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OLE Nepal, Vietnam and Boston: Part One May 31, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 10:21 am
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I already mentioned OLENepal earlier on my blog. Sunday was a beautiful day in Boston. Nancie and I were lucky to meet Rabi Karmacharya, Executive Director from the Open Learning Experience Nepal. Rabi went to MIT, where he received his B.Sc. and M.E. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.  Then he worked as a design engineer for 3Com in CA for three years before he returned to Nepal.  He co-founded a software company HimalayanTechies, and seven years later he met Brian Berry through a running club and they together started OLE Nepal  in 2007.

Both Nancie and I were interested to meet Rabi, because he is running such a  successful OLPC deployment and just returned from Hanoi, where he attended the OpenCourseware consortium meeting on May 5-7, and met with Serge, who is contributing to the OLPC Vietnam project.

Serge  Stinckwich has lived in Hanoi for almost two years and is a professor at a university. You can find more about him here: http://www.doesnotunderstand.org/. He follows the localization efforts to get Sugar running in Vietnamese and other languages. Serge wrote:

“Right now, I’m mostly involved in the Squeak/Smalltalk community and I know very well the people behind Squeak EToys.
I’m part of a project called SqueakBot : http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Projects/SqueakBot where kids could use
EToys to control robots. I have also made a seminar in Hanoi some months ago about Etoys&Dynabook vision: http://www.slideshare.net/SergeStinckwich/an-instrument-whose-music-is-ideas-2036947“.

Serge has put a Google group together for OLPC Vietnam. He is visiting Vung Vieng village right now and will report his observations and suggestions to other OLPC Vietnam members during an upcoming meeting on June 5.

Finally OLPC grassroots’ movement is taking off in Vietnam, thanks to Nancie, the OLPC pioneer in that far-away country. Hurrah!

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The Letters

> Hi Kevin,

> thank you so much for all your help and comments to my blog saigonolpc.

I have enjoyed contributing to OLPC and being a part of the Free Software
community, its natural to help other users. I enjoyed reading about the far-off
places and seeing the images of the locales and the happy kids.

> I noticed you live in Brooklyn, NY. What kind of work do you do there?

nothing to speak of.

> Ryan from the Philippines is organizing  a meet-up for OLPC interested folks
> sometime in June in NYC. Will you attend??

I am on the OLPC support gang list and I think I saw something mentioned. I
went to a meeting of OLPC NYC. I would be interesting in attending.

>I would like to meet you in person, but i live in Boston and do not visit NYC
>that often.  What are you working on right now in terms of Open Source
>software projects?  Marina.

I have been involved in OLPC, first as an observer, then as a G1G1 supporter,
and now a support gang volunteer. I have been a Free Software supporter for a
long time and was interested in the combination of (mostly) free hardware and
software.

Cordially,
Kevin

The next day I received a letter from Hoang, my student from Saigon. After you read it you will understand what I mean about Vietnamese language not properly installed on the XO, the letter was translated from Vietnamese to English via Google translate:

Hello MarinaMarina has khong.Cong breeze of the Marina on chu.O taught us very well and I look forward grapes Marina nhieu.Chung day Marina will have to visit us

I sent a response in English and broken Vietnamese (thanks to Google translate):
Dear Hoang,
I am happy to receive  a letter from you. Unfortunately, my red computer was stolen and I lost all my pictures from Vietnam and all pictures with you. If you still have some pictures, please send them to me.
I am working right now on starting  a company that will send more teachers to Vietnam and other countries. And I hope I can come and visit you again!
Love you all,
Marina.
 

Two Weeks in Central America May 28, 2010

I had to go to Central America and visit potential projects I want to promote on www.ChebVolunteer.org. I planned to arrive in Guatemala and leave out of Costa Rica. On Tuesday, May 13 I was picked up at the Guatemala City airport and got a ride to my home stay in Antigua. In the next five days I visited four projects in or near Guatemala City and met people who do organic farming, build houses for poor indigenous people, teach kids from low-income families, orphans and many other volunteering activities.

Next country to visit was Honduras. After 6 hour bus ride I made it to a tiny town close to Guatemala border – Copan Ruins. The following day I visited two programs and learned how they help locals to be healthy, educated and employed. I didn’t feel safe while traveling alone. On the bus to Nicaragua I watched Taken and that made me feel uneasy about being a woman traveler with no knowledge of Spanish. Nicaragua and Honduras are number 2 and 3 poorest countries in the Americas only after Haiti. I truly believed that nothing bad can happen to me since I’m on a mission to help the locals and promote volunteering. I was too gullible and didn’t exercise vigilance.  In Managua I was kidnapped and robbed in a taxi. I was happy to be alive and have my passport but lost my computer, cash and other valuables. As I learned later half the country lives below poverty level and on less than 2 dollars a day. When they see a foreigner all they think is money and filthy rich. The robbers had no idea that the computer they stole from me was the most expensive thing I own, as I don’t own a car or real estate or even a TV. I told the robbers, one of whom was a woman, that I’m a volunteer who came to help their country, they seemed not to care. I know for sure that their deeds will haunt them and one day the robbers will get caught because of everything they’ve done to people who only wanted to help improve their lives and their future.

After I recovered emotionally from what happened, I visited several more organizations both in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. I met more volunteers and heard their stories: saving turtles, launching micro-finance programs, educating those who want to be educated.

I decided to continue what I’m doing no matter how much I went through or how much I lost as I still believe that there are people who need and appreciate our help in spite of the fact that there are others who do not care about volunteering and loose their humanity.

 

eKindling, OLPC Philippines, and Vietnam! Part Four May 9, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 10:09 pm
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Ryan: What about an OLPC community? Is it even big in Vietnam?

Polyachka: It doesn’t really exist.  There are individuals, mainly foreigners, who know about OLPC. We have a website that Mario is running- OLPC Vietnam and I’m still doing my blog. But it takes so much more effort there than here for many reasons.

Ryan: There are so many challenges

Polyachka: Many cultural barriers, it is hard to explain, why it doesn’t work the way we expect it or the way it works here. A completely different mentality. People are still new to this whole volunteering idea. “Why am I doing it for free? Explain it to me again?”

Ryan: Its definitely difficult to cultivate a culture of volunteering, especially when most potential volunteers have mouths to feed. This is definitely a challenge for us, but thankfully, our community of volunteers is beginning to grow inside and outside of the Philippines.

Polyachka: It is a different tradition, culture; you need to understand a lot of things before you start actually changing peoples’ mentality. I realized that in Vietnam you do need some funding in order to attract volunteers; you have to pay them a little bit or create some incentives.

Ryan: Incentive program, yes, at least a dinner for the group…

Polyachka: or a trip or some other recognition, but I wasn’t able to do it, as I was doing so much besides that – teaching children, learning new programs myself. Do you remember, first time I tried an XO was when you showed it to me (back in Jan). And then I had to write about it and think about what is good for the children, not necessarily for OLPC….

Ryan: I agree, because a lot of people forget that, some OLPC enthusiasts believe that it’s the magical tool to solve educational problems in the developing countries. The XO laptop is only part of the solution.  At the end of the day, we have to figure out how children can benefit from the XO Laptop. Not how the XO Laptop will benefit from the Children.

Polyachka: I heard a complaint about small deployments, especially unsustainable ones. Rich tourists go to the developing countries and bring back nice pictures and no real results.  I thought about it. Yeah, maybe some deployments are not sustainable, but that is not their main priority. They do their part testing the product, and try to get the most out of it to benefit the children. Their goal is to make those children happy and take advantage of new technology. Sometimes it is not about achieving great sustainable results like turning pilots into a huge nation-wide deployment with some super results.

Ryan: you mean some metrics: literacy rates have gone up and this saved children from poverty

Polyachka: exactly, there are drastic examples, but even if it is a small change, I’m really happy with that…

Ryan: That is good. The XO Laptop is a tool that can benefit children in various ways.  At the end of the day, we may find that providing access to an XO laptop brought joy and laughter in their lives.  This is not “increasing literacy rates”, but this is just as powerful.

Polyachka: I agree, that is why it is grassroots – you try to do what you can… Any kind of result good for children and their education works…

Ryan: what are your next steps?

Polyachka: I want to start a volunteering company that will help small and big projects around the world…

Ryan: Would you be interested in coming to the OLPC Meeting in New York and tell about your Vietnam OLPC experience…

Polyachka: Sure!  I’d love to do it…

 

eKindling, OLPC Philippines, and Vietnam! Part Three May 6, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 9:20 am
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Ryan: You never got to that point? How was it structured? What was the daily activity for students participating?

Polyachka: I was teaching in a shelter, where children are orphans. It was not a school, where teachers are available to learn and then transfer their knowledge to the kids. I was a shelter, where there is a director and children living there. Children go to school every day, but school is in a different location. I would come for 2 hours in the evening Mon-Fri and we would learn something new. I don’t speak Vietnamese, so there was always a translator. A local volunteering company provided translation and transportation. We had 20 classes in total and the exam. All the girls passed it and they got the Teacher certificates, so that they can teach software Sugar to other children in the shelter.

Ryan: So you were training educators to educate the rest of the students. That is great. They were all girls. That is the kind of stuff that OLPC wants to hear.

Polyachka: Probably, but our communication kind of stopped because we used the Google translator in the beginning but it gets messy. And sometimes it translates into total nonsense. The other problem is that we never figured out Vietnamese keyboard, as some symbols don’t work on the XO, which makes it impossible to use the Write activity. That was the point of my whole deployment – to figure out what works, what needs to be improved and what are the next steps. Unfortunately, the keyboard localization isn’t working well as several characters don’t work. That is why it is hard for children to write to me, and then I can’t translate and understand what they write. It is Latin alphabet, but with several extra symbols, you apply accents on top of every letter. One letter can be used in many different ways and produces different meaning.

Polyachka: So even though the girls achieved a lot and now they have the Internet after we installed a router, not all is perfect. We have an arrangement with the director, so that the children can use the Internet several days a week. But it is hard for me to tell what are they doing right now, whether they use computers at all, never mind teaching other kids, as I don’t have communication with them. So that is my problem. And there is no one in Vietnam who could do it on regular basis.

Ryan: It is hard to find enthusiastic people who are there all the time. What about the Vietnamese community?

Polyachka: There were a lot of people who volunteered to be my translator, they were interested in the project but no one could commit to be that liaison between the group and me because they all want paid jobs and some benefits that I can’t not give them because I have no funding.

 

eKindling, OLPC Philippines, and Vietnam! Part Two May 5, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 8:14 am
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Polyachka: So when are you scheduled to start?

Ryan: We were supposed to start in June but that had to be pushed back, so August is now the start date…

Polyachka: What other things do you take into consideration?

Ryan: Shipping, currently one cargo carrier is DHL. Customs checks every single DHL box, and they will charge up to 40% of the value of the laptops, which is additional $9,000. It is more than we expected and we thought of trying other carriers based in Shanghai that are cheaper but that is not an option.

Ryan: How did you deal with these problems in Vietnam?

Polyachka: We are a different caliber; you are much bigger than we are. So that is why you suffer from certain things we avoided. All I had to work with was 5 XOs, which is not much. I brought them in my own suitcase, and no one checked how many computers I had. The same with Nancie, who came to the other part of Vietnam and brought 12 XOs, and didn’t pay any taxes, only for extra weight, so that part was easy. Our small deployments are more about testing the software applicability and its customization for Vietnam. For example, we were trying to find and read ebooks in Vietnamese. We were not focusing on making it a part of the standard curriculum. It was more an extra curricular activity that children would do after school. It was hard for us to convert to bigger scale because we didn’t have strong connections to the local officials, or we didn’t have the funding so that some people could get paid to go through the training. It was interesting to work and to see what the opportunities are. There is one guy who is still there and he is officially the head of the project and the website OLPC Vietnam.

Polyachka: Also it is very segregated. I started my deployment in the south and Nancie did in the north.

Ryan: So you were not working together?

Polyachka: No, our deployments don’t even talk to each other because Nancie’s deployment doesn’t have the Internet. They are very small deployments and that is not good for OLPC, because they are looking for deployments like yours.

Ryan:  I don’t think so, we are too small. Or maybe yes, but not big enough to get the capabilities to be supported. Maybe if we were a bigger deployment of 1000 laptops, things would be different. We are small too, compared to other players that are out there.

Polyachka: Could be… but at least you are buying laptops; and we got our laptops for free… Of course, their perfect deployment is Afghanistan. Where there are thousands of laptops. But again, what I was told that OLPC is interested in all kinds of grassroots activity promoting OLPC and trying it to “plant the seeds” into different countries and concentrating on those that have the most potential.  So 100 laptops is a good start… especially if there is infrastructure to support them and training for the local people who are interested in making it a live project. In my case children are using computers but not systematically. What is expected? More publicity or better results, reports, like improved literacy rates or something similar, that we are not giving …

 

eKindling, OLPC Philippines, and Vietnam! Part One May 4, 2010

Polyachka: Hello! 🙂

Ryan: Welcome Back

Polyachka: thanks

Ryan: How are you?

Polyachka: I’m great. How are you?

Ryan: I have my coffee and it is a great sunny day here in NY

Polyachka: same here in Boston

Ryan: that is right, I forgot you are in Boston. I’m not sure where you are in the world these days

Polyachka: I can give you an update: I came back from Vietnam 3 weeks ago and  I realized I need to make some changes in my life so I left my job and I’m working on starting a non-profit organization to help volunteers around the world to find good projects

Ryan: Like a social entrepreneur? Congratulations, but first let me ask you: How do you feel?

Polyachka: I feel great! 🙂 I know, other people would be concerned. “Are you insane leaving your job in this economy?” But I’d rather be insane and happy than sane and unhappy.

Ryan: So great to hear. I definitely understand where you are coming from, as I came from banking…

Polyachka: If you saw me today, you would see a big difference. Remember, when we met in Jan, I came straight from the Airport from my business trip to our meeting…

Ryan: I’m glad you made your choice, as many people don’t get to make it…

Polyachka: So now is your turn. What are you doing in NY, not in the Philippines?

Ryan: I’m still working in the Philippines doing eKindling stuff, but I’m here fundraising for our deployment. http://www.ekindling.org/news

Polyachka: Well, last time I heard that you booked an order for 100 XOs (1.5) for the Philippines.

Ryan: It is in the process of happening. We are purchasing 100 laptops, sponsored by 100 different donors, who donated from $10 to $1,000 each. But now we are trying to raise $3,000 more to pay for the XO certification in the Philippines.

Polyachka: what is this fee for?

Ryan: To certify that the XO 1.5 is safe to be used in the Philippines.

Polyachka: Did you do it for the XO 1.0?

Ryan: No, but we need to do it for 1.5 as it is a world wide requirement not just for the Philippines.

Ryan: Our sponsor from the national computer center of the Philippines is the umbrella

group that does the certification in the Philippines, so our idea is to do it for free. OLPC

said that they had had bad experiences with countries taking on the certification process. Because of this, they want to do it themselves.

Polyachka: So they want to do it for you?

Ryan: yes, so we can fundraise $3,000, but there is also a time constraint, as it takes 3.5 months to get XOs to the Philippines from border to border

Polyachka: why so long?

Ryan: because it is 1.5 and it comes from Shanghai…

Polyachka: So are they being built as we speak? I would think it is really close from Shanghai to the Philippines…

Ryan: You would think…

Polyachka: How many people have you trained on the XO already?

Ryan: About 20 people. We trained 4 educators, also students helping teachers, which are additional 4 students, and local technical team of about 5 and parents who want to understand the XO – all the stakeholders… It’s really exciting. Have you seen the pics?

Polyachka: Yes, you sent me the link and I checked them out. They are great. (http://picasaweb.google.com/cherry.withers)

 

 
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