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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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