Friday, July 31, 2009

Home, Safe & Sound!

Hey everyone, we're all home safe! We got in right on schedule yesterday afternoon after about 27 hours of travel (from when we left our guest house in Nairobi till when we left the airport in DC). Expect more pictures to come, but here's a teaser for now :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One Last Quick Update!

Hey, all! Just one last update from Kenya. We've been spending the last few days in Nairobi, doing tourist-y things and trying to enjoy ourselves before we travel home. We're all sitting in the hotel using the XOs we're taking back to the states to get internet-- haha!

We leave tomorrow night to come back to the states, so keep us in your prayers until then. Keep on the lookout for tons of pictures sometime fairly soon!


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Back in Nairobi

Hey guys, just checking in from Nairobi. We left Kibwezi on Saturday around 130 and got into Nairobi around 600. It was sad to say goodbye, but I think we're all just about ready to get home. Greg left flash drives for all the teachers containing the Sugar manual, a manual for the XOs, and one he typed up that details all the activities and how to use them. He also left flash drives with all the activities and the operating system in case something goes wrong with the computers. Friday afternoon, we moved all the laptops to a new room where shelves were built and electricity was installed so that the teachers don't have to deal with the same problem we did in terms of storage space and carrying laptops to and from the school every day. We had been storing them in the polytechnic computer classroom and carrying them in carry on suitcases, which weighed about 40 pounds each. This new storage location willmake it much easier for the laptops to be retrieved. We left with a good feeling about the project, knowing we did our part as best we could and trusting that things will proceed in our absence.

Tomorrow, we'll be visiting the Rift Valley area and on Tuesday we're visiting a hospital in Nairobi. Our flight leaves from the Nairobi airport on Wednesday night, around 11 pm, and we'll arrive in DC on Thursday around 145pm local time. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we relax and travel around!


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Getting Down to It

So we're really getting down to the last few days here in Kibwezi-- we leave for Nairobi on Saturday around noon! We've been trying to pack a lot of stuff into a short period of time, but have met some road blocks, so to speak.

The first of which is the staff at the primary school. Greg tried to hold a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to continue training of teachers with the laptops. However, after 30 minutes only Joseph had come (who already is very well aquainted with the XOs), and he simply informed Greg the rest of the teachers probably weren't going to come. Needless to say, we felt pretty disrespected & discouraged by this encounter (or lack thereof). It's been really difficult for us to get the teachers to participate and, while it's obvious that the students love the laptops, the teachers seem pretty apathetic to the whole situation. It's frustrating because we're leaving so soon, and when we're gone they're not going to be able to use us as a crutch to teach their lessons anymore. I've decided to just throw all my expectations away at this point, because that's probably going to end up being the best strategy.

Another obstacle has been field day, which is on Friday. The teachers and students are so focused on field day that yesterday they cancelled all the classes so the students could practice. It kind of blows my mind that a country and school that are so focused on education would spend so much time on field day. So we lost a day where we could potentially have had some of the teachers teach classes instead of us (because we have yet to get to that point yet). Theoretically there are classes today, but I'm not holding my breath.

Additionally, Greg and Bob are having some problems with the server & router we were given, so they've been spending a lot of time trying to figure that out. We just don't have enough time left and the Kenyans somehow don't view all this as a pressing matter, even though if we don't teach them now, we're afraid the XOs are going to end up just collecting dust.

This post is such a downer, I know, but I'm just trying to be realistic & honest about some of the trials we've been facing within this project. I'll try and post at least once more before we return to the states. Keep us in your thuoghts & prayers as we travel within the upcoming week!


Monday, July 20, 2009


We're back after a nice, relaxing weekend in Mombasa! We visited Ft. Jesus, shopped a little in "Old Town Mombasa," went to Bamburi Quarry (where we were promptly rained on), and spent the rest of our time at the beach. On Sunday we went to church in the city, and it was nice to see another place of worship different from all the others we've visited.

Just a little bit of laptop news. While in Mombasa, we met up with Brian & Priyanka, who are staying north of Mombasa in a little village, as mentioned previously. We were able to get the software we needed from them and talk a bit about our deployments. We've got very different groups, ours being 21 and theirs being only the two of them, but it was really nice being able to hear feedback from another team.

This week we've only got four days of classes, since Friday is Field Day all day! Plus, we're taking Tuesday afternoon off to visit a cicil plantation, so we've got a lot of work to cram in to the next few days! On Saturday around noon, we're off to Nairobi and on Wednesday night we fly back to the states. Suddenly things are so busy around here! I'm hopeful that the teachers are able to teach at least Thursday's classes, if not Wednesday's as well.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Update from Kibwezi!

"Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous."
-- Albert Einstein.

Just checking in to tell you guys how things are going. We've been in the classroom every day, and the kids are really starting to pick up how to do things on the laptops on their own. We've let the older grades take a class or two to explore the computers on their own, and they're usually able to do that without much help or guidance--we're just there to fix a jumpy cursor or two. The favorite activities seem to be anything that creates music (TamTam Mini especially), Maze, and Speak. Among the older students in the polytechnic school, they seem to really enjoy chatting with one another. We've definitely made a lot of progress since day one where we had to teach the kids how to move the arrow.

Greg has been meeting with the primary school teachers a few times to teach them some things about the laptop and also some trouble shooting tips. He's also busy writing an instruction manual of sorts for all the activities on the XOs, so that the teachers know how to use things once we leave. Since our deployment is considerably shorter than the others (3 weeks instead of 9), we've been trying to cram everything in and are beginning to feel like we're running out of time. But, we all realize we're doing the best we can with what we've been giving, and we're hoping the program continues after we've left.

As for the coincidence quote at the beginning, we've run into a stroke of quite good luck. We'd been given a server by another team who were unable to use it in their deployment, and needed to figure out how to pick it up. As it turned out, Paul Commons was able to drop the server off in Nairobi at the PCEA Guest House around the same time one of our team members needed to catch a flight out of the Nairobi airport. Therefore, we were able to easily pick it up while we were there and bring it back to Kibwezi. There was a piece of software that we needed, however, and the internet here is absolutely not fast enough to download it. This weekend, we're venturing to Mombassa for a sort of vacation within a vacation. A team north of Mombassa, in Takaungu, had been planning on coming down Friday to go to the beach, and we've arranged a meeting with them to both discuss the program and to download the software directly from them. Things have fallen into place really well, and I thank God for that.

Keep us in your thoughts and prayers throughout the next week and a half!


Friday, July 10, 2009

This past week has been going by really well! The day after I last posted, Tuesday, we started introducing the laptops into the classrooms. We had standards 4, 5, and 7 on the first day, and since then we've had all the grades except for 8, who aren't using the computers. We started off by teaching them basic things about the laptops-- how to open them, how to turn them on, how to move the arrow using the trackpad, how to click on things, etc. Our "introductory lesson" (that we've by now nearly perfected, since we've done it nine times!) usually consists of showing the kids how to use Speak, Record, and sometimes Paint or Chat, depending on the age group.

All the kids have been very receptive to the computers! The classes we've been in more than once have definitely shown retention of information and are getting the hang of things. It's definitely harder with the younger grades, especially 1-3, but the teacher of standard 1, Joseph, is one of the people who has used the laptops a lot in the past year. It was really helpful to have a teacher involved in the learning process, because sometimes the kids don't understand English with an American accent (vs. a Kenyan accent). They also know that they have to listen to their teacher, and therefore when he says something they definitely pay attention. The upper standards are learning very well-- one of our classes had their computers open and on before we even told them what to do! It's very clear that some of them have used the XOs before, and it is nice to have that little advantage on our side.

We've also been using the XOs during the evening activity sessions we've been holding with the students at the Polytechnic school. They really seem to enjoy using them, and chat has been a favorite among them. It's easier for them to discuss things and ask us questions that way, I think, so we've gotten to know a lot about each other's cultures & countries.

Now that we're trying to devise subsequent lessons after the initial introduction, it's becoming a little harder for us to figure out what to do and where to point the kids next. We've been playing it by ear pretty well, though, and things are getting done. One of our current goals is to get the teachers more involved so that we can slowly ease between us Americans doing all the teaching and the teachers using the laptops to teach the children things in class. It's going to take time, probably more time than we have here since we have a rather short deployment compared to the rest of the OLPCorps, but both the teachers and students at Kibwezi are very intelligent, and I sincerely think this will really catch on here. I'm so excited to see where it's going. Every day is a new experience and a new challenge, and I'm trying to savor each one.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Greetings from Kibwezi!

Hey! So we're finally settled & situated in our little tent village in Kibwezi, Kenya, and our project is definitely under way. I'm sitting in the computer classrom used by the secretarial students in the Polytechnic school and behind me, Greg, Krista, and Dave are working furiously to update and reflash all 106 computers we have here (the extra six are six that we brought here last year that need some updates). This morning, we had a meeting with Grace Chege, the head of the Imani Primary School, Samuel Mote, the head of the Educational Complex, and several teachers about how the last year with the laptops has gone and what (if any) ideas they have come up with for the 100 new ones.

Honestly, I think we were all super pleasantly surprised at what they had to say. First, Greg talked about the OLPC program, OLPCorps Africa, the XO machines themselves, and the goals of the program. We discussed some of the ways the computers could be used, programs that could be used & subjects that could be studied. Then we asked how they'd been used in the past year. Joseph, a teacher of standards 6 & 7, said that the kids have been using them, sometimes as often as once a week! This was great to hear, because we didn't even think that the kids would have seen the machines yet. They've been able to use memorize, browse, terminal, and recording pretty well, and have had difficulty using TamTam, Pippi, and TurtleArt. They've used them in the library as well as in the classrooms, always charging them before letting the kids use them so they don't have to deal with the power cords.

All of the staff seems very excited & willing to insert the XOs into their curriculum. They've been adjusting the timetables and schedules of the school day and are planning on using the laptops during the "creative arts" block, which is usually used to teach music, dance, art, or some thing along those lines. The plan is to let all the children in standards 1-7 use the laptops during their creative arts block, focusing on standards 3-7. Standard 8 students, who have the Kenyan National Exams soon, are going to have limited interactions with them in order to focus on their studies. Using the creative arts block means that some standards will be able to use the computers as many as 3 times a week, and since the class sizes never reach more than 45, two classes will be able to use them during the same block.

The only had a few complaints about the laptops, other than not knowing how to use certain activities, which were just those of the jumpy cursor (which we've all already encountered) and that one of them was starting up very slowly, something Greg is currently trying to figure out and fix. Other than that, they've been able to work with them very well, and we're talking to Beatrice, our coordinator, to set up a time to teach all the teachers who haven't used the XOs yet how to use them. I just got a typed up schedule of when we'll be using the computers in the classes, but we'll probably have 4-6 Americans in each class to help the kids use the computers. The younger students will probably need more assistance, and the older ones who've already encountered the XOs will be able to get by with less.

We tried to address the idea of checking out the laptops as if they were library books, but the administration was a bit hesitant at the idea. Some children take the matatu (public bus) to school, others walk, and they're concerned with the laptops being stolen or damaged, which is understandable since they're children. They were keen on the idea of the teachers being able to check them out, though, so they could get more use of them outside the classroom & familiarize themselves.

Another interesting opportunity us American students will probably be able to have, while not laptop related, is being able to go into the classrooms and talk to the kids about our majors. Grace said that most students want to be a doctor, or surgeon, or pilot, and don't know much about the other, less common professions. She suggested some of us come in and talk about our majors so the kids realize some other options they have. We're all really, really excited about how promising this meeting was and were left super optimistic!

Everything here is going well. We're staying in tents on the edge of the campus and often play with the students who live on the campus, the standard 7 & 8 kids and the polytech students. On Sunday we visited local churches and got a taste what it's like out in the country, and it certainly is like nothing I've ever seen before. This experience has already been amazing and eye-opening, and it's only six days in! Keep us all in your thoughts & prayers back home-- we love & miss you all.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Unexpected Greetings from Nairobi

We landed in Nairobi last night just before 9:00 PM, and both of our flights went smoothly. We're staying in a guest house run by the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) for two nights before heading over to Kibwezi tomorrow (or I suppose, technically *this*) morning. All 100 laptops are still accounted for. However, I'm sure that we looked like quite the circus trying to get our 100 laptops (18 of us had 5 laptops through security. There is really no graceful way to go about doing something like that. Remember, 18 of us each had 5 laptops in one of our carry ons, and I personally was carrying 10!

I tried to download as many potentially school related collections (including chemistry, biology, and the new testament of the bible in swahili) as I could to put on the XOs before leaving Virginia. Since I doubt that we'll be getting good internet access while in Kibwezi (if at all) I feel like the pre-downloaded content (although addmittedly limited in breadth and scope) could help establish the laptops' use as educational tool. I also downloaded Tux Type. I do admit that typing is *not* a skill which is tested on the Kenyan national exams, but this learn-to-type program could definitely prove to beneficial when used on the students' own time. Hopefully I can get around to updating all the laptops once we're settled in at Kibwezi.

As I mentioned before, internet access in Kibwezi will likely be sporadic but Kate and I will do our best to keep you updated!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Typing this as I ride in the car on my way to the airport- crazy!! I can't believe we're about to go to Kenya. Its sort of surreal! I doubt I'll have much if any chance to post while I'm gone, but expect tons of info upon our return! Keep us in your thoughts and wish is a safe, successful trip :)


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Our Last Planning Meeting!

We're getting down to it! Our team leaves on Tuesday for our trip to Kenya and we couldn't be more excited. Saturday morning we had our final meeting to discuss OLPC and our ideas/expectations for the trip.

We came up with a few predictions of problems we may run into while in Kenya & a few solutions for each of them. The first of which is the memory of the laptops. Each has approximately 550 MB of memory, which isn't really that much. From what we've gathered, the record activity is usually a favorite of the kids, and it takes up a lot of memory, thus making less room for other activities to be saved. The idea to bring a long a bunch of flash drives was brought up. We discussed this for a while, both the pros of adding memory and the potential cons being the fact that flash drives are hard to get a hold of in Kenya and giving a child both a laptop and a flash drive would potentially seem pretty backwards in that culture. In the end, we decided we'd bring a few, maybe just give them to the teachers, and play it by ear (this is slowly becoming our motto for the trip! haha). Other solutions that would fix the memory problem would be a school wide server, but without internet access this isn't really feasible. A third would be to encourage a few long term projects so there would be enough memory to store them all.

Power was also discussed as a problem. Charging the laptops will add a lot to the electricity bill of the school, something that hasn't really been budgeted in thus far. Regarding a solution to this, we're not really sure how it's all going to work. We're bringing over a few power strips so more laptops can be charged at once, but that doesn't really fix the monetary problem. Again, this is something we'll probably figure out how to deal with as the months pass. The lack of internet is another issue we can't really fix. While it's a major focus of the OLPC program so kids can use the laptops in & out of the classroom, it isn't readily available in Kenya. Kibwezi has one cyber cafe, but it's not a wireless network. However, this isn't exactly something that's going to stop OLPC from having a positive impact in the school, so we're just going to do what we can with the resources we've got and go from there.

Another concern is fear. We're worried that the community will over protect the resources, so to speak, and treat the laptops as precious, fragile things. As an answer to this, we're trying to make the OLPC program more public, letting the community know what's going on, and letting them know that it's okay if something happens to them. We're not going to come back and be angry because a laptop or two is broken. We want them to USE the laptops, not keep them under lock & key because they're scared of breaking them. They're computers. They malfunction and break sometimes, and it's no one's fault. And if the computers are going to be in the hands of children, which is what's intended, then things are definitely going to happen to them. We're going to also have them keep any laptops that might break for parts, incase, say, a monitor on a working computer breaks. Then they can replace it with the monitor from a laptop with some sort of hardware malfunction. If the computers are going to be in the hands of children, which is what's intended, then things are going to happen to them.

Some other concerns that have been raised in the past few weeks have been the fear that, since the curriculum is so very focused on education, they may be hesitant to introduce the computers into every day school. The teachers might think they would detract from learning in the classroom, especially in preparation for the standardized testing that occurs late summer/early fall. We've made it our goal to teach the teachers that the computers can be great teaching tools. They encourage collaboration between students & a constructionist view on education, rather than traditional direct instruction. If we succeed in convincing the teachers the worth of these laptops in education, I feel like we'll have left a lasting impression & increased the chance that the XO laptops will actually be utilized like we hope they will be.

Our notes from a previous meeting, brainstorming several subjects that are heavily focused on in the primary school and attempting to decide which programs could be useful for those subjects & how they could be used.

Dave, Krista, myself, and Greg exploring the laptops & trying to plan activities for the students and teachers.

Keep checking back for some history on the OLPC program itself!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Hey there!

Welcome to the blog of the OLPCorps Kenya! We are a group of 22, including eight students, from Burke Presbyterian Church in Burke, VA. I'm Kate Tidaback, and I'll be the one doing the majority of the blogging on this site. I just finished my sophomore year at the College of William & Mary. The seven other students participating in this project are Greg Gates (sophomore, Virginia Tech), Brooke Postlewaite (senior, James Madison University), Krista Yancey (junior, Bucknell University), Eric Fischer (freshman, Oberlin College), Lindsay Kipp (junior, Radford University), Bill Lesser (sophomore, Northern Virginia Community College), and Stryker Smith (sophomore, Lake Braddock High School). The other members of the team come from all walks of life, including an elementary school teacher and a CPA. We are all so thrilled to be taking part in this amazing project and are excited to be reporting back to all of you who are reading this!

On June 30, our team will be leaving the US to go to Kibwezi, Kenya until July 30. The focus of our trip & project is the Kibwezi Educational Centre. The center contains a preschool, a Polytechnic school, and primary school for grades one through eight. The 400 students enrolled there range in age from 6 to 12 and come from the surrounding farms. This is our second deployment of the XO Computers to the primary school after we brought six over last summer, obtained through the Give-One-Get-One (G1G1) program. This year, we're ecstatic to be bringing over 100 more laptops to give to the kids! What better way to celebrate our 21st year in partnership with Kibwezi :)

Over the course of the next few months, we hope to use this as a way to update you on the project, share preliminary planning and travel information, and show you some of the great things we're doing. Stay tuned for notes from training sessions, meetings, and more information on the OLPC Program.

Thank you so much for being a part of this :)