OLPCorps HarvardMIT Namibia

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OLPCORPS: HARVARD & MIT (NAMIBIA)

Team

Lebônê Solutions is a social enterprise founded in 2007 by Harvard and MIT students and graduates who are either from, or care deeply about, Africa. Incubated in the Harvard Idea Translation Lab, itself a proponent of experiential learning, our team has strong backgrounds in engineering and in teaching children. Lebônê has a $200,000 grant from the World Bank / IFC Development Marketplace to distribute our fuel cell technology in Namibia, and we are commencing a 2 year community-centered project this summer.

Project & Impact

Our team proposes to launch "The Energy Game" at a rural school in Okahandja, Namibia this June-August. Working with our partner NGO, Namibia Connection Youth Network, and liaising with a WorldTeach volunteer, we will give 100 XO laptops to all the 5th and 6th grade (age 11–12) students. During their social and natural science classes and afterschool, they will use the XO laptops as portals with which to conduct learning explorations on how electricity is produced, the different ways it can be harnessed naturally, how light is created and transmitted, etc. As part of this learning process, they will build and test their own microbial fuel cells, with the help of Lebônê members, and use it to power LED lights. Then, they will move into the social science realm, and study local trends of energy usage in their community and/or a neighboring one, map out financial and social needs, and imagine the potential benefits of technology in Africa. Using their XO laptops as multimedia tools, they will be able to interview local residents, conduct surveys and questionnaires, create maps, photo albums, and videos, brainstorm ideas, and even come up with business plans. At the end of their project period, keeping their laptops, they will work with Lebônê members to implement some of their creative plans and see their ideas realized and tested in action -- using energy technology to catalyze entrepreneurship in an off-grid community. Pending demand, our engineers will also help the proud new technologists understand basic coding. Encouraging the children to work in teams with friends, and we will put the entire project in the context of a competitive game (adapted from a local game) that will engage, thrill and challenge them.

Our proposed project will empower children to actively direct and construct their education in ways that are exciting and immediately relevant to them -- from the game to the real world, from the science experiment to the working device, from the raw data to the stories and pictures, from the business plan to the dollars and cents. Students will learn about energy technology and get a sense for entrepreneurship. They will emerge with greater confidence and enthusiasm for learning, a love of conservation and environmental stewardship, and a taste of the exciting possibilities for their future careers. "The Energy Game" will give children the freedom to imagine future success, to understand and interact with a growing world of technology, and to become agents of change for their homes and their country.

Local Partner

Namibia Connection Youth Network (NCYN) led by Simon P. Iipinge, is an NGO based in Windhoek that one of our team members co-founded. The organization is dedicated to empowering Namibia's youth as the country’s future leaders and social entrepreneurs, with a specific focus on education. They have storage space to receive the OLPC shipment, and extensive knowledge of and access to the Okahandja site. We will work specifically with a team of NCYN volunteers who are college students at the University of Namibia (UNAM), specializing in social work, education, and other related fields.

Financial Sustainability

Lebônê has a long-term commitment to rural Namibia (our World Bank grant continues through August 2010), ensuring the continuation of the project beyond the summer. Our grant covers all housing, food, and transportation costs within Namibia, as well as airfare to Namibia. Moreover, WorldTeach has expressed interest in assigning volunteers to this project in the future, thus giving the project extra manpower and educational expertise that can be sustained over time.

Communication

English is official language of school instruction, and students in Namibia are in school during the June-August period. Half of our team is from Africa and all of us have worked there. Zoe spent a year with WorldTeach Namibia teaching primary-school age children and learning Oshiwambo. Stephen speaks Swahili fluently and has taught Tanzanian children age 10-13 math and science. Hugo, a native speaker of Afrikaans and proficient in German, is from South Africa and has family connections in Namibia.

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