In El Garbanzo, population is counted by families (there are 34) not individuals. Today, they can walk into a Community Knowledge Center and connect to others anywhere in world.
The tiny rural village sits atop a lush green hill in Guanajuato, Mexico, and the pace of life is slow. Water comes by truck twice a week, and the road to the nearest city (about 1 hour away) becomes impassable in heavy rains. The 10-by-10 schoolhouse serves 25 primary and 7 secondary students with a dated curriculum based on the few books available. With little connection to the outside world, people must leave El Garbanzo to participate in the 21st century economy.
When international nonprofits One Global Economy (OGE) and Choice Humanitarian selected El Garbanzo for the site of an Internet-connected Community Knowledge Center (CKC), they joined the village to a chain of CKCs around the globe from Africa to Haiti. From the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya to this mountaintop in Mexico, CKCs bring people and skills together with technology to boost local economic and workforce development and expand opportunity.
The CKC model was initially developed by Cisco in partnership with OGE and other nonprofits, including Inveneo and Appleseeds Academy, as part of Cisco’s $15 millionClinton Global Initiative in sub-Saharan Africa. In some CKCs, OGE prepares a team of young “Community Connectors” to support and market the facility, and encourages online exploration with a localized portal or “Beehive” populated with content that matters to local residents.
In Guanajuato, Cisco provided grant support for development of the CKC in El Garbanzo and two others in San Agustín and Victoria.
In El Garbanzo, OGE and Choice Humanitarian led a workshop so community members could voice their needs and hopes for the CKC. Choice Humanitarian then designed a new building to house the CKC and delivered broadband connectivity with 7 computers. Community members pitched in to build the facility.
José Antonio Mondragón Mosqueda, 18, and Raúl Mondragón Yepez, 23, were selected to manage the El Garbanzo CKC and received training through the Community Connectors program. Now they train others in the skills they learned – technology basics as well as leadership and business skills such as public speaking, marketing, bookkeeping, and raising capital. About 30 young people are serving as Community Connectors at the 3 CKCs in Guanajuato.
Together, José and Raúl manage the CKC and promote its services – like printing, scanning, copying, basic computer literacy courses, tutoring, and email set-up for first-time Internet users. They help students with homework and show others how to search infofacil.mx, the local Beehive created by OGE, for medical and financial information. José and Raúl even used their skills to start a Facebook page promoting ecotourism in the town; they garnered visibility and support that led a federal government agency to finance a local reforestation and conservation project.
“Young people have a natural affinity and are quick to learn and adopt technology,” Moustafa Mourad, President of One Global Economy, said of the Community Connectors program. “They become ambassadors in their community and help older people, people who have never seen a computer. They become interested in staying in the community and assuming a leadership role.”
The El Garbanzo CKC serves more than 100 users each week, including local students and even teachers who go there to print academic materials and plan lessons that include online activities.
Lisbeth Reyes Rodriguez, 15, uses the CKC in San Agustín, about an hour from El Garbanzo. She says most of the children in her community did not know how to use a computer before the CKC opened, but they do now. “I see many kids come to do their homework,” she says. “Earlier, they used to ask for help, but now they do it easily.”
Ernesto Ramiro Gutierrez Flores works at the CKC in San Agustín, which serves more than 200 people each week. “People are increasingly becoming familiar with new things, and most important, they can send or receive information by e-mail, and find a job, exam dates, or schools for studying,” he says.
Before the CKC opened in El Garbanzo, residents had to travel at least an hour and a half on dirt roads to take advantage of similar services and connect to the Internet. Today, they can walk down the street to connect to others anywhere in Mexico and beyond.
And the CKC does not just bring the world to El Garbanzo – it brings the smiles and excitement of El Garbanzo to the world. Anyone, anywhere, can become a friend of the El Garbanzo Community Connectors on Facebook or visit the El Garbanzo CKC web site.
“With the simple action of bridging the gap between the community and technology, a big change comes about,” said Maureen Legaria of One Global Economy. “The community has been isolated for decades as the world changed.”