We have now completed 7 weeks of class with the teachers and the students. Since our solar panel arrangement was never fully resolved, we were forced to obtain a generator. It arrived a few weeks late, but as of last Saturday it works well and can charge all 100 laptops at once. It should cost about 10,000 Ugandan Shillings a day to fuel, which is about 5 USD. With the aquisition of the generator, we were able to charge the laptops during class, and therefore also were finally able to distribute the laptops to the children to take home after class.

We held an official launch ceremony on Sunday to honor the occasion. About 100 parents, neighbors, and village elders attended, as well as the approximately 100 students of the St. Edwards Primary School. The day started with an hour of singing and dancing by the schoolchildren and orphans. We then did a short demonstration of some of the activities on the XO, and 10 students walked around showing their laptops to the crowd. We then served a lunch of almost 50 kilos of rice, as well as meat and beans to all the students and guests. After lunch, the local reverend said a prayer and led the Ugandan national anthem. Our team then gave a brief speech about the goals of the project, which the OGLM director, Chris Kalema, translated into Lusoga for the crowd. This was followed by a speech by Hellen Lunkuse, the OGLM volunteer who accompanied us to Kigali, Chris Kalema, and one of his friends, a consultant who does most of his work via computer, and briefly presented on the success and high salaries available to people with IT skills. The final speech was made by the guest of honor, the local Member of Parliament. All the speechs were very supportive and thankful for the laptop project, and the crowd developed a similarily positive attitude, as hoped. After the MP spoke, the reverend called us up for a naming ceremony. According to Musoga tradition, they recognize outsiders who they feel have made a substantial contribution to the community by giving them a Lusoga name. The reverend came up and presented us each with a local name, which we then repeated, only to be met with uproarious laughter and “Ay-yi-yi-yi”s from the audience. Finally, we called out students names one by one and presented them their laptops and a copy of a contract for their use. Chris and the MP, read them out loud in English and Lusoga, as many of the parents are illiterate, and the parents then signed them and returned them. I loaned a pen to one mother and proceeded to watch her spend 5 minutes painstakingly copying her child’s name letter by letter off of the cover of their laptop. Many of the mothers came forward asking for help, and Hellen wrote their child’s name for them, and then had them move the pen back and forth a few times over the line marked “Parent Signature”.
Overall, the day was a much needed success. It started quite badly due to continued conflict with our NGO, but the parents and children went home completely thrilled. Many of the families sat around after the ceremony, with the kids showing their parents and siblings how to use the XO. The 9 students who are also residents of the children’s home went into the dormitory and showed all the other orphans how to use them. Although, the actual implementation of this project has resulted in substantial resistance and frusteration, seeing such positive results from the deployment is a big morale booster. We’re now just wrapping up loose ends, arranging for a carpenter to build a charging station now that we know our charging location and arrangement, as well as discussing our longterm vision for the program with OGLM and the teachers. We will have little-to-no control over the project once we leave, because the teachers have no internet or email access, and OGLM is flaky and often makes committments it does not actually intend to maintain. Although we will continue to correspond with them, we cannot be assured that they are actively following through on the ideas we present them with. So our goal for the last few days is to explain to as many people as possible our vision for the future of the project, and hope that they take some of that into consideration as time passes.

As it is already late July, we are now approaching the last few weeks of our deployment. In the area of laptop training, we’ve made plenty of progress. We’ve been working with the teachers since we came back from Rwanda and we started working with the students about a week after that for one hour a day. There have been 2 major challenges that we have come across during teaching. The first is the age of our students. Before arriving, we had been under the impression that the school had all 7 grade levels so we had planned to target older grade levels. However, our school contains only P1, P2, and P3 grade levels. With such a young demographic, though they are all in the target age range for the XO laptops, we have had to move much more slowly than anticipated. We have split the children into 3 classes: 1 P3, 1 P1, and 1 mixed P1 and P2. The P1 and P2 classes are on the same training schedule while P3, because they move faster as a whole than the other two, is advancing quicker. Of course, within each class there is also great variation in skill level. None of the classes have an advanced enough grasp of written English to be able to write sentences without prompts – when we used the Chat activity in P3, the conversation was: “Cow” “Pig” “Buwaiswa”. P1 and P2 cannot read just yet; as a result, we have been limited to the more visually-based activities and will not be able to use any of the programming-based ones because they require the ability to read. We have covered Record, Paint, Speak, Maze, Memorize, and Tam Tam Mini. The teachers and students both enjoy the speaking activity, which reinforces learning letters and short words. We plan on using Paint as the basis for our learning projects with these 2 classes.

P3 is able to read and write short words and can hear and understand the language decently. They have also been much quicker with grasping the concepts for the activities. So far, we have covered Record, Write, Paint, Speak, Memorize, Maze, Chat, and we have started the programming-based activity, Scratch. The students have just finished creating their own Memorize game featuring pictures of things in and around the schoolyard. Our next project will be to use Scratch to create a short dialogue story featuring their own characters and backgrounds. With Scratch, the students have been progressing at a good pace. There was a small hiccup in teaching the ‘turn __ degrees’ command because they have not learned angles yet, but with some translation assistance from Hellen, they understood.

The second major challenge we have come across in teaching is an issue with hardware. For some reason, the mouse on many of the XOs either jumps around or freezes. As a result, the mouse does not go where the students direct it to, often providing for a very frustrating experience. It is especially frustrating with Paint when the children try to draw with the pen or brush. There are some fixes that we have taught the kids to use, but they still have to use those very often. Unfortunately, this problem cannot be solved so we can only try to make sure that they keep their mousepads and fingers clean and use the fixes they have been taught.

The most pressing issue that we are trying to resolve before our departure is the power problem. We had originally hoped to use DC chargers instead of the AC ones we were given in order to bypass the inverter and get maximum efficiency from our solar panels. Unfortunately, the solar panel installer has refused repeated calls and requests to visit the site to do some rewiring and deliver the chargers. Due to his unreliability, we have opted to purchase a generator that will be powerful enough to charge all the laptops. The generator will only be turned on for 3 hours a day to charge the XOs while the solar will be used for the server and routers full time. This situation is not ideal, as it is less environmentally sustainable, but this is the most promising solution at the moment so that the students do not have to take their laptops to the local ICT center (3-4 km away) to charge. Our NGO director hopes to get the generator here and running by the end of the week. We are optimistic that the issue will be resolved by the time we leave Buwaiswa.

We are working in a small school paid for and run by our partner NGO, Organization for Good Life of the Marginalized. The NGO covers all the school costs for the ~100 children who attend. It covers grades kindergarten, P1, P2, and P3. The school previously taught P4 as well, but were forced to shut it down due to budget constraints. The school has no electricity or running water. There are two classrooms, one with benches and desks, the other only with benches. There is a third room that is used to teach the kindergarteners in the early morning, although it is attached to a chicken coop and is not technically a part of the school. The students have small lined paper workbooks and pencils, but no other books or supplies. Classes start at 8 am, the youngest grades get out of school at 1 pm, and P3 stays until 4.

There are 3 teachers, but they don’t have strictly assigned classes. Lydia generally teaches the kindergarteners and P1, while Edith and Anett teach P1, P2, and P3, with some variations depending on the day/circumstances. Annett has attended university and received a degree in primary education. Edith and Lydia have both completed secondary school and received teaching certificates. We have not been able to observe the teachers outside of the time that we have been teaching the XOs to the class. However, Edith has already shown to be more suited to the constructionist learn technique, she has spent plenty of time exploring the activities outside of our daily teacher training sessions. She also works in class with the students to explain the XO, whereas Annett and Lydia tend to dictate what to do without defining for the kids why or what they are accomplishing.

The 3 teachers had never used computers prior to our teacher training sessions. Hellen, our NGO volunteer, has used computers in university, and after 4 weeks of using the XO has almost the same proficiency as the three of us. Because there is no grid power and most villagers are very poor, no one in the community owns a computer. Our NGO has established an ICT center in Butabaala, the nearest village with grid power, where students from the nearby secondary schools receive computer lessons. However very few people from our village attend that school and the ICT center is only a few months old.

The children are all very excited to see us, all the time. The older ones can usually contain themselves enough to pay attention, but the P1 aged kids tend to just grab our hands and stare adoringly into our eyes. Cute at first, highly frustrating when we’re trying to teach Shift+w=W and they refuse to tear their gazes away even for a moment to look at the keyboard. We know a few of the kids very well because they live at the orphanage across the path from us. They spend a lot of time playing drums on our front porch, playing board games in our living room, or just sneaking in to use our XOs when we’re asleep. The rest of the school kids we’re still learning, because we’ve only taught three days of class so far.

After getting back from Kigali, we reflashed all 100 XOs at OGLM’s office in Jinja to take advantage of their power source. From there, we went back to Buwaiswa. Fortunately, the solar panels had been installed while we were in Kigali, so we didn’t lose any time there. However, we began testing the power capabilities of our inverter and found that the inverter would not work with 20 XOs plugged in. Seeing as the installer claimed that 30 XOs could be charged with the inverter that we bought, we were a little upset. Hopefully, when he comes tomorrow, he’ll be able to fix that problem. If not, we can still work out a charging schedule with OGLM’s ICT center in Butabaala. 

 

Today, we met with the 3 teachers at the school to discuss our deployment plan for the summer. We’ll start working with the teachers tomorrow in one-hour blocks, starting with the basics like write and paint so that they can become familiar with the XO. With that background, we hope that they’ll feel comfortable incorporating the laptop into their teaching. Edith has already been playing with the XO at our house and has learned extremely quickly, especially considering it is her first time using a computer. 

 

Tomorrow, we will be meeting with the students’ parents to give them an introduction to the XO and fielding any questions they might have about the laptops and their use. We will be having our opening ceremony in about 2 weeks. We plan to work with the teachers this week and spend next week with the kids. We want to spend about a week acquainting them with the XOs before allowing them to take the laptops home. Then, we can hand them out at the ceremony. We’re glad to be getting moving on our plans.

 

We’ll try to update soon! 

 

Until next time,

Billy, Marie and Tiffany

 

Hello everyone,
Apologies for the delay on updating. We’ve been really busy since arriving in Uganda on June 3 that we’ve hardly had any time to write. After our arrival, we were able to spend 2 nights in Buwaiswa getting acquainted with both the people and the area we would be working in for the rest of the summer. The first day, we were picked up by Eunice from OGLM and drove to the OGLM office in Jinja. There, we finally met Chris, OGLM’s director, who we had been corresponding with since applying for OLPCorps. We were very happy to hear that he had already briefed some of the village leaders on our project and been taking steps towards buying solar panels for the school. We’re very lucky to have such a supportive local partner.
After Jinja, we drove about an hour to Buwaiswa, which would be our home for the rest of the summer. OGLM owns a sizable property on which it built an orphanage, school, vocational center, and guest house. Since they are all owned by OGLM, everything is conveniently centrally located. We were given a tour of the property by Edith, one of the school’s teachers. There are 3 classrooms at the school and about 125 kids attend. Not all of them are in the target age range of 6-12, so we’ll use age and English proficiency to screen for the laptops. There are 3 teachers that we’ll be working with, all of whom were trained by OGLM. As expected, there is no power save for one small solar panel, but with our solar panel purchase, it should be fine. OGLM also has an ICT center about 1 km away with power and internet, so if necessary we can also charge the laptops there. We are definitely very glad that we got to visit the deployment site before the Kigali workshop because email correspondence did not give us the full picture.
With this bigger picture in mind, we drove to Kigali with the Colorado College Uganda OLPC team. We spent the 10 days of the training workshop getting to know the other teams, learning about the OLPCorps mission and learning the technical and pedagogical side of  things. We spent a few sessions on some technical aspects of deploying, such as how to reflash our 100 XOs and replace broken parts. We also got to become more familiar with some of the programming activities, including Scratch and e-toys. They also brought in a few speakers to tell us about their past deployment experiences in Haiti, Uruguay and Brazil. The most informative part of the workshop came from visiting the schools in Rwanda that had already deployed laptops. We split into different groups on Friday and Monday to work with both teachers and students. It was good to get an idea of how to (and how not to) do our teacher training. 
All in all, it was a good 10 days. For our own deployment, our main goal is to give the kids laptops to give them access to a world beyond their village and give them the tools to become independent and successful in the future. To work towards achieving this, we’ll need to establish power and internet (or webpage caching) and come up with solid learning projects based on the kids’ interests. We’ve run into a couple glitches so far: our server needs to be fixed because someone made themselves an admin before Billy could make his XO the admin, but we’re working with Reuben on that. In addition, the cost of our solar panels is much higher than anticipated, and it looks like we’re going to have to look for more funding since our budget and our small amount of donations is not going to cover it. But, we’re not worrying too much because we’ve got 8 more weeks to work through it. We’re excited to go back to the village and finally start working on the deployment. 

Hello everyone,

Apologies for the delay on updating. We’ve been really busy since arriving in Uganda on June 3 that we’ve hardly had any time to write. After our arrival, we were able to spend 2 nights in Buwaiswa getting acquainted with both the people and the area we would be working in for the rest of the summer. The first day, we were picked up by Eunice from OGLM and drove to the OGLM office in Jinja. There, we finally met Chris, OGLM’s director, who we had been corresponding with since applying for OLPCorps. We were very happy to hear that he had already briefed some of the village leaders on our project and been taking steps towards buying solar panels for the school. We’re very lucky to have such a supportive local partner.

After Jinja, we drove about an hour to Buwaiswa, which would be our home for the rest of the summer. OGLM owns a sizable property on which it built an orphanage, school, vocational center, and guest house. Since they are all owned by OGLM, everything is conveniently centrally located. We were given a tour of the property by Edith, one of the school’s teachers. There are 3 classrooms at the school and about 125 kids attend. Not all of them are in the target age range of 6-12, so we’ll use age and English proficiency to screen for the laptops. There are 3 teachers that we’ll be working with, all of whom were trained by OGLM. As expected, there is no power save for one small solar panel, but with our solar panel purchase, it should be fine. OGLM also has an ICT center about 1 km away with power and internet, so if necessary we can also charge the laptops there. We are definitely very glad that we got to visit the deployment site before the Kigali workshop because email correspondence did not give us the full picture.

With this bigger picture in mind, we drove to Kigali with the Colorado College Uganda OLPC team. We spent the 10 days of the training workshop getting to know the other teams, learning about the OLPCorps mission and learning the technical and pedagogical side of  things. We spent a few sessions on some technical aspects of deploying, such as how to reflash our 100 XOs and replace broken parts. We also got to become more familiar with some of the programming activities, including Scratch and e-toys. They also brought in a few speakers to tell us about their past deployment experiences in Haiti, Uruguay and Brazil. The most informative part of the workshop came from visiting the schools in Rwanda that had already deployed laptops. We split into different groups on Friday and Monday to work with both teachers and students. It was good to get an idea of how to (and how not to) do our teacher training. We also got a better idea of OLPC’s expectations and goals for our deployment and the constructionism philosophy.

All in all, it was a good 10 days. For our own deployment, our main goal is to give the kids laptops to give them access to a world beyond their village and give them the tools to become independent and successful in the future. To work towards achieving this, we’ll need to establish power and internet (or webpage caching) and come up with solid learning projects based on the kids’ interests. We’ve run into a couple glitches so far: our server needs to be fixed because someone made themselves an admin before Billy could make his XO the admin, but we’re working with Reuben on that. In addition, the cost of our solar panels is much higher than anticipated, and it looks like we’re going to have to look for more funding since our budget and our small amount of donations is not going to cover it. But, we’re not worrying too much because we’ve got 8 more weeks to work through it. We’re excited to go back to the village and finally start working on the deployment. 

Until next time, 

Billy, Marie and Tiffany

This will be the last post before we leave. We’ve wrapped up our planning and are just waiting for our flights to take off. Marie gave a brief presentation about the project to her local Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs and 4 different papers have printed stories about the project so far. (You can see one here at http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_12453775) Although we anticipate running over budget by 2-3 thousand dollars, we are hopeful that with additional time and the results to show for our work, we will be able to recover the costs when we return to the US.

We’re bringing the following project items with us:

5 XO laptops, 3 routers, USB sticks, 1 external hard drive, 1 Macbook Pro, 3 unlocked cell phones, $2000 cash (in $100 bills printed after the year 2000-they get the best exchange rate)

We’ll buy solar panels, adapters, power strips, cell phone minutes, additional cords and things when we arrive. We’ll also receive a Flip video camera during the Kigali workshop.

In terms of personal items, we’re bringing:

Clothes, towels, sheets, toiletries, anti-malarial medications, medications for the side-affects of the anti-malarials, DEET, sunscreen, sunglasses (the malaria prophylaxis doxycycline causes sun sensitivity), cash/credit cards for personal expenses, international medical insurance cards, money belts, water bottles, iodine tablets.

We’ll buy mosquito nets, additional weather/culture appropriate clothing, and whatever else seems necessary once when we arrive.

The last week has been really busy. All three of members of our team were taking finals and moving out of apartments, but we now get one completely free week to finish preparing. We had an hour of meetings with the team and another hour with Bryan Stuart, our OLPC adviser today. The main goal is to continue creating and testing lesson plans for use once the physical deployment has been finished, and to continue working for last-minute funding. It seems like the incredibly short-time line of this project is a fundamental flaw when it comes to fundraising. We contacted organizations like Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions Clubs a few weeks ago, but never received a response, and since the  clubs usually book speakers weeks in advance, our chances are slim.  Just in case, we have prepared a donation form and budget breakdown for use when presenting to these organizations. Worst case scenario, we may end up taking the Girl Scout cookie approach and camping out in front of Safeway the next few days with an XO and some informational pamphlets. ;P

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