OLPCorps UIUC SaoTome


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Images from Illinois community informatics work in São Tomé, 2008


Small Step: Project summary

Students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) propose to implement the OLPC project June 8 – August 7, 2009, called Small Step. The team which includes computer-savvy undergraduates who have participated in service learning activities, proposes to actively engage São Toméan girls aged 9-12 by providing essential computer literacy skills and experiential learning as citizen scientists/journalists.

STeP UP, an NGO based in São Tomé e Príncipe devoted to the principles of self-help development, will be the team's local partner. In addition, UIUC staff will provide logistical support during their stay on the island as part of a larger [scholarship of engagement project|http://saotomeproject.wordpress.com/]. Further, several UIUC students, as part of [a service learning course project|http://courseweb.lis.uiuc.edu/~mwolske/lis451/], will work with the Teachers College in São Tomé to set up a computer lab and to help integrate technology, including XO laptops, and informatics into the curriculum.

Team member biographics

Small Step team members are undergraduate students at the University of Illinois who are minoring in informatics, a discipline devoted to applied computer science and the effect of information technology on people. These students also have a strong interest in helping Africans build computing infrastructure and training them to effectively use computers as tools of community empowerment.

  • Project lead Corey Jackson, International Studies major, Informatics minor, BS 2010

Corey has worked in youth recreational programs for the Chicago Park District. At UIUC, he has served as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and Volunteer Illini Projects, the university’s community service organization. He manages databases and writes computer applications for the University of Illinois’ Office of Minority Student Affairs. He has spent time in China and France and speaks French.

  • Infrastructure lead Michael Stein, Urban Planning major, Informatics minor, BS 2010

Michael will use his experience, owning and working in a computer repair shop in suburban Chicago, to help set up and manage the server, repair existing computer labs on the island, and train teachers and children on XO laptop use. He will also use his photography skills to integrate geotagged photos into a digital map for an Illinois-led community mapping project on the island. Michael has several leadership roles at the UIUC including Public Relations Chairman and Section Leader of the Illini Drumline, and Web Committee Chair of both the Student Planning Organization and the Marching Illini.

  • Education lead Ashley Adams

This fall Ashley will be starting her first year at Truman State University. She will major in Romance Languages and minor in International Studies. She has a disposition towards service to others and have worked extensively with service agencies in my community. She has also spent the past two summers in São Tomé West Africa with University of Illinois students. There she have taught English as a second language and learned Portuguese.

  • Technical lead Chika Umeadi, Political Science major, Informatics minor, BS 2010

Chika is a technology consultant for Applied Technologies for Learning in the Arts and Sciences, the university's administrative computer services support organization. He is also a site supervisor for the Illinois Mentor Program, a volunteer service-learning organization that mentors children in the Champaign community. Chika is fluent in Ibo and has intermediate knowledge of French.

  • GSLIS Representative Danielle Ross

Danielle has served as a volunteer working at a local Urbana school art department with grades 4-6. Currently at UIUC, she is working alongside a professor to help conduct research on how GIS can be used in impoverished neighborhoods to strengthen community networks and increase technological awareness. She has studied Pre-Apartheid African history and has taken other supplementary African history courses. Danielle has studied and gained intermediate knowledge of Spanish for 5 years.


June 8 - August 7, 2009


The Small Step project will take place on the island nation of São Tomé e Príncipe located in the Atlantic about 150 miles northwest of Gabon.


The project will involve the distribution of XO laptops to girls age 9-12 located in urban and rural areas throughout the six political districts of São Tomé. Student team members will collaborate in part with University of Illinois [youth community informatics project|http://yci.illinois.edu/] in the U.S., which seeks to actively engage youth in their communities to take on their most pressing needs. Training will focus both on essential computer literacy skills as well as experiential learning as citizen scientists/journalists. As citizen scientists, girls will develop critical inquiry skills and learn scientific research tools and methods, including geographic information systems, through engaged exploration to bring about positive change in their community. They will have the opportunity to work with University researchers to study and help their community meet its goals as action researchers. As journalists they will be taught essential interview and storytelling skills using projects that encourage them to interview their elders, create written and multimedia oral histories, and tell the rich history and present situations of their country and communities.

The children are in school until mid-July. School is held in the morning. The first month of implementation will take place in the afternoons. Once school is dismissed for the year, training will be offered in the morning as well.

Partner organization

Our local partner will be [STeP UP|http://www.stepup.st/], an NGO that works with grassroots organizations to develop and facilitate community development projects. STeP UP has a history of project implementation and has full support from the national government. STeP UP’s director is São Tomé’s former Peace Corps director. In past collaborations between STeP UP and the University, the project imported 100 computer systems stored at STeP UP’s facilities. This year, the University has been given permission by the Prime Minister to import technology equipment duty free.


São Tomé has few resources to devote to technology or computer literacy. These laptops will enhance São Toméan education and provide new avenues for learning, especially in the rural areas where the quality of education is significantly less than in urban centers. Per the São Tomé cultural lexicon, “everyone is my cousin,” these laptops will be shared with other children. In São Tomé 48% of the population is under the age of 14. Many girls do not advance beyond primary school because of responsibilities in the home. Because this targeted group is part of STeP UP’s educational program, the Small Step program will encourage parents to allow their daughters to advance in school.


STeP UP and the University of Illinois will provide future support for this project. STeP UP will monitor XO usage, provide additional training, and continue to provide financial support for the educational advancement of this group of girls. The University sends student/faculty teams annually to São Tomé where they participate in service learning projects based on technology and informatics. OLPC will be incorporated into future projects, providing maintenance support and teaching these girls additional applications of technology. The intent is to follow them through young adulthood, to build on their knowledge base, and to see how the laptops are incorporated into their lives.


The primary language of São Tomé is Portuguese with French spoken by many citizens. Team members will take a two-week intensive primer of Portuguese. Some University staff in São Tomé on other projects during this time have proficiency in Portuguese. STeP UP staff traveling with the team speak English.

Budget narrative

  • Airfare: $11,800

Two team members will fly to Kigali and then travel through Europe. Other team members will meet them in Europe to fly into São Tomé. Costs for the Kigali team are estimated at $3,500 each. Other member airfare is estimated at $2,400 each.

  • Sao Tome Lodging: $2,400

Renting a house is most cost effective and should be about $1,000/month, with about $200/month for utilities.

  • Meals: $3,600

We plan to purchase food in the market place and prepare it at home. Estimated cost is $15/person/day for 60 days.

  • Transportation: $1,000

A minibus or taxi with driver can be rented by the day. Four-wheel vehicles can be rented through a local dealer. A STeP UP truck can be used for computer delivery. Bus transportation is also available.

  • Communications: $200

Local cell phones will be provided by STeP UP. Minutes will be purchased.

  • Visa and Exit Fee: $360

Visa fee is $70. Exit fee is $20.

  • Immunizations: $500

Yellow fever vaccinations are required. Malaria suppressants are highly recommended (costs vary widely depending on personal health insurance).


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