Menlo School students team with VillageTech Solutions to bring affordable technology to Nepal

by Linda Hubbard on July 29, 2017

For the 6th year in a row, students from Menlo School (plus a few others) worked at Haydi and David Sowerines‘ home this summer on projects for the couple’s non-profit, VillageTech Solutions, which provides safe, clean and affordable technology solutions to rural communities in Nepal and other developing countries.

Most of the Menlo volunteers are working on VTS’s educational solution, Looma, under the direction of Skip Stritter, VTS Board Chair. Looma is an affordable, low-power consuming audio-visual technology device which provides an interactive window to the internet and access to educational content to Nepalese village schools that have never seen electricity, computers, or in some cases, even books.

David provided InMenlo with some background on this year’s projects:

“Skip interviewed them, discussed the project options, and they settled into teams with specific goals. Very professionally, all had to generate a ‘PRD’ (product requirements document), and, if possible, stick to a schedule to meet the July 26 presentation date .

“The teams set out to:

  • Complete an English/Nepali dictionary for all words in the grades 1-8 English textbooks. This required defining more than 2000 words. Then they refined an app so that it’s now possible to click on any word in those textbooks and bring up the definition
  • Redesign the Looma box to hold new speakers, new Odroid computer, new power and audio board, new webcam and improved wiring
  • Create ‘history timelines’ to expand Nepalese students’ knowledge of their own history (earthquakes, Prime Ministers, Kings, holidays…) as well as Chinese dynasties, the scientific revolution and others
  • Expand the scope and detail of interactive maps of Nepal and the world

“And five individuals focused on:

  • A robust search function that will enable students and teachers to search the database for relevant content
  • An easy user interface for the webcam that we call “Cameo” that will record videos of students and teachers —for review, exchange with other schools, later viewing
  • A “Video Editor” that allows the user (teacher) to enhance a video by inserting other items into pause points, such as a list of review questions, or a picture or another video, making the whole video more effective
  • Core software management to make it easier to load the Looma computers
  • A simple application for assembling lesson plans

“The teams had a second assignment — to make lesson plans. Kathy Hoekenga, a recently retired teacher, coached the kids, and they created more than 110.”

Looma is just one of VillageTech Solutions programs; more information about the Menlo Park-based non-profit is available online.

Photos by Robb Most (c) 2017 showing (top) Julia Wang, Matthew Phua, Mohini Gupta and their Maps project; (middle right) Keeton Martin with a Looma box; (bottom right Kendall Weingart and her Dictionary & Apps project

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