Sunday I went to a LinuxDay 2011 event organized near my city. There were presentation from the world of academics (Polytechnics of Turin and Milan) and the industry (Google, Canonical, …), but one talk was different from the others, in the sense that it was less technical and more human.
A small girl approached the stage, and started talking about her adventure. She was involved with some friends in a humanitarian project, called “Nomads Marocco“, and one of their objectives was to teach Italian language to people of a small Moroccan village by going there and teach them by person with very limited resources.
They quickly realized that for an efficient course and for a lasting effect that could continue inside the village after they returned to Italy, an interesting approach would be to use computers. This means the Italian language course would then integrate an informatics course. The low-cost requirement of the project imposed the usage of old and recycled computers, and in order for old computers to be as efficient as possible, they decided to install Linux on them, specifically Xubuntu.
An important drawback of the plan was that in Morocco there’s little to no way to sustainably dispose of electronics. In order for the course to be environmentally sensible, they decided to offer support and maintenance every year, so that the failing components could be replaced and the electronic trash could be taken back to Europe where they can be recycled better,also thanks to associations such as RaccattaRAEE. Also, in order to throw away the least possible amount of components, the villagers must be taught about hardware maintenance, particularly about diagnosing a problem, removing and replacing bad parts, without throwing away the whole computer.
The girl told us about their travels, and the villages they reached. They mainly taught to women and children, because men were elsewhere (even abroad) to work and earn money to send back to the family. Sometimes they were amazed by what they found. Smart people eager to learn, internet connections in the middle of nowhere, they also found a boy who had already a PC with Linux installed. One of the benefits that the Moroccan villagers got with this project was the ability to use the Internet for commerce. Some of their products were sold on European market for much more than they could sell themselves, but by connecting with the rest of the world they now have the opportunity to reach new markets where they can be competitive and make a fair profit.
I was quite moved by the story, because it shows the results of technology, enthusiasm, planning, improvisation and curiosity playing together to improve the world. I really appreciate what these volunteers are doing, and I hope they will be of example to anyone with a desire to contribute.