The Fundacion Nueva Esperanza (New Hope Foundation) was founded by human rights activist Jesus Tecu Osorio to provide educational scholarships to children of families that were affected by the political violence in Rabinal (Baja Verapaz, Guatemala) in 1982. Jesus himself survived the 1982 Rio Negro massacre, in which 177 Mayan Achi women and children were murdered by a government-sanctioned death squad. Since then, Jesus and many colleagues have worked tirelessly to rebuild their communities.
The foundation was in need of hardware, software and technical training services. The foundation contacted Forefront (http://www.forefrontleaders.org), a network of human rights leaders, to whom I provide technology consulting services through Leland Design (http://www.lelanddesign.com).
A central infrastructure of the foundation are two computer labs. Over 70 students share 18 desktop computer systems. The computers range from newer Pentium III systems to 486 and Pentium I systems. Both labs lacked networking, virus protection, backups, UPS and internet connections, and routinely suffered from system crashes and other hardware failures.
Through computer manufacturers and with the help of CompuMentor’s Recycling Program, I received donations of two new desktop systems and several refurbished laptop systems. I also assembled a support toolkit, containing two mini-hubs, cabling, operating system software and software utilities, memory, modems, network cards, and some spanish language documentation such as technology center support guides and technical how-to manuals. To negotiate with customs officials, I was also armed with an array of documentation, including receipts and donation receipts for the equipment, customs letters and contact information for locally based rights organizations.
I carried the equipment from San Francisco to Guatemala in two giant duffle bags under the plane. I checked through customs without an issue and met with colleagues from Rights Action in Guatemala City, who graciously offered to give me a place to set up the equipment, and to arrange transportation for the hardware to Rabinal.
After a few weeks of Spanish lessons I arrived in Rabinal to assist. I worked with the foundation staff to assess and optimize the operation of the older computers, and helped to repair some broken units. We discussed options for protecting against electrical surges, viruses, and strategized about establishing network security and internet access. I trained staff on peer-to-peer networking and left with a working network setup in the administrative office from which to build out.
I learned and reinforced several lessons from this experience, many more than listed here. One is the value of having standard hardware and removable components. Most of the existing foundation laptops were IBM thinkpads. Fortunately so too were the new donations I brought. This was a great benefit, as several of the existing laptops had various hardware failures, which we were able to solve by pulling parts from a similar broken unit and exchanging parts between working units. The older desktops too were much easier to repair than would be the newer equipment, as most of the internal devices (modems, network, sound, video) are not built directly on the motherboard, but can be removed separately from the motherboard and easily swapped for working parts.
This project also reinforced the unique value of laptops for distribution – size is everything when moving parts across international borders, as many more whole systems can be transported with greater protection and less attention. Smaller NGOs are often working in very cramped environments, creating a need to rearrange work spaces frequently to accommodate more users. NGOs also face periodic hazards, such as flooding, vandalism and confiscation of equipment. In all of these situations, mobility can dramatically increase efficiency as well as decrease catastrophic loss of equipment and data.
Also, the Foundation technology support staff and colleagues from other local NGOs expressed a strong need for documentation and training in Spanish. The documentation I brought was well received, but they critically needed more. The need was as much for technical “how-to” guides as it was for learning more about strategic technology planning, such as sustaining technology, information planning and security, and support strategies.
After the completion of the on-site support, we have been providing follow-up and ongoing support. This has largely involved email correspondence to provide information to the foundation requested during the visit. We are working directly with the program director and the technology support staff person on an ongoing basis. In addition, we have helped the foundation to plan a fundraising strategies for new infrastructure initiatives, including the construction of a new campus to accommodate and house more students.