Providing Lesotho's Children with Keys to the World

This is the story of our efforts to end the vicious cycle of poverty, disease, inadequate education, and early death
in a remote rural community in Lesotho, Africa, by providing quality education and life skills
to the young children there. Join us on our journey ...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Beware of Others Using the Laptops to Lesotho Name

If you see a "laptopstolesotho" URL in some form other than www.laptopstolesotho.org, it is not in anyway associated with our organization, Laptops to Lesotho Inc.

I believe a Chinese network registry company , in conjunction with an individual or business there, is trying to coerce Laptops to Lesotho into paying for the rights to the "laptopstolesotho" domain names and internet keyword in China.

In emails from the network registry company, it's company name was not specified, which made me suspicious from the start.  The company's URL is www . cnwebregistry . net and Jim Gong lists himself as their general manager, though he signed the email only as "Jim".  

Mr. Gong said the business that wants to use our name is called Huayu Ltd.  However, in correspondence with the supposed representative of this company, Jiang Zhihai, neither his title nor the company's name was stated.

Via Mr. Gong, I asked Huayu Ltd. to respect our name and give us the courtesy of finding a different name to use, but Jiang Zhihai refused. 

Unless we pay for the domain names ourselves, we have no legal standing to dispute anyone using our name.  As we have very limited financial resources, we cannot afford to bend to extortion which would divert resources from our valuable humanitarian work. 

While I do not have specific proof that these companies are engaged in actual extortion or a scam, an internet search brings up their names in relation to attempts to coerce others to pay for domain name and internet keyword rights in exactly the same way.  Please feel free to email complaints  about their unethical practices as many times as you like to "Jiang Zhihai" jiang_zhihai088@vip.sina.com and "Jim" jim.gong@cnwebregistry.net.

Janissa


 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

More XOs for students

Taking every opportunity to save on shipping, Janissa just shipped 10 more XO laptops, some spare batteries, and computer mice to a group of Rotarians, who will carry them in their luggage to Maseru. Eight will then go by public transport to Kokobe Primary School in a remote mountain region of Lesotho. Two of the laptops will be awarded to the December 2014 valedictorians of the graduating classes at Kokobe and Nohana Primary Schools. The laptops and batteries were donated to Laptops to Lesotho by I Love My XO. Thank you so much to the Rotarians and I Love My XO.

Travel Alert

The State Department alerts U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Lesotho to the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for February 28, 2015.U.S. citizens are urged to exercise caution and remain abreast of the security situation throughout the electoral period. This Travel Alert expires on March 21, 2015.

As a result of a political and security crisis in late 2014, Lesotho¿s political parties agreed to hold early elections in February 2015. Although Lesotho¿s 2012 parliamentary elections were generally orderly and peaceful, the State Department recommends U.S. citizens maintain a high level of security awareness during the electoral period and avoid political rallies, demonstrations, polling stations, and crowds of any kind. Instances of unrest related to the election are possible, and U.S. citizens should be aware that even peaceful gatherings and demonstrations can turn violent. Review your personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates.

Local stores, including grocery stores, may be closed over the electoral weekend. U.S. citizens are reminded that as a general matter of emergency preparedness, you should maintain adequate supplies of food, water, essential medicines, and other supplies that will allow you to shelter in place for at least 72 hours. Additional recommendations on emergency preparedness are available in Mission South Africa¿s recently-posted "Message for U.S. Citizens: Emergency Preparedness for U.S. Citizens Living Abroad."

We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Lesotho enroll in the Department of State¿s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at travel.state.gov. STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don¿t have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

State Dept. Post 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Project Support

A problem has arisen and it looks like the Nohana teachers will not be attending the January training Tony planned for them.  It is still uncertain whether or not the Kokobe teachers will be able to attend.
 
I had asked the teachers to pay for their own transport and food during training, but the Nohana teachers have just decided that they cannot pay.  Knowing that they might not be able to pay the expenses themselves, I also asked Matlabe to submit a proposal to Solon Foundation to pay for their training expenses.  (Cecily has already told me she would support such a proposal.)  However, Matlabe met with the Nohana School Board, and together they have refused to submit a proposal because they are afraid it will jeopardize their plans to submit a proposal to Solon for new desks. 
 
This is an indication of where Matlabe and the Nohana School Board’s priorities are, and unfortunately, they are not with the computer project.

Part of our original agreement was that the schools would pay a portion of the annual project expenses, and that they would eventually take complete control of the computer project, including funding.  If Matlabe, the teachers, and the Nohana School Board are not willing to make any effort, let alone personal sacrifices, to improve their own computer skills so they can help their students, then I see no reason for L2L to pay their share of the expenses. 

They are leaning on L2L too much and not doing enough for themselves.  It is my opinion that we must stay true to the project’s guiding philosophy.  We must let the project’s success or failure rest on their shoulders.

It is not clear yet how the Kokobe teachers will respond to the request to pay their expenses, either out of their own pockets or via a grant proposal.  I am hopeful that Alice will work with Florence to submit a proposal to Solon Foundation.   Florence is looking into the possibility of holding training just for the Kokobe teachers, possibly in Mohale’s Hoek, with lodging in a school dorm there.  It would cost the Kokobe teachers significantly less to travel to Mohale’s Hoek than to Morija or Maseru.

If that does not work out, we will fall back on Plan B.  The teachers would submit questions to Florence, then she and Mamatsepe would meet with Tony in Maseru to get his answers to the teachers questions.  Tony could also provide them further training on the XO laptops and the school servers, then Florence and Mamatsepe would travel to Ketane and train the teachers there.

Today is my last day as President of Laptops to Lesotho.  I have responded to these latest events as I saw best, a continuation of my slow dance of nudging, guiding, reinforcing, and prodding the Lesotho participants to get them to move in the direction I think will ensure their success.  As of tomorrow, it will be up to you all whether or not to continue down this path.  Whatever course you take, I have faith in you, and I look forward to supporting your efforts in the future.

Best wishes for a happy and fulfilling new year,
Janissa

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Book Review

My wonderful son, Craig, was born in Lesotho.  He loves to give unique and thoughtful gifts for birthdays, holidays, etc.  He did not disappoint me on my birthday.  Knowing my continued interest in Lesotho, he took the time to find books with Lesotho as the setting.

The first book I read was The Mountain School written by Peace Corps Volunteer Greg Alder.  Peace Corps Volunteers have a unique perspective on village life as they live as the Basotho do.  The author helped me experience what it is really like to live in the village of Tsoeneng.  I found his writing insightful, and it helped me get to know the characters in his book.  He was respectful of the culture and helped me experience life first hand in a Lesotho village.  The book was engaging and well written.  You can read more reviews and purchase it as an e-book on Amazon.

The other two books are Singing Away the Hunger, an autobiography by Mpho ‘M’ Atsep Nthunya, and Basali!: Stories by and about women in Lesotho. The books are on my nightstand and will be devoured over the Christmas break.

Sala hantle,

Kathy

Monday, October 27, 2014

Proposed Budget for 2015

L2L Treasurer Vicki Panhuise and President Janissa Balcomb held an informal budget meeting on October 26th to draw up a draft budget for 2015, to present to the Board at their next meeting.
 
Here are the seven primary items L2L hopes to fund in 2015 --
  • Lesson Development and Software Licenses ($250)
  • Teacher & Student Training at Kokobe and Nohana Primary Schools ($7000)
  • Phase I of Project Expansion at Pela Tsoeu ($3524)
    • Evaluation,
    • Community Organization,
    • Leadership Development and Mentoring,
    • Limited Initial Hardware and Software Deployment, and
    • Introductory Teacher and Student Training
  • Volunteer Stipend, Expenses, & Training ($3576)
  • Hardware Repair and Replacement (from normal use) at Kokobe and Nohana ($2940)
    • deep-cycle solar power system batteries
    • laptop batteries, screens, keyboards, motherboards, replacement laptops
  • Shipment of donated laptops from Pueblo West High School to Lesotho ($1300)
  • Miscellaneous expenses ($300)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Going Global? The Growing Movement to Let Kids Learn Just by Tinkering

Leslie Engle Young was at a schoolhouse in Agorhome, Ghana, surrounded by a room full of mystified fifth graders. None of them had ever used a computer or surfed the internet, and yet, Young had just handed out a stack of tablet computers, asking them to answer a few basic questions using these mysterious devices.

"The kids had no idea what was going on," she remembers. "The first girl who touched the tablet, I had to hold her finger to get her to touch it, because she was scared it was going to shock her."

Then, something happened that delighted and amazed Young: with no instruction whatsoever, the students started figuring it out. "It was instantaneous," she says. "They opened the browser, saw the empty bar at the top, and everyone just clicks on it. Then they're like 'Oh, there's a keyboard,' and started typing. It's like: 'How did you figure that out?'" By the end of a few hours, the students were presenting the new knowledge they'd acquired all on their own, using devices they'd never seen before.

Young is the director of impact for Pencils of Promise, a New York City non-profit that has built nearly 250 schools across Ghana, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Laos. Last month, Pencils of Promise began experimenting with an emerging style of teaching called the self-organized learning environment, or SOLE. In a SOLE classroom, rather than lecturing students, teachers pose a question and let them use technology and curiosity to arrive at an answer. It's a method designed to encourage critical thinking and knowledge retention.

The SOLE model didn't begin with Pencils of Promise. It's based on the theories, which WIRED explored in-depth last fall, of Sugata Mitra, a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University. But Pencils of Promise is poised to take this growing movement a step further.

Rather than lecturing students, teachers pose a question and let them use technology and curiosity to arrive at an answer.

In 1999, Mitra launched a highly publicized experiment called Hole-in-the-Wall, in which he placed a computer in the middle of a New Delhi slum, and watched to see if kids could teach themselves to use it. They could, and they did. Mitra then parlayed that success into the creation of School in the Cloud, a set of schools based on the SOLE model. He argued that if students could use technology to take a more active role in their own education, they'd learn a lot more than they do in a standard classroom. Last year, Mitra won the $1 million TED Prize to bring the School in the Cloud to life.

Since then, the concept of child-led, technology-enabled education has flowered and is being tested in schools from New Jersey to Ghana. Other organizations like the X Prize are catching on, too. The non-profit recently launched its Global Learning X Prize, offering up $15 million in prize money for software that kids could use to teach themselves. Now, with Pencils of Promise on board, the SOLE model could potentially scale exponentially across its hundreds of schools. That is, if the Ghana pilot works.

Young says Pencils of Promise will be studying the two pilots in Ghana for at least the next six months, with help from a Newcastle University researcher. They'll track metrics like literacy and numeracy rates, but they'll also monitor student attendance to see if the SOLE really does keep kids more engaged, as well as its impact on students' critical thinking skills. If all goes well, the team plans to develop what Young calls "SOLE-in-a-box," that comes complete with tablets, a Wifi connection, and any other materials a teacher would need to run a SOLE.

It's important to note, however, that Pencils of Promise hasn't adopted Mitra's entire model, which entails essentially eliminating teachers and replacing them with technology. Technology, Young believes, can never replace a teacher. Instead, Pencils of Promise is teaching educators how to run a SOLE classroom for, perhaps, a few hours a week. That way, Young explains, the SOLE becomes just another part of the teacher's toolbox.

"We think teachers are really the answer to getting systemic change," she says. "They might teach 25 kids this year, another 25 next year, and so on and so on. If we can fundamentally change the way teachers are trained and supported then we would have a whole different education system."