Mexico, long time ago.

2009 Assessment Trip

I joined this Engineers Without Borders – UT project back in 2008 and led the project in 2009-2010 with Jeseth Delgado Vela. I traveled to Mexico twice for this project, one the initial assessment and on the implementation in January 2010 that I led. I have learnt so much from this experience – the place of technology in community development, the concept of the stages of development, community dynamics, politics, etc. , Mexican folklore, how to go 2 weeks without a shower and not smell, well kinda.. Most importantly, I learnt a thing to two about effective leadership. All in all, it’s a successful project.
A lot has changed since we implemented in Mexico – the drug war picked up, leading to both UT and EWB restricting travel, EWB-UT dissolving and reemerging as EWB-AUS. But the computers are still there, creating opportunities for children, connecting families, giving hope…

Engineers Without Borders – Greater Austin, in concert with the Rotary District 5840 Hunger Plus Committee of San Antonio, has undertaken a plan to install sustainable internet-enabled computers in the schools of several ejidos (rural communities) in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. These computers will help the students further their education and will be a source of information for the entire community. The prototype system was installed during January 2010 in the San Miguel ejido a few miles away from Jaboncillos Chico, where EWB-AUS successfully implemented a sustainable water distribution system.

Project Details

Children using the computers

Children using the computers

EWB-AUS began its commitment to this region in March 2006 with its first project, a water distribution system in the ejido of Jaboncillos Chico. Jaboncillos Chico is a smaller town of about 40 people, and is only a few miles away from San Miguel. The people in Jaboncillos Chico will thus be able to use and benefit from the systems installed in San Miguel. The final implementation of the water distribution system was done in August 2008. The Rotary Club of San Antonio is also committed to Coahuila, providing food and gifts to children and pursuing various projects, including this computer project.

The ejidos are in the district of Ocampo, in northern Coahuila, which borders Texas along Big Bend National Park. San Miguel is 25 miles from Big Bend. Each of the towns has a population in the hundreds. The climate is desert, and many of the people in the region earn their livelihood by selling candelilla wax to the government – a difficult, labor intensive job that earns about 50 U.S. dollars a week.

Setting up the Control Box

Setting up the Control Box

EWB-AUS installed three satellite internet-connected computers in the community center of San Miguel in January 2010. Since the ejidos are not connected to the power grid, all of the energy is supplied through sustainable (solar) sources. The goal is for the town to eventually take ownership of the system, by charging the adults in the communities a small fee to use the computers, while allowing the children to use them for free. A similar pay-as-you-go system for agricultural equipment has proved to be successful in this region in the past. To minimize these costs, EWB is using components that have low-power consumption, maintainability, and flexibility.

San Miguel Implementation

On the 13th of January, the small village of San Miguel in Northern Mexico got a new addition to its community… the internet.

Hiking in our time off

Hiking in our time off

EWB-GA began their commitment to the 300 person community of San Miguel in 2006. Since then, students have been passionately working with the community to install internet enabled, solar powered computers. They have traveled to the community three times. On these trips, they worked with the community to establish a computer committee. This committee was elected by the community and consists of three board members who oversee two workers. The two workers manage the day to day computer usage and maintenance.

We haz the interwebs!!

We haz the interwebs!!

In January 2010, six students traveled to San Miguel to implement the system. Students worked alongside community members during every phase of implementation, from building the desks where the computers now are, to installing the solar panels and satellite equipment. Throughout the implementation excited children who would run in and out of the cyber, were quickly becoming accustomed to working with the mouse and playing educational games on the computers. After years of planning, the joint vision of EWB-GA students and the Hunger Plus Committee Rotary District 5840 has finally come to fruition.

“El Cyber de San Miguel” is open daily and charges a flat rate for usage of the computers. The cyber has three solar powered energy efficient desktop computers. Teachers can choose to hold classes at the cyber, and have been encouraged to incorporate computer skills into their curriculum. The workers have been trained in computer usage and maintenance. “El Cyber de San Miguel” has been implemented with a business model in order to ensure the system is sustainable. After having been supported by Rotary for a year of internet, the community has undertaken the internet payments themselves. In February 2011 the community of San Miguel made their first internet payment and have continued to make the monthly payments from the income of the cyber.


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