OLPCorps UPenn Mauritania
The mission of One Laptop Per Child, from their website, is:
To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.
Our team embodies the mission of our parent organization, but we've extended it to include a set of complementary core principles:
- Social and economic empowerment of youth learned from the priniciples of micro-enterprise and entrepreneurship
- Local community input for the design and implementation of this OLPC program to ensure long-term support and sustainability
- Focus on young women in Mauritania since they are underserved by the education system
 Jay Parekh, Project Coordinator & Technical Lead
Jay Parekh is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania graduating in May with his Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering. During his time at Penn, he has been actively involved in development and education as President of the student organization Penn Engineers Without Borders (PennEWB). He has designed and implemented a small-scale water distribution system in Cameroon and a pit latrine sanitation system in Honduras. In the Philadelphia region, he spearheaded an initiative to work with inner-city high school kids to design and build “sustainable” technologies, such as a biodiesel reactor, in order to provide a segue from the classroom to field and interest them in science and engineering. Additionally, he has consulted NGO Power Up Gambia to generate technical and financial feasibility models for their solar panel system to show potential investors.
 Haresh Tilani, Pedagogical Lead & Political Lead
Haresh Tilani is a Senior at the University of Pennsylvania graduating in May with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the Wharton School of Business. Prior to attending the University of Pennsylvania, he served as a Lieutenant in the Singapore Armed Forces for 26 months. During his time at Penn, he participated actively in developmental projects, and was the Vice-President of the student organization Penn Engineers Without Borders (PennEWB). Together with a team of students, he worked to design and implement a small-scale water distribution system in Cameroon and a pit latrine sanitation system in Honduras. Apart from this endeavor with PennEWB, he has also worked as a school teacher in a rural village in Nepal and helped to build houses for orphans in Swaziland. In the summer of 2008, he interned with Africare, South Africa, coordinated the development of local micro-enterprises.
 Peace Corps Mauritania
We will be partnering with Peace Corps Mauritania and their Girls Mentoring Centers (GMC), an initiative established in 2000 and designed to address the 7.3% graduation rate amongst Mauritanian women. Peace Corps Mauritania is one of the largest Peace Corps programs in Africa, with approximately 130 active volunteers today. There are 22 GMCs that serve over 1000 students across the country.
We are a team of two from the University of Pennsylvania excited at the potential for the XO laptop to empower youth around the globe. For this project, we will be working in the north-central part of Mauritania, in the Adrar region. This area is sparsely populated with isolated villages that have little access to the outside world. We will be partnering with Peace Corps Mauritania and their Girls’ Mentoring Centers (GMC).
We have identified two rural GMCs outside the regional capital of Atar, one in Tawaz and one in Ain Ehil Taya. The 40-45 students at each will be saturated with the XO laptops. During the summer months, school will not be in session. However, according to the manager of the schools, arranging to have students come back to the Center 3-5 times a week will be easily feasible. In the rural areas, the local language is Hassaniya. Our team does not speak this Arabic dialect, but we’ll enter into the community with a Peace Corp Volunteer (PCV) who does. By partnering with the PCVs, we leverage the trust and respect they’ve developed with community members.
Our main goal is to empower Mauritanian youth while simultaneously increasing their technical fluency. To do this, we will teach entrepreneurship principles and have students form teams to plan a micro-enterprise. This hands-on project will rely heavily on the use of the XO laptops for planning, modeling, and collaborating.
Initially, we will introduce the laptop to the children with a small project. Groups of children work together to create a short video highlighting their respective villages, which will be put online for others to see. There is little integration of the different ethnic groups in Mauritania, and encouraging these children to open up their homes and show the world how they live will be beneficial.
Next, we will spend six weeks developing students’ micro-enterprises. The curriculum will cover topics such as basic entrepreneurial and economic concepts, identifying opportunities, arithmetic, and basic accounting. Our curriculum will also include age-appropriate stories based on case studies of successful rural micro-enterprises both from within and outside the community. To view a draft of the curriculum in greater detail, please visit here, developed from a 1-year study by team-member Haresh for an independent study (found here). Students will also use a business simulator called JohnnyMoney, which was developed by a nonprofit organization to teach business skills. We plan to adapt this to the local currency, products, and environment.
The classes will then culminate as students integrate and apply the knowledge they gained by presenting to a panel of teachers and community members. This will be a key factor to assess the impact of the program and make suggestions for future deployments.
In order to ensure long-term sustainability of the deployment, we have enlisted the support of PCVs who serve as facilitators at the GMCs. These volunteers have been selected to oversee the operation of the GMCs, and have a stake in the success of any educational programs. Additionally, we will host focus groups with community leaders, teachers, parents, children, and other stakeholders to ensure that everyone has input in the deployment plan. If the need arises, we may form a small committee to oversee the long-term operation of the program and maintenance of the laptops.
While the GMCs are recognized by the ministry of education, the girls still attend local schools. These young women will act as ambassadors for the knowledge they gain through the use of the XO laptops. Additionally, we plan to work with older students from the GMC in the regional capital (45 minutes away) who already have computer experience. They will join us and serve as mentors for the younger children in the two rural GMCs.
To sustain the deployment after we leave, we will leave a budget for operation and maintenance. Part of this will be included in our deployment budget. Part of this will come from relevant funds (Innovation Fund, University Scholars), student organizations (Engineers Without Borders), and departments (African Studies). Another part will come from grants from foundations that have interests in computers or entrepreneurship, such as The Jim Mullen Foundation, The Kaufmann Foundation, and The Young Entrepreneur Foundation. Our team has experience successfully fundraising for rural infrastructure development projects, so we will leverage those contacts.
 Other Resources
- Our team's website
- Draft Curriculum
- Haresh's Independent Study entitled Basic Entrepreneurial Education for Rural Schools in the Least Developed Countries
- Peace Corps Mauritania