April 17, 2004: Headlines: COS - Belize: Computers: IEEE: Peace Corps volunteer Anne Waite shows Belize students the ins and outs of computers and the Internet.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Belize: Peace Corps Belize : The Peace Corps in Belize: April 17, 2004: Headlines: COS - Belize: Computers: IEEE: Peace Corps volunteer Anne Waite shows Belize students the ins and outs of computers and the Internet.

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-242-91.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.242.91) on Monday, April 19, 2004 - 6:04 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps volunteer Anne Waite shows Belize students the ins and outs of computers and the Internet.

Peace Corps volunteer Anne Waite shows Belize students the ins and outs of computers and the Internet.

Peace Corps volunteer Anne Waite shows Belize students the ins and outs of computers and the Internet.

A new Peace Corps initiative aims to raise computer literacy in the developing world

Belize Gets Wired

Caption: Peace Corps volunteer Anne Waite shows Belize students the ins and outs of computers and the Internet.

It's hard to imagine a more idyllic spot than the tiny Central American country of Belize. Tucked between Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea, Belize is a top destination for sun-starved tourists seeking solace in its coral reefs, rain forests, and Mayan ruins.

For all its natural beauty, though, Belize is, like other developing countries, still stranded on the "have-not" side of the digital divide. That is a situation that the U.S. Peace Corps hopes to address, through a new information technology (IT) initiative.

For the past 40 years, the Washington, D.C.­based group has been dispatching volunteers to developing countries, where they teach, train health care workers, promote environmental conservation, and the like. Belize, the first country to benefit from the new IT program, [see figure] now has 30 tech-savvy Peace Corps workers helping set up computer labs, design computer training workshops for teachers, and create a national computer curriculum for grade schoolers. Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif., has been supplying much of the equipment, as part of its recently launched World e-Inclusion initiative.

Many of the schools, particularly in rural areas, have neither electricity nor phone service, said Costas Christ, the Peace Corps' country director for Belize. So it's come as something of a surprise to Christ and his crew that even in the most remote areas, people know about computers and "jump at the chance to learn this new technology."

The Belize government has set a goal of placing computers in every primary school by the year 2005. "The prime minister told me that he doesn't want his country to fall victim to the so-called digital divide," said Christ. "He feels this program will be important for business development and investment, by training a skilled labor force."

Mirella Shannon was among the first crop of volunteers to arrive in Belize last June. After three months of orientation and training, she spent the fall overseeing the setup of a new computer lab in Punta Gorda, a small coastal town in the country's southernmost district. Her duties there call on many of the same skills she honed during 25 years in corporate IT management and software development. Just before joining the Peace Corps, she was a vice president for investment firm Neuberger Berman LLC.

In Belize, Shannon visits local schools and meets with teachers and administrators, often taking time to troubleshoot any equipment they may already have. But relying on computer hand-me-downs can be frustrating, she said. Recently she was asked to install some donated computers in a new computer lab at a rural school. "The building itself was perfect," she said. "But when I unboxed the computers, I was shocked to see that they were extremely old--IBM XTs--and in poor condition and [lacked] compatible storage devices. I had no way of installing current software."

Shannon now insists that donations meet a minimum standard. "We are doing a disservice to the children if we do not train them in current technology," she said.




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Story Source: IEEE

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Belize; Computers

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