Technology Connecting Communities
YAHUKIMO, Indonesia – In one of the most isolated areas of Indonesia, and possibly the world, connecting with outsiders has meant arduous and often dangerous travel by foot or small planes. The idea of remote villagers with computer access seemed ludicrous a few short months ago—but today, it is a fact. Realizing the untapped potential for learning and improving communication and education in remote areas, SERASI, through its partner YASUMAT, has supported the installation of five VSATs in the remote highland areas Yasumat works in.
Volunteer teachers from six parallel schools take part in an online distance learning training.
Using solar power, webcams, and widely available software programs, such as Skype, the VSATs are poised to bring rapid change and development to the rural villages. Extensive training was provided to YASUMAT field staff ranging from setup and maintenance of the hardware, maximizing utilization of the network, to the potential the new infrastructure holds for improving the lives of highlands inhabitants.
Health workers, teachers, and field staff in remote areas of the district are now linked to their colleagues in the district capital through village-based information resource centers. Through these centers, health workers, teachers, and village leaders are able to access information relevant to their needs, communicate with professionals in the towns, and convey information or news from activities conducted in the field.
The tools have also opened up basic communication by internet-based phone or SMS for the first time. Villagers pay a fee for the service to help cover future costs—they are more than willing to do so given that communication in the past was limited to short wave radio and village “runners.”
Teachers from parallel schools are now being introduced to online distance learning resources, which in future will reduce travel to Wamena for additional training.
Volunteer teachers working together with teacher training colleges in Wamena are jointly developing teaching materials based on local culture, norms, and habits. Given the high absenteeism rates of health workers, plans are underway to conduct web-based medical assessments, consult with health workers on emergency issues, and arrange assistance and transportation for the sick that need to be transferred to Wamena.
“As has been demonstrated all over the world the last 20 years, the internet has the potential to bring lasting, positive change, not only for communication, but for improving the lives of people. This endeavor in the highlands of Papua is bringing much needed services and information to places where it simply did not exist,” said James Grall, SERASI chief of party.
SERASI is a five-year USAID-funded project that promotes community solutions to governance and social challenges. It is implemented by Inter-national Relief & Development.