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Internet Reaches Out to a Struggling Community

In celebration of our 25th anniversary, WiRED is pleased to bring you stories from our archives. These articles provide a glimpse of WiRED’s early work as they depict the places and the projects we have focused on over the years.

Early in January 2002, WiRED joined with two other NGOs (non-governmental organizations or non-profits) to launch an Internet access facility in León, Nicaragua. The joint venture brought computers to this town in Northwestern Nicaragua, often referred to as the liberal political and intellectual center of Nicaragua. At this point in the evolution of Internet technology, most people had heard of the Internet, but most had not seen a computer or accessed the Web.

As the two stories below describe, WiRED set up 20 Internet-linked computers, with provisions for medical students, people with disabilities and school children. The public also could use the equipment for a small fee, with the proceeds supporting Walking Unitos, a partner NGO that provided prosthetics for people injured in the county’s war and afterwards from bombs that remained in the fields.

The computer center was located in the Ben Linder Cafe. One of these stories describes the cafe and offers a listing of the food and beverages people could order while using the computers. Sadly, the computer center and the Ben Linder Cafe are now gone from León.

From: January 2002

Internet Reaches Out to a Struggling Community

Technology Brings Jobs, Education and Communication

The education and information resources of the Internet are available for the first time to a struggling audience in Leon, Nicaragua through the technology contributions of World Internet Resources for Education and Development (WiRED), a San Francisco-based international nonprofit organization, and two partner organizations.

The new high-speed access facility developed by the partner organizations will enable health care professionals, school children, and disadvantaged individuals in Leon to take advantage of Internet information and communication for free.

The project was developed through a partnership between WiRED International, Polus Center, a Massachusetts nonprofit serving the disabled, and Walking Unidos in Leon. WiRED donated the 20 computer systems with printers for the project as well as technical and management expertise. Polus Center and Walking Unidos provided planning and management resources.

Speaking at the recent opening ceremonies for the Cyber Cafe, Dr. Gary Selnow, executive director of WiRED and a professor at San Francisco State University, explained, “WiRED aims to provide more than just computers and technology; our goal is to give disadvantaged people the technology, skills, and full ability to improve their lives and to participate in creating progress for their communities through the information and resources available on the Internet.”

Now that the project is in operation, Walking Unidos will manage and operate the facility in conjunction with its activities providing free prosthetics for victims of land mines left over from Nicaragua’s civil war in the 1980’s. In addition to the free Internet services for school children, health care workers and the poor, the general public will be able to access the Internet for $2 per hour. University students will be able to use the services at a reduced rate. All proceeds generated by use of the computers will benefit Walking Unidos’ primary goal of providing free prosthetics for victims of land mines and other accidents.

WiRED will continue to work towards the success and ongoing development of the project by offering technical advice and by providing training programs to develop both local management of the project and employable skills for the disabled clients of Walking Unidos.

Since its inception in 1997, WiRED has been instrumental in developing Community Information Centers in many areas of the world. The initial project in Vukovar, Croatia was the first of many Centers set up by WiRED throughout the Balkans to help connect communities in the Balkans with each other and with the rest of the world through the resources of the Internet.

Recent funding from the National Institutes of Health supports a cooperative effort by WiRED and Global Strategies for HIV Prevention (GSHP) to create five Community Health Information Centers in Kenya. These Centers around the country will act as medical research and communication facilities for Kenya’s fight against the spread of HIV infection.

WiRED is a San Francisco-based, non-governmental, nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing the vast information resources of the Internet to disadvantaged people in troubled areas of the world. Funding for WiRED projects comes from private individuals, corporations, humanitarian foundations in the United States and abroad, and from government organizations such as USAID, the U.S. State Department, and the National Institutes of Health.

Ben Linder Cybercafe

by Elizabeth Fine

You can get just about anything you want at the Ben Linder Cybercafe. From simple sandwiches, soft drinks, and coffee, to a wide variety of dinner entrees, wine, beer, and cocktails. You can also surf the web, send email, and learn how to use a computer on one of the café’s 20 computers.

Prices are reasonable for both the food and the computers. For 25 cordovas, you can get a bowl of chicken soup, and for 10 cordovas, you can order a cappuchino. A hamburger costs less than a U.S. dollar, and a local beer about the equivalent of 75 cents. The general public can use the computers for the equivalent of two dollars an hour, while university students can use them for half-price. Physicians can have free access, and twelve hours a week are free for children and the poor. The Ben Linder Cybercafe offers free computer training classes as well.

Improving the health of Nicaraguans was one of Ben Linder’s dreams. To entice children to get their vaccinations, Linder used to ride through towns on a unicycle, dressed as a clown with a big red nose. Thus, it is fitting that the cybercafe is named after Ben Linder, since it too is dedicated to improving the health of the Nicaraguan people through its support of Walking Unidos and the health care initiatives of WiRED.

The Ben Linder Cybercafe is WiRED’s first program in Nicaragua. It will serve as the hub of six new Community Health Information Centers which WiRED plans to establish in the towns of Chinandega, Matagalpa, Ocotal, Granada, Esteli and Leon.

Several years ago, WiRED’s Executive Director, Dr. Gary Selnow, wrote a series of essays about some of our early programs. The following piece describes WiRED’s programs that supply internet-linked computers in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua

BY WIRED DIRECTOR GARY SELNOW, PH.D.

It’s a custom in many countries for religious leaders to bless new facilities, such as new offices, schools and community programs. In Nicaragua, a predominantly Catholic country, a priest will generally perform the ritual, which involves a prayer and maybe a brief homily before a gathering of well-wishers. And so, while WiRED remains firmly nonsectarian, ensuring its neutrality in all countries, we typically follow local customs when launching a new health education program.

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