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 ...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Connexions - online textbooks

An interesting tidbit from Tony Anderson:

Mark Shuttleworth Foundation has made a complete set of downloadable textbooks available via Creative Commons. They are located on the Rice University Connexions site ( The texts combine a teacher's guide, textbook, and workbook.

- Janissa


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Disaster Averted

I'm scheduled to leave for Lesotho in 5 days, with 6 volunteers joining me there for much of  January.  Our training at the schools in two remote villages was scheduled for January 7-30, at the start of the new school year.  

A few days ago, our  project leader, Matlabe Teba, informed me that the Ministry of Education and Training was postponing the opening day of school and requiring teachers to attend ministry training for a new curriculum instead.  The result was that no teachers or students would be in the villages until January 28. 

Talk about a gut punch.  I was facing a huge setback to our work in Lesotho and possibly a disaster in the making for our organization.  With extensive plans already in place, plane tickets purchased, hotels paid for, equipment shipped, leaves taken from work, meetings scheduled, anticipation and expectations high, and two volunteers poised to leave in just a few days, I had a huge decision to make and a lot of weight on my shoulders.

The way I saw it, we had three basic options.  We could go as scheduled, postpone the trip, or cancel all together.  All had drawbacks and potential to do varying degrees of harm to the project.  It was a matter of which risks I was willing to accept, who would benefit, and who would be harmed.

While I was frantically exploring the consequences of each option and brainstorming alternatives to try to salvage the situation, L2L team members jumped in to help. 

Sherrie contacted South African Airways to find out what it would cost to change or cancel plane tickets.  She found out that the airline charges $250 per person to change a ticket. 

All of our volunteers were already stretched pretty thin financially after paying over $2000 each to get shots, purchase their ticket, pay for hotel and other travel expenses.  They couldn't afford this extra fee. L2L could try to pick up the fees, we were looking at at least $1500 in fees, and we are stretched pretty thin financially this year, too.  Postponing the trip was not a viable option.

Sherrie also found out that, if we canceled in advance, the airline would refund all but $300 of the ticket price.  This was a surprise, and made the cancellation option look a little less painful.  Cancelling the trip now meant the volunteers would get most of their money back, but it was unlikely any of us would have the money to try to go again for quite some time.  That would leave a lot of things hanging in the wind, and could stall the project if funders and volunteers lost faith in us.

At this point, I was pinning my hopes on the kids of Ketane wanting computer lessons badly enough that they would come even when school was closed.  But I literally had hours to make a decision before the first volunteer was scheduled to fly, and the word I was getting from Matlabe didn't sound good. 

Tensions grew high and I was pressing Matlabe pretty hard to give me an answer or at least his best guess.  Emails went back and forth with him asking for more time and me explaining we didn't have time.  Matlabe doesn't like guessing and prefers to get a consensus from others before making important decisions.  This was putting him way out of his comfort zone.

Although Matlabe had just returned from Namibia and wasn't in the village, he started contacting teachers by phone to see if they would come for computer training put on by L2L volunteers, even if school was officially closed.  He contacted school board members to find out whether or not we could use the school before the official start of the school year.  And he scheduled a meeting with the parents to find out if their children could come to school, even if school wasn't officially open and even if the teachers were away at ministry training.

Word arrived the next day from Matlabe that the teachers were on board and so was the school board.  He wouldn't be able to meet with the parents for several more days when he returned to the village, but he was hopeful that they would go along with the new plan given the teachers support.

So, I made my decision to go on with our trip as scheduled. 

There is still some risk that there will be complications due to the Ministry change, but I'm hopefully we can deal with those.

Not only was disaster averted, but the outcome reinforces how much our work means to Matlabe, the the teachers, and the school board.  That they would buck the Ministry is a pretty big deal.  And I'm confident the parents and students will display similar support.

My blood pressure is returning to normal, and I'm resuming normal preparations for my trip, leaving instructions for my husband how to water the houseplants and access our NFL football online subscription while I'm gone.

This has been another reminder of the perils of working in developing nations, of the satisfaction that comes from having a team that can surmount such obstacles, and the true appreciation the people of Ketane have for our help.

Exhausted, but happy,

- Janissa


Friday, December 21, 2012

Local Fi Organization - offline resources for the XO laptop

There is a group of volunteers who are starting to develop lessons and educational materials for XO laptop projects without access to the internet. They call their group Local Fi (as opposed to Wi Fi).
The Local Fi website was created as part of a Stanford U. class project.
It is still in its infancy, but they already has some good suggestions.  See the pdf's in the Curriculum section.
I really like their graphics too:
- Janissa

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mamatsepe Sejanamane Won't Be Joining Us

I just got word from Mamatsepe that she got a job in South Africa, so she won't be able to help us with the upcoming deployment and training.  I will miss her, but I'm so very happy she found work.  She was long overdue for a lucky break.  I wish her and her son all the best.

- Janissa

Monday, December 17, 2012

Classroom Posters of XO Keyboard, Shortcuts, and Activity Icons

I've created three 24" x 36" posters to use in the classroom during computer training.  The first is of a keyboard with all the "special" keys a color-coded.  Using those colors, I have included the basic shortcut key combinations.  The second poster is of the keyboard with the Journal, Neighborhood, Group, and Home keys featured.  The third poster of a list of the Activity Icons on all the L2L XO laptops.  These are grouped by color-coded categories.

I am having the posters printed at Walgreens because that's the only place I could find that does large posters for a fairly reasonable price.    I place the order online and am having them shipped to me.  Each poster cost $30.  Shipping & handling is between $6-7.  They estimate it will take about 10 days.

Here they are.  You're welcome to use and adapt as needed.  If you want higher resolution versions, post a comment to let me know.


Friday, December 14, 2012


To Our L2L Volunteers and Anyone Wanting to Understand Lesotho:
Here’s a link to an article I hope you will find interesting.   It was written by Mark Behle, the Lesotho Evangelical Church (LEC) missionary who has been helping arrange LEC vehicles to take all our hardware, gear, and people to Kokobe Primary (an LEC school).
The article’s about Advent, but in it he talks about always having to wait to accomplish anything in Lesotho:
I’m not into the religious side of this, but I hope you will take the general message to heart.  Sometimes, coming from our fast paced world, when we go to Lesotho to help, we’re in a rush to get there and get things done.  But if you truly want to appreciate the people of Lesotho, allow yourself the time to stop “moving” and absorb the pace of THEIR life. It is very enlightening. 
Without an understanding of both the drawbacks and the wonders of this “waiting,” you will never truly understand the Basotho.
So, schedule yourself an “I'm going to do ABSOLUTELY nothing for a day” day.  Watch, listen, and absorb the here and now, and don't permit yourself to accomplish a single thing for a whole day.
Unfortunately, you can’t fully understand this aspect of Basotho life in one quick trip. It takes years to truly appreciate it. But I do hope you’ll give it a try, because ironically, if you slow down, the Basotho will take you more seriously, and in the end, you’ll accomplish much more for them.
- Janissa

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hassles with DHL Express, while DHL Lesotho is VERY Helpful

Sigh ...

As of last night, I had been trying to make arrangements with DHL Express for shipping our solar panels from the manufacturer in Hong Kong to Maseru, Lesotho, for almost a month and was no closer than when I started.

Let me backtrack a moment ... Two years ago, when I was looking for information on shipping laptops from the U.S. to Lesotho,  DHL bent over backwards to help me.  I ended up not using them because we discovered we could take almost all the laptops in our checked luggage and in the process save L2L heaps of money.  But DHL had so impressed me back then that now I was actually looking forward to working with them and giving them my business finally. 

Unfortunately, things had changed.

To start with, I had to submit multiple inquiries over a period of several weeks before I got someone's attention at DHL and they responded.  I gave that person all our contact information.  Then, she said someone ELSE would get back to me within 24 hours to set up an account. 

That seemed like an odd way to do it, but okay, maybe they had good reasons.

Five days later, no word from DHL, so I called them.  The person I spoke with could find no record of my inquiries or the previous contact.  So, after giving her the same information and being put on hold multiple times, I got shunted to someone else, who, like before, told me another someone else would be in touch to complete the process. 

By this point, I was a little skeptical that there was an end to this line of "someone else's."  However, that afternoon, I did get a call from Andrew Tarkington, my "personal DHL representative."  Over the phone, I gave him all the same information yet again.  Then I was told I'd have to fill out a form,  after which he informed me it would take 3-4 days to complete the process of setting up an account.

Because of all the delays by DHL, and because the manufacturer was running a week ahead of schedule, I was running out of time, and 3-4 days was too long.  I told him that, but he didn't have any suggestions for expediting it.  I didn't see that I had any other choice, so I agreed, hoping for the best.

The brief form promptly arrived by email, and I filled it out with the exact same information I'd already given them several times, with the addition of three credit references the form requested.  As I filled in contact information for our bank, a company in South Africa, and a funder in the U.S. who we also provide services for, I was thinking to myself that this seemed like an awful lot of unnecessary information, and an awful lot of trouble to go to just to arrange a shipment of three parcels weighing slightly less than 50 lbs each.

Shaking off my concerns, it took me just a few minutes to fill out the form, then I promptly sent it back.

My DHL representative emailed back to inform me that the information I'd sent wasn't good enough.  They needed U.S. trade companies for the credit references. 

Hunh?!?!!   A.  Why require only U.S. companies since DHL Express is international, and I'm going to them specifically because they have an office in Lesotho, a non-U.S. country, where we do all our work.  I mean, duh ... Most of our business is in southern Africa.  After all, that's why we're shipping there.  

And  B. Why limit it to "trade" companies?  I tried to explain that we're a nonprofit organization.  We provide a free service.  We don't produce or sell anything, so we don't have regular "trade" suppliers or customers.  That statement received absolutely no comment in reply.

At this point, I popped a cork and let my DHL representative take my frustration full in the face.  We're not "good enough" for DHL to ship three measly packages for us?!?!!! 

Fortunately, the manufacturer came to my rescue just in the nick of time, suggesting we use their DHL account and pay them, the manufacturer, for the shipping.  It will mean paying the bank another huge fee to wire money to Hong Kong, but at least we have a workable solution.

So, I'm all calmed down and that is what we're going to do.  I told DHL to cancel my application for an account.  I will stick with UPS, USPS, or some other shipper.

I have a reply from my personal DHL representative sitting in my Inbox, but I'm not particularly eager to open it, especially since it doesn't really matter any more.  It'll either raise my blood pressure or make me feel like an ass, so I think I'll leave it.

I want to add that, while all this was going on in the U.S., the DHL representative in Lesotho, Tlotliso Tlali, was bending over backwards to help me.  Aaaah, just like the good ol' days.  He took all the pertinent shipment information, something my personal representative never bothered to do,  then he calculated the estimated shipping costs and sent me a quote, so I could budget for the shipping.  He also got me information on what the Lesotho customs regulations were for our shipment, what the VAT (value-added tax) would be, and arranged to store our shipment until we could come pick it up.

Wow!  I can't wait to meet Tlotliso. 

I hope the irony of this reversal of stereotypes is not lost - the sharp, efficient guy in the Third World nation where things are supposed to get tied up in rigid bureaucratic red tape and suffer endless delays because "African" time lacks urgency vs. the guy who doesn't seem to care if he gets my business or not here in the U.S., the land of speedy efficiency, flexibility, and the customer is always right.

- Janissa


Check Out this Email from TechSoup

Check out the email below from and see if you notice anything special.  I almost missed it after giving the message a very cursory once over.  I had moved on and was about to delete it when a flash memory of the message grabbed my attention.


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Share secure PDFs between computers, build PDF portfolios from a variety of sources and formats, and even import live web content.

    The Adobe Donation Program

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Qualified organizations can request a donation of either one Adobe application suite or four individual Adobe products per fiscal year.


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Friday, December 7, 2012

Wittenberg U. Group Carries XO Laptops to Lesotho

Dr. Scott Rosenberg is a history professor at Wittenberg University in Ohio.  He teaches African studies.  Every year, he takes a group of his students to Lesotho for a month.  There, they learn about Lesotho and do volunteer service projects. 

Every year for the past three years, Scott and his students have carried XO laptops to Lesotho for us.  This year, they are taking 23 laptops in their luggage. 

This makes our work easier and saves the project considerable money on shipping. 

A special Thank You! to Scott and all his students for helping our project, and for all the service they do for the people of Lesotho.

- Janissa

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pre-Trip Preparation Meeting for U.S. Volunteers

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know
about Traveling to Lesotho and Ketane ...
We held a Skype conference call Saturday with the L2L Volunteers from the U.S. who will be traveling to Lesotho for the January 2013 Ketane deployment.  Janissa led the meeting with Craig Balcomb, Sherrie Howey, Kathy Plath, and Jennifer Selden attending.  Tony Anderson hoped to join us, but he was unable to make it.  He's in Rwanda right now, and he doesn't always have internet access.

The purpose of the meeting was to explain the upcoming trip's goals & the project philosophy and then to answer all kinds of questions about the trip. 

Because all the volunteers will be traveling to Lesotho on their own, and some will be making their way to the remote villages on their own, Janissa compiled and distributed a 20-page document with all the information to serve as the volunteer's trip bible.

We covered all kinds of stuff, like pre-trip assignments & lessons, travel tips, passport control & customs, weather, clothing, what to take, what you can and cannot get in Lesotho, shopping, public transport, how to get to the village, language, what it costs, currency, meals & lodging, potable water, alcohol, cell phones & internet access, charging personal electronics, school facilities & supplies, travel schedules, work schedules, duties, project evaluation, scholarships, gift-giving, personal time, and more.

Besides the six U.S. volunteers going to Ketane, there will be two southern African volunteers and 3-4 project visitors also traveling to Ketane to see and help with the project.

Next on the agenda for the volunteers:  XO laptops lessons for the volunteers, via Skype.

- Janissa


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Solar Power Solution for Kokobe Primary School

Happily, we've found an alternative solution to the problem of getting electricity at Kokobe Primary School that both fits our budget and meets the charging needs of the laptops.

Thanks to information and a referral from Richard Smith of OLPC, we have ordered 50 portable solar panels from GoldPeak Industries International in Hong Kong.  The panels are specifically designed to work with the older XO-1 laptops that we use in Lesotho.  Each panel charges one laptop.  They are 15V 14W with an 18V limiter, are flexible and tough, and cost just $35 each!!!

GPI has promised to manufacture and ship them to Lesotho no later than December 24th.  We'll have to pay air freight charges to get them in time for our January deployment, but given the extremely low cost of the panels themselves, we can cover the extra shipping charges.  GPI is working with DHL in Hong Kong, and I am working with DHL in Lesotho to make the shipping arrangements, so hopefully everything will go smoothly.

Once in Kokobe, the panels will be placed on the ground outside the classrooms and wires run into the classrooms to run and charge the laptops.  The only other country to use this system in Papua-New Guinea.  Here's a picture from their website showing the panels in use:

One huge advantage of using this system is that the solar panels are portable and can be taken home with a laptop, so children can use them on their own after school and on weekends.

PNG uses special wires called DC Shares that allow them to connect 4 panels via one wire to 4 laptops inside.  This helps control the tangle of wires.  Unfortunately, the DC Shares are not available unless ordered in very large quantities.  So, we are looking for ways to jerry-rig a similar system.  Unfortunately, the XO laptop and panels use a plug & jack that are non-standard and not available to us.  So, we will have to find a different solution.

A big BIG thank you to all of you who have helped me work through this last-minute problem, including Richard Smith, David Leeming, Bruce Baikie, Alex Kreider Chris Leonard, Tony Anderson, and George Hunt for their technical advice and knowledge of sources of equipment, Dyann Van Dusen and Richard Rowan of Friends of Lesotho and our anonymous donor for their flexibility in funding our solar power needs, Jennifer Lynden and Carrol of for their patience and assistance, our Project Leader Matlabe Teba for handling negotiations and arrangements in Lesotho, Richard Yu and Miu Ip of GPI International for arranging the rush production, and our Directors Sarah Gardner and Sherrie Howey for their guidance in resolving this issue. 

This was truly a team effort and yet another wonderful example of the power of the internet in empowering people all over the world to work together.

- Janissa


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

More Donations in Honor of Mary Dewar

Donations in honor of Mary Dewar keep coming in.  We've received another $300 from 5 donors, bringing the total to $1643.

Thank again to all of you who have given, and a special thanks to the new donors:
  • Ruth Chesney Randi & Anthony Randi
  • Nancy Fardelmann
  • Lee Amrhein
  • Lillian Laplac
  • Sherrie Truesdell Howey
Your generosity will help improve the education and lives of children in rural Lesotho.

- Janissa


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Technology: Fire-powered Electrical Charger

Here's a neat little piece of technology for the developing world and any location off the electrical grid.  It's a fire-powered electrical charger. 

Using a small wood fire, you can heat a beverage or pot of soup and,  at the same time, charge a cell phone, light, or other small USB device.  It's environmentally friendly, burning fuel more efficiently than an open fire, producing less smoke and CO2 emissions, and creating electricity.  Unlike a portable solar charger, you can charge your devices at any time of the day or night.

It's a little pricey, but it will pay for itself over time.  That time depends on the local price of electricity, but in India it is estimated to take about two years to pay for itself.

Available for $129 + shipping from - BioLite Stove (original designers) or The Roosevelts.

Larger home stoves are also available, but only in large quantities.

- Janissa


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thank You, Donors for Mary Dewar - Final Tally $1343

The final tally for donations made in honor of Mary Dewar's 90th birthday is $1343.  This will greatly benefit the children of Lesotho.

I would like to thank all the donors who gave in Mary's honor:

Cynthia Barton
Sheila Birkenstock
Alice Brown
Janet Castle
Sara & Maurice Fetty
Edith & Roger Gerber
Sue Hall
Barbara Haynes
Barbara Helmus
Ruth & Hugh Lacy
Hank Lambert & Barbara Joyce-Lambert
Gail Malloy
Janice Masseri
Alice Melkorian
Sue Ohngemach
Irene & Gunther Pagel
Louise Rooney
Ellen & Bob Sceles
Christine Veech
Melva Victorino
+ one anonymous donor

Your generosity is greatly appreciated,


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Problems Getting Solar Power Installed Before Next Deployment

I would first like to thank all the OLPC Community Support Volunteers who shared their expertise and help determining the best system for our needs, with a very special thank you to Richard Smith, Alex Kleider, and Chris Leonard. I'd also like to thank David Leeming for his assistance.

We've run into problems getting a solar-powered electrical system installed at Kokobe Primary School, the site of our next deployment in January 2013.  The problem arose just last month with the installer, Bethel BCDC, and he has put us in a bind both time-wise and financially.

Right now, we are faced with some unpleasant conditions:
  • The installer may not be willing or able to install the system before deployment.
  • The cost of the recommended system far exceeds our current funding.
We have a few, less than ideal options:
  1. We could postpone deployment.
    • This would delay deployment until we have the money to pay for the system (probably a year from now).
    • This could be devastating to our organization.  We have a number of volunteers who have already bought plane tickets to Lesotho for January (average price $2100).They would suffer significant financial loss if we have to postpone.
  2. We could risk taking out a loan to cover the cost. 
    • This assumes the installer can and will install they system before January, which is seeming less and less likely.
    • We would have to alter our Articles of Incorporation to allow for taking out a loan.
    • We would have to hope donors will contribute to pay off the loan.
  3. We could temporarily borrow a small gas generator and 10 portable individual-laptop solar chargers from Nohana Primary School.
    • Charging with this set-up would be difficult and time-consuming, but we could charge some of the laptops during deployment and training. 
    • Because getting gas to the site is extremely difficult, this option would leave the school in a very difficult situation until a permanent solution is found.
  4. We could buy 20-30 portable solar chargers that the supplier, ilovemyXO, currently has in stock. 
    • These are a newer version that has not been fully tested with XO-1 laptops, and there is some uncertainty whether they will work with the laptops we are deploying.
    • Even if we go this route, we would have too few chargers for the full 50 laptops that will be deployed at Kokobe in January. 
    • If we also borrow the 10 panels from Nohana, that would allow us to charge up to 40 laptops at a time. We could supplement this temporarily with Nohana's gas generator.
    • For the long run, there is no stored power to fall back on, when it is too cloudy or raining, like there is with the system using permanent solar panels and batteries.
We are leaning toward the last option.  It is the most affordable and the most likely to be ready in time for the upcoming deployment.  It has some serious drawbacks though:
  •  It is a bit of a gamble because the panels may not work well with the laptops we have.
  • It will take much more effort on a daily basis on the part of the teachers and students.
  • The portable panels will pose more of a temptation to steal.
  • We will still have to find 20 more panels after deployment and find a way to get them to Kokobe. 
  • Our funders donated their money to install the permanent system.  Hopefully, given the circumstances, they will be willing to alter our agreements to fund the potable chargers instead.
I'll keep you posted.

- Janissa

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Comment on 8 November 2012 - OLPC-SF Conference

Sameer Verma has made some goods points about my post on 8 November 2012 - Report on 2012 OLPC-SF Summit.  Because comments on L2L blog posts don't show unless you click on them, I'm reposting his comments below to make sure everyone sees them.

Thanks, Sameer.

- Janissa

You may have misunderstood the status of the school server and its role. The XS 0.7 is actually fully functional and runs at several sites. XS 0.6 is also fully functional, but had a slightly more complicated networking, which has since been simplified in XS 0.7. If you wanted to run a server for your project, I would recommend the XS 0.7

One of the purposes of the XS is to plug the gap when Internet access is not possible. Applications like Moodle and several others are used to create a mini offline Internet, where the content is limited to the materials you have on the server, but when one has no Internet access, one has little choice. The laptops themselves have little storage, so keeping materials at one location makes more sense. Content, once curated, (yes, this is a task!) can be moved to the XS server via USB sticks.

What you saw with the Community XS presentations by George Hunt and Tony Anderson is work that is very much in progress. It is not ready for prime time, but does add a lot of features that would be useful to smaller projects. In fact, with the newer design, one may be able to switch off something like Moodle and replace it with a digital library like Pathgar. I would encourage you to stay tuned on that effort at


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Internet Rolls into Bangladesh Villages on a Bike

Below, there's a link to an interesting article about a project in Bangladesh where women take computers around to villages on bicycles, bringing internet access to those without it.  The women earn an income doing this but also deliver beneficial services such as providing health and agricultural information. 

If we could make internet access available throughout Ketane, this would be a great project to implement there.

Read the article at Internet rolls into Bangladesh villages on a bike.

- Janissa

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Report on 2012 OLPC San Francisco Summit

Last month, I attended the 2012 OLPC-San Francisco Summit (October 19-21) and Sugar Camp (October 22-23). I met lots of wonderful, talented people who are deeply dedicated to helping children in the developing world. But, as someone looking for ways to make our ongoing deployment more effective, I found the conference sessions a bit disappointing.
There wasn't much concrete information available in the sessions I attended at the Summit, and I came away without the working network servers or educational materials I had hoped to acquire there. However, I was able to arrange for a volunteer willing to travel to Lesotho to provide technical assistance, hopefully setting up the servers for us. I also met people who have since provided some excellent educational materials for use with the XO laptop.  And, I made contact with someone with connections that might lead to future funding for L2L. So, while the sessions were not as helpful as I had hoped, attending the conference definitely provided benefits to L2L.
The following are summaries of sessions I attended at the conference.
Server Based Learning Systems
Part 1: Tony Anderson is working on a very promising system to provide a wealth of educational materials to teachers and students at schools without internet access, called the Karma Learning System ( The interface is simple to use, which will make it very useful for the Lesotho teachers. Hopefully, Tony will have this completed soon.  (Caryl Bigenho and others are helping him with this as part of an online class project.)
Part 2: Sameer Verma discussed the Moodle Learning System, which is used by many high schools and universities. This is an excellent learning system, but the interface is complex, which would discourage the primary school teachers in Lesotho from using it, especially the newest computer learners. Currently, it requires internet access, which greatly restricts its usefulness for projects like ours without internet. There was talk of modifying this for use by deployments without internet access, but I don't know how far along this is.
International Curriculum and Teacher Training: Caryl Bigenho led a discussion about why teachers aren't using XO laptops in many of the OLPC deployments. One conclusion was that there is not enough curriculum-based materials readily available for them to use. Actually, there is a lot of material "out there," but it is not "readily available" because it is widely scattered and hard to find. Currently, it requires good internet access and a lot of time to find and download. There was discussion about the need for a curator to compile all this material in one place and make it easily available, possible on a flash drive or disk for sites without internet. However, as far as I'm aware, this was not addressed further during the Summit, and no action was taken.
Etoys:  Mike Lee discussed some excellent work he’s been doing using the Etoys activity with street children in Zambia.  My major take-away, though, was it took a lot of hard work by a large, dedicated group of volunteers and $30,000 to organize and translate the materials.  That’s a lot of money and obviously not something we could currently afford to replicate in Lesotho.  The Zambian group has received $300,000 to do more of this work.    My hope is that they will eventually produce materials that can be used outside of Zambia.
Community XS – an update on the School Server: Tony Anderson planned to show how to build a server but was unable to because he had the wrong type of memory. Tony also talked a bit about his Karma Learning System and about network servers.  George Hunt gave a presentation of the XS server software he and others are developing, which has a simplified interface, but it is not yet complete.  Daniel Drake presented a wonderful system called Puppet for keeping servers at multiple deployments up-to-date.
Challenges in Difficult Deployments:  I missed the first part of this session, but what I did attend was a litany of failures at the Birmingham, Alabama, USA, deployment.  Unfortunately, there were no insights, suggestions, or discussion of how future deployments could avoid these problems.
I gave a short presentation about Laptops to Lesotho, and a lot of people at the conference were impressed with the work we are doing. I made contact with several people who want to help us.

Tony Anderson  has experience with OLPC deployments in Nepal and Rwanda and is an expert at setting up school network servers for XO laptops.  Tony has offered to come to Lesotho after Christmas and stay into February. He will install network servers at Nohana and Kokobe and hopefully copy lots of appropriate educational software onto the servers, install his learning management system (if it's done) and help us teach the teachers and students how to use the server and learning systems.   I am very excited about this development and see it as an opportunity to vastly improve the educational value of the laptops already in Lesotho.
I got a chance to spend a lot of time talking to Rod Weiss, a man who acquires funding for very large projects. He shared some of my concerns about the OLPC organization and was impressed by our alternative approach in Lesotho. We discussed ways to make the work OLPC does more efficient, including coordinating their efforts with other organizations that have more experience delivering aid in developing nations. He’s interested in getting funding to hire people to do this, including someone to organize and curate all the free educational materials already available online. He’s also interested in things like making internet available country-wide rather than doing it piecemeal at individual sites.
Rod’s got a financial backer who may fund some or all of this if he likes what Rod proposes. While this wouldn’t immediately help us, we might eventually see some benefit. Of more immediate interest to L2L is that Rod has connections with the southern California Rotary Clubs. If he will put in a good word for us, we might be able to get funding from them. I will be contacting Rod soon to follow up on that.

- Janissa

p.s. L2L incurred virtually no expenses for this conference because I was able to stay with friends, cost of gas was minimal (thanks to my new Kia Rio!), and I paid for all my meals.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mary Dewar Honored with $1200 in Donations to L2L

Mary Dewar, my aunt, traveled with me to the village of Mafikeng, Lesotho, last year to see the Laptops to Lesotho project.  She's truly an amazing woman who has devoted her life to public health work, especially in developing nations.  She is one of the people who inspired me to do volunteer service in Lesotho.

Mary recently celebrated her 90th birthday.  In lieu of gifts, she asked her friends and family to make donations to L2L.  So far, we've received about $1200 in donations honoring Mary. 

We are very, very fortunate to have Mary's support and that Mary has such loving and generous friends and family.  Thank you, Mary, and thank you to all who have made donations in her honor.

- Janissa

Monday, November 5, 2012

Schedule for 2013 Lesotho Trip

It's official.  I've purchased my plane ticket for Lesotho.  I arrive in Maseru the morning of Saturday 29 December 2012 and leave the afternoon of Saturday 9 February 2013.  Here's a rough schedule for that time period. 

29 Dec - 4 Jan:  I meet Volunteers Mamatsepe Sejanamane, Tony Anderson (?29 December),  Kathy Plath (31 December), Craig Balcomb (4 January), and possibly Lindsey Roy in Maseru.  Buy supplies.  Meet with supporters, funders, and contractors.

5 Jan: Volunteers and I travel to village of Mafikeng in Ketane.

6-19 Jan: Volunteers and I work at Nohana Primary School in Mafikeng.  Volunteer Fortunate Gunzo meets us in the village on 6 January.  Volunteers Sherrie Howey and Jennifer Selden join us in the village on 10 or 11 January.  Kathy Plath departs 14 January.  

20 Jan: Volunteers and I travel to village of Kokobe in Ketane.

21-31 Jan: Volunteers and I work at Kokobe Primary School.  Sherrie Howey and Jennifer Selden depart ?23 January.  Craig Balcomb departs 28 January.  Fortunate Gunzo departs sometime during this period.

1-8 Feb:  Mamatsepe Sejanamane, Tony Anderson, and I work in Kokobe, Mafikeng and/or Maseru as needed.

9 Feb:  Tony Anderson and I depart Lesotho.

Dates for volunteers' arrival and departure may vary slightly. Lindsey Roy has not yet confirmed her availability.

-  Janissa

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

L2L Celebration Dance Videos Available Online

NOTE: I apologize that some of the links in the original of this blog post didn't work.  Hopefully I've got all the YouTube links corrected now.  Unfortunately, GameFront has deleted all of the files for downloading because they were inactive for 60 days.  I won't be able to keep them available indefinitely for downloading.  However, if you would like to download a copy, leave a comment here, tell me which dance(s) you want, and I'll upload the file(s) temporarily to GameFront.  You will have 60 days to download the video(s).    - Janissa, Oct 28

Videos of six dances from the ceremony celebrating graduation and the arrival of laptops at Nohana Primary School are now available online for viewing on YouTube (see links below).

These are uncut, unedited videos.  The performances are done indoors in a church because of foul weather. 

All videos were taken for L2L by Craig Balcomb and are licensed for public use under Creative Commons - Attribution.  You may use them, but you must give attribution to "Laptops to Lesotho Inc.,"

The dance names used here are not the official Basotho names.  I made these names up merely as a way to describe the dances.



3:53 minutes, 171 MB

Girls and their teacher, 'Me Mahlafane, perform a dance at their school graduation to celebrate the arrival of laptops at their school, donated by Laptops to Lesotho. The performance is done indoors in a church because of foul weather. The girls perform kneeling with white switches, wearing fur hats and facial markings.

2:33 minutes, 112 MB

Young boys from Nohana Primary School along with the principal of Nohana Secondary School, 'Ntate Kaphe, perform a stomping dance wearing strings of beads with skirts and leggings made from World Food Program grain bags.  The performance is done indoors in a church because of foul weather.

5:50 minutes, 256 MB

Nohana Primary School girls perform a traditional dance with words they wrote.  The song they sing is to thank Laptops to Lesotho President Janissa Balcomb for bringing 86 XO laptop computers to their school. It's in Sesotho, but if you listen carefully, you will hear the word "computer," "Janissa" (pronounced more like chu-NEE-sah), the school's name "Ha Nohana," and "Rea leboha" meaning "We thank you."  The dance is performed wearing aprons made of stiff animal skins that are slapped in time with the song.  The performance is done indoors in a church because of foul weather.

5:04 minutes, 223 MB

This dance features young girls from Nohana Primary School wearing fluffy white skirts made from World Food Program grain bags and metal bottle-top rattles.  To perform the dance, the girls flip the skirts up in the back.  The performance is done indoors in a church because of foul weather.

4:38 minutes, 204 MB

This girls’ dance features sticks, fluffy white skirts made from World Food Program grain bags, and metal bottle-top rattles tied around their ankles.  The girls from Nohana Primary School dance in a circle, turning to stomp in the middle.  The performance is done indoors in a church because of foul weather.

4:01 minutes

Basotho women from the small village of Mafikeng, Lesotho, and the surrounding Ketane community celebrate primary school graduation and the arrival of computers from Laptops to Lesotho with a traditional dance.  The women kneel on the floor and shake their upper body while a drum beats in the background.  The performance is done indoors in a church because of foul weather.  (My knees hurt just watching them kneel on that cement floor!)

 - Janissa


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Directions for Repairing Bricked XO-1 Laptops

Directions for Repairing Bricked XO-1 Laptops using an Automated Python Script and a Second XO Laptop
Janissa's Version
Before I start, here's the link to the official OLPC directions for using the automated python script to repair a bricked laptop: Using the automated repair script. You will run into some geek-speak in these directions ... What the heck is an "upstream git repository"? ... but you can ignore that part.

If you're like me and you'd prefer a little more detail than those directions provide, you can use my version below, which includes links to more detailed directions for most steps.
[Disclaimer: I don't know that this will work for everyone in all situations, but it's what worked for me.]

I used a working XO-1.5 laptop to connect to the bricked XO-1 laptop that won't boot. (If you don't have a second XO laptop, you may have to install Python on your computer and then you will need to be able to start Python to run the automated script. I do not cover how to do that in my directions,so see the OLPC directions.)

1. Make sure the working laptop is connected to the internet (Connecting an XO laptop to the Internet)

2. Start the Terminal Activity. (Terminal Activity, Using Terminal Activity)

If you don't see the Terminal icon on the Home View (Using the Home View), change from Circle View to List View, then scroll down until you find Terminal.

3. In Terminal, install "pyserial" by typing at the $ prompt:
sudo yum install -y pyserial
Press Enter
Wait for the installation process to complete.  I have moderately slow internet, and this took 7 minutes.  Several times it looked briefly like it was not doing anything, so be patient.   When it's done, a bunch of stuff will scroll down the screen, ending with "Complete!" and a new $ prompt.

4. Download and install the automated repair script "" by typing at the $ prompt:
wget --timestamping
Press Enter
This is quick.  Stuff scrolls down the screen, ending with " saved."

5. Disassemble the top of the XO laptop to expose the motherboard.  OLPC has very good directions for this step, so rather than duplicating what they've done here, just go to Disassemble XO laptop to reach motherboard and follow their instructions.

6. Connect the serial adapter to the bricked XO and the working computer.  Again, use the very good OLPC directions at  Hooking up and using the serial adapter.

7. On the working computer, type at the $ prompt:
Press Enter

8. When the screen on the working laptop prompts you, turn on the bricked XO.

9. When it's done, the bricked XO will boot and the script will prompt you to press ctrl-c on the original working XO to disengage the two laptops.

10. Disconnect the serial adapter from the previously bricked XO.

11. If you've got more than one bricked XO laptop, leave the serial adapter connected to the working laptop and start over at Step 5 with the next bricked XO.

- Janissa