The Peace Corps dropped the ‘book locker’ in the mid-sixties because of the expense of the books and shipping overseas and perhaps they decided that books weren’t needed in Peace Corps countries. It is true that in some post-colonial African nations book stores are better than what you find in most towns in America. In Ethiopia, for example, when we arrived in 1962, there was a wonderful bookstore, Giannopoulos, located on Churchill Road off the Piazza, and when I was in Ibadan, Nigeria in 1968, I found a great book store there that was connected to the university.

Nevertheless, I still hear from PCVs longing for books. If we were reinventing the Peace Corps today, (and it seems that everyone want to do that), I’d say equip all PCVs with laptops for their schools and villages.

Giving laptop to the developing world is already being done, of course. And it is being done by RPCVs.  You have heard of One Laptop per Child, the non-profit with the mission to “empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child.” This organization has developed a low cost laptop called the “XO” that they are trying to get into the Third World.

Maureen Orth (Colombia 1964-66) is using the XO in the school she started in Medellin, Colombia. This school was started as a  School-to-School project by Maureen when she was a PCV, and it is now being supported by her non-profit foundation. It is the only bilingual school in Colombia, and is the first school in Colombia to provide every primary school student a laptop from the One Laptop Per Child Foundation.

Maureen writes, “These little computers are amazing–they have transformed our community. They do so many things ordinary laptops can’t: You can draw, compose, music and take photos with then. They can run off solar or generators. Kids take them home and teach their families how to use them because they can’t be stolen–if they go missing, they are turned off at the source. We are doing innovative work with curriculum and now people are coming from all over the world to see our school and the laptops in action, to see if they might work in their countries. Personally, I think we should be able to create a virtual Peace Corps, have volunteers train teachers all over the world to use these wonderful new tools.” Check out Maureen’s site and school at: www.K12Wired.com or in Spanish www.fundacionmarinaorth.com

 Maureen also tells me, “They are still expensive, $220, not yet down to $100 because you need sufficient volume to reach that, but they are perfect vehicles for the new buzz words in development: ‘public private partnerships’ and ’soft power.’  They are a natural for the Peace Corps.”

I agree they are a natural for Peace Corps Volunteers. They should be the new Peace Corps ‘Book’ locker and if the agency were equipping all new Volunteers (about 3,500 a year) with a One Laptop Per Child the cost would, my guess, drop to $100 each.

If $100 is too expensive for the agency, well, take it out of the Readjustment Allowance. PCVs could use the laptop for two years, then leave them behind in their schools or towns, or just give it to a child. Then everyone would profit.