Daniel Senoge

We are happy to report that we managed to host the XO camp that was held at the KYP centre. The camp was very productive because all the expectations and objectives of the camp were met.

- On day 1 of the camp we started with an introductory session, an orientation of our camp where we showed our visitors, the relevant places that they needed to know such as toilets, sleeping rooms etc...

- We asked the learners the things that they wanted to get from the camp and of our expectations as the organizers.

- We laid down ground rules on a chart together as a group, and we are happy to report that all of us in the camp managed to adhere to our ground rules.

- The commitment of the participants was amazing and that made all our sessions to run smoothly.

- The Limpopo students left the camp understanding all the XO activities in their entirety.

- We taught them from the write activity to the video chat and it was amazing to see how fast the students were in learning the browse activity and the internet.

- After the camp every person involved in the camp was able to differentiate between e-mail and internet. The students can now send, reply and forward e-mails.

- Our visitors can create e-mail addresses and this will help the rest of the schools students to open e-mail addresses and this will help with the social network that we want to create with all the areas that received XO’s.

- The students at KYP exchanged email addresses with our visitors and a pen-pal club has been established.

- On the day of departure KYP took the visitors on a tour around Soweto and the educators were excited about the history that lies in our surroundings and our Limpopo friends were also welcomed by Antoinette Sithole (Hector Petersons’ sister) at the Hector Pierterson Museum in Soweto.

As the organizers we feel that we could have done more things if we had enough time e.g. one full week.

Since this was our first camp, we would love to participate in other camps that may happen in South Africa because we feel this will give us more experience on our organisational and facilitation skills.

We take this opportunity to thank KYP management team, Paul Commons, Hannah and Julia Weber The Thusanang trust , and the South Africa exchange from Nobles for giving us this opportunity to organise this camp. Most importantly we thank the Pastoral Crèche for allowing us to run our camp at their premises. We also thank KYP members who participated on our camp their extra help and the preparation of the food. We pride ourselves for being able to host the camp and we thank Nicholas Negroponte for considering under privileged children in the technology world.

Friday, August 29, 2008

More More More

I walk into the little market in Haenertsburg yesterday minding my own business when out of the blue someone says, "Hey, aren't you going to buy a newspaper?" I respond with a simple "No", thinking to myself, why would I buy a newspaper and why is this guy trying to sell me one. He then says, "no, no, you're the guy in the newspaper." So now I'm thinking, what in god's name is this guy talking about. I then pick up a paper only to find an almost too seriously looking picture of me and HoD Nehvutalu and a half page article written about our ceremony the other week. It was a well written article, I will give her that much. What I got a real laugh at was today when the principal of Mmaweshi nearly tackled me with excitement screaming "you're famous, now the whole world knows of Mmaweshi". Good times.

More work to come...
So after that little 5 minutes of fame with Mrs. Magono at Mmaweshi, we began to discuss the project. I'm a little concerned at how much of an influx of students we're going to see next year. Of course, she's overly joyous in the fact that more learners will be arriving come January, on account of the XOs. The whole time I'm thinking, great so how do we deal with this? If half the community's children come to Mmaweshi we're going to have some issues to deal with, particularly in terms of ownership, taking the XOs home at night, etc, etc. On the positive side, she did mention today how they're going to design a subject starting January specifically for the XOs. It's a start.

I finally had a chance to start finalizing my research on status with the XOs. I've finished Mmaweshi and am scheduled to finish Driehoek and Katane on Monday. Casi, Casi. Then I'm wrapping up with some in depth interviews with a few of the teachers early next week. Staying hopefully this gets me a free trip to EWB 09 in Dubai, UAE next March.

Another deployment?...
Kelly Trimble met with some contacts in Joburg yesterday, a principal and a philanthropist. They're eager to learn more about the laptops. Hopefully, I'll be meeting with him next Wednesday to discuss the possibility of implementing the XOs into his school curriculum. I guess he's fairly keen w/ computers, or so I hear. If we get him on board, we'll have another entire deployment of XOs already paid for. We'll be responsible for the extra costs (power strips, servers, access points, alternative power, plug adaptors, shipping costs, etc). Although it's a bit of money, it certainly pales in comparison to what we had to do this first go around. As I think about the possibility of this coming to fruition, I almost laugh at how easy this deployment would be in comparison. First, the students in Joburg speak English. Second, most have dealt with a computer before (we wouldn't have to teach what a mouse or button is). Third, the Joburg school has electricity. Fourth, internet would be a simple installation, not like the nightmare Mmaweshi currently is. And the list goes on and on... I think this will work though. We'll know in a week.

SA Curriculum...
The 1 hesitancy this next possible deployment will face is how to fully integrate the XOs into the curriculum so they see better test scores. Of course, teachers here are faced with making the students pass the national exams. Maybe this will be a fall semester project, yeah? I'll touch on this later.

The ball is definitely rolling. I'm hoping to get this going so that I can return come December. Always looking for help if anyone wants to join in...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Exceeding All Expectations

The other night me and a couple of the girls stayed up talking about the diversity of our group. We came to the conclusion that everyone we came with has something different to offer, something special about them that contributes to our group dynamic - making it exceptionally enjoyable.

I came here knowing this would be a once in a lifetime experience, and it has, believe me it has, but I had no idea how much fun I would have doing it. As amazing as it is working with the kids at the school, I am just as happy with the way things have worked out for our group. This project has not been easy - it required a lot of work - but I cannot believe how much harder it would have been had I not loved the my coworkers. We feed off of each other like its our job. I haven't laughed this hard or this easily in so long.

This conversation not only brought a new found respect for everyone in OHOT, but it also made me a little sad. Everything we have been working for is about to come to an end. Certainly, we will keep in touch with each school we have worked with, we are not going to let it die after we leave, but I am sad to see this trip coming to an end. I have had such an amazing time here and learned so much - I am not quite ready to return to my normal life. Maybe I won't. Maybe this trip will mark the beginning of an incredible change in my life, and from this point on I will never be the same. I wouldn't be surprised if I continue taking trips like this, when I can truly appreciate my time off and walk away feeling like I have accomplished something. Something I can be proud of, so I can leave a mark wherever I go.

Thursday we have a long ceremony following school. When I say long, I mean it. These people make every celebration formal with introductions for everyone and everything. We'll be lucky if we get out after four hours. Considering the lack of sleep I have been getting this trip, I have no doubt that I will have a hard time keeping awake. It should be beautiful though. Elliott, one of the OHOT members, will begin the ceremony with our friend Carl from Thusanang - the center at which we are staying - with beating drums around the community. Members from all over the town have been invited. From liquor store owners to police officers, we should collect quite an interesting audience. Mmaweshi, the school at which I have worked, has planned their own ceremony for us as well, so Saturday I will have another to go to. I will be so sad to say goodbye to the children.

I have even become attached to the precious little ones I don't even teach but spend every moment with outside the classroom - they so easily brighten your day with their hugs and smiles and sweet, innocent giggles. One, who's name I don't even know, runs to me every time she sees me and climbs up into my arms. Just the other day, I wasn't feeling well so I sat down while the kids were playing red light - green light, their favorite game, and she came and laid in my lap. There is something refreshingly calming about having such a young happy child in your arms asking nothing of you but for you to hold them. I was instantly cured. I am going to miss little moments like that - they remind you why you came even though they have nothing to do with the laptops. There is so much love here, no one is afraid of showing affection or appreciation. It's beautiful and infectious and I hope to adopt their loving, non-judgmental ways. It is the most generous gift they could give me.

The clock is ticking, and soon I will be back home to share my stories with more detail and amazing pictures. I can't wait to tell you about this adventure more in-depth and to see your beautiful faces again. I will be leaving a part of me in South Africa though, the rainbow country that has far exceeded all my expectations.

Slowly but Surely

Current Situation…
I’m sitting outside enjoying the weather testing these individual solar panels provided by Kliptown. They left us 2 panels to test out. Unfortunately, the manufacturer didn’t respond to our incessant emailing so the kids in our project have missed out on these pretty nifty, green power devices. If I can get a hold of them when I get back, I’d rather invest in something like these than have to continually worry about whether the petrol is making it to the generators.
6 days left. I still need to do my final surveys and interviews for my senior thesis but that’s in the works for tomorrow and Monday.

Our most proactive teacher at Katane just told me that she’s designed a program whereby each grade level will learn the XOs on a specific day (grade 4—Monday, grade 5—Tuesday, etc.). Needless to say, I was extremely excited to know that the teacher was taking such a leadership role in incorporating the XOs into the classroom. Moreover, she and I sat down for a good hour working on Gmail and Wikipedia. We searched the 2008 Olympics, that led to Hong Kong, then our discussion went to One Laptop Per Child, and we eventually ended on Cambridge, MASS. She was pretty eager to see how the students could research using Wikipedia.
Just as important, I walked into Katane only to find Frans, our headmaster, wrestling with Gmail. He was pleased to see me, naturally.
The two of them should be receiving emails now, as we’re all coordinating this mini XO camp scheduled for September. Let’s hope this email thing works.

School today was empty, since most of the students didn’t arrive home last night from Johannesburg until too late. So I had a good opportunity to sit with John and explain some of what’s happening. He’s also eager to have this XO camp in Johannesburg. He’s already suggested 4 students who should represent the school and has volunteered to go. He’s without a doubt the most proactive teacher of all schools, in my opinion. I believe Neo in Kliptown should get a bit of info through to him while he’s there.

I’m still a bit worried about Driehoek for some reason. Maybe I just lack faith in the principal. I’m not used to someone just following orders. Frankly, it’s a bit disheartening. It’s almost as if he’s there only to please me and this project. It’s quite frustrating when the key ingredient to this project’s success is initiative. Time will tell though. Fortunately, Andrew had a chance to make this lock and chain. Let’s just hope it holds our generator until the school is built.

XO Camp…
I sent out some information to both Thulani and Neo about putting this together. I’m hoping the 2 initial projects can set a precedent whereby each subsequent deployment will send their kids to Johannesburg to learn more. This gives some practical application of email (pen pals) and will allow for the information to diffuse much quicker.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

1 Week Remaining

The ceremony was an absolute success, at least I believe so. We had a few hundred students attending the ceremony, numerous parents, community members, SGB members, and government officials, including the provincial HoD of Limpopo. While the HoD was very impressed with the project, he did mention that it would be a bit too expensive to scale up. I disagree, but I don't make the decisions...yet. From what I gather, SA spends almost more than any other country in education and gets the least in return, in terms of literacy. In general, the ceremony went fairly well. I, on the other hand, didn't do so well on my speech. Note to self, write your speeches and/or practice. This was the first time in my life I gave a speech where I didn't write it. In my defense, I was misinformed on who would be translating my speech. The translator did it paragraph by paragraph, not sentence by sentence. Live and learn though.

Current Situation...
The group left Tuesday night for the states. It's a little sad to see them all go, particularly because of how close we all became over the past few weeks. On the other hand, I'm eager to get underway with a lot of my personal work. By that I mean my research for my senior thesis and my Congolop work. Needless to say, there's a bit to be done in the next 7 days. I then took Joey to the airport this morning. He's on his way to Hong Kong for the semester. I'm now in Limpopo trying to figure out how I'm going to work out this project now that we're gone. So the following is a list of "To Do Items" and "Goals" for the next 7 days. If you know me, my life is organized by endless "to do" sheets. It's the only way I can keep track of everything. I hope by putting this out in the open I'll be more encouraged to see each one through.

Holiday Break Camp...
Kids in these areas have little to do on school holidays. The school schedule her in SA is set up so that there are 2 week long breaks every so often. For those reasons, we'd like to put together a mini XO camp, if you want to call it that, so that those students who have excelled here in Limpopo can take advantage of the more "experienced" users in Kliptown. I'm hoping that any skills acquired in such an environment should then be diffused to the 3 schools we're working in. That's the idea anyway. Now we just need to arrange time, coordinate transportation, and find out who can go.

I just received an email from Sipho who received a call from Limpopo saying that they've already run out of petrol. While I haven't checked the situation yet (I haven't even made it to Thusanang yet), I'm hoping it's Mmaweshi since Driehoek doesn't even have their chargers to be using the XOs. In any case, this petrol issue is going to be a hassle. We're hoping that the HoD's presence at our ceremony will expedite power into these communities. Yes, I'm optimistic but I do know it's doubtful. Just have to keep at it.

Internet at Mmaweshi...
I believe we found our solution to the internet crisis at Mmaweshi. I believe we're going with a Linksys 3G Router. It's not up and running but I should be able to purchase it today or tomorrow after I figure out some last minute details. All smiles here! If we're lucky I'll have John communicating with me via email before I leave. That would expedite this follow up process immensely if I don't have to communicate through 3rd parties.

Just thought I should add that we had 100% participation at Katane during the entire time we were working on the project. I can't speak on behalf of Mmaweshi and Driehoek but I can probably assume that they were similar. Look what happens when you make school a little more exciting, kids actually enjoy learning. Ha, what a concept (note the sarcasm)

Evaluation and Monitoring...
Thank god for Pam who generously donated 2k to Thusanang Trust to help sustain the project. Pam, without your contribution I would be struggling right now. Thank you. With that money we'll be able to employ Shelly from Thusanang on a weekly basis to monitor and evaluate the project. Unfortunately, the long term aspect of this deployment isn't emphasized enough. As the leader, I take full blame. I should have been a little more conscious on what we would be doing after the group left, not just while the group was implementing the project. We have, however, put together a fairly extensive evaluation program, or so I hope. This should give us an indication back in the states to what extent this is actually making an impact. Are the kids really improving academically? Does the attendance remain high? Are the students the only ones progressing or have the teachers actually taken on the idea? Are the teachers really integrating the XOs into the curriculum or does the after school program work? These questions go on and on. However painful it is, it's without a doubt the most important in sustaining this project and allowing us to repeat the project. Provided this all works out, we're hoping to do this again and again. By December we'll be able to provide donors with a clear and definitive answer, 'yes, this program is working because of A, B, C and we can prove this by showing them 1, 2, 3, or we say 'no, this project failed because of A, B, C and this is what we'd like to do about it...' It's a long process.

Thank you Andrew for helping us with our security issues. From what I've heard via voicemail, we now have a fairly secure lock and chain in place at Driehoek. That should prevent someone from taking our generator. We should have a cage built at Mmaweshi sometime in the next week. Only if these schools had electricity, my god this project would run much smoother. I strongly recommend to anyone considering implementing a similar project to decide on electricity 1st. Find some alternatives and have them implemented beforehand.

OLPC ZA School...
Just received a proposal from the Kliptown Youth Program detailing a possible return trip, i.e. what that would look like, costs, goals, etc. KYP, with the help of Larry Weber, is trying to organize a OLPC School, if you will. Neo, Thulani, Sipho, and the remaining KYP members are trying to be "on the groun experts" in a way. Basically, they'll serve donors and groups in the states, such as our Indiana University One Here...One There team, in doing whatever is needed. For instance, none of us spoke Sepedi. They allowed this project to overcome that insurmountable barrier which allowed for communication (without a doubt the most important aspect in doing such a project). They also have the technical expertise in implementing such a deployment. Their next project will be in Durban or Kwazu Natal, don't quote me on that though. In our situation, they should be able to provide some long term support. The downside, of course, is money. All of this takes financial commitment. Fortunately, KYP is without a doubt the most inspiring organization I've ever come across. All participating IU OHOT members are committing a portion of the Busar Bill to KYP's programmes.

1 week left...
My time here is almost over. Unfortunately, I haven't had too much time to reflect on the good, the bad, the pros and cons, etc, etc. This small opportunity to blog has been my only real reflection time. And the only reason I'm doing this is because it has the potential to help our cause in the long run. Now that the group has left, maybe I'll get a chance to reflect. Knowing me though I'll manage to overbook what little time I have left. I've already managed to skip the 1st week of class and with the jet lag who knows what time schedule I'll be on the 2nd week. It's a challenge though. One of the few things that keeps me going. If it were up to me, I'd only be in class for midterms and finals. There's always that 1 professor that requires attendance though. How unfortunate. It's too bad we don't emphasize more practical, hands on experience in school. Joe Peoni and I talked a bit about how much we've learned managing this project. Safely said, we both learned more developing this project than we have in any lecture or class.

Fall OHOT Schedule...
So I return in a week to IU ready to take on this semester's projects. For the first time in my OHOT career, I'm confident in our IU OHOT team to execute some of our goals. Here's just a brief idea of what we've got going:
  • Kaitlin Riley is back from Washington D.C. leading the African Education and Development Relief Fund, a spin-off of One Here...One There which includes some of the other African-based organizations on campus. We'll be collecting 10,000 signatures to attach a supplemental donation option to the bursar bill. With that addition, we'll be able to supply a steady stream of funding to both KYP and our current OLPC project in Limpopo. Hopefully we'll have that knocked out by the end of September so we'll earn some money by January. Now that I think about it, today is our kickoff. So it begins...again. I failed the first time so we'll get up and do it all over until we're heard.
  • Joe Delehanty will begin organizing our annual Art Benefit scheduled for February. We should be able to pencil in another Indiana Memorial Union African Art month to advertise African issues.
  • Joe will start the arduous process of making this SA trip an actual IU course. We didn't get too much support last go around so maybe now that we've proved ourselves they'll take us seriously. God I love beauracracies and red tape!
  • We'll also be organizing another student summit in Tampa, Florida.
  • I'll be applying for a few more grants to make next go around a bit easier on our donors pocket book (I love you, mom).
  • Finally, I need to find someone to run this little organization after I graduate, that is if I can stay focused to keeping my GPA high enough for graduate school.
  • There's a few more things on our to do list, too.

Enough writing...time for working...