Categories
Community Projects

Bringing Nepal Back Online: Free WiFi to Bhimeshwar

Residents of Bhimeshwar (formerly Charikot) whose houses were damaged in the April 25 earthquake and live now in tents can now use the free wifi provided by the Internet Society Nepal Chapter.

Today the trip to help Nepal get back online takes us to Bhimeshwar, formerly Charikot, and still referred to as Charikot, the headquarters of Dolakha district about 4 hours driving North-West from Kathmandu. This area is halfway Kathmandu and the Everest region and is much more mountainous and higher than Kathmandu.

Most buildings in Bhimeshwar are standing. It is a provincial town that only in recent decades grew and most buildings are relatively new and in concrete.
A view over Bhimeshwar.

However a number of those collapsed anyway as most of the town is precariously built on steep slopes. Many buildings that are still standing show cracks.


A street in Bhimeshwar.
The three wifi devices we want to install arrived already the day before. The solar panels and batteries that normally power the wifi devices during power cuts haven’t arrived yet although the truck carrying them left Kathmandu hours before us.

The first place where we install a wifi device is on the roof of a concrete building near another area where a cluster of tents is erected. But again there is a power cut and we cannot test it.

Members and supporters of the free wifi project of the Internet Society Nepal Chapter install a wifi spot on a rooftop in Bhimeshwar.

We first visit a local radio station, Hamro Radio FM, which has their antenna on one of the hills of Bhimeshwar. The building with the antenna still stands but the studio is moved to two tents because the building where the studio is located, underneath the broadcasting tower, shows cracks.


Hamro Radio FM is located in a makeshift studio located in a tent on a hill near the center of Bhimeshwar since the April 25 earthquake.

In the tent with all electronic equipment I meet Laxmi Basnet, an 18 year old news reader. She used to be a part time news reader before the earthquake and attended college, but now schools and universities are all closed so she works full time for radio.


Laxmi Basnet (18), a part time news reader for Hamro Radio FM, checks the internet for news in the radio’s makeshift studio located in a tent on a hill near the center of Bhimeshwar.

On the antenna behind the tents a small device is attached the previous day by the local Internet Society Nepal Chapter volunteers. It is a free wifi transmitter and the whole area can now go online for free. However, only when there is electricity, the device is not powered by a solar panel.

A few meters down from the radio tents there is a small tented camp where the local residents live now. This hill has been severely affected by the earthquake; a number of houses collapsed and many are damaged beyond repair and too dangerous to live in.

For checking news updates we rely on the internet, and then we broadcast it via our radio. The other internet services are often unreliable and expensive so the free internet is important.

The previous day and immediately after this wifi spot was installed Gokarna Prasad Bandhari, a reporter for a local newspaper, together with other journalists did online research and filed stories using the free internet access.

Armed with their smart phones and laptop they sat on the hill and worked.


Gokarna Prasad Bandhari, a local news paper journalist (right), shows a photo to Babu Ram Aryal to explain how local journalists used the newly installed free wifi system the previous day.

The school ground is now also a tented camp for earthquake victims. One of them is Subash Subedi (22). Subash sits in his tent surfing the internet using a wireless connection that connects to the mobile 3G network. That is expensive and he is pleased to hear that free wifi is being installed soon.


Subash Subedi (22) a resident of Bhimeshwar (formerly Charikot) is surfing the internet in a temporarily shelter since the April 25 earthquake damaged his home.

Free wifi would be good as using 3G is expensive. We use the internet to inform our self and it is the best way to keep in touch with friends and family.

Photos: © Tom Van Cakenberghe

* If you would like to help the Chapter bring Nepal back online you can donate on our website.

Categories
Growing the Internet Human Rights

A journey through digital empowerment in rural India

A small team of seven made up of Internet Society and Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) staff, two camera men and a future project site contact set out for a 48 hour journey to capture the stories and key learnings that currently live inside the Wireless For Communities (W4C) project across rural India.
Covering roughly 1500 km by train and car over the two days, the trip began on Saturday morning at the train station in Delhi to reach Baran, some 10 hours away. The goal of the trip was to meet and talk to the local people who are benefiting from the W4C project that the Internet Society and  DEF are sponsoring. DEF’s Lead Engineer, Shahid Ahmed, has developed this “barefoot wireless network” in Baran, which is now maintained by localmembers of the local community support that he has trained himself and who have gone on to become multipliers, training many others. We learned first-hand about how this project is directly impacting over 50,000 lives that are now connected to the Internet.
Following our six hour train ride to Kota, we arrived at Sindhu Hospital which acts as the main tele-medicine center where doctors connect with 10-15 patients a day live over a web cam to diagnose illness and prescribe medication. Sindhu Hospital is part of a government funded NGO program and now services the several wireless sites in Baran as a result of the W4C project which is saving the local folks time and cost to travel to the nearest major town, Kota, which is 50 km away.
Our second stop in Bhanwargarh, a village three hours away from Kota, is where the first network tower was built accompanied by solar panels to generate the needed electricity to run the network. Shahid has set up the technical infrastructure and solar energy at this location and continues to train others localsly so they can learn how to maintain the network.
This center provides food, shelter and education to girls whose families cannot provide the financial support needed to advance their education. Also, at this location, kids can take advantage of e-learning opportunities online in a computer room with four computers, access a physical library with books, science equipment and health information and even become part of the live radio broadcast show that was created onsite and is now reaching other villages in Baran managed by the children.
One teenage girl who was trained and educated at this location has moved on to continue to spread her Internet knowledge at our third location and is considered the local “Internet Activist”. She now teaches others about using Facebook and other online tools to help develop a presence online. Currently she has 15 Facebook friends across the entire network that services the Baran villages, which is amazing considering this has been a largely unconnected community till W4C arrived.
Our third stop in Khadela included a small center where locals can gather and use this online learning facility. This location has one computer and leverages the Internet to process and track government subsidized wages and address labor issues such as payment problems, unfair treatment and timely processing. As online information is helping to educate the village, the process of managing local wages has become faster online and the time and cost to travel to the government facility located more than 50 km away is no longer a factor. This site is also used as a monthly meeting place for the village to discuss and work together to address labor issues within the community.
In addition to the online collaboration, one young man decided to branch out and start his own “shop” where he offers document services to locals such as printing birth and death certificates as well as licenses and other legal documents. Using the wireless network, a workstation and his phone, he is able to access the Internet for profit and makes roughly $200 a month USD offering these types of services.
Our last stop in Mamomi included visiting a children’s learning center which was made possible also through the new wireless network and now offers online education opportunities to those that visit. Many stop in for a few weeks sort of like “camp” like to get exposed to using a computer, learn Hindi online and how to use Google and other tools for online educational purposes.  The center Manager was trained by Shahid just as in the other centers so he can not only maintain the network tower and IT equipment, but also repair the solar panels and address electricity issues if they arise. In addition this facility also produces packages and ships the locally known gooseberry candies to nearby markets and other villages.
As this work continues on the ground across a total of seven centers in Baran, new project sites are being targeted for 2014 in Indonesia and Burma. The dedicated staff of DEF and the project promoters likeother project sponsors like the Internet Society will not only help India get connected, but changes thousands of lives in the process through online education and holistic community development.