Monday, August 24, 2009

It feels good to be part of history...

On Sunday morning (Aug. 23) I met with a friend who works in the Ministry of Culture. We talked about the ministy's interest in using Free Software in the cultural centers they have throughout the country.

At 12:30 pm on the same day, I attended the Ubuntu-SV "Pizza Bash" where I got to hear about the exciting things the 24 folks who attended the event are doing to promote free software in El Salvador.

The most exciting news is the decision recently made by the Ministry of Education to switch from proprietary to free software in all the public schools in El Salvador.

This afternoon I had the opportunity to speak on Radio Cadena Mi Gente, where I had the opportunity to describe what free software is and why I was in El Salvador promoting it to listeners across the country.

It feels good to be part of history, and to play a part, no matter how small, in making changes for the better!

Friday, August 21, 2009

What we accomplished this week...

We held three classes each day for 2 hours each class. The morning class was all younger children, and focused on Sugar and Scratch. The mid-day class was a mix of younger kids and adolecents. We divided this class between the Sugar/Scratch group and the XHTML group. The night class was all older teenage and older folks and focused on XHTML.

The classes were full with as many as 37 people attending the evening session. This stretched our limited resources to the breaking point, and led to some slow going for a day or two, since we didn't have enough XOs to go around. Later in the week classes were a bit smaller, and everyone who attended could get a laptop to work on.

The longer term goal for this project is to make it self sustaining. The most interested participants will form study groups and continue to work toward learning enough web development skills to create a web site for the cooperative. Hopefully others with interest in working with the children will bring them together to work more with Sugar. At some point soon some of the families will be taking XOs home with them. The problem is deciding how to deploy them, since there aren't enough for everyone. The goal is to get them distributed where they will be most heavily used.

One BIG Worry...

Today the router stopped working again! I don't understand why. A single machine can get an address, but the router does not seem to be able to get one. This project will not work if we can't distribute Internet access, so this is a serious concern. Douglas Cerna is on his way here from San Salvador today. He is bringing another router and a NIC. Hopefully between the two of us we will be able to figure this thing out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sugar is Sweet!

We just finished our first class in Chalate. Ten of the eleven students had never used a computer before, the first class was spent getting them instroduced the new machine. They are young, they learn fast, and Sugar (or Azucar as we call it in Spanish) makes computers easy to love.

Last Friday I was talking with one of the community elders who told me he didn't like computers. A few minutes later one of the kids showed him an XO running Azucar. "Oh, I like this", he said with a smile.

Since none of the kids can type, I plan to take a look at the typing activities available to see what they can do. I'll report back later. The "Hablar" (Talk) activity was a big hit, and several eyes lit up when we looked up "vaca" (cow) on Wikipedia using the Browse activity.

Oh, a summary of the working condition of the 30 laptops sent for this project is as follows:
  • 22 in perfect working order
  • 1 with a defective touchpad
  • 1 with defective video
  • 1 with defective networking
5 of the batteries were bad. I combined 3 of these with the defective computers, leaving 2 working computers that will need to be plugged in to function.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Free Software to the Rescue

Due to a series of delays and mishaps, our planned two week program has turned into a one week program. Douglas warned that the existing bandwidth would not be sufficient for our needs, and when I arrived here on Sunday and got a time estimate of 2 days 10 hours on the first machine I tried to update, I knew that he was right.

So Monday morning it was a trip to San Salvador to upgrade the bandwidth. We asked for a 1 Gigabite rate, and were assured that it would be ready by that evening. It wasn't. In fact, neither Internet nor phone -- since the same cable provider is supplying both -- worked at all until a service tech came to the house on Wednesday.

In the mean time I managed to get myself sick -- something I seem to do at least once on every visit to Central America. That meant that Thursday was spent in La Nueva Conception visiting the clinic and getting medicine. I'm starting to feel better now.

The last complication was getting the router to work. The cable modem seemed to refuse to give it an IP address. It is a Linksys WRT54GS ver. 7.2 router. After talking to Douglas, I confirmed that the cable modem needed to be reset each time that you connect a new computer to it. Using three machines, I could confirm that the process worked. Each one would get an IP address if I:
  1. Connected it directly to the cable modem.
  2. Reset the cable modem.
  3. Restarted networking on the host machine.
I still don't why it didn't work, but the solution I finally found was to change the software on the router. Installing dd-wrt instead of the vendor's original software made it work like a charm. Free software to the rescue once again!

Monday, August 10, 2009

La Cooperativa Juan Chacon

"La Cooperativa Juan Chacon" was formed by demobilized combatants of the Salvadoran revolutionary army in 1994. As part of the peace process between the FMLN and the government of El Salvador, each of the 33 families that joined together to form the cooperative were given a small parcel of land and materials needed to build a house.

The decision to form the cooperative was an act of courage. None of the members had experience farming, or the first idea how to go about forming an agricultural cooperative. For most of them, being revolutionary soldiers was the only life they knew.

Dinora, the president of the 17 member coop council, has the kind of amazing personal story common among the coop's members.

The army burned down her small house in the mountains of Chaletanango when she was 6 years old. From then on she lived with her family in the forrest, continuously on the move, avioding aireal bombardment or capture and murder at the hands of the army.

From the age of 11, she was stitching up wounded combatants in the make shift mountain hospitals of the Ejercito National para la Democracia (END). Her teacher was a Spanish Psycologist named Maria del Pilar, effectionately known as "Maria Bruja" because the hide out hospitals she set up were never discovered by the army during the entire course of the war.

In addition to her work in the hospital, Dinora also worked as a communications specialist. She stands 5 feet tall. I couldn't help but smile when she told me how light she felt after the demobilization, no longer having to carry her hospital equiptment, her radio, and her rifle around with her.

Canton Los Chilamates, where La Cooperativa Juan Chacon is located, is unusual in El Salvador in that you can safely drink the tap water. This tremendous contributor to the health and well being of the community is thanks to a water system that includes a 390 foot deep well, a storage tank complete with a clorification system, and the system of pipes that deliver the
water to each house in the community.

Understanding how this water system was created in a community of very limited resources provides a context for understanding much else about La Cooperativa: it was made possible by the increadible level of organization in the community. A series of donations from NGO's raised the $100,000 needed to purchase the materials. The work of laying the water pipes was done by the community members themselves. The process required both advocacy and hard work.

I'm inspired and grateful to be here.