Free Computers & Kolibri Using Linux for Indigenous Villages in Chiapas, Mexico

In 2019, I accepted an invitation to visit a remote indigenous Mayan village in Chiapas, Mexico. My new friends from the village really wished they had more educational and occupational opportunities. During my visit, I learned that along with the primitive conditions and widespread poverty, the village lacked Internet service.

After pondering how I could help, and doing some research, I became enthused when I began to realize the potential of Kolibri, that it could work offline and that it could be used with a free Linux distribution. So, as a volunteer, I proposed a project to a charity in the closest city to the village, so they could help the villagers.

More recently, I have created a website that illustrates the approach I proposed and includes a more detailed plan and guidance. I created the website so that anyone can use this approach for a humanitarian project anywhere, for free, to help under-served communities. Most of my comments about Kolibri are in Appendix B, accessible from the “Documents page” of the website.

Now, back to Chiapas, Mexico in 2019, where the geographic focus of this story, the Mayan villages, have such limited education resources that it may be difficult for some people in the modern world to imagine:

I explained to the charity that we should be able to implement this type of project for free:

  • Ask for, or otherwise collect, some of the millions of old computers that are retired or discarded each year
  • Install a free Linux operating system and great free software like Kolibri on them to help improve educational and occupational opportunities – even where the Internet is not available
  • Make the computers and related support available to the villagers by piggybacking on existing charity programs

The charity’s focus is on helping Mayan women from the surrounding villages, so they liked the proposal. Later, a fellow-volunteer friend of mine was able to acquire donated computers in the USA and convince an acquaintance to install the free software according to my detailed instructions. He then brought the laptops to Chiapas on his next winter "get-away” trip.

There are quite a few organizations that refurbish computers, put costly operating systems on them and sell them for about the same price as NEW entry-level computers. I assume this is partially because they have a lot of overhead expenses. In contrast, our approach allowed us to give away the computers to a humanitarian project for free. It minimizes overhead by using a free Linux operating system that allows many older retired computers to run securely and smoothly again without necessarily spending money on upgrading the hardware, expensive operating systems, etc. The only “cost” to date I am aware of was free volunteer time.

And to my delight, I have heard multiple reports that the project is going very well in Chiapas. The computers are being used in multiple villages and at the charity in the city. The villagers can get computer training and support plus computer user-time when they visit the charity for a variety of assistance. And I have seen photos showing the charity also providing computer support when they make their regular visits to the villages.

I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable about the reportedly very meager education resources available in the Mayan villages of Chiapas. However, I know the involvement of good teachers is always important in education. But I have read that, in the Mayan villages, there is no one that is called a “teacher”. They do, however, have “education promoters” (The distinction is for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post). My hope is that, in villages that have them, education promoters can become familiar with Kolibri and take the lead in using Kolibri to improve the educational opportunities in the villages.

To be completely transparent here, like much of the international volunteer work I have participated in – not everything worked out as I had planned or hoped. The charity staff was so busy with important pre-existing projects during the time I could stay in Chiapas, that I was not able to get the project set up and running the way I had hoped. I was only able to participate in a couple of face-to-face meetings and then followed up with additional written guidance and suggestions.

And since then, given the ongoing pandemic, my location in the northern USA thousands of miles from Chiapas, still extremely busy charity staff in Chiapas, etc., I cannot tell you to what extent Kolibri is actually being used on those computers. I can only tell you that it was on my list of programs to be installed and that I emphasized and highlighted its value and importance for the project in all of my verbal and written communications.

In light of this, if any of you reading this are proficient in using Kolibri and would be interested in helping them (remotely or in Mexico) to make sure they are using Kolibri as well as possible, please let me know. The director of the charity speaks both Spanish and English.

Thank you for reading this story. I hope it can help you come up with some new ideas for humanitarian projects that include Kolibri.

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