OLPCorps MIT Mauritania Bababe Project Specifics

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Note: Our team worked in close collaboration with the MIT Mauritania Kaedi team. We were orginally one team, but decided to go to two locations to have a greater impact on the children of Mauritania. Thus, we may have some overlap in general trip details, although our proposals are distinct.

Communication (Language)

  • Pulaar and Hassaniya are the two main languages in Bababé
  • Zach will work with us throughout the 10 weeks--he knows the local language
  • Zach has three volunteers fairly close to him: 2 that speak Pulaar and one Hassaniya
  • The locals are usually very patient with foreigners
  • Since we will be working in the south, students may be better in French than in Arabic
  • We will teach in French and hold English classes
  • Pulaar is written using the Latin alphabet
  • Classes are taught in both Arabic and French. We could consider the idea of pasting Arabic symbols on keys on some laptops, to be used when writing in Arabic for humanities classes.

Community Involvement

Suggested that we:

  • Form a small development committee within the community that will help us oversee the deployment
    • We will want to make a very specific outline for the group
    • Specify a variety of religions, make sure that no group dominates the development project
    • There's a strong power structure in rural areas

Things we have been warned to watch out for during deployment:

  • Be cautious of involvement of local government
  • Communities are often very male-centric in terms of education.
  • Culture is of children being talked at, not taught to think for themselves
  • There is always a transition between academic concepts (constructivist education) and reality
    • For successful integration, we will need to maintain a flexible, open attitude towards the project
  • We're coming before the rainy season (throughout July--probably come around July 20th) and the fields don't need protecting until sometime in September
  • World Vision is another organization that works in that area. They organize a lot of children's activities.

Community Relations

  • Customary to have a ceremonial welcoming party to feed the whole village
    • A sheep ~ 25,000um (can feed 10 people)
    • 10-15 pounds of potatoes ~2,500um; onions ~1,800um (40 people)
    • Zrig (camel/goat milk)
  • Peace Corps has an established reputation in Mauritania (been there for 40 years)
    • They speak the local languages, live with communities for a 2 year period.
    • The government accepts the work that the Peace Corps does (Peace Corps has memorandum of understanding with government)


  • In the Moor culture, men go work for nine months away from their families and then come back for a few months.
  • The community network is very big
  • One of the traditions of Mauritanian culture is that whatever the kids bring back is the family's. The kids don't get to keep anything.
    • Parents would take XOs and sell them or use them as displays, so we need to talk to them about child and school ownership.
  • Illegal to drink alchol, drink a lot of tea (Chinese green tea often makes a good gift)
  • Sex is openly discussed among women

Educational Curriculum

  • We can integrate Zach's environmental teachings into the curricula
  • We will work with Harvard OLPC team that is deploying in Cambridge, MA
    • Working with the children will help us with our lesson plans
  • We will also work with Deborah Donohue (donohued@worc.k12.ma.us), a teacher in Cambridge who instructs teachers how to utilize computers in developing lesson plans.

Educational Curriculum in Mauritania

  • Qur'an studies
  • Schools are taught in French and Arabic-- all kids are taught every day in 2 languages, with neither Arabic nor French as their native language (they speak an Arabic dialect)
    • Subjects taught in French: Math, science, French language, physics, chemistry
    • Subjects taught in English: English language
    • Subjects taught in Arabic: history, religious studies, philosophy, civics, geography

Educational System

  • Educational system is comparatively strong in Bababé compared to the rest of Mauritania: the school director cares about the schools
  • In many cases though, Governmental corruption hinders education in public schools
    • School directors are placed in their positions and are known for selling books, desks, etc. that are supposed to go to the children. Nothing makes it to the kids.
    • For example, every few years, the national institute of pedagogy will rewrite text books. They were supposed to given to schoolchildren for free. All books ended up on black market and people had to pay for them.
  • Education is valued in Mauritania. In surveys done, the 2 things people want for kids is computer training and girls education.
  • Not many girls continue on to higher education: they are often expected to have families at the age of 12-14. They also have to take a test at the end of high school that determines whether or not they can go to universities.
  • Kids can't afford pens and pencils and books, so a lot of education is based on memorization
  • The government has tried new laws in schools:
    • kids aren't allowed to be menial laborers or be beaten
  • One of the biggest problems is that teachers are unhappy
    • They are randomly assigned to posts/teaching positions
    • If they do not integrate well into the community, they often just do not show up to class or have lesson plans at all
  • Kids in rural places often go to school part-time
    • They are often required to do work part-time, so there will be 12-year-olds in 2nd grade who are illiterate. There is a large range of the level of education of children.
      • We will work with Zach to determine the kids we should work with
  • Many volunteers in Bababé are teachers: they teach English, health, and environmental education. We can work with them to incorporate their teachings into our program.
  • One of the most useful things to people is internet access:
    • People can look up practical information like nutrition information of the animals.
  • During the summer, local teachers will probably be elsewhere in the country (where their family is)
    • Want to have Mauritanians as involved as possible

Electricity and Power

  • Installed 2 diesel generators 6 months ago
  • Electricity is only available from noon to midnight
  • Major fluctuations in power --> Need regulators (220V)
    • Should buy regulators in Nouakchott, Mauritania (heavy and inconvenient to fly over)
  • They are still installing lines: costs 20,000 um to install a new line to a house
  • Potential glitches on getting electricity we should budget for: running more lines, necessary maintenance
  • The rate for electricity is 65um/kwhr
  • Complications with the electricity bill: taxes, fixed rates (which change every two months)
  • Peace Corps volunteers will handle this when we leave, although we will continue to provide financial support.


  • Fairly expensive, because 80% food is imported, especially vegetables
  • $10-12 / day
  • Rice predominates diet

Ground Contact in Bababé


  • Environmental educator in primary schools (teaches about planting trees, pollution)
  • Holds two environmental clubs (25 kids each)
  • Works with teachers on integrating environmental themes into lessons, so he will be able to help us in integrating the XOs into the lessons as well.
  • Has influence in Bababé community: they are very supportive of the work he does
  • Will be able to rally community interest in this project

Health Information

OLPCorps MIT Mauritania Bababe Health


  • From an international development expert: the belief that we should focus on food and water for the communities before education is a very western, slightly condescending thought. The internet and the sheer quantity of information we can bring to the community will have unexpected benefits (social, economical, personal, etc.) even if they don't yet have the infrastructure to make the most impact possible.
    • Look at places like India and China--internet in rural communities.
    • Rural communities will utilize this information very creatively
      • Nigeria--mobile phones are used in very unexpected ways (text messages about fishing conditions, for example)


To make use of the free satellite internet made available by World Vision, we will have to set up our own wireless routers to propogate the signal.



  • Can stay with volunteers
    • However should still provide some sort of financial support: 15,000um


  • Dress like the locals
  • Long sleeves and long pants
  • We will need to buy clothes there
    • Ladies: wrap skirts
      • Material is sold in 6 m length (<2000 um, $8-10)
      • One wrap skirt takes 2 m. 1 shirt takes $2 to make
      • $6 to make full outfit (tailoring), which takes 6 m of material
      • Don't have to wear veil in Pulaar area, since it's obvious we're foreigners.
      • Shirts: 2 m. $2-4 to make. $4-5 to make guy's button-down.
    • Guys wear khaki, grey, black pants
  • Volunteers typically own 2/3 outfits, can wear each 2-3x before washing.
  • Should get all this clothing made in Bababé/Kaedi
  • The Peace Corps has salvation army-type things for volunteers' unwanted outfits


  • Mobile phone communication in country is pretty good and cheap
  • Can buy SIM card for $8 and phone credit/ month < $16
  • Will always be able to text


  • Ouguiya (UM), about 260um~$1
  • Should carry cash: Euros and US dollars

Location of Deployment

  • Réseau de Jeunesse youth center in Bababé

Potential Collaborators

Harvard OLPC

  • Is working on a CFS XO deployment starting April 1st in Cambridge, MA to 6th graders in a local elementary school
  • They would be willing to let us help with the deployment, giving us experience with working with the XOs as teaching tools
  • They are developing the curriculum on a weekly basis, could send us their lesson plans. We can evaluate the reception by the kids
  • We can also help them with lesson plans, try out ideas of our own

Technical Details

  • Computers: we won't distribute all of the XOs--we will keep 5 as back-up in case one breaks

Transportation of XOs

  • OLPC is shipping with UNICEF, will ship to Nouakchott.
  • We will pick them up at Nouakchott and take via van to Bababé
  • From Dakar to Rosso budget $40
  • Rosso to Nouakchott $50 per proposal
  • Nouakchott to Bababé $120 for all 4
  • Extra money for transport $20/week


  • Road is paved--no problems with flooding
  • 40 km to Boghe and Kaedi miles--an hour in each direction
  • There is public transportation between all the cities
  • Fly to Senegal first: crossing through Rosso into Mauritania is most convenient
  • Flight details are available in our budget


  • Country director will write letter directly to Mauritanian Embassy, give ourselves a month.
  • We should apply for the 3 month multi-entry visa for $77
  • Visa Requirements
  • We should send in passports and applications asap to the Mauritanian Embassy in Washington DC

Mauritania Embassy, US 2129 Leroy Place DC 20008 Washington USA

  • Phone: +1-202-232-5700
  • Fax: +1-202-319-2623