Every email has a silver lining


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a Zine article by Chuck Schwartz

For the past two months I have been volunteering to help support new users of the OLPC XO computer as a member of what is termed the Support Gang. This gang, a loose association of over fifty volunteers, is the main contact point for new laptop users to the OLPC project. Membership is incredibly diverse ranging from 14 year old students to college professors. And it’s working. Issues and challenges associated with the fulfillment of orders from the Give One Get One program notwithstanding, people on the Laptop Support Gang are helping people solve their problems and to feel good about the project.

But nothing compares with the good feelings that came to me by being able to help out Casey get his laptop.

Casey was a recent college graduate from a Midwest University starting a two year Peace Corps posting in Uganda in early February. He contacted the Support Gang, as so many others had, to try to find out when his laptop ordered from the Give One Get One program would arrive. Only one problem. Casey had ordered his laptop on the last day of the program, meaning that his laptop would be one of the last to ship some time in March. By then it would be impossible for him to get his equipment.

Many people at OLPC and on the gang tried to figure out how to help this young man without success. There was just no equipment available. But then with less than a week before Casey was leaving a solution was found. Karen, a teacher in New York, had contacted the OLPC support gang asking questions about the laptop she had just received and whether it might be appropriate for her donating to a local preschool.

I jumped into keyboard action. Why couldn’t Karen hold up on donating the laptop to the preschool for about one month, “lend” Casey her laptop and then his family send his to her when it arrives? I contacted her and it worked. Casey is now in Uganda with his XO and Karen will be getting another computer for the preschool. Plus Karen is now considering taking an active role in building content for the laptops in early reading.

This exchange goes to the heart of what motivates me to participate in the laptop project. I am a business person. I’m incredibly busy. I have strong family obligations. Why should I devote time that I have volunteering for this project? I am motivated by stories such as this one, where people that will probably never meet, have stepped up to help another for no other reason that it made sense and was a good thing to do.

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