Step # 4 Laptops For PCVs

The modus operandi of the Peace Corps is that Volunteers arrive in their villages with clothes on their backs and good will in their hearts. The truth is that from day one Volunteers have arrived in the developing world with radios, cameras, enough clothes to outfit a village and, in some cases, even a few extra rolls of toilet paper stashed away in their footlocker! Today, I know, PCVs carry ipods, cell phones, and often enough, their own computers.

The book lockers that the Peace Corps sent along with new PCVs disappeared in the early Sixties, a victim, my guess, of the budget and the increased number of PCVs. Back then the agency had 16,000 Volunteers overseas. That’s a lot of books.

We don’t want to bring back the booklockers (much as we loved them) for this is the Age of Information Technology. We have a new agency, and new techno-savvy Volunteers, and what we want to do is equip all PCVs with laptops to use and leave behind in their schools, hospital, or with whomever they think can best contribute to the town or village or school.

 Nicholas Negroponte at MIT started his foundation–One Laptop per Child (OLPC) in 2002 to give children in the developing world a link to the outside world. “The mission of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is to empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child. In order to accomplish our goal, we need people who believe in what we’re doing and want to help make education for the world’s children a priority, not a privilege.”

Today, RPCV Maureen Orth (Colombia 1965-67) is an example of someone who believes. Her K12 Wired Foundation in Medellin, Colombia uses OLPC computers to connect this English-speaking school to the world. This school that she supports was one she built as a School-to-School project when she was a PCV back in the ’60s.

Why can’t all PCVs do something similar today?

The One Laptop per Child computer is an XO-1 which costs about $200. If 3,500 Volunteers each year take one overseas to use and leave behind in their Peace Corps town, I think the cost could drop to $100, paid for by the PCV from either cost-of-living allowance or readjustment allowance and the Peace Corps. Fifty bucks a piece.

These computers use flash memory and not a hard drive and can be connected to the Internet. They also have an anti-theft system.

Some critics of the agency, like RPCV Bob Strauss (Liberia 1978-80), complain that today’s Volunteers are ill equipped to do development work. Volunteers lack training, skills, and experience. Well, equip all these B.A. Generalists with a computer and let them go into the villages of the world. If they have a problem, they can Google Bob Strauss and he’ll tell them what to do.