Impact Stories

Project in Colombia Supports Digital Connections in Rural Areas

Equitable Infrastructure   ·   Open Education

While technology is transforming society, the benefits often depend on where you live and what barriers you face to accessing the internet.

“The acceleration of digitization is leaving behind so many people,” said Carolina Botero, founder of the Fundacion Karisma (Karisma Foundation) in Colombia.

Nearly 20 million people do not have an internet connection in the country, particularly in rural areas. For virtual education to work, innovative solutions were needed to get students connected to learning. Botero’s nonprofit organization set out to address the digital divide through an Open Educational Resources (OER) pilot project. With little or no connectivity in many areas, a software activist with the project devised a solution to easily convert a server into a WiFi hub. 

Years later,  Karisma, Wikimedia Colombia and the ISUR center of Rosario University partnered with the Wayuú indigenous community to facilitate the use of digital technology through the Kimera Local Network. This enabled them  to use technology to contribute content in their indigenous language, including building out Wikipedia (Wikipeetia in Wayuunaiki). It is preserving history, adding infrastructure and access to information, leveling the technology playing field.

The approach used equipment already available at the school and student cell phones as devices. The do-it-yourself toolkit, while not perfect, was something to help bridge the gap in access and provide content, Botero said.

Students were able to download educational resources and the broader community to find – and contribute to — information in various languages by connecting to the local network. The project flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic when being able to connect to knowledge remotely was particularly vital.

“Teachers were very pleased to be able to exchange information with their students in a way that was not expensive,” Botero said.

The project aims to ensure access to educational sites and can use Wikipedia in Spanish offline in supporting the educational process. Another goal is for teachers and students to be able to participate offline in the construction of Wikipeetia educational centers, helping revitalize Wayuunaiki and promote the linguistic and cultural rights of the people in these contexts

“Wikipeetia was not only used by the schools, but teachers started to make their own educational content in Wayuunaiki,” Botero said. “Previously, that content was very scarce, but they have increased production and are sharing it. It was really incredible.” It became the first official indigenous language recognized by Wikipedia, she added.

In another part of Colombia, Karisma is working with a cultural project of the Zenú indigenous community linking the traditional knowledge of elders with young people through citizen science. They are using the network to gather information for the digital literacy project, preserving oral language and visual traditions.

“Young people are willing to use technology, do interviews and make videos. And the older people are so happy talking to them,” Botero said. “They needed the means to gather the information, process it, put it in their hands—then decide how to share it with others.”

The Karisma Foundation is a civil society organization founded in 2003 to advance human rights in the digital world. The Innovation and Social Technologies Lab (Lab lTS) experiments in small-scale contexts and local markets, under the framework of innovation and social technologies. 

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