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...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


If I dont get another blog in soon, I apologize but TIA.

Hello to everyone reading our blog. This is my first time so I dont really know what I am doing. I am working at Driehook with David, Erin, and Joe D. My first few thoughts are 1. Africa is amazing, and 2. thank you to the teacheres of the world. My appreciation grows for the work that you do daily. The language barrier is difficult as was expected, but we are able to communicate via "computer and 'XO' language. The kids are amazing and eager to learn. Our first day teaching was simply amazing, it is almost unbeliavable how we can put something in their hands that most of them probably have never seen before and certainly know nothing about, and by the end of a school day they were able to say parts of the computer, open and close programs, turn on the computer.

Its hard to put into words the progress the kids have made. We start off with something they haven't seen before. Thekidseitherdidntputspacesbetweenthewords or too many spaces were used. Punctuation and capitalization were after thoughts. However, but by the end of the first week the kids are capitalizing words and knowing when to use them, names, start of sentences, etc. They have been able to put sentences in B, I, and Underline.

The best part is when a kid masters a task and we can show them shortcuts with the keys. For example, we showed them how to use bold type, but when they forgot to make a sentence bold they would erase the sentence. I showed one of our kids, Johannes, how to highlight sentences and change the font after he had typed it. One the tools we have been using to practice typing is by typing sentences 5x each. Near the end of the day after he had mastered nearly every tool in the Write Activity (similar to microsoft word), I showed him how to copy and paste....you should have seen the look in his eyes!!

At the beginning of this blog i mentioned my deepened respect for teachers. I want to extend that to everyone that volunteers their time because I have seen first hand the hard work of the people around me do wonders for some kids who just need the opportunity. Thank you to everyone that has donated time, money, and other resources to our cause. Hello to all the OHOTers at Indiana who are not here and to the ones across the nation. I especially want to thank my Mom, Dad, and the rest of my family.

Today was "Testing Day" at Driehoek. We took the kids into another room 4 at a time to test about all the parts of a computer, the write activity, the paint activity, and taking photos for the XO laptop. The reason we are having the tests is so that the kids have a sense of accomplishment when we leave them with the computers.
The testing went really well... We only had 3 people score just barely below the passing grade, and we will be retesting them tomorrow in class before our ceremony. While Joey and Joe were testing, Carter and I were reviewing and teaching the other kids. It was going really well until Carter left me to film at another school! The students were doing so great, so I gave them some free time to play with the computers. For some reason every kid loves "Story Builder" even though it is the worst program on the computer!! Every kid opened "Story Builder" and it was complete chaos! All the kids love that one because it is so louuuddd, but it is the worst program ever, especially because you can't really use it without the internet. Finally Joe saved the class by taking that program off of their computers for the day.
The rest of the day went much smoother... the kids learned the memorize program, took pictures of themselves and drew on them in paint, and then finished it off with some "heads up 7 up" and "Peter Says...".
Whew!! Is all that I can say after 2 weeks of being away from home ...meeting new friends and waking up to cold mornings in the mountains. Let me start by giving a background...I come from Soweto and I am also member of the Kliptown Youth Program. KYP is an organisation that is run entirely by the youth in Kliptown. I don't know if you can call me a Linux pro but I can get around it very well...I came to Limpopo with Sipho Dladla who is one of the founder members from the youth organisation. KYP received XO laptops donated by The Webber family and these were distributed across all ages in our club ...in summary they were given to children in all the Grades at our club so practically you have the youth across all ages using the XOs. Since then I have been playing around with the Fedora distro and the XS so I can say that I in terms of the technical aspect of things, I am hands on.
For starters I think the XS software is straight forward to install and configure but there are always challenging factors like infrastructure constraints, power surges and new hardware that need to be configured /installed so that the XO's can function the way that they are supposed to. Our challenges here have been that 3 of the servers power supplies were damaged by the power surges( thanks to Stanford College we had these PS replaced free of charge)...the active antenna's which I thought were going to be shipped with the XO's are not going to be... and now we need to look for alternatives (D-LINK AP's). I don't think we will have much of a problem installing these but we have not even received them even when they were purchased Last week Thursday. I feel so stupid not having thought of this even before we left Johannesburg, cause I was aware that somthing like this could happen. The most recent challenge is to install a Desktop environment on the server so that it can be used also as a Desktop by the school because they did not have a single PC at 2 of of the schools. Should this be properly installed then we can install a printer on the server and the entire system could be running on full throttle..."talk about maximising resources".

- Neo

Thabang is the man.

While teaching at Katane, I have had the pleasure of working with a kid that completely amazes me every day. His name is- Thabang Makwela. He is by far the smartest kid in the fifth grade. He is the student that helps everyone learn with ease. It is much easier for him to explain something to the class than for any of us. He speaks English well, he listens and participates, and he understands information about the laptops better than everyone else. From day one, everyone saw promise in Thabang. Since then, he has continued to improve, so much, in fact, that we wanted to do something to help him continue with school and get an even better education.
Today, Joe and I met with his father about Thabang's schooling and what we could do to help him. I mean, none of us have a lot of money, but to go to Katane for one year is about 50 rand or about $7-8. Being such a small sacrifice, we, as a group, decided to send to Thabang to school for the next two years. After that, if all goes well, it is our hope to send him to a private school in the area. The private school is more expensive but I feel that it's crucial for him. His father seemed extremely gracious and really looked like a load was lifted off of his shoulders. Thabang has three brothers and sisters that are being sent to school as well. His father said that he was self-employed and struggles to make ends meet. It would be a tragedy for money to be the reason why Thabang could not further his education. I certainly don't want that to be the case. Hopefully, after talking to my dad about this, he'll want to help, which I'm sure he will. This is too good of an opportunity to pass up.
I'm really looking forward to see where Thabang goes in life, but it is very important that he continues with the laptop and keeps receiving an education which will lead to a higher education.


Well, I've been working at Katane Primary School for about a week and a half now. I have never quite been tested to my limits the way that I have been here in South Africa. I knew what I was getting myself into, but I guess you never REALLY know until you experience it first hand. First off, Katane is the biggest of the three schools that we have given the laptops to. Second, the children and teachers at Katane know the least amount of English. So basically, I was ready for all of that...
All of the children seemed so excited to receive the laptops and it was a very heartwarming experience for me to see the look on their faces. I was really taken back by how something so small (the laptop) could potentially have such a huge impact on their lives. It's still hard to believe that I'm a part of something so big.
Throughout the last week or so, the biggest challenge that I've had to deal with is the lack of teacher involvement. One of the teachers though, Welhemina Mafora, kept my spirits up by her amazing zest for life and her desire for the children to succeed. A lot of the teachers have restored my faith recently though. I guess I have to realize that using something that some of them have never seen before must be very difficult.
The language barrier was really taking a toll on everyone. THANK GOD for the people that came to help us from the Kliptown project. They have been so amazing and the children are really starting to understand the computers and all they can do with them.
With only a few days left I'm left to reflect on my trip. Maybe everything didn't go exactly how I planned it or thought it should be, but when it's all said and done, I know I gave these kids 100%. I see so much promise in so many of the kids and I can only pray that they will reach their full potential.
Many lives will change because of these laptops and I'm so happy to be here to see it start .

My experience at Katane...

The students are moving along quite nicely. There is a terrible language barrier here at Katane. The students do not speak English very well which is making it difficult to explain the activities and programs to them. The other school are much farther ahead with the activities. Even though it has been difficult to teach these children, it has been a very rewarding experience. The challenge of teaching at the largest school with the largest language barrier has taught me a lot of patience. The students are always so excited to see us each morning. Seeing their smiling faces is the reason that I am so excited to come to school everyday.

The teachers have proven to be a little more of a challenge than the learners. I know that change is always a difficult thing, so I understand that learning about a type of technology when you've never dealt with it before can be quite difficult.The teacher workshops have been helpful but not very much has been accomplished. The teachers have set up gmail accounts, but we have not had the chance to explain sending, receiving, and forwarding emails. Hopefully this will be done before we leave so the teachers can explain this to the learners.

Overall, I feel like this trip has been a successful one. We have changed an entire community and possibly given hope where there was none before. A hope to make it in the world when no one else in your community has before. A hope to become a doctor or lawyer when your parents work in a mine or at a fruit stand. We are giving these children and these communities that hope and that is one of the best feelings in the entire world.

Wrapping up

TIA (This is Africa)...
Only in Africa would someone tell you that they're putting up receivers for internet for 2 months and then halfway through your trip realize that he can't because one of the schools is out of range. Wow. This could have been easily addressed, oh say, a month ago. But, of course, he neglected to mention anything via email or our numerous phone calls. We'll just have to make do. We're not figuring out details on finances to see how we're going to establish internet at Mmaweshi. Unfortunately, the mountain blocks the signal from the lumber mill where the tower is. So our only option is building a tower across the way for ~10k rand (US ~$1.4k). Lesson well learned. While we could fund this (i say this w/ extreme hesitancy), the issue now becomes how to teach internet & email lessons once we're gone. So now we have to coordinate some Soweto students to return in order to do this, probably on a monthly basis until December.

Joe and Aubrey are currenty in a meeting with Thabang's parents discussing the possibility of boarding school. Thabang plans to be a lawyer when he grows up, and by god he will. This is kid is a genious. Looking forward to seeing what happens as he matures.

Logistical nightmare to transport some ~300 - 400 people to a rural school with no electrictiy. That's not including the chairs, tables, food, sound system (yeah, still need to find this), etc, etc. Headmasters are excited to have the HoD as the keynote speaker though. This should spark some serious awareness and committment from the community on this project. We'll see how it goes tomorrow.

Finally, trying to decide how we're doing the monitoring and evaluation plan. Who can we employ from the community, how do we do this, how do they report back to us, etc, etc. All this needs to be answered asap. Any ideas?

Off to Driehoek and Mmaweshi...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Today was a great day in Driehoek. I cannot believe how much the kids have improved since the first couple days. They are finally getting ideas like highlighting, drag and drop, and just figuring their way around on the laptop. They are better at figuring out stuff than my mom! Today we reviewed all the things we've gone over before, like the write and paint programs. They can write multiple sentences and draw pictures basically on their own now.
The most hilarious part of the whole day was trying to teach our class a version of hangman. It was probably our fault for not explaining ther game clearly enough, but the kids were cracking us up with their guesses. Then Joe was trying to do the word "Potential Energy", but forgot there was a "g" in it, and and when the kids found his mistake they all thought that was really funny. When we were leaving school we gave a bunch of stickers to the smaller children, and they put those stickers right in the middle of their own forehead! Oh man, it is hilarious. I love these kids so much!

Now I am going to help with the teacher learn the internet!


Business as usual

Currently in a workshop where Neo is teaching the underlying concepts of email and search engines. I'm just hanging back letting him take over this. He does this quite a bit in Soweto at his internet cafe. Hopefully by the end of this we'll have email accounts set up. That should facilitate greater communication as we leave from here.

Upcoming Ceremony...
Trying to organize the official ceremony scheduled for this Thursday. We're looking to have ~350 some people. The Limpopo provincial MoE will be our keynote speaker which is bringing quite a bit of excitement in the schools. We're hoping this project will spark some interest and/or involvement from the government. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

We're collecting the contracts we've sent out to both the students and schools. No problems with that.

Students are taking the laptops home tomorrow. We'll see how this goes. The community is fairly aware of what's going on here so I don't think we'll have any problems as far as theft is concerned. The fortunate part of working in rural areas is that everyone knows each other's business.

Need to go work...

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Kids

Hello again,
Yesterday I saw some amazing things happen at school. First of all, I barely had to teach, which was a nice break from the usual. We started off with the Chat activity, and they took to it immediately. From there we played memorize for the first time. The students understood how it worked immediately and quickly moved themselves from the 4x4 grid to the 6x6 grid, I was even able to teach a few of the students how they could create their own activity! After we took them outside to play for a while we allowed the students to do as they wished on the laptops, and this is when I was really impressed. Some of the students opened the usual programs like Record, and Story Builder, but I finally saw some students opening things we had never even talked about. A few of the children opened up the Browse activity, and found the programs that had prerecorded music, and books that can be downloaded from the computer without using the internet.

All in all, great day.

-Joe Peoni

Things Are Looking Up

The last blog apparently didn't post, so here it goes again. Things at Katane are looking up. The students here show real promise and enthusiasm about everything. There are a few teachers here that are more interested than others, but maybe time is nature's best medicine for this. Change can be a scary thing for some people. I'm hoping that things will continue to get better and better, even though I still have reservations about some of the people that are in charge.
Today some of the parents of the children were able to stop by after school to see what there children have been learning. I think this is essential for the sustainability of this project. The fact that the parents of these children know that a computer is being held for them at the school ensures that someone other than the people we have in place will be keeping an eye on this once we leave. That's all for now, keep reading.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

In Class on a Saturday

The weekend is typically meant to be a break from school. Today at Katane we're experiencing something a bit different. Yesterday, we told the 6th and 7th grade that we would hold Saturday "class", if you want to call it that. I set up the Saturday program just to see what sort of interest we have from the community and students in the program. Right now I'm sitting in the classroom, along with more than 100+ children ranging from 5-18 learning how to use the laptops. Success can't even describe this learning environment. We have 5th graders teaching older teenagers, 5 year olds learning how to use the mouse which only improves hand-eye coordination, and much more. Some of the kids are writing "About me" biographies in the write activity, others are taking pictures, a few are playing the logic games, etc, etc.

Just now, Frans, the headmaster of Katane dropped by to see how our day was progressing. After having seen this, I feel a little more at ease. He reassured me that this was going to work, something that's always appreciated. After our conversation yesterday he was a bit worried I was upset at the way the program was developing. Well, I was and am still uneasy at how the teachers are taking to it, but as long as he is able to see how interested the community and students are then I'm feeling slightly more comfortable. Only time will tell though.

Joy and Bridget from Stanford Lake College dropped in earlier today to see how our little workshop was developing. They were quite impressed with how many students we had packed in the classroom.

I only need to finish writing the contracts, wrap up the monitoring and evaluation strategy, coordinate picking up the extra 15 laptops, and a few more items on my to-do-list.

Now I'm off to watch Katane beat some other primary school in soccer. And, hopefully, I'll get a chance to watch South Africa play New Zealand in rugby tonight at the local pub.

It's a great day in South Africa...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Making Progress...

I'm utterly exhausted and overwhelmed. It's a constant uphill battle. I'm trying to refrain from asking myself, "only if I had done this or that..." But then I remind myself I wouldn't be learning if there weren't challenges. I sometimes ask why I ever do these things though. But then I see a child's expression when he learns something new....i.e. in this picture...and I know it's worth all the stress and anxiety...

1st week...
Group left for Kruger park to relax which should give me and Neo an opportunity to work on a few additional issues which need to be addressed (upcoming ceremony on Thursday, contracts, meeting community leaders, weekend workshop w/ the students, catching up on emails, etc, etc, etc). This project is a logistical nightmare. Needless to say, I'm learning more and more each day. If I ever summon the strength to do this again, it would certainly run much much smoother. Starting Monday we'll have the teachers resume classes as they normally would but trying to integrate the XOs into their curriculum when able to. It should be interesting to see where the teachers are compared to the students.

Additional XOs...
Thanks to Larry Weber for providing an additional 15 XO laptops to our school communities. You and your family are amazing for putting us in touch with Neo, Thulani and the Kliptown students. God bless you. We couldn't have done it without them. The laptops will be put to good use in the coming months. We're hoping that each active teacher will now be able to have an XO.

After School Program...
Tomorrow the Soweto students and I will be hosting a weekend activity at the school for anyone in the Katane school area interested in learning how to operate the XOs. This should give us a clear indication on how keen the students and community are for this project. The idea came from the Kliptown group, particularly Thulani who has played an integral part in pulling this deployment together. We're hoping this will give us a chance to talk to the parents about the project, ownership, etc.

Redesigning ownership...
Due to a number of factors, ownership of the XOs has caused many headaches the past few days. How does one try and give a sense of ownership to a child without compromising the benefit these XOs provide for other students in the school? We can't simply give the laptops to the children since 2/3 schools lack electricity. What happens when one child's laptop is taken by an older sibling or parent? But then we face ownership at the school. Giving the school ownership presents problems, or at least we've noticed this past week at one school in particular. Some teachers are more concerned about their laptop, not the possible benefits it could provide to their learners. Not many people understand this is one laptop per child, not teacher. We're now writing up contracts in which teachers, parents and students all agree that ownership still belongs to One Here...One There. The program will be re-evaluated this December on holiday. If the schools are using them to their full potential, we'll re-distribute and go at this again. On the other hand, if one of the schools is not using them, we have the right to distribute the XOs to either of the schools that do take advantage of them. We're noticing that 1 school is seeing this more as an image issue, not an educational opportunity. We don't want schools to get the idea that they're the "school with the laptops". We're now running up against time constraints since we need to return to university. One of my tasks is to find someone who is capable of monitoring the program after we leave. I have faith in 2 of the schools...we'll see about the 3rd. They all have great potential but leadership in the administration is essential. Nobody said this would be easy though.

Upcoming Ceremony...
The teachers at Mmaweshi primary school have already designed the program for Thursday's event. Fortunately we have some contacts here which should bring a high level actor in government to come speak as the Keynote address. The only issue is trying to bring all 3 schools, including teachers, students and parents, to one central location to have the event. Mmaweshi teachers have taken an active role in pursuing publicity for the event. Yesterday they had Violet Mamabolo interview me live on the air. And this coming Thursday they've scheduled some people from local newspapers to participate in the ceremony. So now we're managing on putting all this together. I've never been too keen on these sorts of things but they're all certainly excited about it so I guess I'll just go with it....

Connecting Kliptown to Haenertsburg...
Thulani, Neo and I are organizing an opportunity for those students who have excelled in our schools to visit Johannesburg during September holiday. Since most students have little to do during break, these students will get an opportunity to see Joburg for the first time and meet similar students who are in the same program. We're hoping this networking opportunity will allow for more learning for everyone. Should be interesting.

Technical aspects...
Server and internet is up and running at Katane. I sent out an email to the Weber family on the XOs which is always appropriate. The server's cage has been installed at Mmaweshi. Generators are up and running now. Unfortunately, we're going to have to delay installing internet at Driehoek until they actually have a school. The government has put in temp. buildings until their brick building is constructed. It's put a kink in our plan. Driehoek students had gone to Katane until a child drowned trying to cross a river getting to school. For that reason, we have Driehoek.

Long term support...
Joy from Stanford Lake College is incredible for offering free technical support after we leave. Thank you, Joy. You're amazing for helping. We're now trying to find some volunteers and/or some community leaders willing to lead the after school program at Katane. We'll see how the search goes. Neo is meeting a friend who runs the IT dept in Joburg. I guess they have some mandatory service requirement in their curriculum. Hopefully he'll be able to put us in touch with students from this area. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Birthday Celebration and Racism...
The other night we went out for Joey's 22nd birthday at the local pizza bar. Despite being harrassed the 1st time I went by 1 self-reightous local w/ a PhD (yes, he made sure we knew he had a PhD) who basically told me to get out of his country (he was British and came here when he was 21...hypocritical, no?), the rest of the crowd was very welcoming, particularly the owner. For that reason, we decided to take Joey and the group there to celebrate. So we're all drinking, eating, and playing pool when Sippo, one of the Kliptown students, decides to take part in the pool game. Unfortunately for him, one of the more ignorant, white locals decides to tell him he's now "allowed" to play. Well, he asked for his $20 to play on account of his colour. Because of that, Sippo and Thulani decided to sing a birthday song while gumboot dancing. In a town like this, or so I'm noticing, they would have never done something like that unless in an international crowd like we were. Needless to say, I'm glad Sippo had an opportunity to tell him off in a more appropriate manner. Unfortunately, Sippo didn't tell me of the incident until we returned. We won't be supporting that business ever again.

Everywhere I go, whether it's in America, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, South Africa or wherever, it's all the same. We're so insecure that we need to feel powerful in any manner possible. So we talk down upon and discriminate against our neighbors and brothers on account of some insignificant and unjustified reason (e.g. colour of skin). And that's 1 small reason why I'm still doing this project. For the first time in history we're allowing those with no voice an opportunity to express themselves and make themselves heard via multimedia and the internet. Maybe I'm just optimistic, but I'm hoping that by connecting people of different cultures then maybe our children will wake up and realize there's not much different between our neighbors around the world. Maybe communication and dialogue is our solution to some of the more "challenging" issues we face, like racism. Ha, who would have thought it would be so difficult to treat someone with love and respect? Hmm...I wonder if a PhD teaches you that?

A dream come true

We were told not to be surprised if the children here don't smile that often. That Americans are viewed as people who abuse the right to smile, even when they do not mean it. I have come to find that despite what I was told, I have been overwhelmed with smiling faces each day I spend here. As bright as the children are at Mmaweshi, there is still a language barrier, but you don't need to speak the same language as someone in order to connect with them on a deeper, more spiritual level. Without the use of words, all you need is one look - one long look into the eyes of the stranger standing in front of you, and you can understand that we are all one in the same.

Yesterday was without a doubt the most productive, rewarding day I have had in a long time. From the moment we walked through the doors of Mmaweshi, I knew there was something special about that day. Our group was so on top of things, full of life and ready to review everything we learned the day before, and so were the children. I feel like the more I push them, afraid I may be asking too much, the more they seem to improve. They are capable of so much - their minds flexible, for they are still new learners. I had no idea we would get as far as we did, but they kept up so well with each new step into the programs.

After school, we introduced the teachers and Sara, the school principal, to adult-sized keyboards that hook up to the laptops. Hunched over, with the teachers crowded around her, Sara began typing their school address. We sat in front of her, watching her slowly pick it up, marveling at her reactions - she was so excited at what she could do. In the midst of the lesson, she looked up and asked for us to refrain from laughing at her for her slow pace. I could have sat there all day, content with the possibilities we were opening up for these people just by giving them a keyboard and a toy-like laptop to connect it to. Oh, the satisfaction you get by teaching something you consider simple by now to someone who is so excited to understand it.

As we began to pack up the car, Sara ran out asking us if we were going. She seemed concerned, but we already worked with the teachers in a workshop, and it was well past the time we normally leave. I told her yes and she explained that later that afternoon there would be a woman coming from Sobelo, the nation's radio station, to interview her and the children about our project. I knew this would be the perfect opportunity for me to sit down with the teachers and the students for the documentary, so I assured her we would return once we picked up Paul - we needed him to represent OHOT in the interview.

In the car, I prepped him for the interview. I told him what kind of questions to expect and how to speak appropriately with a journalist - he tends to give lengthy responses when he is explaining things - which would definitely not work for a sound bite. At that moment, I had a premonition that I was the press secretary/ spokesperson for some important NGO. I loved the idea - to be the liason between the press and the social entreprenuers. What a life that would be.

I couldn't have asked for a better interview. Actually, it was more like an advertisement than an interview. They said just about everything I could have hoped for and more - it greatly exceeded all of my expectations, and the best part was I didn't really have to do anything for it. It just fell into my lap. Keep sending your positive energy, there is definitely something greater than us on our side, helping us succeed.

Finally, our long week of hard work is up, and we are on our way to celebrate and relax at Kruegar Park - a trip I believe is well deserved. Hopefully we will see more game, and have an experience as exciting as the last.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

School Day 2 & General Updates

Kids have really taken to the laptops. Obviously some are better than others but we're taking that to our advantage. We're using those students to help teach. At one point the teachers even had to tell the students to go home after school since they wouldn't leave the room. Yesterday we created little biographies with their pictures and some basic information. We're hoping to set up the printers on the servers so we can decorate the room a bit with their work.

The teachers at Mmaweshi have had a chance to learn the basics. They're a bit hesitant about the laptops since they're new but they see the benefit in the laptops for the children so they're fairly eager to make this work. Yesterday they spent some time on the Write Activity and Record Activity documenting some goals and projects they want to see at their school. Hopefully, with some multimedia and better communication we may be able to help connect them with outside funding. The best part is their willingness to put forth the work to make their goals happen. It's always nice to work with motivated individuals.

Purchased the generators and found a way to get gas for the generator each week. Hopefully they'll arrive tomorrow. We're estimating 6 months before the government puts in electricity to the schools.

Internet is up and working at Katane. I believe that group has worked on email accounts with the teachers. Needless to say, any future projects should be organized much more efficiently now that the communication process won't be limited by outside parties. Mmaweshi's internet should be installed tomorrow.

A few more things...
Starting to organize the ceremony planned for next Thursday. At that time we'll distribute the laptops in a "formal" fashion which should indicate how the students have earned their laptops, not to be confused as a gift. I believe the HR Director for the Limpopo Province will be speaking at the ceremony, too.

Have run into a few extra unexpected expenses. Several laptops were stolen by the airport, a few broke on the way, and some here and there expenses have put us back. Unfortunately, the school supplies is the first thing to get knocked off our list since it's not on our top priority for making this project work. Just have to make do with what we have...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The hand that gives, is the hand that receives

It's a beautiful thing to be offered lunch from people who have next to nothing. You are there trying to improve their lives and grant them the opportunity to give themselves a better future, and you realize that they want to help you in return, and they can, believe me they can. When we explained we had brought our own lunch, the teacher of MMweshi school - the school I am working at for the next two weeks - he replied, "The hand that gives is the hand that receives." Deep, I know. These people have so much to give, too. Maybe not materialistically, but that is not something our group lacks nor wants. Instead, they can help us - One Here One There - spread our message and grow worldwide, for I can guarantee their story will be one of great success.

I had the opportunity to speak with a girl I am quickly becomming very attached to. I believe I may have mentioned her in the previous e-mail. Her name is Ntwaki. She is twelve years old and one of the brightest kids I have ever met. From the first day of working on the computers she wrote that technology was the application of knowledge and use. Today, I asked her where she got that from. She said in our interview that her teacher, who she has learned so much from, helped her understand that. That she was once a very stupid girl who did not care for education and then she met this amazing teacher who showed her just how much she could do by knowing simple addition and reading english. Here, those skills go a very long way.

Of course, this insightful and inspiring interview didn't take place until after I was entertained by a group of singing and chanting girls. She was their leader. These girls have dedicated themselves to their school group, "Soul Buddies," which raises awareness about the spread of HIV - a big problem here - and encourages the kids in the community to make the most of each day and take full advantage of the education they are being provided. It is meant to keep kids out of trouble and in school so that they aren't continuously repeating grades like some of them are. I have seen men, not boys, sitting in a roomful of ten and twelve year olds because they cannot pass. They are too oversized for the desks and look so out of place. Can you imagine the humiliation they must have felt when we came?

I was so overwhelmed today, I don't think my enthusiasm will ever fade. I cannot express to you how proud I am to be a part of this group. The kids and teachers at Mmweshi are so receptive and smart, I am blown away by how quickly they are picking things up. We can have such a huge impact on their lives - and we haven't even touched on the what the internet is and all it is capable of doing. For instance, this girl, this insanely smart girl, who is so determined to help others in her community by being a leader and helping them with the laptops, can do far more than just help the people in her village. With her knowledge and motivation, she can dramatically change the lives of many through the use of the internet, and she doesn't even know it yet. I am so excited to watch her. She is my little helper. Whenever I need help explaining directions for a particular program on the laptop, I assign her to one table of children while I take the other. Together, I think we make a great team.

In one school day, a mere five hours, we taught a handful of children how to use the write program - similar to Microsoft Word - the paint program, and take photos from their computer. And do they LOVE have their pictures taken. I have a hard time getting far enough away from the children when taking a photo because they crowd around me as if I had all the candy in the world in my hands. I was showing a group of the younger kids from the school next by a picture I took of them on my camera. They swarmed around me. It was unbelievable. I made like twenty new friends without even trying. How simple it is to please someone who is happy with next to nothing. It is a beautiful thing to see. I wish you could be here with me to experience this. I could stay here forever.

And so the journey begins

It's hard to imagine a place like Kliptown is some people's reality. Living in shacks pieced together by scraps of metal and plywood, with trash everywhere, no electricity and children running around carelessly. Yet in the midst of the poorest spot in Johannesburg, are some of the happiest most energetic people I have ever met. "We may be poor in materialistic, but we are very, very, very rich in spirit," said Thulani, one of the community's greatest leaders. He gave us a tour of the place he calls home, and I honestly felt like I was back in The Grapes of Wrath - a play I was in that portrayed what life was like during the Great Depression. While we walked through the shanty town, little children followed us, tugging and pulling on our clothing begging us to "shoot them" - take their picture. There was no denying we were strangers walking aimlessly around this deprived, underdeveloped town, but everyone greeted us so warmly. I didn't for a second question my safety or acceptance. "Just feel right at home."

Right in the middle of the town was a school. Entering it was like crossing a threshold into the promise land. Education is their only way of having any kind of opportunity. And that was what we had come to South Africa to improve. Although we wouldn't be spending our time in Kilptown, I was glad we went there first. It was inspiring and encouraging that we would be welcomed and that people here were eager to learn. The trip had certainly begun on a good start.

Our first weekend was spent in Kruegar Park, a huge wildlife reservation filled with leopards, water buffalo, heinas - one came up to our car and stuck his nose against the window... creepy - zebras, impalas, many different kinds of birds, hippos, alligators, and so much more, all of which we got to see. Our weekend at Kruegar was perfect for our group to relax and get to know one another before we had to get serious. It was absolutely beautiful there. I wish I had the time to tell you what it was like, but I am paying for every minute I spend on the internet. I have tons of pictures though.

Today was our first day in the schools. We distributed the 100 laptops to the most grateful, enthusiastic students at three different schools. I got the majority of it on tape. I can't wait to share it with you. For the next two weeks, we will set up the internet at each school and teach the students and teachers everything we know about the laptops and managing them. Can you imagine learning in one day what a computer was AND the internet and then being told you had to learn how to use both? So overwhelming. For all those who are as incompetent with the internet as my parents you know exactly what I am talking about.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Some of the prep work

Day 6. Everyone arrives tomorrow. I've spent the past week visiting the schools, talking with headmasters, detailing the trip itinerary, and doing some research. We'll be working with 3 separate schools (Katane, Driehoek, and Maweshi). Each has its own personality, structural issues and unique circumstances, but each one provides great opportunity for learning and potential. The teachers are very eager to start, the children are overly excited, and the group is almost here. They'll arrive tomorrow off balance and in need of a bed having just spent 2 days traveling. Unfortunately for them we're heading straight over to Kliptown where the 1st za-olpc project was put in place. After that we drive for 4 hours to our project's location.

Some updates....

Language Barrier
In general, the students English is rudimentary which will pose a significant challenge for us. It changes some initial plans, but it's no surprise. On the positive side, I believe this project will greatly increase their level of understanding in English, particularly with more opportunities to read and write via the laptops numerous applications. Furthermore, Americans have a strong accent which only makes matters worse when trying to engage in a conversation with one of the teachers. But that's half the fun.

We're needing to put in power at Maweshi and Driehoek. I'm researching every available source of electricity possible and at the cheapest rate (funding is an issue since power is so expensive). I actually spent the past 2 hours lost in Johannesburg trying to meet with a group called Alternative Electricity Development Corporation (http://www.aedc.co.za/) which has some power units that may work. This would allow the children to take the laptops home, providing learning opportunities 24/7. It would also allow for their parents to have basic electricity met in each of their homes. None of the homes in each community has electricity. Still working on figuring out details though since I got lost and didn't make the meeting. I found myself somewhere I obviously shouldn't have been...good times, good times. I'm also looking at pulling the town's electricity toward the school, something the government has neglected to do, so says one of the teachers. Then there's solar power which is great but that prevents the students from using the laptops at home. There's also the issue of theft which some of the locals have brought up. Setting up solar panels on top of the schools would require some sort of protection. Finally, we can always provide a generator which will cost less at the moment but isn't the best solution for the long run. In any case, some of the options will probably require some additional funding since we had originally allocated enough funds to cover electricity for 1 school. Since we were misinformed, we're going to have to make do somehow. Just have to run with it...

Maweshi primary school is just as concerned with bringing in water, not just electricity. They have to pay for monthly installments of water. It's something which could easily be fixed since the region is extremely mountainous. Most of the water just sits next to them under the hill side. They just lack the capital to have someone bring in the company which drills the hole. So the kids go without water throughout the school day.

Learning Materials
Each school lacks essential materials necessary to learn. They've asked for the basics like pens, folders, reference charts (i.e. days of the week, geography posters, etc), chalk, a soccer ball or two, etc, etc. The first class I visited at Katane was a 5th grade math class which we'll be working with. The teacher was trying to explain calculator functions when only a few students had the means to buy basic calculators. Needless to say, it's a bit difficult to teach about calculators when children can't practically apply the knowledge. Hopefully with each student having a laptop we'll see some improvements in that area.

Looking forward to having the rest of the group here tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

On the Road

Just about to walk out the door. Been far too busy to be nervous. I'll be happy when I make the connecting flight.  Wish us luck, and I'll pick this up when I land.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Twelve Indiana University One Here…One There members will travel to South Africa this August for an education initiative project. After months of training and lesson plan writing, these members will teach African education leaders and students how to use the XO One Laptop Per Child computers throughtout a three week period. Working with student’s ages nine to seventeen in three different schools, OHOT members will demonstrate the benefit of incorporating these laptops into normal classroom curriculum.

During the spring 2008 semester, One Here…One There raised nearly $60,000 to purchase 102 computers for South African students. Through this unique experience, made possible by several sponsors and grants, OHOT members will see firsthand, the power of technology and impact that their stateside service is making.

This blog will be used to gather the thoughts and experiences of those individuals in South Africa. Enjoy and feel free to add comments.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

First OLPC Arrives in S. Africa...

IU OHOT sent the 1st of 102 XO One Laptop Per Child computers to Shelley Milstein of Thusanang Trust in South Africa. The IU OHOT team will be working three weeks in South Africa alongside local primary school teachers in distributing laptops, installing internet, and providing power for 3 schools. This will be the 2nd OLPC deployment in South Africa. To learn more about this project, click here.

Our Mission:

The premise is simple: One Here...One There aims to provide an easy and affordable mechanism for one student at a college or university in the United States to help fund the education of one primary or secondary school student in sub-Saharan Africa.