I read TechCrunch's complaint of the OLPC donation program, and got a little agitated. It's short-sightedness like this that helps to perpetuate poverty, in my opinion.
I heard a terrific story on NPR some moons ago about crop farmers in a developing nation somewhere. These crop farmers had historically been making a subsistence living because they lacked the tools to engage in meaningful negotiations with the distributors who purchased crops from them. One farmer obtained a laptop, and began keeping records of crop yields year-to-year, along with expenses and revenues. He was occasionally able to acquire crop prices in other parts of the world, so he was able to assemble for himself a better, more informed bargaining position when he went to sell his crops. He was quickly able to identify when he was being ripped off, and negotiated better prices for himself. He extended his efforts and began helping all the farmers in his community, and now they're slowly moving beyond subsistence living.
My sister shared an interesting story about the construction of a well in Africa:
There’s a story posted in the office now of a PCV in an African village where the women walked hours every day to and from a far-away well for water. The PCV realized how much time and energy would be saved if there was a well right there in the village, so he got funding, organized workers, and they dug a well. There was a big celebration to “christen” the well, and people used it for awhile. A few years later, the PCV returned to the village and was confused and distressed to see the women again walking miles to the far-away well. When questioned, the women said the time to and from the well was the only time they had together as women, when they could talk, gossip, and socialize. The PCV had failed to consider the cultural and social implications, and he had tried to fix a problem that the community didn’t really think needed fixing.
So while the OLPC laptops themselves, and the project as a whole, might not address immediate (and very legitimate) issues faced by folks in developing nations, it will hopefully help them in important socio-economic ways that are more meaningful and longer lasting than $200 worth of rice.