Saturday, November 7, 2009

Three Bears

Just a small tidbit about Holy Cross today. Some of the kids finished their projects early today, so they went outside where Drew was helping people take their pictures for their projects. I was inside helping someone save their project to a flash drive when Anelisa comes in yelling "Three Bears." I had NO idea what she was talking about and just went back to saving the projects. A minute later I went outside and about 5 kids are acting out the 3 bears and video taping themselves on the XO, I was pretty amaze and excited to see that...

Newspapers and "How To" Projects

At Holy Cross we have been busy trying to create projects that incorporate different aspects of the XO. Two weeks ago we did a "How To" Project. We broke the kids into groups and they had to choose something that they wanted to teach the rest of the group how to do. All that we told them was that they would pick a topic, tell us how to do it (including the steps, ingredients needed (if any), the rules (if any), etc), that they needed to type the directions in write and that they had to include at least 3 pictures with their project. We had 4 teams, and the topics were "How to play Soccer", "How to play Rugby", "How to make Tea" and "How to make Coffee." The projects ended up taking two days to complete because everyone wanted to include many pictures and we had to take time for each group to present to the rest. It was very sucessful. The Rugby group worked using two computers, one person was typing while the other looked up information about Rugby on the wiki (we did not even hint that they should do this, it is so nice to see them using different aspects of the XO all on their own). Since the how to make tea/coffee projects were a bit easier to explain, we actually tried to do them step by step to see if it worked (this was a fun way to show that the steps were not complete enough or that a step was out of order).

The next week we made a newspaper. For the first half of the session we talked about different aspects of a newspaper and what each section in a paper is responsible for. Then the kids decided on a name for the newspaper (After School Program News) and each student picked a section (we had weather, sports, news events, opinion, poems, and adverts) and then had to write the section and incorporate a photo. In this group of students we have different age groups, so the younger ones did the weather, opinion and sports section and the older ones covered news, poems and adverts. Two students even put a caption under their photo to explain how it related to the article. They were very excited about this project and even showed their teachers the next week because they were so proud of it!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Juriehien's Day

Thursday was a great day. Many of the children take part in karate lessons on Thursday's, so today I worked with 3 of the older boys (they're around 15/16 yrs old).

Since there was only 3 of them (I usually work with about 10-15 at a time), I thought it was a great opportunity to try a new activity, that involved computer basics (such as: dragging and right-clicking) and math (length and angles). The activity is called Etoys.

Reading the instructions, the boys were at first hesitant because the steps were a lot more challenging than they were used to. I made a point to tell them that it was okay to go slow and we would go step by step, making sure they didn't feel discouraged (because I've learned that as soon as the kids are discouraged they want to give up). When each boy completed the first step of "finding the key and dragging it to the keyhole in the castle," I could see their eyes widen and their smiles grow as they realized that they in fact could do the challenging activity.

The game went on and eventually they were advancing by themselves, telling me to shush and let them do it themselves! It was a great moment when Juriehien was the first to "drive the car to the goal" and shout my name to come running over to show me his achievement. I gave Juriehien a big high-five. I finally began to see confidence in his eyes and the smile on his face showed a "wow I can do this" expression.

Juriehien is a boy who was a bit slower with learning the activities on the laptops, and I have recently begun to notice his frustration and lack of confidence, seeing some of his peers improve drastically, showing little trouble. However, today was Juriehien's day as his two older friends looked over his shoulder, asking him questions on how to work the activity, giving him "props" for what he had done. I was so happy and proud of Juriehien.

Unfortunately in many of the schools in the township, motivation and positive reinforcement is scarce. It is days like this Thursday, that these kids, kids like Juriehien, need to push them to work hard and that they are not "stupid" or incapable of a better future. The intelligence is there, it's just buried; and it's resources like the XO laptop that will help these children realize their talents and bring alive the self-confidence and motivation needed for a brighter future.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pen Pals

The older girls of St. Mary's are currently typing out letters to exchange with students in the USA. Watching the girls improve on their typing has been such a rewarding experience. At first, my friend, Emily, and I had to constantly remind the girls to use capital letters when starting a sentence or pressing enter for a new paragraph. Now, the girls know when capital letters should be used, how to start a letter and end a letter. Knowing how to write a letter is extremely valuable for these girls and it has been great watching them improve!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kids are Back

It's a new week and the kids are back from school holiday...

The kids were eager to get right back on to the laptops and since it was a nice, warm day outside, I decided that the kids shouldn't be stuck indoors. What's cool about these laptops is that they can be taken outside and still be able to connect with one another. I came up with a scavenger hunt for the kids in order to get them running around outside while still using and having fun on the lap tops. The kids ran around with a list of clues, finding the answers and taking pictures of them. The kids then had to rush back inside and cut and paste the pictures into a word document and title each picture. I figured this was a fun way to get the kids moving around and, more importantly, have them continue practicing how to cut and paste and work on typing!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Holy Cross

While the centers are on break, I now have enough time to talk about some of the things we are doing at Holy Cross. Holy Cross recently got a new volunteer who will be there for the year, and one of his responsibilities is to continue the laptop program after others leave. We are happy that we are able to spend time with him to teach him about the laptops, as well as to develop learning projects with him before we leave. His first wee at Holy Cross we had the students, and the new volunteer, do the "XO Scavenger Hunt." This is the same thing we had the St. Mary's volunteers learn in the training session. This is a great way to see all of the things that the XO can do, as well as make people more comfortable with the activities.

At Holy Cross the children usually do their homework before they use the laptops, except on Friday which is a laptop only day. As a part of this, we have been encouraging the children to use the laptops to help them with their homework, making use of the Wiki Activity in particular. This helps the students understand the many ways in which the laptops can be used, as well as helps develop important research skills. To encourage the use of the laptops for homework purposes we have done a few projects where the students had to use the Wiki Activity. We asked about 6 students to report on and make a presentation of a planet. They had to tell us how often it orbits the sun, how large it was, if it had any moons, what it was named after, and two unique attributes of the planet. They were also asked to draw the planet in paint and show the picture as they presented the information. The students are seeing that they can use their laptops to look up information, whereas before they had to ask the volunteers to tell them
or look it up for them on the computer at the center. We hope that the students will continue to explore the many uses of the XO, and that they will continue to use it to assist them with their homework.

Monday, September 28, 2009

School Holiday

The children of St. Mary's and Holy Cross are currently on school holiday and will be back working on the laptops on 5 October!

Finally! Pictures!

That's right everybody...we finally made a site with (most of our) pictures!!

Here it is:

Many more to come...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rain Rain, Go Away...

The past week Rhodes University was on holiday, but the children were not! So going into the week with no volunteers, I assumed that half of the kids would play outside, or do art, while I could work with a few of the children on the laptops...

But then the rain came...and it came hard...

So, since the children couldn't play outside, approx. all 60 children got out their XO laptops! I was a tad nervous...I mean, how was I going to control all of the children, ranging in age, and at all different laptop skill levels?!

This rainy day happened to be one of the best days so far! As hectic as it could have been, I saw something amazing. The children were helping each other out...without me saying anything, or asking. When one of the younger kids was struggling, without hesitation, the older, more experienced children would go over and explain how to, for example, add a character in the game "Scratch" or quit "Maze."

The younger kids respected the older ones and the older ones didn't act "too cool and tough" for the younger ones. I finally got to see this community of children come together, work together, and improve together. These laptops have encouraged the children to want to do well on activities and see their peers succeed as well. It truly was an amazing sight!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

XO Workshop...Success!

This past Saturday, Drew, Steph and I arranged an XO laptop workshop with the St. Mary's volunteers. Approximately 15 volunteers arrived and were eager to play and understand the laptops!

After going over the laptop basics, Drew lead an "XO Scavenger Hunt" which allowed the volunteers to explore the laptops...they had to find ways to calculate 798/347, paint the South African flag, and have the computer say "hello." Everyone had fun and picked up the laptops quickly. This activity was also used today at St. Mary's with the kids. This increased confidence in the kids of how well they actually know their laptops!

This was a great success and because of this workshop, now the volunteers will be able to help with the children, so more kids can use the laptops daily. Volunteers are going to help with learning projects and activities with the laptops are really getting a kick!

Not only will the volunteers be able to help out in the present, but (sadly) when Drew, Steph and I have to leave, the volunteers can continue to work with the laptops and teach new volunteers how they about sustainability!

Friday, August 28, 2009 update!

Hey everyone!

I know, I know..we have been terrible with updating the blog..but it's finally here, so enjoy!

After finalllly getting the right importer code, the laptops finally arrived! After spending a few hours getting the laptops ready, Aimee, Drew, Steph and I handed them out to the children at St. Mary's and at Holy Cross!

It looked like Christmas morning. The kids all sat patiently while they were handed their boxes, eagerly waiting to open them and see their very own XO laptop.

The kids opened them up, put in the batteries and turned them on. The kids got right into playing maze, listening to music and exploring all of the different activities.

Everyday at St. Mary's, I have taken small groups of children in the same age group into the computer room to work on the laptops. Each day, we have done different activities, such as, "take a picture of yourself, and cut and paste that into a write document and talk about yourself" or "draw your house and backyard with turtle art." The kids have shown strong interest in wanting to learn how to type properly, so "typing turtle" has been a big hit! These activities have been used for kids to mess around with the laptops, get used to different commands, but still have fun. Preparing for learning projects is necessary in the beginning!

The kids are finally getting a hang on the basic rules of the laptops, i.e., not having too many activities open at one time, what to do if the mouse freezes, or how to invite someone to chat. It has been both emotional and exciting to see the children help one another and watching their facial expressions when they figure out an activity, or have successfully cut and paste a picture into a writing document.

Many pictures to come to show the kids and the laptops!

'Til next time...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Something has arrived...

Hey guess what… no laptops here in Grahamstown... but we’ve got swine flu!
(Don’t worry parents, they’re far away in quarantine out of town.) 4 students; 2 at a boarding highschool and 2 from Rhodes got it while at a sports tournament that international students attended.
Ohh.. globalisation.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

eXOcuse me?

Oh the frustration of customs and burea-crazy. The days are quickly passing by, and the 100 XO laptops are still stuck in Johannesburg customs. Even though these laptops are donations, customs has placed a monetary value on the laptops and it exceeds the ZAR20,000 limit. This is in spite of the fact that we are working with non-profits, but once again formalities and paperwork gets in the way of progress! Luckily, we have some XOs on hand; 8 in all from us team members and extras purchased, so we have been able to manage working with the children in small groups at a time.

It has worked so far because it is the primary school holidays; many children are away with family and so the afterschool is also closed. Kids have come in small groups, and we have been able to manage working with two people max on each XO. However, the holidays are coming to an end this week. We really need to get these laptops that have been stuck in customs for over a month!

Know anyone in Johannesburg customs? Help us out! :)

Aimee & Anna

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Two years ago, we arrived in Grahamstown just days after this huge event called “Fest.” Little did we know, that the small town of Grahamstown was the venue for the National Arts Festival. A 10 day celebration of every category imaginable that could fall under Art, it is the largest festival in the continent and the second largest in the world (after the Edinburgh Fest). Luckily this time around, we were able to experience all of Fest and the transformation of the town itself. July 2-11.. they flew quickly
One of the volunteers at Holy Cross, Matt, wrote in to the Festival committee and requested free tickets for the kids. All of the children have grown up in Grahamstown, but have never had the opportunity to truly experience Fest. For most, if not all, it was their first ballet, rock concert, musical and dance show they had seen on a professional level.
Yup, that’s right, we had a very tough life: taking children from Holy Cross to a variety of art shows, stuffing ourselves with street food, bargain shopping at fairs and being surrounded by people and talent from all over the country and globe.
Enjoy these shots from the week!

Simphiwe Dana (the 'new' Miriam Makeba)

Jazz talent

Street performers...

trying to 'outkick' each a sign of strength (i think!)

Statues.. pay pennies and get a treat

Ohhh.. the Egg man

Always on the prowl..

for a good bargain.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Off to the Holy Cross Monastery!

Driving up to the Holy Cross Monastery, I saw a rural side to Grahamstown that I had not fully been exposed to yet. The rolling hills that went on forever took my breath away and as we pulled up the Monastery, I immediately felt peace. The set-up was beautiful and I just felt comfortable there. The scenery was breath-taking and looked like it came from a painting. I met some of the Brothers, who were all extremely friendly and down to earth, excited for the XO program to ignite.

We met with approx. 9 of the older children and let them play with the XOs. Similar to the first day I was with the kids at St. Mary’s we had the kids go around, inside and out, taking pictures of whatever they wanted. The kids went off together exploring the land around the Monastery, taking pictures of the mountains and the various statues around the yard. The kids were excited and energetic. After, the kids picked their favourite one, were instructed how to cut and paste into word document and could write or paint whatever they wanted with the image they chose.

Our set up in one of the rooms

Thembalani and me, playing Maze

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

First Trip to St. Mary's

Still jet-lagged, I arrived at St. Mary’s for the first time since my last trip to South Africa almost 2 years ago. The kids came rushing in, excited to continue playing and learning on the XOs. Aimee and I quickly realized there was no way we could have an organized lesson plan off the bat because the kids were too eager just to play around. We knew this was important for the kids to play around first themselves and discover things individually, after sharing with friends and us as well! Luckily, with 2 of us helping out, there was more time to work with kids 1 on 1, instead of leaving poor Aimee to all 8!

Watching the kids fool around and help each other out, I found myself fighting back tears. The smiles on their faces showed their excitement, and I began feeling the power of this program and the endless possibilities the children can have with these laptops. Wiping away the few tears that dropped, I enjoyed walking around looking at the programs the children decided to open up first and how they did not hesitate to show Aimee, myself and their friends what they have accomplished. We let the children choose the programs they wanted to open and we were able to assist them, teaching them how to use the program, which they then could teach their fellow peers.

The best part of my day was when I realized Robyn, a 12 year old girl, using the chat function to type the exact same sentences to 2 boys, Lloyd and Jurihin. I immediately called her out on flirting with both of them, and it became a big joke and laugh for the rest of the day.

After the kids had about 30 minutes of free-time, we showed the kids how to take pictures using the XOs. They quickly caught on, and were given 10 minutes to walk around the room taking picture of whom and whatever they wanted. After picking their favourite picture, we went around explaining how to cut and paste the image into a word document so they would be able to write about what picture they had taken. The kids loved the independence and freedom of being able to decide what pictures to take, which to keep and what to write about. Without realizing, the kids were working on typing and important computer functions, such as cut and paste!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

First day back home

We have a few visitors with us from the US joining us for a little. They’re a team from General Mills, very generous contributors and donors to OLPC and OLPCorps particularly. They came to see first-hand what OLPCorps will be doing, and we’re very grateful and blessed that we got to share our Grahamstown story and perspective with them!
It’s hard to believe I’m back here (I’m sorry if I don’t stop saying that this entire trip!). Too many emotions running through me right now but everything tremendous, to say the least. I got to visit St Mary’s the day after I got in, jumping right into things here. As the kids came streaming into the centre, it was just pure joy to get to see so many of the kids from a couple years back, and also a lot of new faces. I got lots of second looks from the kids, thinking they recognised a familiar face from somewhere. Sure enough, a bunch of them put the face together and ran over for hi’s and hugs. Some pulled me over to the wall at the back of the room where photos hang of past volunteers at St Mary’s – just double checking it was me :)
Highlight of the morning for me was when one girl threw her arms around me and said, “you remembered us!” Believe me, it took everything in me to stop from crying!
Oh boy, I can’t wait to get this project going!

St Mary’s and Holy Cross

Here’s a little look into the premises of the 2 after-school programs we’re working with. First is St Mary’s Day Care Centre. I've talked a little about them in my last post, but here's a little more official description from the centre:

There are 87 children between ages 6 to 18 at present. The children are with the Centre for about 10 years and the secret of the Centre’s success is that they remain in its care for so long. They are selected from the most under-privileged homes and are provided with a second home in which love, care, food and warmth are provided. Most come from homes where the only income is a child support grant, a disability grant or grandparent’s pension. Most are poorly fed at home, live in crowded conditions and have alcoholic parents who have no time for their children. A growing number have been physically and sexually abused. Almost all of the children at the Centre are affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic with either a family member who has contracted the disease or has died as a result of it. A smaller minority of our children are also HIV positive.
The children arrive between 7:00 and 8:00 am each school day and immediately wash, tidy up and change into school uniforms and shoes which the Centre provides. After a nourishing breakfast they go to school and return for a nutritious lunch, organized afternoon activities and supervised homework. After a snack at 4pm they return to their own homes. It is firmly believed that children should continue to be part of their families despite alcoholism, poverty and all the other disadvantages. We do not want to alienate them from their roots and
The Centre was established in 1982, and approximately half of the income comes from Kindernothilfe, an organization whose funds come from ordinary German Christian families. The balance has to be privately raised.

View from the front

View of a bit of the township from the main doors

These are some of the many kids whom I got to know and who motivated me to come back!

The second is the Holy Cross After-school Program of Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery (more pics from their website). When I first got to Grahamstown in 2007, I thought it was a little town, only because all the ‘essentials’ for a student were within walking distance. In time, there was a lot more to my new home that I discovered. The Mariya Monastery is one of many hidden gems that I wish I knew about earlier. The drive takes a bit of effort in itself by car, but it’s because this haven is tucked away in a little valley away from the city centre. The absolute definition of a sanctuary, this space immediately fills you with smiles, sunshine and peace as soon as you walk in. Run by about 7 Benedictine Anglican Brothers, the monastery also has a guesthouse as they continue centuries of tradition in welcoming all who pass their way. In 2005, the Brothers saw a need within the rural community and focused on the children in nearby farms. Thus, the after-school program began as a way to allow the kids to catch-up in their studies and offered them a true opportunity to succeed in the classroom. Right now, there are 16 kids in the program. (The inequality in the education system is something I’ll have to get into another time).

Here are a few pictures of the monastery grounds from their website, so you get a little idea where we are!

Main entrance

Kid you not, view from the grounds

Hills and valleys...

Some of the kids!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


First off, these little laptops are called XOs cos of the little kid icon! (We don’t want anyone to be confused you see :)

I don’t think we’ve talked about the functions and adaptations of the XO as yet. As you can tell from the first picture, the laptops are small and efficient (notice the comparison between a regular laptop). In fact, OLPC’s introduction of the XO has lead the commercial market to begin to produce smaller personal laptops, such as the notebook/ebooks at present.

Though they look small, and almost like a toy, they have all the full features of any other laptop. Since they were built particularly for kids in the developing world, they are meant for the outdoors. Where our $1000+ laptops will be spoilt if dropped/ wet etc (and most times kept far away from us as kids!), these little guys can withstand falls, get wet and withstand exposure to sun/ sand and more.

For our deployment, we chose chargers meant for an electrical source as our schools have reliable electricity grid. However, they’re also made with the option of a little solar cell or chargers meant for geneators.

What’s more, the monitors have a built-in video/camera and microphone for recording purposes. The monitors can also be rotated so that you can share what's on your screen with friends too. These laptops aren’t meant to replace all school materials, but they can serve that purpose. They fully rotate 180 degrees to fold down... press a button to flip the direction of the screen, and there you have an e-book for easy reading!

Initially, we thought the only way that the laptops could connect with each other was only with internet access. But what makes the XO unique as compared to a lot of the products out in the market, is that the laptops can connect to each other using an internal wireless system, called a mesh network (that’s what the little ‘ears’ are at the top of the monitor). There’s an option called the ‘neighborhood’ view, where if other kids have their XOs on, it’ll register everyone within range. That way, it allows for easy collaboration on programs – whether a game of Maze or Chat with your buds!

Anna & Aimee

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Once upon a time

I apologise that it's taken a little (a lot) longer than anticipated to get some updates going. Internet access was tough in Rwanda, and well.. time has gotten the better of us since we've been back. Anyhow, here's an attempt at a back-story.

So, how and why did I get involved in this in the first place? Fate, serendipity or fortune could potentially be words to explain how this has all crazily come together. I'd like to think it's just been one tremendous blessing after the other, so let me begin to share some thoughts.

During my senior year, I'd been taking my time deciding what it was exactly that I'd like to do with my years out of college. I was looking for a service opportunity that was akin to the Peace Corps, but one that I could apply to as an international. I knew I was keen in the larger goal of poverty alleviation, but I wanted the opportunity to be immersed in a place where I could serve and also learn a tremendous amount about social justice issues. The best resource I found to begin this tedious search was, an online resource which has anything and everything to do with public service within the US and around the globe. I'd been getting daily digest updates, with anywhere from 30-50 little descriptions on potential jobs and internships catered to my interests. I was real busy one morning, the 27th of Feb to be exact ;) , but something made me want to sift through the idealist email. Sure enough, i read 3 little lines that seemed almost too good to be true. "Intern in Africa, deploy 100 laptops to kids ages 6-12, One Laptop Per Child Corps Africa" and a hyperlink. I recognised the name OLPC from it being in and out of the news, so my interest was piqued and i hurriedly checked up on it. Needless to say, i couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the morning. Too good indeed, but I immediately knew it in my bones that the grant would come through.

Why it especially means so much is this. Back in 2007, i spent a semester abroad in Grahamstown, South Africa. While I was on my semester exchange, I volunteered a good amount as well. One place was St Mary's Daycare, and I grew to care deeply for these children. Just before I'd left, some of the kids asked if I'd forget them; and I most certainly assured that that I never would. Since then, I'd been thinking of multiple ways to try and give back, but nothing really jumped at me. But as soon as I read the opening lines of the grant application, i just knew this had their names on it! With the faces of the children in mind, I excitedly shared this idea with my roommate Megan, and Anna who had studied in South Africa with me. Right away, I found the Director of St Mary's online (good ol Facebook!), and got cracking on getting our project proposal in order. In time, all the components of our project came together:
- focus on kids ages 6-12
- find a local partner willing to support you
- plan for longevity

That's when I checked in with Rebecca at Off Campus Studies. I wanted to prove that since a good number of Gettysburg students study in Grahamstown every semester, there'd be a great way of establishing a long-term partnership between our 2 towns. In time, we got the support of the Center for Public Service in Gettysburg, and the Centre for Social Development in Rhodes, and they suggested a second afterschool care program, Mariye, so that we had 100 children in all.. it was all coming together! On that first day itself that I read the grant application online, i put on my brass south african bracelet and promised to only take it off only after I was back from SA. (I'm still wearing it... It reminded me to think positively and pray hard for it to all happen! hah). Things just kept getting better. Caroline Hartzell, my advisor and prof at college (and most helpful grant-editor!), informed me that one of her old students Drew Stinson was going to grad school in Rhodes Univesity, back in South Africa. Thanks to that tip, I got in touch with him and learned that Stephanie Bonnes was there too. How perfect - 2 Gburg grads and current Rhodes students IN SAfrica already! They were just as excited about being a part of the project, and were the perfect people to be there and help us coordinate so many things on the ground. So, in a flurry, Megan, Anna and I put our proposal together and got it in right on time. To cut the next bit short.. we waited anxiously only to find out that we were narrowed down to a group of finalists out of over 250 proposals that had come in from around the world! We had to sit tight for another week :\ Then, we get an upsetting (now unimportant!) email that they sadly could only choose a few teams, and we were not selected. We were absolutely devastated, but knew that something good was still going to come out of it - like I said, I was so sure in my bones that we'd get it! Sure enough, 3 days later we get an email saying that more funds came in and we were a part of 30 teams that were selected. The circumstances didn't matter, we were shouting and dancing in the streets when we found out at 1 in the morning! (yes, that was us.. hah)

So, it all came together. And while I'm beyond thrilled that this has happened for the kids, I'm beginning to see how it's been planned all along. See, in 2003 while I was in 11th grade (JC1) in Singapore, I was a leader for the local youth delegation that attended the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva. It was one of the most incredible experiences that I'd been privileged to be a part of. Along with my first visit to South Africa (on a school trip I did with the Drama Society), i knew that I wanted to get into the field of internatinal relations and public service. The summit was where I learnt about the Digital Divide, and also the potential of ICTs and open source products in creating a more equitable playing field. I'd heard talk of the beginnings of an 'affordable laptop for children' based on all the principles being talked about at the summit. Sure enough, at the UN WSIS in Tunisia 2 years later, Nicholas Negroponte revealed the XO along with OLPC. It made sense that my experiences from then and through college were all coming together!

Phew.. I'm probablty boring all of you, but I can't stop smiling thinking about how this has all progressed :) Life is full of the most amazing opportunities. Dream big, and blessings will abound!

Tomorrow, we're having the Community Presentation Ceremony. I promise we'll have that up soon, along with the phenomenal experiences we've taken away from Rwanda. Till the next time!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

So...What's happening now?

Currently, 3 of the 4 team members (Aimee, Drew and Steph) are in Kigali, Rwanda for 10 day orientation workshop, which began on 8 June. While in Kigali, team members are able to meet with other OLPCorps members from across the country and world, who are all about to depart on this amazing experience.

The workshop includes: group activities, training with the XO laptops, technical presentations, and updates for the laptops. Members will receive an introduction to project based learning and how to incorporate activites on the XO laptops, while being encouraged to create unique projects for their specific deployment site.

The 10 day orientation is going to strengthen the knowledge of the XO laptops and the comfort of working with them. It will increase unity among team members in direct teams as well as the other teams going to different places.

It will be soon when everyone will be arriving in Grahamstown (approx. 18 June for the 3 in Kigali, and 29 June for me!), where we will finally begin to directly work with the children and the community!

Why I joined OLPCorps!

I was sitting in the computer lab of the Gettysburg College library when future OLPCorps team member, Aimee George, approached me with a grin on her face. Enthusiastically, she explained this organization called One Laptop Per Child that she found while searching on the internet. As she was describing the goals and the outline of the group, we began scrolling through the website, and tears rolled down my cheeks as I began to picture children with these laptops and how the doors to the world would open for them, changing their lives. I realized that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I could not pass up.

I have always loved working with children. I constantly babysit and have spent the past 5 summers teaching swim lessons to children ranging from 3 to 14 years old. For the past 2 years I have helped in elementary school classrooms. Working with children has always been a passion of mine, as there is no better feeling then seeing a child work out a problem and solve the issue by him or herself using the tools and technology given.

Throughout college, I made sure to take advantage of volunteer opportunities on and off campus. For example, I made frequent trips to Washington D.C. distributing clothes to the homeless, I volunteered at the local homeless shelter in Gettysburg, and I travelled to Nicaragua on a service-learning trip.

In fall 2007, I studied abroad in Grahamstown, South Africa with Aimee. Excited and nervous before leaving, I had no idea the impact South Africa was going to have on my life. Spending time studying, travelling and truly becoming independent for the first time in my life, placed me on an emotional roller coaster that can not be described with words. The generous people, the unique and vibrant culture, the delicious food and the miles and miles of untouched land seeped through my veins and since my time abroad, have stayed in my blood, never to leave. I fell in love with South Africa, and leaving was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

Joining OLPCorps would allow me to combine my passions; working with children, volunteering and South Africa. Not only would it allow me to return to the place I fell in love with, but it would let me return with a purpose. So after Aimee approached me in the computer lab, I knew that joining an OLPCorps team was an experience that would allow me to encourage, educate and empower many children in Grahamstown, South Africa, changing not only my life but theirs as well.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

So... what is OLPCorps, again?

We probably should have started with this, but anyhow.. here's the release that's going out on what it is we're actually doing (thanks Drew and Steph!). We'll be certain to share our personal perpectives as soon as we get the chance!

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is a U.S. non-profit organization devoted to enhancing early childhood education. Its mission is, “To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning." Currently, the organization’s focus is on Africa. Early this year, OLPC announced that it would donate thousands of their special child-friendly laptops to select teams willing to build partnerships with local organizations in African countries.

In March, Grahamstown’s own St Mary’s Day Care Center and the Holy Cross After School Program at Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery were selected to be recipients of this unique opportunity. In total, only thirty teams out of over 200 applicants werechosen to take part in the program, three of which are in South Africa.

The St. Mary’s Day Care Center is an established NGO providing after-school food and care to some of the most impoverished and disadvantaged school going children in Grahamstown. Currently, the center is a second home to 87 children between the ages of 6 and 18. Similarly, the Holy Cross After School program provides transportation, food and after-school care to some of the area’s poor rural children. There are currently 16 students in their program from the junior through senior classes. To assist with implementing the OLPC program, the two day care centers have formed partnerships with student volunteers at Rhodes University and Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, United States. Together, this partnership is called GTECH - Grahamstown/Gettysburg: Together Empowering Children.

Beginning in July 2009, each child at the St. Mary’s and Holy Cross day care centers will be given their own OLPC laptop. Student volunteers from Rhodes, Gettysburg and GADRA will work with the children to engage them in learning through the use of special computer programs. Aside from utilizing the educational tools available on the laptops, children will be encouraged to play games and explore the laptop’s functions on their own. Internet connectivity will also be installed at the day care centers to assist with research as well as the overall usefulness of these laptops as educational tools.

It is the hope of GTECH and OLPC that through the use of these specially designed child-friendly laptops, the children of St. Mary’s and Holy Cross day care centres will not only be able to take advantage of unique educational tools but will also gain a level of comfort with technology. Each child will own and care for his/her own laptop, giving him/her a sense of personal responsibility and empowerment.

For more information please visit the OLPC webpage at


No doubt, these next few weeks and months are going to be busy. We'll be sure to keep you posted on all the latest news as it happens, using our somewhat fancy gadgets that we'll soon figure out. Before you know it, we'll put the tech in GTECH... yes, i just said it.. hah.

Here's the plan for the coming days.

6th June: Drew and Stephanie leave Grahamstown and arrive in Kigali by the evening (Port Elizabeth-Kenya-Kigali)
7th: I'll reach Kigali in the morning (Singapore-Dubai-Joburg-Kenya-Kigali
8th-17th: Orientation and Training session for the 30 OLPCorps Teams in Kigali
18th: Steph, Drew and I will return to Grahamstown
22nd: Community Presentation Ceremony for the XOs
29th: Anna arrives in Grahamstown from MA

That's the gist.. till the next post, here's the XO icon in our favourite colours: Gburg (orange and blue) and Rhodes (purple and white!).. cool, i know ;)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Here we go!

Hi all,

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog! It's hard to believe, but we're just days away from our deployment in Grahamstown, South Africa. Over the course of the coming months, we hope to use this as an outlet to update you on our project, share personal stories and experiences, and really just include you in this tremendous movement that's being called OLPCorps Africa.

Stay tuned as we give you some background info on the project; how and why we picked Grahamstown and our 2 communities... and tremendous other things, really! (Sign on to get email updates, might just be a little easier!).

Till the next post... here's to GTECH - Grahamstown/Gettysburg: Together Empowering Children.

Aimee, Anna, Drew and Stephanie