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 ...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

XO Laptop Shipping Crates Double as Charging Shelves

A recent conversation about charging laptops sparked thoughts about how we dealt with this issue.  Our solution won’t work for many other projects, like ones that already have laptops, or projects that get their laptops shipped directly from OLPC or a manufacturer, but it might be of interest to any future projects like ours that need to ship their own laptops. 

What we did was use wooden shipping crates that later doubled as charging shelves.
Doing it this way solved several problems for us.  It provided sturdy containers that could withstand international shipping and the rugged mountain trek to the village.  It reduced the space needed to transport the laptops (a major concern for us).  It drastically reduced our shipping costs.  And, it supplied already-made charging shelves in a location where lumber and tools are hard to come by.
We took the laptops out of their original cardboard boxes and made our own customized wooden shipping crates, with 9-10 laptops stacked tightly together and then surrounded by cushioning material. The crates were designed to meet airlines’ checked baggage restrictions for weight (≤50 lbs) and size (≤ 62") and had one removable side for airport security inspections.

At the time, airlines were allowing two free checked bags per passenger.  Two project volunteers were able to transport 50 XO laptops, each taking two crates as checked luggage and extra XO laptops in their carry-on bag.  As a result, we ended up having virtually no excess baggage fees, and our overall shipping costs were minimal.  This saved us hundreds of dollars.

When the laptops reached their destination, we removed one side of each crate and turned the crates into charging shelves. The extra side panels were used to hold the stacked crates together. Power strips were inserted into a compartment on the side of the crates. The XO adapter/power cords were plugged into these, then run along the top of each crate, with a short length of the end hanging loose, just enough to plug into the shelved XOs.

We also brought extra batteries (seen on the shelves).  We swap these out with charged laptop batteries and then charge the extras while in the XO laptops.

- Janissa


Monday, September 24, 2012

Discussion of Ethiopian OLPC Study - "Write" is Favorite Activity

In a previous post, I mentioned a study done  by the University of Groningen of a small Ethiopian OLPC project, published in 2009, called  Does Technology Drive Social Change? 

One finding the study reported was that the children's favorite activity, by far, was Write. Other favorite activities that scored much lower (3-13%) were Record, Paint, Game, Calculate, Chat, and Memory. The study's authors concluded that, because writing was the most favored activity, the laptops are "a learning device!"  (exclamation point theirs).

The usefulness of this data is limited because the study only reports "favorite activity," not the amount of time each activity was actually used. It is hard to tease meaningful information out of this.

Keeping in mind the limited information we have, I draw a different conclusion.  To me, their finding says that the laptops are being used as glorified pencil and paper

Granted, writing is a great educational activity, but laptops aren't necessary for children to write.  There are much less expensive, even free, options available for that.  In Lesotho, writing is a skill that students master in the traditional classroom without computers.

What I want to see in the results from studies like this is a much higher percentage of other XO laptop activities being used, activities that aren't otherwise available and which develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 

I'd especially like to see children say their favorite activity is something otherwise not available to them, like:
  • Browse - which means the children are searching out information,
  • eToys, Turtle Art, and Scratch - which develop advanced thought processes,
  • Write used in conjunction with other activities like Paint and Record - which means the children are performing more complex tasks,
  • Tam Tam - which stimulates creativity and abstract thinking,
  • TuxMath - because math is a skill not adequately acquired in the standard classroom (in Lesotho anyway), and
  • even games like Maze and Implode - which require conceptualization and planning.
One of L2L's primary objectives is to teach children advanced cognitive skills.  That is the key advantage we see in using the XO laptops. 

I can hardly wait to see what we find out about our project after we conduct our own evaluation.  Early on, I'm guessing we will see results very similar to the Ethiopian study, except maybe with Record getting a higher percentage.  Hopefully though, as time goes by and we continue to work with teachers and students, we will see more complex activities like Scratch (my favorite) score the highest.  When that happens, I'll know we have succeeded.

-- Janissa


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Local Educators Applying for Grant

One thing I am very proud of about our project is the work we have done mentoring and training local project leaders and educators so they can eventually take complete control of every aspect of the project and expand it to other schools all on their own.

Top to bottom:  Fortunate Gunzo, L2L volunteer, Tsela
Mapeshoane, Project Manager, and Locadia Tenene,
Nohana Primary School teacher, work on writing grants
at a workshop in Mohale's Hoek, Lesotho, 2011.
(Photos by Cecily Salmon)

Last year, we arranged for two project leaders, two teachers, and a project volunteer to take a 2-day grant-writing workshop.  (Our project participants were sponsored at the workshop by the Maseru Rotary Club.)

A few months later, with the help of  Peace Corps Volunteer Delia Helie, they wrote a grant application for the purchase of 44 XO laptops to start a program at another school, Kokobe Primary School.  The grant was successful and awarded to Laptops to Lesotho by an anonymous international foundation we have been working closely with.

We're now approaching the deadline for new grant applications for 2013.  Project Leader Matlabe Teba is working again with the teachers to write a grant to expand the solar-powered electrical system at their school, Nohana Primary School.  This will accommodate the 50 Dell laptops donated earlier this year by Pueblo West High School.

Project Leader Matlabe Teba (second from left) attending grant-writing
workshop in September 2011.
The foundation representative has indicated that she will accept the grant application directly from Nohana Primary School this time, rather than going through L2L, as long as L2L vets the application first.  This is because Matlabe has showed great reliability, integrity, and now has mastered email communications directly from the school so he can send regular reports to the foundation.

One huge step closer to our goal!

--  Janissa


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Volunteer Needed to Design Evaluation Methodologies

We're looking for a volunteer evaluation consultant

We need to select and customize survey techniques to evaluate our project in Lesotho.  In the short-term, we want to look at changes in academic achievement and computer skills and evaluate supplemental materials used with the school curriculum.  (We've got an independent researcher working on evaluating long-term educational, social, economic, health, and cultural changes.)

Is there anyone out there who has knowledge and experience designing evaluation methodologies who would like to work with Laptops to Lesotho between now and January? 

four primary school students work together, huddled around an XO laptop
Nohana Primary School, Laptops to Lesotho

We'd like to start collecting some data in January when we have a group of volunteers going to Lesotho for several weeks.  We've defined our evaualtion goals and the basic data we want to collect.  Now we need to get down to the nitty-gritty and develop detailed methodologies.

Can you help or know someone who could?
-- Janissa

Friday, September 14, 2012

Email Communications with Lesotho have VASTLY Improved. Yea!

Matlabe juggling 2 cell phones in Maseru
Matlabe juggling two cell phones
at the bus station in Maseru
We've been working to improve email communications between the U.S. and the remote Ketane region of Lesotho since we started, but we kept running into huge obstacles.  The biggest problem has been that there are no internet signals in the area and the cell phone signals there are too weak to connect to with a computer. 

Last year, I bought a cell phone for our project leader, Matlabe Teba, that could be used to access the internet and send and receive emails, using those weak cell phone signals.  I used the phone almost daily while I was in the village to check my email. 

Unfortunately, I hogged the phone and didn't spend much time working with Matlabe to teach him how to use it.  My bad.  After I left, he ran into problems with the phone and didn't know how to resolve them.

He sought help from several people, but nobody seemed able to fix it, so we continued to have no email contact directly from the school.  To make matters worse, the clinic where he used to go to get on the internet, which is a long hike away, lost its signal.  The only way he could email us was to make a 2-day trek to an internet cafe in the district capitol, Mohale's Hoek, or Lesotho's capital, Maseru.

We had about given up hope of ever establishing good email contact when, a few weeks back, we started getting multiple emails from Matlabe that were being sent from the school and his home. 

I don't know what happened, but somehow he mastered the cell phone technology. 

It has been wonderful to carry on real-time back-and-forth conversations with him via email, to get timely answers to questions, and to be able to relay important information back and forth.   This is a huge breakthrough and is going to make our work so much easier now.

Better still, Matlabe seems to really enjoy these exchanges.  He has been sending multiple emails to me and to several of our volunteers.  He has even started teaching Sesotho via email to one of our directors. 

You should see the REALLY REALLY BIG SMILE on my face!

- Janissa


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It's Time to Compare Different Project Structures & Approaches

I think there is a great need to compare our approach with others to find out what works best and what techniques are most effective.

Here are some things I think should be compared when looking at the impact and effectiveness of computer projects in developing nations.

Computer Project Features

  • started by a large international organization like OLPC vs. started by a national government agency or national organization vs. started by a small autonomous nonprofit like L2L
  • short-term involvement by volunteers vs. long-term involvement
  • volunteers with little or no on-the-ground experience working in communities in developing nations vs. volunteers with some experience vs. volunteers with extensive experience
  • little or no community preparation before deployment vs. extensive community organization and training prior to deployment
  • no individual or community investment before deployment vs. participant and comunity investment of time and money required before deployment
  • designed by an organization outside the community vs. designed by participants
  • no explicit governing system vs. written governing documents and contracts

  • child ownership vs. school ownership with a laptop check-out system for home use vs. school ownership with no laptop use at home
  • 1:1 laptop-to-child ratio vs. 1:4 laptop-to-child ratio
  • no teacher training vs. one-time or short-term teacher training vs. periodic teacher training over an extended period vs. frequent or ongoing in-service teacher training
  • no training of children by sponsoring organization vs. limited training of children by sponsor vs. frequent or extensive training of children by sponsor 



There are a number of non-project factors to take into consideration because some deployemnt techniques may work better in one situation but not others. It would also be helpful to determine which if any factors can predict success of a computer project.  Here are some suggestions of variables to study:

  • urban vs. rural
  • large community vs. small community
  • easy access vs. difficult access
  • regular contact with people outside the community vs. infrequent to no contact with people outside the community
  • economic status



  • qualifications, skills & abilities of teachers
  • teachers' ability and willingness to learn new techniques
  • class size
  • teaching techniques
  • teaching resources

  • on an electrical grid vs. not
  • phone service vs. no phone service
  • internet vs. no internet

Monday, September 3, 2012

Evaluating Impact & Effectiveness - Ethiopian Study

We are hoping to start collecting data for a quantitative evaluation of our project's impact and effectiveness in January 2013.  We will be looking at both short-term and long-term changes.
There was a study done of a small Ethiopian OLPC project by the University of Groningen, published in 2009.  It is called Does Technology Drive Social Change?.  (See the report at 
This report is not a rigorous presentation, but it does summarize general results of the study.  They compared 3 schools with XO laptops to 3 without.  They found:
  • Most of the children used their laptops everyday at home and often at school. 
  • They used them mostly to learn, much less to play or communicate.
  • Their favorite activity, by far, was writing.
  • They sometimes shared them with their parents and friends.
  • After two years, social and educational changes were seen in the locations with laptops but only personal growth was seen in places without them.
Other results I found particularly interesting, given the remote rural location of our work, were:
  • In the rural school, there was a slight increase in valuing the equal treatment of boys and girls. This was not seen in the city schools, which had much higher values for this even before the introduction of computers.
  • The same was true for attendance.  In the rural school, the laptops greatly improved motivation to attend school, whereas city schools didn't see much change because motivation was already fairly high.

I like that this study used a control group that didn't have laptops for comparison.  We consider that a very important component of our evaluation.  I'd also like to see our project do much more in-depth analysis of impacts than they reported in the Ethiopian study.

See related L2L blog posts: Project Evaluation Meeting published on 11 July 2012 and Inquiry into Scientific Evaluation of L2L, with replies, published on 13 May 2011.

- Janissa