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 ...

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