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Wednesday
Dec252013

Christmas the Nepali Way

 Kulpuja Festival

Overall an incredibly productive 4 weeks since I last wrote: several nodes have been erected; the computer classroom has been painted, carpeted and provided with internet connectivity; broken computers have been fixed and a tracking system to help manage IT stock introduced. 

In addition, I’ve been training a chap called Bimal, who will one day, hopefully, take over the management of the network. For this community owned ISP to succeed, there must be a team in place before I leave to run it. A huge challenge - not only is there network maintenance to consider, but also billing and administration. This, in my view, is a greater challenge then any technical aspect, and it isn’t half time consuming..

But the bottom line is Dhawa.net is LIVE. Each node is transmitting at around 24Mbps and in general, everything is working far better than I expected. I think I factored in so much pessimism into my calcs I forgot the network might actually work! And working it is: 24Mbps across hilly terrain and through thick vegetation is something to celebrate.

To put this into context:

1950 Nepal opens its borders; the first school is built in Dhawa

2009 Learning Planet is founded

2010 Reliable (solar) power installed at main school, Shree Prabhat (Max grid availability 18hrs/day, lows of 6hrs/day)

2011 First computers in Dhawa

2012 House latrines are introduced, and mobile phones now increasingly common

2013 The Internet spreads accross Dhawa

A lot has had to happen to make this possible, and it’s amazing how much you can achieve if you work 12hrs a day, 7 days a week, and have no paper work.

Equally amazing is how quickly a job can grind to a halt, if for example, you run out of materials, as I did when wiring the Upper School (primary broadcast station for Dhawa.net). The nearest supplies are 2-days away, so the job is put on hold pending a trip to Kathmandu.

Upper School Playground

But by way of recognition, it was great to receive a phone call from an ecstatic Giri (Head Teacher & co-founder of Learning Planet) to tell me that he had just received ‘the honour of his life’; a ChoiceFM radio interview on Dhawa.net. Furthermore an interview in Gorkha’s daily to compliment! (web-links to follow)

Overall the project is where I expected it to be; but inevitably there have been one or two surprises I didn’t expect. For example, having to wire houses for light when installing network equipment. Without fail each house owner has been most welcome to the idea of a router, PV panel, lead-acid sealed battery and so on joining the family, and have never asked for anything extra. But LED lighting to help see in the dark can be life changing. So over-spec’ing the power supply unit just slightly, and giving a bit more time, means happy faces all round. Slows the network roll-out process incredibly…but good fun all the same. 

Perhaps much more rewarding thou, is seeing the internet in use – primarily Skype. It’s difficult to understate the import of programs like Skype. Sitting there after enabling the internet, I watch as a local man working in Saudia Arabia sees his baby son for the first time – read this if you have time:

http://www.learningplanet.org.uk/it-and-connectivity/

(also see the new project widget, right hand side)

Another highlight was installing a long distance link to a guesthouse in Balimtar (a remote village of the dilhat “untouchable cast”), that sits on the route to the Manaslu Circuit. Now this fantastic lodge has a USP and a new source of income – exactly what this project is all about. Below is a pic to show the reaction on my laptop as I test out the link.

Testing the internet in Balimtar

And of course I’ve gone to town in my room; I’ve wired it for Light (quality of life improved drastically) and high speed internet (in bed!). Astonishing when you think my morning view is of 3 mountain ranges (Mansiri Himal, Annapurna, Ganesh Himal – see below).

View from my bedroom Window

But perhaps you wonder how I go about doing all this this with no prior knowledge of the local dialect, let alone Nepalese? Well, two people enable my work here. Giri – my host and co-founder of LP, and Justin, my roommate and other co-founder of LP. Giri commands a lot of respect in the village so with his consent we proceed, and Justin is a Brit who has worked in the village for 3 years and is incredibly skilled at making contacts, and encouraging organisations to work pro bono. Giri doesn’t provide input on individual projects but is a rock to fall back on; Justin is busy constructing a new school and will generally make the introductions and then leave me to crack on. I’m confident enough now to enlist paid and voluntary help, which speeds things along (like transporting 100Ah batteries down mountain slopes!).

This note has become too long to expand on life outside of work, but needless to say it’s incredibly different and interesting. The community is full of life, with labour in the fields broken up by regular festivals and dancing. The most recent of which was Kulpeja, which takes places once every 3 years. A family gathering at a temple in the jungle, made remarkable by the beheading of 5 goats!

Goat and its cook pot - pre-decapitation!

I’ll leave you with something I have only just discovered (whilst sitting here in Kathmandu writing this): The internet is slower here, in the Capital, then it is in Dhawa. Surely a good sign for things to come… 

Signing off from a very un-Christmassy looking Kathmandu – Merry Christmas!

Matt

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