OLPC Volunteers visit Jamaica!

Trip Start Oct 14, 2009
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Trip End Jul 01, 2014


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Flag of Jamaica  ,
Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Last October at the OLPC San Francisco Summit, I had the good fortune to meet Craig P, ably representing OLPC Jamaica and the two small Jamaican XO pilot projects. I mentioned that my husband, Mark and I like to vacation in Negril in mid-winter. A favorite resort of ours, Swept Away has 12 tennis courts, several pros, and the largest fitness complex in the Caribbean. A serious age division tennis player, Mark likes to train outside in winter and always finds good players to hit with there.

Since the San Francisco Summit, I (representing Southeast Asia) have been working with Craig (Jamaica) and other volunteers representing small XO projects from Haiti, Madagascar, the Philippines, and Kenya. We call our group ALEARN and our goals include sharing experiences, curriculum, and project strategies to help bring more effective digital education to children around the world. From our meetings, a Jamaica OLPC Project Support Summit evolved.

For what I believe is the first time in OLPC history, a group of volunteers from other country OLPC projects came together to work with teachers, children, and community to offer skills and support to OLPC Jamaica. Coincidentally we volunteers were invited to Kingston the very week that Mark and I had pre-booked our prepaid all-inclusive week at Couples Swept Away. Mark has been so patient with my extended travels and supportive of my OLPC volunteer work, that I was not about to leave him as a "single" at "Couples" and go running off to Kingston during our "together" week. I was happy that I was able to bring down 10 re-donated Contributors Program XOs for a new library project in Kingston. 

I wanted to deliver the XOs myself but Kingston is on the other side of the island from Negril. By bus it would have been 5 & 1/2 hours each way and there were no scheduled flights. Craig's cousin Tashakaye picked up the XOs and will take them to Kingston soon. While I could not personally join my ALEARN colleagues in Kingston, I followed the exciting and historic week. I will share a glimpse of the volunteers and kids, along with some blog links where you can find more detail.

There are two projects around Kingston, Jamaica's capitol city. One is in a private pre-primary school, Providence Basic and the other is in an inner city primary school, August Town Primary. Craig is the OLPC program manager, "the local hero" in Jamaica. We ALEARN volunteers agree that for a project to succeed, there must be at least one "local hero." I credit Mark B of the Ntugi Kenya project for coining this term and teaching the concept. This is an example of our group's skill sharing.

Craig had planned a very full week for Adam H. (OLPC & Haiti), Mark B. (Toronto & Ntugi Kenya), Bill S. (Virgin Islands), Laura DR. and her friend Quentin (France & Nosy Komba Madagascar). There were 5 full days of teaching children and teachers at the two schools, and evening meetings with members of the Jamaica Computer Club and other interested parties too. Need I mention that he also arranged transportation, lodging, meals and island touring also! I was sorry to miss out, but you will see from my own vacation photos on the island the same week, not too sorry:).

From the volunteer visit to Providence Basic, Mark B tells this story: The XOs are shared as the school does not yet have one laptop for each child. The most rambunctious 5 year old boy in the class, kept trying to take a laptop from the other students. Mark spent most of the day gently disciplining Jon-Marc and trying to pull his hands off the laptop because he was dragging it away from the other students. Towards the end of the day, Mark B finally gave Jon-Marc a turn. He says, "it turned out he was a whiz and was just bored by the rudimentary nature of the lesson! I have never seen a kid faster on Maze, and I kept challenging him to harder and harder Mazes....but he was impatient and wanted me to play what he called the "Snake Game". I told him there was no 'Snake Game' thinking he meant something like Snakes and Ladders. 
He told me I was wrong about the "Snake Game", grabbed the computer, and opened up Pippy, clicked through and began to play."'Who taught you that," I asked. "Me teach myself," he said, with a big smile. Well, Jon-Marc is only 5 years old and Pippy is the XO Activity that teaches Python programming. Be sure to look at the photo of Jon-Marc teaching Mark B how to use the Pippy Activity!

 At http://buildingaschool.org/ which has active volunteers including Adam H, implementing XO projects in Haiti, you can see many photos of the Jamaica teamwork and an interesting comparison of Haiti and Jamaica. Scroll down to the February 9, 2012 entry. Excerpted here with full credits to the author:

"I would like to make some observations, comparing what I see from these Jamaican experiences with some of what I know of the Haitian experience. After all, the two countries are so very close geographically that it seems appropriate.

My first observation is that the Jamaican children are equally captivating! Who can resist???
The schools are nicely painted and even have louvered windows and doors. There are plenty of tables and chairs for the students. The school compound is clean and tidy. See the garbage can there? It appears to me that materials for the Jamaican schools are easier to acquire or locate because language is not a huge issue. In Haiti the decision of what languages should be used for instruction is a major debate. Kreyol? French? Spanish? English? Certainly small new schools cannot deal with all of these. Many of the teachers only know one or two of these themselves. Organizations donating materials to schools for classrooms and libraries have an easier time locating English language posters, books, globes, and other materials. At Ecole Shalom in Croix-des-Bouquets Haiti, I personally must translate Pen Pal letters and game instructions.

The teachers at these two schools seem to make excellent use of their resource people and volunteers. Teachers participate in the OLPC effort and make use of the laptops in their daily activities. The XO activities in English are useful at even the beginning levels because the children are taught to write in English at a very young age. In Haiti they are learning their colors at this stage.

I believe that in Haiti, the teachers are nervous about familiarizing themselves with the laptops and insecure about what these offer the children. They take less pride in their classrooms and decorations, and tend to watch the clock, hoping to leave school early. (And of course life IS very stressful there.) They need skills and training to become confident and better at teaching."

Volunteer Laura DR's blog has lots of details and photos also: http://olpc-france.org/blog/2012/02/100-kmh-down-hope-road/ The text is in French, her native language. The information she shares will likely be valuable to volunteers and locals working with XO projects in French speaking locales. If you know locals who read French but not English, do share the link!

On February 14, 2012, Craig writes: " I spilled water on an XO on a national television program this morning (Smile Jamaica), and then one of the hosts dropped Andrea Curtis's XO. You would all be very proud of Andrea, who represented the teachers at Providence Methodist Basic School very well. The program was a Good Morning type show and Andrea and I were on for a 5-minute segment. Hopefully there will be other instances of earned media in the near future."

And, you can check out this article in the Jamaica Observer, which came out on February 12, 2012. http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/career/OLPC-readies-for-roll-out_10694320
What a tremendous and useful week Craig P put together and impressive PR work too. Kudos to Craig!

Now of course, I have to mention a few things about our week. I enjoyed meeting Craig's cousin, Tashakaye who will be bringing the 10 Contributors XOs to Kingston. Thanks TK for taking on that responsibility! TK is a newly minted attorney and had been in Court on the day I met her. Mark and I learned that in Jamaica, the attorneys wear robes in court and special collars. We enjoyed comparing and contrasting the legal system similar to the US, derived from the English Common Law but with traditions still much more formal, perhaps vestiges from the British in Jamaica.  

This was our 5th visit to Couples Swept Away, and it did not disappoint. I enjoyed the mid-winter balmy weather break, read books on the beach, walked lots and lots and went to yoga classes every day! The snorkeling was lovely and I even went horseback riding at sunset on the beach. Although most everything, especially alcohol is included, Couples makes money on us:). We don't drink except perhaps for a glass of wine with dinner, but we had our share of fruit and vegetable smoothies for sure. And the chocolate - I just can't pass up the lunchtime dessert bar at The Palms. Mark played hours of tennis each day and we both slept well to the sounds of the ocean and lovely breeze!

Negril beach is so colorful, with it's vendors and crafts. The music is wonderfully fun. On our last evening, there was a full rainbow, arcing from end to end across the ocean. We are fortunate, and we are grateful.


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