Michigan State University XO Deployment Initiative: Zonkizizwe

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Mission Statement

We believe that the children of Zonkizizwe, South Africa have the potential to become community leaders. However, numerous challenges to their growth and development daily threaten their ability to realize this potential. Our approach to education in this difficult setting paraphrases the Chinese philosopher Laozi: to lead from behind, to provide good soil in which the seeds of knowledge and empowerment can grow.


To equip the children of the Vumundzuku-bya Vana (VVOCF) center with tools to create and learn through the OLPCorps program.

Team Members

Name Concentration University Primary Contributions
John Simpkins* International Relations, Sci/Tech/Env Public Policy Michigan State University Political Coordination, Technological Development
Alexandra Carter* Comparative Cultures and Politics, Intl Development Michigan State University Pedagogical Method Development
Alex Hill* International Relations, Global Area Studies: Africa Michigan State University Logistical Coordination
Ryan Hagen Journalism Michigan State University Public Relations/Fundraising
Nicole Iaquinto Social Relations and Policy, African American and African Studies Michigan State University Proposal Consulting and Planning
Nathaniel Gray Master of Science in Information Candidate University of Michigan Technological Consulting

Team members traveling to Zonkizizwe are denoted by asterisks.



The Michigan State University XO Deployment Initiative proposes to empower at least 100 children through the application of OLPC’s educational model. Our primary goal is to help children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS to realize their full potential as future community leaders. We are excited to partner with Vumundzuku-bya Vana 'Our Children's Future' (VVOCF), a youth care center in Zonkizizwe, Katlehong, South Africa, to enhance their existing tutoring and educational programs through the addition of a comprehensive enrichment curriculum that incorporates XO laptops. We plan to work in Zonkizizwe from June 18th through August 21st 2009, following the orientation workshop in Kigali, Rwanda.

Community Background

Zonkizizwe is a peri-urban, informal settlement located on the southeastern periphery of Johannesburg, South Africa in Ekurhuleni Municipality. The community’s two primary schools teach a curriculum that requires fluency in English after Grade 4, and students are required to pass a rigorous English-based exam, the Matric, to receive a high school diploma. A large majority of students in Zonkizizwe cannot complete this exam due to an inadequate understanding of English. Zonkizizwe’s citizens primarily speak Zulu, one of South Africa’s eleven official languages. The VVOCF Center, founded in 2007, has been working to develop a tutoring program that complements the primary school education available in Zonkizizwe. This documentary is a good first step toward understanding the center’s surroundings and motivation.

Education Plan

In keeping with the constructionist philosophy of the XO/Sugar developers, we seek to empower the children of VVOCF by increasing their access to a variety of media and creative tools, allowing for innovation of expression and spurring creativity of thought and action. Lesson Plans will stimulate curiosity and encourage the children to seek answers and solutions that transcend traditional sources and methods. As learning coordinators, we will exist simply to guide students' own endeavors and support their creativity and inquisitiveness. Given this regular support during their time at VVOCF, students will be encouraged to use their XO laptops outside the classroom in order to expand proficiency in their required English-based curricular programming while lending the freedom for individual creative discovery. Students will be encouraged to use the XO's mesh networking capability to share their creations, thereby fostering cooperation and the generation of new ideas. From the stated purpose and objectives of VVOCF, our educational programming will complement the following goals:

  • Educate children on the high-risk behaviors prevalent in their community, especially those relating to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • Challenge children to identify problems within their community and offer solutions by working individually and as a team to address generational concerns.
  • Engage children on the dual challenges of gender and age inequalities within their community and encourage exploration on definitions of human rights. Promote the creative examination of ways to establish and ensure basic rights protections for future generations.
  • Encourage children to rethink their own concepts of education and teach them to consider the lessons gained outside the classroom to be as important as those gained in formal schooling. Build a program that helps to link these dual aspects through the exploration of logic. Utilize the resources of the Sugar OS and stored websites to enable children to explore and develop areas of interest.
  • Empower children to connect both education and knowledge to social and economic mobility and to break the cycle of poverty that inadequate education brings.

Projects of varying scope will take place under these several larger themes while maintaining an emphasis on collaboration between children and educators.

Sustainability and Support

Continuing support for the XO deployment in Zonkizizwe will be sustained by an already strong partnership with Michigan State University and various student groups on campus. VVOCF selects interns from a pool of MSU applicants each year; interns with experience or coursework in IT will be able to provide ongoing support for the initial deployment through the end-of-life stage. The Multi-Racial Unity Living Experience (MRULE) has been supporting the efforts of VVOCF for the past three years. In addition, the MSU chapter of SCOUT BANANA, which has already raised thousands of dollars for a variety of African healthcare initiatives, has adopted VVOCF as its current partner project. MSU's continued commitment to VVOCF has allowed the local organization to provide more enrichment programs and increasing levels of support to youth affected by HIV/AIDS in the Zonkizizwe area. These and other local partnerships will facilitate the continued impact of VVOCF's educational efforts and the XO deployment.


A projected budget can be found here: File:Projected Budget MSUXODI.pdf.

Lesson Plans

Long-Term Projects

  • VVOCF Website: Develop the existing Wordpress blog to include entries from the kids with their stories, poetry and other forms of self expression, interviews, graphics/animation, videos, short-term project feedback and updates, etc.
  • Web-pals: Use Jabber to chat with other students across the globe. Trade stories, history, etc. and share with your class. Keep each other informed about what you are learning in class and compare your lessons and experiences.
  • Oral history project: Construct a history by interviewing community members about important events in their lives and developing comparative perspectives on those landmark events.

Short-Term Projects

  • Reporting: have students pretend to write for the local newspaper. They will interview someone they think is important in their community, using text or video. Articles could be published on the website, with the student's choice of pictures, formatting, etc.
  • Make a map: each student uses Paint and photos to map their community. They can exchange maps with others, maybe make it a quest for "treasure" at the end of the path. This will also need geometry/math skills, as an exercise of proportion and distance, and could incorporate appropriate programs on the laptops.
  • Animation: have students in groups prepare a set of images, and write a corresponding story. Trade images with another group, and write a story for theirs. Afterward, have groups share their created stories, and discuss the different resulting stories, and larger idea of perspective.
  • Interview a community leader, parent, grandparent about their history (beginning of VVOCF/Zonke history)
  • Design and Organize projects around the VVOCF center such as write plays for the children and youth to perform, design murals to paint on the outside walls of the centers, etc.
  • Journals: have the children and youth keep journals where they can write about anything from their day to day life, their goals, poetry, etc. They can either share these journals or keep them private. This could act as a therapeutic exercise.

VVOCF's Location

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