Law in the Internet Society

Grassroots Organizations and Computer Education

-- By NuriCemAlbayrak - 08 Dec 2021

With only half of the twenty dollars a month you provided, some enterprising children in India could put over twenty other kids in school, giving them an opportunity to realize their potentials. The kids of Sudarshan that received the $10 from you got a local social service organization to match another $10 and they used this humble amount not for their own benefit but for others’. The fact that children were able to do this is so incredible to me that when I recollected the story for the first time for this essay, I embarrassingly got it all mixed up! The principle you have shared, “from each according to ability, to each according to need," is at the core of what I think From Houses to Homes volunteers have in their hearts. I have volunteered in Guatemala with this organization that provides housing to indigenous people, operates a medical clinic and a school that provides free education from pre-K to 9th grade.

As a volunteer, I experienced that a grassroots organization dedicated to spending its every cent responsibly is far more efficient than mega organizations. Here, the volunteers are also the local Guatemalans who have dedicated their lives to improving their communities. They make sure that the money goes where it needs to go, and without them the organization would be nowhere nearly as efficient as it is.

A roof over one’s head and access to education makes the world of a difference. When we did the building work, dozens of children came out to watch us. They were malnourished. Many never went to school, and if they did, the education they received was inadequate. And then there were the kids who went to the school that the organization built and supported. They didn’t invoke pity in us; they carried themselves with dignity and had plans for the future.

After hearing your ideas on the need to give the necessary tools to children everywhere, I started to think how grassroot organizations such as the one I volunteered with could do much more with the resource they have. There are a few organizations that support computer literacy among children in Guatemala. I identified five. Only one, The Computer Program of Rotary’s Guatemala Literacy Project, teaches a bit of programming with Scratch. It is specially designed for 8-to-16-year-olds, and the results from this Project can serve as a blueprint for other computer labs in Guatemala.

Most of these initiatives don’t go beyond aiming to teach children basic computer literacy. Although the Rotary program helped create computer labs in 32 schools, families needed to make a commitment to paying into a revolving fund, which is a prohibitive cost for the neediest. After receiving feedback from you, I tried to reach the leaders of some organizations asking what it would take to increase accessibility. As of January 9th, I have not been able to receive an answer.

I imagine an initiative which does not primarily aim to teach children how to send emails and use Microsoft Office. Why not teach the children how to write software? With cheap hardware and decent internet, they can have full access to information while never leaving their villages. At your suggestion, I looked into the work of Swecha in Telengana and Andhra Pradesh. I absolutely agree that an Indian village can be a useful model for a Guatemalan village. Swecha treats every old computer as a potential server that can bring internet connectivity to an entire village. I believe already established grassroots organizations like those in Guatemala can relatively easily mimic the FreedomBox Project. It might be even easier to obtain old hardware in Guatemala as it is so closely located to the U.S. and such unwanted old computers can be easily sourced and shipped.

The grassroot organizations already have a network of dedicated locals working zealously to improve their communities. They already have local networks of people that can get things done. If they replicate Swecha’s work, they can quickly connect various remote villages that they already work with to the net and allow for village children who do not live near the school to have access without ever having to leave their locality. I would imagine the result would be quite similar to those achieved in Telengana, where the lives of inhabitants noticeably improved and access to educational opportunities multiplied.

Apart from connectivity, another issue I thought was important to address is that children should be given educational opportunities in learning how to program in communities that are already connected to the net. I fully agree with your statement that “the needs of children can be assessed by children: it’s their curiosity that powers the human race.” At the same time, however, I think the children I saw in Guatemala don’t have access to enough information that can help them see what opportunities are available to them. The way I see the importance of programming is that with internet connectivity and programming skills, these children can eventually break the cycle of poverty they are stuck in. They can do remote work for businesses located elsewhere. My belief is likely shaped by my experience of living in Turkey. Without economic relief, I don’t think children anywhere can realistically realize their own intelligence and awareness. I suggest programming as a quick way of bringing upwards mobility to the most impoverished communities.

I realize there are other ways of promoting these ideals, but within the context of volunteer organizations supported by giving individuals in the U.S., I believe it is important to let them know of the importance of programming as a way of bringing about social mobility. If the success story in India can be communicated to them effectively, they will demand the organizations they support to work on such matters. These organizations may not change the world, but money well spent can change the lives of tens of thousands of children, and eventually entire communities. I suggest this as one way of achieving the desired outcome.

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r3 - 09 Jan 2022 - 18:30:09 - NuriCemAlbayrak
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