Addressing Digital Divide

It was a matter of immense pleasure to me to turn a chapter in addressing the digital divide in Nepal. Let me start by thanking all known and unknown people whose contributions in the past at Sarkuwa inspired me to plunge into this mission, and boosted my spirits and morale to perform well.March 16, 2008

Arranging schedules, information, and “loading guns and bullets”, my trip to Sarkuwa was framed in my mindset weeks before boarding a Micro-bus at 7:00AM on 16 March 2008 in Kalanki, Kathmandu along with my coworkers, Udhyan Timilsina and Gyanendra Suwal. And this journey started becoming memorable from the moment we boarded the bus.

High traffic on the way, nearly unmanageable jam, was striking to us as it was great sigh of relief to me when the driver routed the micro to a branched-path. At least we were moving forward somewhere than getting stalled at the same point for long. The most fun of all was nobody on the micro nor our pilot knew where the path led but all of us were happy for it was going somewhere, whatever may be its direction. At one point, about a dozen four-wheelers were roaming around on a circle but don’t even know where this place was. Finally, one caught the way out on his eyes and we brought ourselves back to the well functioning main branch just a kilometer below Thankot, one of the main gateways to exit Kathmandu valley. Thank God!

We escaped this Kathmandu Valley jam! And hours later we emerged in Pokhara. The driver was quite funny and helpful; he helped us change the van to Baglung at Janapriya Chowk just near the stadium at Pokhara. We were happy to save time and efforts. The van was more spacious than the earlier one and I could move my ankles around.

We had our launch at Lumle, the Cherapunji of Nepal that invites the most rainfall in all of Nepal. As we were instructed, we had to stay a night at Baglung Bazaar but luckily we caught Hulas Jeep from Mustang Ltd, and without delay, we headed to Kushmisera that was 26km away from Baglung and 21km from Kaligandaki Bridge. It was 5PM at that time, when we started the last motorable road.

We were 13 people in the Jeep on a road that was still to be constructed in full. It was humpy dumpy single lane and muddy due to rain shower. Traveling with us were six widows of soldiers who had returned after collecting their husbands’ pensions. They had more than fifteen kilometers to walk to Gulmi from Kushmisera. I felt heavy contemplating their pain. The adventure started when we first crossed a river and it was a great fun like a Jungle Safari. The jeep skidded many times on the narrow snaky road; once, instead of moving ahead, it was moving sideways; had it skidded a feet more, we would have had a ticket to God’s place. Luckily, for me it was like a ticket to Hollywood and the very moment I couldn’t stop my laugh which triggered laugh in my friends also. The women beside Udhyan suggested to not laugh in her typical local acccent, “Dehrai Hanso Le Pircha Ka!”(Excess of laugh hurts!)

Bastola Ji, our four wheeler’s pilot, stopped at Sarangi for tea from where we called at Megh Raj Sir’s home informing we were around there.

At around 8:00PM we were at Kushmisera and had a dinner at Bhet Ghat Restaurant and Lodge. The manager of the restaurant helped us to call Narayan Sir at Global Computer Institute (GCI). At GCI, we got to meet with Mr. Hari Poudel, curious for knowledge and very helpful. He laid victory on our hearts and minds right from the beginning. At GCI, there were 3 complete set of PCs, 3 sets of monitors and accessories interfaced to a CPU with extra VGA Card and Y Cable, Canon multi-function photocopier, printer and scanner. “This is the IBox”, Hari pointed to a PC. “No extra modems, what this IBox means Yarr!,” I thought to myself. We were quite confused but later came to know that it was some special software package from WizzyDigital installed at its Linux OS. Hari was wishing to have all other resources on the lab sharing the network from a server at his control. It was 12 midnight when our exhaustion took over and we kept that work for until we return back from Sarkuwa, and we went to sleep.

March 17, 2008

Naryan Acharya woke us up at 7AM and informed that we were leaving for Sarkuwa at 8AM with Prem Thapa, a teacher at Sarkuwa who was a “guard” at SLC examination centre at Shanti Higher Secondary School (SHSS). We were looking for Prem Sir but by 9:00AM we realized that the sensitive SLC exam is playing a role on his delay.

Narayan sir took us to upper Kushmisera, where we saw Tailor Shop, Health Post, Clothing Store, Information Centre, Jewellery shop, Local TV Operator Station, rustic restaurants. Kushmisera was also centre for secretarial works for places around and had a Post office, Veterinary Centre and a Forest Range Post. It was quite pleasing to know that the same infrastructure of SHSS was also used for Shanti Deep Multiple Campus.

After taking lunch at 10:30AM, we were lying on bed waiting for Prem Sir, he finally arrived at 1PM and we headed for Sarkuwa. We crossed suspension bridge over Theule Khola (river), got to know that ten micro-hydro projects were in operation on the river. One of those plant, “Thaule Khola Mini Hyro Project”, was generating 24KW for four wards of Sarkuwa Village Development Committee(VDC).

Climbing through the hills for about an hour we were at Head Sir’s home. Headmaster of Janata Higher Secondary School (JHSS), Narayan Paudel, had completed Shastri from Banaras, India. Showing respect, everyone called him ‘guru’. At his home were five sets of PIII PCs ready to be taken to Sarkuwa School up there. We requested the delivery of CPUs at first, explained our plans, and later resumed our walk. We kept on walking step by step up on the hill. Once as Prem Sir pointed our destination, we were really scared but we were with high spirit to see the final output of our work and kept on climbing happily, enjoying the views. Finally at around 6 O’clock in the evening, we were at JHSS.

At the school, a Dell Laptop with Linux OS was working as IBox using data service from CDMA WLL 200. A HP laptop with Linux and a desktop P4 with XP were in working conditions. The two Branded CPUs among the set of five were there in the packs. They were PIII PCs but one of them was not detecting it’s own hard drive, neither was the CDR detecting the bootable CD. As the CPU was sealed and branded, having a second CDR on the PC was troublesome. We decided to cable the required devices from the P4 desktop. We cabled CDR of P4 and had XP setup on the hard-drive, and later found that the lens of CDR of the Branded PIII had aged and was in need of cleaning. AHHH!

Nevertheless, we took a great sigh. That was our first work done at JHSS. It was 11PM then. Because the SLC exams were to take place in the next morning and we were new faces there, we thought that spending night there at school may not be a good idea. We, therefore, went to Krishna Sir’s house for the night’s sleep.

Talking about the time line for days ahead, it was like:

  • 8-11AM: SLC exam being conducted at school, but we could work on Head Sir’s office
  • 11AM-2 PM: load shedding
  • 2PM- 6PM: electricity expected to be there
  • 10AM- 11AM: fixed Nepali time for launch
  • 6PM-8AM: Most suitable time for us to get the work done

March 18, 2008

We came off the bed at 7:30AM. We were expecting the remaining 3 PCs as we were told that they would be there by 8 AM. We looked on the boulevards of the hills but saw no sign of the PCs. After the lunch, I was enjoying the views of those magnificent hills as the cool wind was blowing and the leaves were parting music of the nature. Lines of mules appeared at distance.

A few minutes later, a mass made an appearance at the Primary Block of the school. It was an election campaign with cultural programmes and speech. I could not enjoy more as my job was getting delayed and delayed. There was no peace in my mind and I could not rest. I went to see where my friends were but the Secondary Block, which was our workplace, was standing alone at the moment. It was like a Boulevard of Broken Dreams of Green Day to me. I rushed to Krishna Sir’s home to find that both of my friends were lying on the bed; Udhyan already asleep, Gyasu enjoying music. Thanks god!! They were there, I got some peace.

At 1:30PM I came to know the whereabouts of Krishna and Prem Sir. They were at the audience of the campaign at the primary block. Because the power supply had not come yet, we could do not much work then, so I didn’t disturb them.

At 2:00PM, I was at Fadinra ji’s balcony waiting for the electric bulb to glow but it did not glow until around 3PM. But then we were all together at school but the three PCs had still not arrived at the school.

We took measurements of the intended Lab room, measurement of cables, and gave information to the teachers how were the cables were going to be cut, showing them the position of the switch and the PCs. After that, we just had chit-chat.

Nar Bahadur Thapa Sir of Rangkhani was a very zeal hearted man; he was offering to his friends to be at Guru’s home and bring the PC on their own. But by the evening the PCs were there.

We found that the PC hardware fine but the XP on them in corrupt state. We taught Chandra, Prem and Krishna Sir on how to assemble the accessories while we were assembling ourselves.

After having dinner at Fadindra Ji, Gyasu and Udhyan were configuring LAN on the newly brought PC and taught about their uses and I was crimping network cables and taching them how to prepare those cables for the network-switch to the PCs. Afterall, the day was quite fruitful as the teachers learned many aspects of computer hardware and also something about Photoshop, Powerpoint, and on making question paper on MS-word.

The light went out at 12 midnight and we went to sleep.

March 19, 2008

We were off the bed at around 8AM and soon approached Ram Chandra Acharya Sir, who was the In-charge of JHSS examination centre. We requested if any unused room at the school could be interchanged with the intended lab room; he gave a positive response. But when it was from inside school authority that they hesitated as the intended lab room was unsecured and they did not think it possible to mend it then. Overflow at the dam, had interrupted the power supply even during expected “normal hours.” We seemed to be not so lucky.

Between 3-5 PM, however, even with no power supply, we gave instructions on computer hardware, assembling different computer parts: RAM, CDROM, processors, HDD. Power supply was back only at 6:30PM. Therefore, we did the internet setup for CDMA WLL on Windows and checked it on one of the PC to be the client of WIZZY IBOX well into the evening after dinner. Throughout the evening we remained busy with ourselves and could not teach much to Krishna Sir who was with us throughout the time past midnight till 1:30.

March 20, 2008

Off the bed at 9:00AM in the morning, we went to school to send a message to Canada seeking further instructions for classroom to classroom interactions.

After launch, we made a makeshift lab at Headmaster’s office, our workplace. We taught Prem, Chandra and Krishna Poudel sir on how to have all those computers wired without having much load at a single power bar. There was no power supply and we could not give much instruction on networking and the rest of the stuff.

Only at 6.00PM the power came back and only then it was possible to check all the 8PCs together, with limited multiplugs and power plugs. Well, a computer had the following message to display:

Request Timed Out…
Destination Host Unreachable…
Acquiring Network Address…
Limited Connectivity…

The PC was hanging on us. As fed up we were, we unplugged the power switch and plugged it back. And, there it was:

Reply from TTL…

TESTING works Yarrr!!!

Prem Sir, our Computer teacher was not with us that day, he had to give time to his family and his unwell mother. We could not train him about networking that day.

At 11PM, the light went away, and we too went for sleep.

March 21, 2008

At 8:00AM, we were fresh already and sitting at the balcony of Krishna Poudel Sir. A matured man came and introduced,

Me, Megh Raj Sharma!

A well known and reputed name of the village, we knew who he was. We introduced ourselves and briefed him about the progress on the work and our intended plans.

We then moved to the school at the makeshift computer lab and shortly after the Head Sir, Guru, also arrived. Together we discussed on the schedules and we fixed a class like Round Table Meeting for the evening when we would be ensured of power supply. Between 11AM-6PM Megh Sir, went to have a tree cut down for the school. Head Sir, Fadinra Daju, Prem Sir, Udhyan, Gyanendra and I went to Fadindra Daju’s village and visited Fadindra Daju’s Muhan (water-spring) to Sarkuwa-7, Ratamata, and saw small reservoirs made under Soil Conservation Plan. We ate some Pani Amala there.

At 6PM, Megh Sir, Prem Sir, Krishna Poudel Sir, Krishna Acharya Sir, Chandra Sir, BabuRam Ji (a local guardian) and three of us sat around on chairs and our Round Table Meeting got summoned. We talked about how different computer hardware work-together, how the pages get downloaded from remote computer, what download means, the ways to exploit internet facility, where should the teachers be surfing for educational content, and how could they deliver contents to the students, what websites means, benefits of having websites, how is money made on websites. We even discussed about policies under the ministry- One Laptop per Child. In sum, we had great fun together till 1:00AM in the morning.

March 22, 2008

We woke up at 10AM and as we were having launch, we were invited to Shree Jana Priya School at Sarkuwa-5 by Mr Sakash Bahadur Thapa and Sakash Bahadur Chettri. We scheduled the visit for March 24.

At around 2:00 PM Chandra (Math) Sir came and informed us that Megh Sir was there to take us to his home. ‘Orali, Orali Gardai’ not ‘Ukali, Orali Gardai’ we were at Meg Sir’s home in around 45 minutes.

I was very pleased to see that Meg Sir was making efforts on establishing a business crop in the village: Coffee Farming. To my knowledge, if the economic divide is to be addressed in time, instead of waiting for decades for a great revolution to come from the centres (Kathmandu, Agriculture Ministries or some other Ministries), self awareness in people to get united and initiate business crops and business motivated forestation should be done. I fear of digital divide getting widened and accentuated by the rising economic divide. One way or another, this economic divide needs to be addressed in Nepal. This could only begin when the real picture of the world could be shown to the villagers and self-awareness could be brought in them, who are for sure not holding much patience at the moment.

After dinner, we went through Megh Sir’s computer to find that some important OS files were corrupted. As I checked my mail, there was one from Pramod Sir. We gave Megh Sir some information about efficient ways of surfing the net and managing mails. We also had conversation on politics and we were quite impressed by his alarm on Federalism. Later Megh Sir took us to the bedroom where Jack, David and mice had slept together. We were told some stories about our former volunteers Jack, David, Kesley, Geeta and Smita. We began to dream at around 1AM in the morning.

March 23, 2008

We woke up at 9AM in the morning; Megh Sir was busy at his work while we solved problems in his PC. Later we had our launch together and, during launch, I had suggestions from Megh Sir, discussed on our plans further and with his permission I wrote back to Pramod Sir in Canada.

Megh Sir had to go back to Bareng, the SLC examination centre where he was posted, and was in a hurry. We parted after taking some photographs together along with the little small lovely child Sophi. We all took off from Megh Sir’s home at 11:45AM. Meg Sir thanked us and my heart was heavy to part the gentleman. Now ‘Ukali, Ukali gardai’ at about 12:30 PM we reached school, no-body was there.

We went to Sakar-Daha (Sakar-Lake) for swimming with Baburam Ji. There, we got to see the amazing stunt of Kamal Thapa, who had recently been there from Madras (Chennai, India). Oh my God!!! He crossed the Lake walking on foot at the bottom carrying a big stone on his chest. I guess if anybody has seen the same, it’s in Pirates of Carribean, the dead body moving at the bottom of the ocean. No where else!!

Unbelievable it was!!!

At around 6:00PM, we were back to school, had dinner, gone through all network cable. But the P4’s inbuilt NIC was not functioning and it was 1AM before we went for sleep.

March 24, 2008

After launch, we visited Shree Jana Priya Primary School, Sarkuwa-5 with Sakash Bahadur Thapa, Sakash Bahadur Chettri and Prem Sir. The community school was well organized, systematic, and maintained. The shift to English syllabus 2 years ago had already proved to be successful. We conveyed the long term objectives of CFFN, and they were quite eager and interested to join their hard working hands. It becomes my responsibility to convey their messages of interest to all of you.

At 2 PM Prem Sir and we were back to school, we gave information about IP, ping, how the computers were in network, how to keep them on network, how to troubleshoot the network. For the session, our job was about done. That night we were given a farewell party, a new face Bunny, teacher from Darjelling for Bal Jyoti Academy made us continuous laugh, we laughed for days remembering his jokes.

March 25, 2008

Having breakfast, we left Sarkuwa at 9:30AM reached Kushmisera at around 11:30AM. A corrupted IE at one PC, and a corrupted User Account at another troubled us for hours before the fault was finally found at GCI. Toiling for hours, we served our beloved Hari at last. We were farewelled by Prem Sir, and Head Sir with letter of appreciation and thanks. We were back at humpy dumpy but now dry road at 3PM, reached Baglung at 6PM and Pokhara at 9PM. We stayed at the base camp Pokhara for a day at 26 March with complete rest, no works at head. We arrived at Kathmandu at around 5PM of 27 March.

The SEEDS and the HARVEST

I believe we have left a new level of confidence on the matter of J.H.S.S playing with hardware and software. The fear of exploring new things on the computers that was present among the teachers has been thoroughly smashed.Urban and town dwellers may have no less option to address their various needs through information and communication tools and technology. However, the rural and country side dwellers are falling far short not only in the access to information and communication technology but also in addressing their livelihood and survival needs. There exists this digital divide and we have this alarming message to all the readers of this memoir.The effort of CFFN in addressing this digital divide has written a good first chapter in the book of digital equity to be written in Nepal. Having being involved in completing this most important and very first chapter, I am extremely proud of this whole endeavor.e-Culture, the first chapter through the classroom to classroom interaction between schools of Canada and community schools of remote villages of Nepal and exchange of culture and cultural understandings through digital technologies will surely demonstrate the spirit of sharing and caring, revolutionize understanding of students about the new globe, and ultimately raise their confidence to a new high.

Projects like this will also be an example of e-Inclusion, reducing the digital divide and content-gap between technology empowered and technology excluded communities and groups.

JHSS is already on the path of enjoying e-Learning and the teaching staffs enjoying e-News. The digital technologies placed in the hills, I hope will be utilized to their maximum extent which will bring Sarkuwa to the forefront of grasping e-health, e-livelihood, e-environment, e-agriculture, and e-governance. I hope the growing interest amongst the students, teachers, and villagers will bring the village as a model of e-village.

I see many hands joining the movement. My knowledge experience and labor is always there for this noble movement.

My attachment with Sarkuwa will always remain afresh with me.

My hats off to Pramod Sir for his great efforts and support!

 

About Article:

Project Category: Project: Rural Education Nepal
Article Category: Memoir
Author: Rajan Pandey
About Author: Rajan Pandey was one of the volunteers to go to Sarkuwa, Baglung who helped establish computer labs in Janata HS School.
Submission Date: April 01,2008.

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