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, 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


Problems Repairing Non-booting XO-1 Laptops

I spent a couple days this month repairing the last of the XO-1 laptops that will go to Kokobe Primary School in January 2013.

Of the 50 XO laptops I had purchased on for Kokobe, eight were not working.  Most of those were ones that became bricked during storage or shipping from the seller.  The remainder were advertised and sold as "non-working."  I bought the non-working XOs for fairly low prices, with the hopes that they were just bricked,** a problem that is usually reparable.  I figured any that were beyond my capacity to repair could be used for parts. 

**bricked = problem booting due to a failure of the internal cell battery which triggers a software glitch that prevents the laptop from booting properly

I'm not a computer technician by any stretch of the imagination, but I like to tinker and love a good challenge.  I had fixed a couple bricked XO laptops last year without any problems, so I was feeling pretty confident.   As it turned out, working on the bricked XO laptops this year turned out to be much more frustrating than I had expected.  I'm still not sure why.

The fix involves using a serial adapter, known  in layman's terms as a doohickey - a thing with wires attached to a little electronic board and plug gizmo about the size of a flash drive.  This gets hooked up between the non-working XO laptop and a working computer.  Thanks to very detailed directions on the OLPC wiki, I was able to dismantle the non-working laptop and hook the doohickey up to the motherboard without any trouble.

Serial adapter for fixing bricked XO laptops
[links to the directions I used: 
Disassemble XO laptop to reach motherboard,
Hooking up and using the serial adapter]

Running the software that lets the two computers communicate through the serial adapter doohickey is where I ran into problems this time around.  The OLPC directions were a bit vague here. (Sometimes OLPC directions are great, but other times they assume the reader has a degree of computer technical skills that I don't possess, and then the directions start reading like Greek to me.)

[link to directions: Running the serial adapter software]

I tried both HyperTerminal and Screen for Linux, software recommended in the directions.  Neither automatically linked to the serial adapter as the directions implied.  After a lot of trial and error, I got Screen to work and got one non-working XO laptop to boot, even though I never got the Page Fault message that the directions say should appear at the start. 

I thought I had it all figured out after that first laptop was fixed.  But every time after that, when I tried to run Screen, I would get an error message, even though I was following the exact same steps as the first time. (I had made detailed step-by-step notes of everything as I went through it the first time so this wouldn't happen, obviously to no avail.) 

After what seemed like hours of trying this and that, nothing worked.  I was extremely frustrated and about to give up, when I decided to try one last suggestion in the directions.  It involved an Automated Python Script that Repair Center volunteers had written.  ("Automated Python Script" means it's programming code written in Python language that can be run to fix a problem without input from you.)    I had shied away from this because I didn't know anything about Python, and I was afraid it would require programming skills I don't have. 

As it turned out, the Python script was much easier to use than Screen.  And it worked every time.  In a matter of minutes, I had all but one of the non-working laptops up and running.  (The remaining laptop needed a new motherboard, so I stripped it for parts.) 

Now all I have to do is test each laptop's hardware, adjust the settings, and load our activities, then the last XOs will be ready to go.

See the next blog post for my more detailed version of directions to repair bricked XO laptops using a second XO laptop and the automated python script.

- Janissa


Monday, October 15, 2012

Public Radio Story on Results of Massive Peru Laptop Project

Below is the text from a National Public Radio report about the results of the large One Laptop Per Child program in Peru.  The report was published at:

When you read this report, compare the OLPC Peru approach and results to what Laptops to Lesotho has done.  Granted, they have a massive program and we are tiny by comparison, but both programs faced some of the same obstacles.  How we dealt with those obstacles, and the outcome, is very different.

- Janissa


Five years ago, Peru plunked down $200 million on more than 800,000 low-cost laptops to distribute to schoolchildren. The purchase was part of the global One Laptop Per Child initiative that aimed to end poverty with computers.

But now there are a lot of questions about how successful Peru's effort has been, especially in rural areas like the village of Lacachi.

Getting to Lacachi means first taking a country bus two hours from the nearest town, away from the shores of Lake Titicaca, then hiking a few miles through cold, windy hills. Lacachi is a cluster of mudbrick homes, pens filled with cows and pigs, dusty footpaths and a small elementary school painted pistachio green.

The school has about two-dozen kids. They wear sweatpants or long skirts to class, and sandals made of recycled tires. Each morning they line up outside in front of the mountains to sing the national anthem.

In many ways, Lacachi feels lost in time. Electricity arrived just a few years ago, and it goes out a lot. About half of the houses still don't have power. Potable water is supposed to arrive next year. There's no cellphone signal.

But because of Peru's efforts to bring technology to schools, all of the kids here have laptops — sort of.

A young Peruvian student in the southern village of Lacachi village in southern Peru uses a laptop computer provided through a nationwide program. However, benefits have been limited so far. In some cases, proper software is lacking, Internet access is not available and some teachers have a limited understanding of how to use the computers.
Annie Murphy for NPR
A young Peruvian student in the southern village of Lacachi village in southern Peru uses a laptop computer provided through a nationwide program. However, benefits have been limited so far. In some cases, proper software is lacking, Internet access is not available and some teachers have a limited understanding of how to use the computers.

Their teacher, Eleazar Pacho, hands out the computers. He walks around asking kids to connect the machines, wiping dirt off their keyboards. But many are broken or need software updates. Several laptops have disappeared.

So Pacho often puts the kids in groups on the computers that are still working. Because they can't go online, they use a program to draw shapes.

A Challenge For Students And Teachers
Pacho is young — 28 — and he makes a big effort to stay up to date with technology. He is familiar with the laptops, but he says many Peruvian teachers aren't.

"The laptops have become, above all, as much of a challenge for the teachers as the students. A lot of teachers aren't able to use them," Pacho says.

And even if a teacher is comfortable with computers, that doesn't fix a lot of issues, like the problem one student ran into about 10 minutes into class.

"The screen has a line down the middle, and on one side it's just black. On the other side it's fine, but on one side you can't see anything," the student says.

A few years ago, Jeff Patzer, a software engineer in San Francisco, was hired to repair laptops in remote parts of Peru. The biggest challenge, he says, was the lack of Internet.

Because you couldn't go online, everything had to be done in person. Patzer spent most of his time busing and hiking from village to village, often just to reinstall software with a USB drive.

"Imagine you have hundreds of these little villages that take two or three days to travel to. I mean, the logistical nightmare of the whole thing is just bonkers," Patzer says.

But Oscar Becerra, who used to run the laptop program at the Education Ministry, says it's still an improvement.

"If you bring a computer to a kid who's living in the 15th century, you're bringing him to the mid-20th century," Becerra says.

Some Signs Of Progress
About a year ago, Sandro Marcone took over the program. He says there's been some success: A study by the Inter-American Development Bank found Peruvian kids with laptops were six months ahead of their peers in reasoning and verbal ability.

But that study also failed to find any improvement in key areas like math and language, classroom instruction and reading habits.

Marcone says that's because, until recently, the program didn't actively involve local communities.

"The computers are there, and they should get used. I wouldn't have done things the way the last government did," Marcone says. "We need to be more sensitive to the realities of each region, empower local government in those places so that in the future this project is really theirs."

Marcone's job now is to come up with a plan to make that happen. He says the government will finish handing out the laptops and that it's also working on better training for teachers, and on getting Internet to more rural schools.

Until then, Pacho and other rural teachers are doing the best they can. In Lacachi, that means bringing students to the city once or twice a year, to use the Internet for an hour.

Some of the kids in Pacho's class are already planning what they'll do with that hour. Student Roger Aykachicondori says he wants to use Google Earth.

"I'd like to find out what the planet Earth is like, see what it looks like," he says. "They say that on the Internet, you can see the whole planet."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pictures of the Electrical System at Nohana Primary School

Below are pictures of components of the Nohana Primary School solar-powered electrical system installed in May 2011.  This system cost us $4908, including installation.   We hope to get a similar system installed at Kokobe Primary School in the next month or two.
Four 80W PV solar panels on school roof

Electrical board with inverter, regulator & breaker panel:
1.2 kW sine wave inverter 24V, 20A regulator

Inside the breaker panel
Two 260 ah batteries
XO laptop charging shelves

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kokobe Electrical System Installation Estimate Goes Up 250%

I'm running into some difficulties getting the electrical system at Kokobe Primary School installed. 

In March, we received a quote of about M40,000 (US$ 4,800) from Ivan Yaholnitsky, of Bethel Business & Community Development Center (BCDC), for installation of a solar-powered electrical system at Kokobe Primary School.  The system would power 50 XO-1 laptops, a network server, and a printer.  It would consist of:
4 - 80 watt PV panels 
2 - 260 Ah batteries 
1 - 20 A regulator 24 volt 
1 - 1200 Watt 24 Volt Victron Inverter
Wiring of classroom plugs, lights
1 -Distribution board and earthing
Travel & installation

Last week, we received a revised quote of  nearly M101,000 (just over US$ 12,000), an increase of 250%.  Yikes! 

We were hoping to get the system installed in the next couple months so it would be ready when we deliver the laptops in January. But I had based my grant proposals and fundraising on the March estimate, so we are now well short of the necessary funds.

Granted, the new estimate is for a MUCH larger system (see below), but we didn't request that.  When I asked Ivan if we could install the original plan instead, he snipped that I should go to someone else.  However, finding someone else, especially on somewhat short notice, who will work in the remote Ketane area may be very difficult.

At this point, I'm not sure what is going to happen.

- Janissa

October proposed system:
Wiring of Classroom Block 
4 - PV Panels  140 watt 
4 - Batteries 260 Ah 
Victron Inverter 3KW
Regulator 40-60 Ah 
120 amp DC isolator/breaker
2 - 60 amp DC isolator/breaker 
PV Junction Box 
4 - 120 amp copper cabling 
18 - 40 amp copper cabling 
Panel box for isolator/breakers
Battery case/stack
2 - Lightening Protection 
Earthing kit for modules 
Array frame and mounting
Customs clearance of equip

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Local Project Leader Meets with Foundation Representative

Project Leader Matlabe Teba met with the representative of one of our major funders (who prefers to remain anonymous) on Tuesday in Mohale's Hoek, Lesotho, to discuss the status of the project and a possible grant proposal for expanding the solar electricity at Nohana Primary School.  This expansion is needed for the 50 Dell laptops donated by Pueblo West High School in Colorado.

They also met with Ivan Yaholnitsky, of Bethel Business & Community Development Center, who installed the solar power at Nohana Primary School in 2011, to discuss details and costs of the electrical system.  His estimate for this system expansion is M108,000 (about $12,500).

I haven't heard any details yet, but from Matlabe's email, it sounds like the meeting went very well, and the foundation representative is interested in the grant proposal.

- Janissa


Monday, October 8, 2012

L2L Poster for OLPC San Francisco Summit

Here's the  poster I submitted for the One Laptop Per Child San Francisco Summit I'll be attending October 19-21.  
The poster is 18"x24."  OLPC-SF will print and laminate the first ten posters submitted. I don't know yet if mine will qualify for that, but regardless, all posters will be put on their website, so we will hopefully get some additional exposure.
At the summit, I'll be doing a speed-geek** talk about how L2L established our first computer education project in Lesotho.  This poster is designed to go along with my talk.
** I'd never heard of speed-geek presentations before, but it's apparently a bit like speed-dating.  All presenters are scattered at tables around the room. The attendees split into small groups distributed among the presenters' tables.  Each presenter gives a 3-minute presentation to one small group, then has two minutes to answer questions.  After 5 minutes, the attendees rotate to the next table, and it starts all over again.  Each presenter ends up giving their presentation multiple times.
Wish me luck!
- Janissa

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sharing: When Tablet Turns Teacher

Six months ago, One Laptop Per Child's Nicholas Negroponte started a grand experiment.  He and Matt Keller dropped off dozens of iPads tablets for children in two very remote villages in Ethiopia.  Prior to the experiment, the villagers were completely illiterate and had had no experience with electronics.  Then Negroponte and Keller left, without giving the villagers any directions other than how to charge the iPads tablets with a solar panel.

Read more about this experiment along with other thoughts on young children teaching themselves to use technology at When Tablet Turns Teacher by Gillian Tett in FT Magazine.

The unofficial results so far from the Ethiopian study are very interesting and thought provoking, with all kinds of possible implications for education and aid.  If nothing else, it seems to me to indicate that we could dramatically jump-start children's education just by providing them with cell phones or tablets before they enter school.  And it reinforces the idea of letting children use laptops in unstructured settings.

While finances prevent L2L from providing every child with a cell phone or tablet, we might want to consider refocusing our energy on the laptop lending library and less on classroom instruction, at least for the youngest children.

I welcome your comments and thoughts.

- Janissa