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 ...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Contact Updates -- IRS, OLPC, Nohana Primary

* Still no news from the IRS on our tax-exempt status

* Still no word from OLPC on how they might be able to help us

* Still no direct contact with Mapesh, though the internet modem at the school is apparently up and working again. Andrew talked to Matlabe at Nohana Primary School using Skype. I'm going to talk to Andrew tomorrow morning and will post the news he got from Nohana Primary afterwards.

- Janissa

Figuring Shipping & Freight Costs

I've spent the last few days navigating the world of international shipping, looking into how much it's going to cost to get about 50 laptops from Idaho to Lesotho. Every viable option I've checked so far costs $1,000 to $1,200.

I've checked out USPS, UPS, DHL, FedEx, and several smaller international freight companies. I've checked airlines excess baggage. I even looked into adding our cargo to other nonprofit organizations container shipment going to Lesotho. Here's what I've learned -- All the more economical options have some restriction that prevents us from using them.

Our cheapest option will be to ship two laptops at a time using the Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Boxes. This will cost about $990. Insurance would add about $50.

With the shipping cost so high, I'll look into the option of having Peace Corps ship them for us. With PCV Aaron only marginally involved now, I don't know how amenable Peace Corps will be to this, but it's worth a try. If that doesn't work, I'll have to add the shipping costs to one or more grant applications.

Note to self: I need to get over feeling reluctant to ask people and organizations for favors. It's not in my nature, but it is essential to this work.


For those who may follow in our footsteps, here's a bit more information about shipping supplies to Africa:

Before you start, you need to know the weight and dimensions of the items you need to ship.

USPS (US Postal Service) has a less expensive option called Air M-bags IF you're shipping large amounts of printed material. It also has ISAL (International Surface Air Lift) for total shipments >50 pounds, but this only goes from airport to airport, and it doesn't go to Lesotho. For our laptops, the only options are Priority Mail boxes. There are weight and size requirements for all the USPS options, but their website is really easy to use. You get a 5-10% discount by doing the shipping labels online.

UPS offers Air Freight and Ocean Freight. Their Air Freight rates are fairly comparable to USPS's priority mail rates, just a tad higher for our particular needs.

DHL requires you to fill out every possible little detail, including shipping date and billing information, just to get a rate quote. They do offer Air Freight, Surface Freight, and Ocean Freight, but I only looked at Air Freight. I'm still waiting for the quote.

FedEx doesn't deliver to Lesotho, which is a good thing because I'd hate to have to break my boycott of FedEx.

If I took the laptops with me when I fly to Lesotho,Delta's excess baggage would actually have been the cheapest option, except of course that you can't put computers in checked bags. For other supplies though, going to Africa you can take 2 checked bags up to 50 pounds each for free (62" combined dimension), plus you can take up to 8 more bags! If they are all under 50# & 62", the third bag costs $200, the fourth and fifth cost $350 each, and six through ten cost $600 each. If I checked one personal bag and took 4 50# boxes of supplies, it would cost $900, about $140 less than sending them USPS.

The other nonprofits I contacted were sympathetic but either didn't have room, weren't going to be sending a container any time this year, or had rules against including another organization's freight with theirs. If you're going to try this option, plan WELL in advance and check around.


- Janissa

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Updates -- OLPC support; Purchasing XO laptops

Check out comments made on the 4 February 2010 posts for updates:

* more XO laptops purchased (see Big Changes, part 3)

* reply from OLPC on our request for support & training (see "Big Changes, part 2)

Here's an excerpt from the response by OLPC (emphasis is mine):
"... send [your proposal] to me so I can look at ways we can support you. I would not be against you joining an OLPCorps training; however, this year trainings will be in the host countries and be more specific to the program on the ground. I suggest we first look at your proposal and see how we can proceed from there."

They've now got the proposal and promise to review it. We're moving forward ...

- Janissa

New Team Member -- Shaun Ilderton

We have a new member on our team, Shaun Ilderton of Durban, South Africa. Welcome to the team, Shaun!

Shaun will be an excellent asset to our project. He is a family man and is active in community affairs. He works as an I.T. specialist for a Durban company, and he frequently travels to Sani Pass, Lesotho.

Shaun was thinking about starting a project similar to ours when he came across our website. Instead of duplicating our efforts, he offered to join our team. Shaun has jumped in with both feet. He is already investigating what is required to form a nonprofit in South Africa to raise funds for the project.

Because of limited leave, Shaun will serve as our technical adviser from a distance; however, there may be a chance that he will be able to travel to Ketane to assist us on site. Shaun has already provided assistance with information about internet assess and sources of modems.

We look forward to working with Shaun in the coming months.

- Janissa

Nohana Primary School internet still down

Aaron is back in Ketane after several weeks away at Peace Corps training and a little R&R. The internet modem for the school has still not been fixed, but he's hoping to get it repaired on his next trip to Maseru. In the meantime, he is using the Ketane clinic's internet to stay in touch.

Because the school has no access to the internet, and the clinic is about an hour's walk from the school, we haven't heard from Mapesh in a while. Aaron has tried to text message him on his cellphone, but hasn't gotten a response yet. Hope all is well there.

Janissa has contacted Vodacom about buying another modem and having it shipped to Ketane, but hasn't heard back from them yet either. She's also inquired about setting up a monthly internet subscription for the school.

Sometimes it's hard to communicate when you're half a world apart, even in this day and age.

- Janissa

Laptops to Lesotho - tax-exempt status

Janissa finally got the IRS Form 1023, application for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, in the mail yesterday. The application ended up being 16 pages long with 8 pages of attachments and 12 pages of supporting documents >> 36 pages!!! The process supposedly takes 2-3 weeks, so hopefully we should hear back sometime around the end of February or the beginning of March. Here's hoping we get approved!

- Janissa

Fundraising - Training, Presentations

Janissa has signed up for two fundraising seminars:
* signing sponsors in a lean economy (webinar, Feb 16)
* grant writing basics (at Boise Idaho, Feb 23)

She's also started putting together a powerpoint presentation to give for local groups as part of her fundraising effort.

Andrew has given several presentations in Colorado.

- Janissa

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Big Changes, part 3 -- buying XO latops without OLPC

I have started purchasing XO laptops with existing Laptops to Lesotho funds. eBay actually had 16 (!) for sale yesterday. I purchased 4 and have the highest bid, so far, on 9 more. As more of the laptops come up for sale, I'll keep buying them. Hopefully, I'll accumulate several dozen to take to Ketane later this year.

When I purchase the next few XOs, I will have one shipped to Andrew so he can use it in his fundraising efforts. I will also ship one to Shaun for temporary use so he can become familiar with its specs and OS and suggest the best network server etc. If Lineo ever gets in touch, I will consider sending her one for the same reason. If anybody else on the team wants to borrow one, please let me know.

-- Janissa

Big Changes, part 2 -- moving ahead with OLPC

I contacted OLPC by email on 29 January 2010 to see if they might make an exception for our project and give us a grant based on:
  • the size, dedication, and diversity of skills of our team,

  • the amount of pre-planning, preparation, and fundraising we've already done,

  • the existence of the computer school and solar power already in Ketane, and

  • the support and enthusiasm of the students, teachers, and the community.
They saw it will take about a week or so to get a reply because they are so busy with inquiries and applications. If I haven't heard anything by Monday, 8 Febrary, I will send an additional inquiry. I'm going to keep pestering them so they know we are serious and intend to succeed with or without their help.

Depending on the response we get, I will next ask OLPC if 1-2 members of our team can attend the OLPC training even though we aren't grant recipients. We will, of course, have to find our own funding to do this, but I think this training is of critical importance.

-- Janissa

Big Changes -- OLPC grant program changed

On January 27, 2010, we got notice from OLPC that the 2010 application period was open and that they had made dramatic changes to who, when and where the grants would be awarded. They restricted the eligible countries to just a handful that already have existing OLPC programs. Unfortunately, that excluded Lesotho and means our project is no longer eligible to receive an OLPCorps grant and the XO laptops that come with it.

This is a huge disappointment, but we have a strong dedicated team, and I know we will succeed, though it may take us a bit longer than hoped to accomplish our goals.

The people most directly and immediately affected by the change are Sarah and Amy. Without the OLPCorps grant, there is little chance they will be able to travel to Lesotho and help with the deployment this year. Hopefully, they will continue to stay involved and may be able to travel to Ketane to help out in 2011.

-- Janissa