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The ABCsof Peru

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    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Max Harleman holds one of the One Laptop Per Child computers after his return home from his stint in Peru.
Published October 05. 2009 02:55PM

It's good Max Harleman of Towamensing Township likes kids because when he was looking for an internship between his junior and senior years at the University of Pittsburgh, he found One Laptop Per Child, an unpaid internship.Internships were available in China, Africa, Peru and Uruguay.

By choosing Peru it gave him a chance to improve his Spanish. He had studied it four years in high school and three semesters in college.

The internship was to teach the use of laptop computers to third graders in Paucartambo, Pasco, Peru. Other groups of interns went to Janín and Huancavaleca. To pay airfare he located a John Tafel endowment fund scholarship at the university. It is an academic and extracurricular award for unpaid internships.

Harleman left June 8 and returned in mid-August. Seven weeks were spent in the schools and three weeks were spent touring.

In Lima, Peru, the interns trained in different activities. The computers are based on the Linux operating system and are extremely sturdy. Water can be poured on them, dirt thrown at them and they can be dropped and come up running.

The Minister of Education wanted the laptops to be implemented as a resource.

"It's not only to help kids learn computers that is important but I also want to stress that it is important for teachers and kids to learn other subjects through computer use such as math, reading (called communication), religion and social studies," said Harleman.

During orientation the interns had 10 minutes to come up with a way that the computers could be a resource. They learned to take them apart and put them back together.

The coordinator for Harleman's group was Marilú Martens. "Seven of us went with her over the Andes and arrived for the first week of school," he said.

They lived in a hydroelectric encampment, EnerSur, with the engineers, food workers and security guards. The municipality provided food for the interns.

They taught in one school for two weeks and moved on with the exception of the final school which they left early because of swine flu. Students began a vacation early as a protective measure.

The first school was San Francisco which has 150 students in grades K-6. The Aco School had only 57 students in three classes with two grades in a classroom and no kindergarten.

Martens helped during the first week and then the interns were on their own. In addition to teaching kids, they implemented community advancement projects.

The school day was from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. During class the interns sat in the back of the room as the teachers taught. When needed, Harleman walked around and helped students who needed assistance or who were not using the computers effectively. When the computers were being used ineffectively, the interns would try to come up with solutions.

After school the interns worked three hours with teachers.

"Some teachers did not realize we were there to help. They thought we were there to teach and would go out of the room and leave us," Harleman said.

Students would type a letter D, then write words with D, and take pictures of D items. He kept notes on all the workshops.

Working with the teachers, he would prepare them so the program would be sustainable after he left.

"We tried to get parents involved but it was hard because they worked all day in the fields. We did work with high school kids and gave English lessons in the park.

The first community project was on the subject of family violence because neither parents nor kids knew they had any rights. Teachers were aware if there was something going on at home and, through the community project, would be able to understand better if a problem existed.

Harleman said if students could not read by the end of second grade they were pushed on. They needed someone to help them. The solution he came up with was to use high schoolers as tutors. The tutors provided good role models where parents did not fill that position. Harleman said that is the project he is most proud of accomplishing.

Over and over Harleman said the kids were great. They hung on the interns who participated in festivals such as the Dia del Campesinos (Farmer's Day). "I marched with the teachers," he said. Kids would grab his camera and take pictures. Interns played soccer and volleyball with the kids.

"The people were very receptive. We made lots of friends and never felt so welcome," Harleman said. "It was beautiful, one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. The best part of being there was the kids."

Another intern, Sonia, bought a pair of shoes for a girl whose own shoes were worn through at the toes.

He found there are 700 kinds of potatoes in Peru. While touring he traveled from the Andes to the jungle and then into a desert environment. Cuzco was the most Spanish of cities he visited. At Machu Picchu visitors waited in line from 3:30 see the ruins because only 400 people are admitted in a day.

If someone in the United States buys an XO computer the profit goes to donate more to other countries. The Web site is Paucartambo has a site at

Harleman wants to go into public policy for economic sustainability. He is interested in geothermal energy and wants to increase awareness. Before he settles down he is considering a stint with the Peace Corps. Whatever happens, he can build a future on a strong foundation, one that has been fortified by lessons from a valuable internship in Peru.

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