Laptops To Lesotho Inc.

Rating: 5 stars   14 reviews

Issues: Education, International, Economic Development, Microfinance

Location: 55 Eagle Creek Rd Wayan ID 83285 USA

Mission: Our mission is to break the vicious cycle of illiteracy, poverty, and disease that is leading to early death in Lesotho by working through a local, grassroots, community-based organization to high quality education and job skills for the children in rural Lesotho. To do this, we provide special children's laptop computers and access to the internet. Thses laptops, and the access to information they provide, are an avenue for growth and improvement in the students' lives and in the community as a whole.  We believe that truly successful solutions to the multitude of problems facing the people of Lesotho will come only when the Basotho devise and embrace solutions as their own.  The best way to prepare them for that is through education and access to information, and the best time to reach them is when they are young. Our primary goal is to give each and every child in the community their very own laptop.  With child-ownership, the laptops can be used both in the structured environment of the classroom and by the children on their own, away from school, for unstructured learning and discovery at their own pace. We use refurbished XO laptops by the One Laptop Per Child organization, unique notebook-sized computers designed specifically for children in less developed countries. The laptops are a fun way to expand on the basic classroom skills of reading, writing, and math.  They also help develop more advanced skills such as logic, conceptualization, and problem-solving.  The operating system can be changed to a more advanced interface as the students’ skills progress. Our secondary goal is to make this completely a community-run program.  This idea was started by people in the community, and we serve merely as facilitators to help them achieve their goal.  To this end, our team includes three staff members from the school, two in prominent leadership roles.  We work with the community throughout the entire process to ensure their continued, long-term participation.  We mentor and train selected individuals in community organization.  This year, we will be teaching them fundraising and grant-writing, so that eventually they take over and run this project on their own.
Results: In 2008, Andrew Dernovsek, then a Peace Corp Volunteer in Ketane, started teaching computer skills to his colleagues, students, and members of the community on his own computer.  The community was so enthusiastic about the idea that they raised money to buy a second, used computer, and they set up a donated solar power system to run them.  The school then used its surplus power to charge cell phones for a fee to earn money to purchase a printer/scanner/copier. A new building to house the school was started with labor and supplies donated by the community.  Thus started the Ketane Computer School. In June 2009, the Balcomb family donated two children’s laptops, unique computers designed by One Laptop Per Child, to Nohana Primary School, immediately adjacent to the Ketane Computer School.  In 2010, 48 more of these laptops were delivered to the school. A gas generator-powered electrical system was installed to charge and run the laptops, and a network server was set up. All the teachers and the principal at Nohana Primary participated in three weeks of intensive training on the computers.  They now run the computer school and also teach their primary school students using the computers in the classroom.  Even with just 50 computers so far for over nearly 400 students, they have already seen improvement in the students’ language skills, increased enthusiasm for learning, near perfect attendance, and better behavior. They now receive strong support from parents, who even permit their children to attend during the harvest when they are needed in the fields. The school asked if there was a way to get more of the special kids’ laptops, and that request gave birth to this project.  In the following months, founders Andrew Dernovsek and Janissa Balcomb recruited seven more team members and developed goals and objectives with an eye toward laying a strong foundation for what will hopefully be a long-term, community-run project.  They set up a website and started a blog to serve as a step-by-step record of our work. School officials and the Ketane local council committed to supply labor, services, and some of the materials.  This contribution is a huge sacrifice because most of the people live at or near the subsistence level.  The school held a contest for the students to name the project and design a logo. We have raised over $10,00 in donations and pledges.  We have acquired 50 used laptops.  We partnered with several organizations who are providing support and/or funding, including BLOOM Africa, Friends of Lesotho, Peace Corps/Lesotho, School Technology Innovation Center, Family Literacy Lesotho, and Foundation for International Partnership Exchange (FIPE).  FIPE agreed to fund a professional exchange to bring one of our Basotho team members to the U.S. to observe and train with teachers in Colorado.  In November 2010, we will be (1) setting up the network and internet infrastructure solar power system (2) distributing 53 laptops to 6th grade students, teachers, and a school computer lab (3) training teachers and working to incorporate the laptop activities into the existing curriculm, and (4) working with the local community. Our organization has earned the GuideStar.org Exchange Seal transparency and proactive information disclosure.
Target demographics: Primary school-age children in Ketane, Lesotho Lesotho is a mountainous kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa.  It is one of the poorest nations in the world.  The terrain is rugged, there are few roads, and many villages are isolated and only accessible by foot or horseback.  The mountain soils are poor, and only about 10% of the land is arable.  Winters are harsh with snow and frequent sub-freezing temperatures. Lesotho has the third highest rate of HIV/AIDS and the fourth highest rate of drug-resistant TB in the world, resulting in an average life expectancy of just 36 years.  The twin epidemics have had devastating effects on family structure, making life extraordinarily challenging for Lesotho’s children.  A large number of today’s children have lost one or both parents.  Some orphans are raised by grandparents, while others live in homes with a child as the head of the house. Primary education is free in Lesotho, but because of responsibilities at home, some children are unable to attend school.  Secondary education is not free, and many students cannot afford it. Ketane is a small, very remote community in the Mohales Hoek District of southwestern Lesotho.  The primary source of income is cattle ranching and raising sheep and goats for wool.  There are two chiefs and a local council who govern the area a well as an active widows association called Diamonds of Ketane. Nohana Primary School currently has 370 students in grades 1-7 and nine teachers.  The teachers’ English ranges from conversant to fluent, and the sixth and seventh grade students are sufficiently fluent in English to be able to use existing computers without translation of the interface into Sesotho.
Direct beneficiaries per year: In 2010, 25 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students were designated as student leaders and received extra training with the laptops. Nine teachers and a principal received extensive computer training. All the primary school students will have access to the computers at school and the upper grade students are permitted to take them home. Parents and guardians have benefitted by improved behavior of their children at home.
Geographic areas served: Lesotho, southern Africa
Programs: Our Treasure Highland Computer Project at Nohana Primary School in Ketane, Mohale's Hoek District, Lesotho, Africa.
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Community Reviews

Rating: 5 stars  

Laptops to Lesotho is a nonprofit organization founded by my aunt, Janissa Balcomb. After donating two laptops to a school in Lesotho, they asked if there was any way to get more because the laptops were so well received. Janissa started by looking into the OLPC grant program, which at the time seemed to be the perfect opportunity to deliver 100 more laptops to the students at Nohana Primary School. Janissa invested a lot of time communicating with the community in Lesotho, organizing volunteers, researching the laptops and necessary technology, and laying groundwork for the project in hopes of being awarded an OLPC grant. After several months, we realized the requirements for the OLPC grant program had changed, and we would not be eligible to receive grant money from them. Instead of giving up, Janissa forged ahead, creating this nonprofit organization Laptops to Lesotho so that the project could continue. The entire Laptops to Lesotho team is hard working and incredibly dedicated to this project. Through our combined efforts, the students at Nohana Primary School will receive their own laptops which will give them access to a better education and a better future. The best part about this organization, in my opinion, is how community-driven it is. The idea for more laptops came from the community, community members are actively involved in the project, and the entire organization will eventually be run completely by members of the community.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

the many connections we have made within the community in Lesotho and with other similarly minded individuals, teams, and nonprofits. It's amazing the number of opportunities that have arisen from these connections.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

enthusiastic, excited, and imaginative! They have accomplished a lot in a short period of time.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every week

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010-9-01

 
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Rating: 5 stars  

13 people found this review helpful

I was a PCV in Lesotho from 2007-09. When I first arrived at Ketane, a group of teachers approached me and asked me if I would please teach them computers because they and their students were lacking skills and far behind others from big cities. Living in remote Ketane, which is a 10 hour taxi from the capital, I thought they were joking. Eventually, the idea grew. 7 months later we were all crowded around my laptop in my small mud hut learning the basics of computers because an area bishop had given me a small solar panel for the project. This eventually grew into the first ever computer school in the area and the school now has a large 120w solar panel and 4 computers for approximately 300 children. Of course this is not enough! Janissa Balcomb, a RPCV from Lesotho formed a non-profit to build this computer school and others like it around Lesotho. Even the few laptops we have distributed now have made such an amazing impact in the students' lives and their educational level. I have seen it firsthand!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

I have seen the children first hand. Last summer, one class of students gave up their break, and their parents allowed them to miss their traditional household duties so that they could take extra computer classes.

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

Seeing the joy in a child's face as they explore something new.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

All of the Basotho teachers at Ketane were wonderful and great friends.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

Ha, we're not ready for 10 million yet! Maybe in a few years. We could use about 40,000 a year to help expand the project and reach more schools.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every week

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010-5-01

 
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Rating: 5 stars  

5 people found this review helpful

We are a small young organization but we have already made significant strides in improving the lives of the children in Ketane, Lesotho.

So what sets us apart, and why should you support our work? We have an amazingly talented group of volunteers who are tenacious, energetic, and passionate about our mission. Most have lived and worked in the Ketane community, so we have first-hand knowledge of the immense need for our help and the great potential for improvement, as well as the obstacles we face. We've seen what other aid organizations have tried, what has worked, and what hasn't, and we've learned from their mistakes.

We built a strong organizational foundation and integrated our work into the community at a pace the community is able to absorb and support. We have spent a great deal of time ensuring that the local community is completely engaged and directly invested in the success of this project. Local teachers and principals hold positions of leadership in our organization, and we mentor and train them so they can run the program effectively. We know from experience that this local support and participation is critical to making long-lasting changes.

We have worked with the teachers and the principal, helping them to write detailed rules and regulations for the project along with contracts and fine schedules that each teacher, student, and parent or guardian of a student must sign in order to participate in this program. These documents clarify exactly what each persons responsibilities are in addition to how they will benefit from the program.

We have spent time intensively training the teachers not only in computer skills but also how to use computers in the classroom to enhance the existing curriculum, and we are helping them develop lesson materials with the computers.

I hope you will give us a chance to continue the work we've started to help the children of Ketane.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

working directly with the teachers and principal at Nohana Primary School.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

recruit an administrative assistant.

Will you volunteer or donate to this organization beyond what is required of board members?

Definitely

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

Life-changing

Will you tell others about this organization?

Definitely

What is this organization's top short-term priority?

to strengthen the existing program at Nohana Primary School. We are doing this with more extensive computer training for teachers, grant-writing training for the principal and teachers, development of classroom materials, and distribution of more XO laptops to the school.

What is its top priority in the long run?

breaking the vicious cycle of illiteracy, poverty, and disease that lead to early death by providing high-quality education and job skills to children in rural Lesotho.

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2011

 
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