Sunday, May 10, 2009


As most of you have heard by now, I am a part of a team of 4 other students who applied for an internship with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). OLPC is an international organization with the idea that by giving kids laptops and the tools to educate themselves, they will be able to bring themselves out of poverty (similar to give a man a fish he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for life).

This is the first year that OLPC has offered this program and it involves giving selected teams $10,000, 100 XO laptops and 1 server (to be installed at a school). They want teams to pick a country where they will deploy with the equipment and work with an existing non-profit on location who can maintain the program after teams leave. All teams are required to have a deployment of 8-10 weeks, two members of each team must attend a 10 day kick-off and training session in Kigali, Rwanda and one member of each team must attend a convention in October at MIT to present a report about the project.

Our team applied to deploy in Sao Tome, an island off the west coast of Africa. Sao Tome is about the size of Champaign County with a population of 157,000. The country was colonized by the Portuguese and gained their independence in the mid 1970's. The primary language is Portuguese with a secondary language of French and a tertiary language of English. The country is dominantly Roman Catholic. Sao Tome has rich agricultural resources and lots of oil surrounding the country in the ocean, however the country lacks the technical skills and the financial backing to grow. The University of Illinois has been sending teams to the country for the past 5 years installing computer labs, training teachers and students to use the computers, and maintaining existing computer labs. I had planned to go on one of the U of I projects for approximately 4 weeks, but when the OLPC opportunity came about, I switched with the full support of the group organizing the shorter trip.

Our team is:

  • Corey Brian Jackson - Project Lead

  • Corey is a Junior at the University and originally found the opportunity. He will be traveling to Rwanda with me.

  • Michael Stein - Infrastructure Lead

  • I'm going to be responsible for finding power and internet solutions as well as managing any hardware problems we encounter.

  • Chika Charles Umeadi - Technical Lead

  • Chika is a Junior at the University and has lived in Nigeria. He works for the University's computer department and will help manage technical problems

  • Ashley Adams - Cultural Lead/ Portuguese Speaker

  • Ashley is a Senior in high school and the daughter of my boss at PrairieNET. Ashley has traveled to Sao Tome before and is a strong Portuguese speaker

  • Danielle Ross - GIS Mapping Project

  • Danielle is a Junior at the University and received an internship with a GIS (geographic information systems) professor who planned a research project on island this summer. She will assist our project and enhance it by incorporating a mapping aspect to the project.

Last Tuesday night we found out that our team has been selected for the trip. Wednesday we had a meeting to finalize our commitment and we have started to book our flights. Please see the attached image to visualize the trip. My itinerary is:

My flight path. Green is part 1, yellow is part 2 and red is part 3. See the note for a listing of exactly where, when and on which airlines.

    Part 1 - Chicago to Kigali - Green
  • Chicago to London

  • Virgin Atlantic - June 5th

  • London to Amsterdam

  • KLM - June 6th

  • Amsterdam to Nairobi

  • KLM - June 6th/7th

  • Nairobi to Kigali

  • KLM - June 7th

    Part 2 - Kigali to Sao Tome - Yellow
  • Kigali to Nairobi

  • Kenyan Air - June 17th

  • Nairobi to London

  • Kenyan Air - June 17th/18th

  • London to Lisbon

  • British Airways - June 18th

  • Lisbon to Sao Tome

  • TAP or STP Airways - June 18th/19th

    Part 3 - Sao Tome to Chicago - Red
  • Sao Tome to Lisbon

  • TAP or STP Airways - August 10th (Happy Birthday to Me!)

  • Lisbon to London

  • British Airways - August 11th

  • London to Chicago

  • Virgin Atlantic - August 12th

Yes, I am nervous that our luggage will be lost . We are using London as our hub because the only reliable way to enter Sao Tome is through Lisbon, a short trip from London and the only reliable way to get to Rwanda is through London.

When we arrive on island we will spend the first week meeting the government officials (Prime Minister, Minister of Education, possibly the President, etc.), meeting our local partner, STeP UP, and taking inventory of the laptop shipment. Corey and I will update the rest of the team with any additional information we received in Rwanda. We will stay at a house we will rent for the duration of our trip. The country's library is located within walking distance of the house and has internet access where I will be able to send emails but it is unlikely the connection will be strong enough to Skype.

Over the next 6 weeks, we will be traveling throughout the island to each of the 6 districts where we will choose a school to deploy a set of laptops. Some of the schools we go to might not have power which would in turn mean they do not have internet. We are looking for affordable ways to charge the laptops using solar power. Even though the island is relatively small, because of the road conditions it will take approximately 2-3 hours to reach some parts of the island. We will be staying overnight on different parts of the island to reduce travel times and fuel costs.

The final week will be the hand off from our organization to the local partner. Once I return, I will have a few days to readjust to the timezone before I head to school on the 16th for section leader training and band camp.

I am getting very excited for the excursion but I am nervous of the security risks which I will face. I will be taking a two week course to jump start my Portuguese knowledge before we deploy. I hope this has answered many of your questions and feel free to forward it to anyone you think might be interested in the trip. I will be keeping a blog during the trip and will let you know how to find it before I leave. Feel free to ask me any questions.

11 Flights
7 Countries
5 Airlines
3 Continents
1 Team

Our proposal can be found here:

-XO Mike

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mike,

    I am a student at Masconomet Regional High School in Topsfield, Massachusetts. I have started a club at Masconomet called the Global Initiative Volunteers (GIV) Club, which focuses on introducing high school students to international philanthropy. Our current mission is to raise funds for the personal delivery of 100 XO Laptops to students in Africa. We hope to deliver the laptops to a school (potentially in Ghana) in February 2011. Our goal is to donate about 100 XO laptops to the school and to personally teach the students and teachers how to use them, including repair techniques.
    I understand that your group has undergone the deployment of XO laptops. As our deployment is going to be powered by solar power in a village where there is no previous internet access, I would like ask you how you accomplished setting up the internet. Any advice or method, along with the cost of maintaining the internet connection would extremely helpful to organizing our deployment to Africa. My email address is

    Brooke Marchewka