From Guatemala to Nicaragua: Bosawás with sixti milian tuktan mairin
60 million girls in the Miskito indigenous language!
The next stage of our journey took us into the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua. This visit was a little different from our other school tours because these communities do not yet have a Mobile Learning Lab (MLL). In fact, most people in this area have no access to technology – not even cell phones – so we were excited to introduce the MLL to the children and teachers and see their reactions. Our objective was to gauge their interest in using and setting up a MLL in local schools. This is the first step in deciding whether or not to fund a project.
However, getting to such a remote location was a challenge. The Bosawás is deep inside the country, with little (if any) road access. In fact, when checking out our final destination online, Google Maps helpfully indicated that “your route appears to be outside our current coverage for driving”. Indeed!
Seven hours by canoe into the Bosawás Biosphere
After landing in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, we drove north through scenic landscapes to the town of Wiwili (see map).
The rest of the journey was by two canoes – loaded with drinking water, a small generator to operate the MLL, and copious amounts of bug spray and sunscreen!
The water level for many parts of the Rio Coco – a river straddling Honduras to the north and Nicaragua to the south – was lower than usual. This meant that to reach the Bosawás biosphere we had to get to a point high enough on the Rio Coco to enable our boats to pass through. To do so, we had to drive three hours from Wiwili to find an appropriate starting point. It was a long detour, but the beautiful scenic boat ride through the tropical rain forest turned out to be a wonderful reward.
As we entered the biosphere, the water level rose considerably. The local, indigenous guides pointed out that there is no clear-cutting on their territory. This helps to promote the rains so necessary to their survival.
Despite these efforts, it was clear that the annual rainfall is no longer what it once was. In our time here, the weather remained dry and fine with no sign of the much-needed and anticipated torrential tropical downpour. While this made it easier for us to get around, for a community dependent on rain to produce food, the unpredictability was not a welcome development.
Showing teachers and students the Mobile Learning Lab
Our first overnight stop along the Rio Coco was in the small village of Siminka. This community, with just 800 inhabitants, has no electricity other than a few individual solar charging systems, and no running water. Women fetch water at least twice a day in the mountain streams. They wash their clothes in the river. However, all along the Rio Coco, the water is used for grazing cattle so it is not particularly clean.
The RACHEL is the heart of the MLL. It acts as a small server, or “hot spot”, to connect uploaded educational content with smartphones, tablets or laptop computers so that children and educators can access up-to-date and fun learning materials. Because all the content is pre-loaded, it is available offline and can be charged with solar panels.
Romeo and Juan first showed the RACHEL to a group of around 30 teachers from Siminka and other neighbouring communities. The communities in the Bosawás are extremely isolated, with no cellular reception. As a result, very few people here have ever used a cellphone or smartphone so the training started with the very basics.
They began with a 20-minute introduction to the teachers. Describing the RACHEL as a digital library helped the teachers visualize what the server is. Next came 90 minutes of hands-on training so they could discover for themselves the vast amount of content available.
Juan always tries to show modules or present the content around a theme that interests his audience so that they can connect the usefulness of the RACHEL with practical information which they can quickly understand. Needless to say, the quantity of content and the ease of use of the tablets amazed the teachers.
Juan and Romeo used the same structure to present the content on the RACHEL to primary and secondary students the next morning. As with children everywhere, even those without previous experience with technology, these students connected with no problems and were soon browsing through the RACHEL’s content. They were very reluctant to give us a tablet to help them out if they got stuck on something. The students would hand over the tablet while continuing to hold on to it!
There are challenges to bringing technology to such isolated communities
These demonstrations will allow Mundo Posible to better understand the challenges of setting up the RACHEL in the Bosawás. Some of the obvious ones are the lack of electricity and the fact that teachers have little to no training and no experience with any sort of technology. Many have minimal academic qualifications even in the subjects they teach. Further, local children often don’t have a good grasp of Spanish, limiting what they can read and understand on the platform.
It has been extremely valuable for us to see Mundo Posible’s approach and to have this week to discuss challenges and opportunities with Juan and Romeo, and with Lorraine Swift of Change for Children. It was particularly important to receive the input from the local indigenous community leaders.
Altogether, these trials have given us much insight in how to further improve the MLL so that children in the most remote communities, like Siminka, can get a quality education. It’s their right!
President and Founder, 60 million girls