An Era of Isolation Has Come to an End
By Jesús Aguado
The access to internet is a human right according to the United Nations, but in many rural communities of San Miguel, that right is yet unsatisfied due to the lack of technology and infrastructure to make a connection with the world. Thanks to the work of a nonprofit organization and other people, the right to access to the network is almost guaranteed in the community of San Francisco.
For the United Nations, the internet not only enables individuals to exercise their right of expression and opinions but is also part of their human rights. According to the organization, access to the internet must be guaranteed by governments at all times, but above all during important political events, such as elections, times of social unrest, and historical and political anniversaries. Some of the violations to that right occur when a web is blocked or there simply is no connection.
In the San Francisco community, people did not know that they have that right; they did not even have the infrastructure to get a signal. Even the cellphone reception is very bad. Although the new Federal Law of Telecommunications includes the right in its articles, as in almost all the 541 rural communities in the city, the technology and infrastructure to get connected do not exist. To support this community and enable it to start a new era of connection with the world, Charles Soberman has supplied all the material and technological resources to the residents of San Francisco, who said good-bye to an era of isolation.
It is also worth emphasizing that according to the figures published in 2014 by the INEGI (National Institute of Statistics), in Guanajuato two million people from six to 35 years use internet (40.8 percent of the population). The percentage of users is a contrast to the number of people who have a computer at home. That it is only 24.7 percent. Compared with the numbers from 2006-2013, there was an increase of 11.6 percent of internet users. There is currently no local information.
The community is located 20 minutes away from the Historic Center by taxi or private car. It has 90 families with a total of 350 inhabitants who are construction workers or work in Querétaro in the industrial area. The residents have running water and electricity. Drainage is not a problem because they have septic tanks. There is also a kindergarten and a primary school that receives 87 children daily (from 6-12 years old). The students at this school, as well as many other members of this community, have never had the chance to use a computer nor had any idea about the internet and what it does, but fortunately for them, there was a plan in progress, a plan that started five years ago.
Charles Soberman, an American from Michigan had a friend, Wendy Salinsky, who was a volunteer for Feed the Hungry and used to deliver food weekly for the kitchen the organization has in the primary schools. Salinsky got cancer and, when she could not go to the community anymore, asked Soberman to do it. He did and started falling in love with the community and its people. When his friend passed away, he continued working in San Francisco.
Two years ago Charles, who is also a volunteer for the nonprofit organization Computadoras Projóvenes, with the help of the organization, donated some computers for the primary school Esther Rodríguez Flores from San Francisco (as he did for the community of Clavellina). At the beginning just six computers were installed in the sixth grade classroom, and while the teacher was giving his lessons to a group of students, on the other side, Soberman (who speaks Spanish and knows how to teach computing) was teaching another group how to use those new machines.
In this community, besides the delegada’s (representative of the local administration in the community) daughters, nobody has a computer. They have laptops because their father works every six months as a gardener in the United States, and he has brought them.
With a friend’s support, Charles Soberman considered that the construction of a classroom exclusively for computing classes was necessary because it was very distracting and uncomfortable to teach at the same time as the teacher in charge of the group. He had a talk with the principal of the school as well as with some parents, and he made the commitment to donate all the materials for the construction if they could make the commitment to construct it. They were willing, and that is how the construction started. The structure was later thought of as a CCC (Community Center and Computing) that will be a venue for teaching computing, meetings, and other activities. Ten computers (plus internet connection) were donated for the students andalso for the residents (a committee establishes the rules).
The CCC is part of the school, and in that space volunteers of Computadoras Projóvenes and Soberman will teach computing not just to the children but also to teenagers and adults who have never used a computer or don’t know how to use internet and social networks. Also, those who have a cellphone with a Wifi connection will be allowed to use the connection.
The end of an era
On a visit to the community, I ran into three teenagers (Miguel, Vicente and Reinaldo), who were playing with their cellphones under the shades of a mesquite. They commented that they were waiting for the connection to internet so eagerly that, “It does not matter if they charge us for the use.” And “for getting access to the social network (Facebook), we have to walk for more than 30 minutes to go to Corral de Piedras.” In that community the internet centers charge them 12 pesos per hour. They said that they do not know how to use a computer, but as soon as the classes start, they will get enrolled. They are also hoping to learn how to use new technologies to get in touch with relatives who do not live in the community or in San Miguel and with family in the United States.
On the other hand, the principal of the school commented that the new area will help the student’s development and would give them knowledge of the world of technology they live in. The delegada said that it will be used with a lot of responsibility and also assured that it will help to keep the tranquility and security of the community.
The era of isolation from the world came to an end on March 12, when the CCC was inaugurated. The students prepared a celebration, danced folkloric dances, and offered some snacks for those who made this project possible, Judy Jagdfeld and Michael Wolk, among others.