Computers for Nicaragua

January 22 - February 4, 1997

EARTH LINKS COMPUTER COURSE AT URACCAN  By Takashi Yogi

  URACCAN requested aid from the Earth Links organization in the
United States to obtain computers. Earth Links got donations of used
computers and software from individuals and companies, repaired them
with volunteer help, and then sent 16 computer systems to URACCAN in
November 1996 via a Pastors for Peace truck and trucks driven by Santa
Cruz Coalition for Nicaragua members Bill Burtch, Kurt Brux, and
Patricia Fashing.  The computers survived the long trip by truck and
boat and were placed in a  special classroom that was renovated
especially for the computers.  The desks and chairs were handmade by a
skilled URACCAN carpenter known as King George.
  In late January Steven Leinau, executive director of Earth Links,
and Takashi Yogi, a computer engineer arrived at Bluefields to
participate in a 10-day course to teach computer software and repair
to sixteen URACCAN faculty and administrators.  Computer repair
services are not readily available on the Atlantic coast, so users
need to be able to diagnose and repair problems themselves.  The
students eagerly used screwdrivers to remove the covers of the
computers and learned to add memory, set up connections, and replace
defective parts.  The course covered basic software such as
wordprocessors, databases, spreadsheets, graphics, DOS and Windows.
Since there was a wide range of computer experience among the
students, the course was a cooperative effort, with the more
experienced students guiding the less experienced ones.  One of the
students, Betsy Sinclair Humphries knew WordPerfect well and taught
that section of the course.  At the end of the course, the students
enjoyed creating their own certificates of completion.
  Costs of the course were met by fundraising by Earth Links and the
Coalition for Nicaragua.  Getting to class was a daily adventure
because the road to URACCAN is very bad and is passable only with a
four-wheel drive vehicle.  So teachers and students all rode in the
back of a truck, often in the pouring rain, through deep mud and
water.
  At the end of the course, the Earth Links group went to visit the
Bilwi campus of URACCAN.  Takashi Yogi repaired some older computers
there, assisted by two students who had taken the course.





November 11-26, 1997

Support for Use of Computers at URACCAN

    A computer engineer from California, Takashi Yogi, recently
visited all three campuses of URACCAN to continue support for the use
of computers.  His two-week trip was sponsored by URACCAN, Earth
Links, and the Coalition for Nicaragua (Santa Cruz).  The schedule for
the trip was arranged by Rectora Myrna Cunningham, Ligia Siezar, and
Felipe Stuart.  Previous collaboration and assistance included
shipment of computers and classes in Bluefields covering software and
repair.  The recent trip focussed on intensive training in computer
repair, upgrades, and assessment of future needs.
    Computers in Nicaragua have problems that are not usually found in
the US.  Humidity, heat, and salty air cause many problems, especially
with electrical connections.  Floppy disks will grow mold if left
exposed.  Electrical power is unreliable, and backup power supplies
are essential.  Electrical wiring is often inadequate.  Lightning
damages computers and modems.  Repair service is not available outside
of Managua, so maintenance must be provided by each campus.
    In Bluefields, five people participated in extensive repair
practice on actual computer problems.  They spent four days diagnosing
problems and changing defective parts.  Two old computers were updated
to 386 and 486 by replacing motherboards.  So now there are seven
computers in Bluefields capable of running Windows 3.1 to support
classes developed since the initial installation and training in
February 1997.  Takashi spent two more days fixing computer and
electrical wiring problems.
    The Bilwi campus has some recent improvements.  Electricity is now
available from town.  Classrooms have been improved and there are many
classes at night for students who need to work during the day.
Computers are being used by the administration, and a computer room
for students is planned.  Two trainees spent a day and a half learning
repair methods, and they repaired three computers.  Takashi delivered
a 386 computer and a GPS navigation device provided by Earth Links for
use by Bilwi in support of indigenous land rights and resource
mapping.
    The visit to the remote Siuna campus was an adventure in a
single-engine airplane.  The flight included delays, heavy rain, and
wild rides through turbulent clouds.  The Siuna campus depends on a
generator for electricity,  There are plans for a system of batteries
with solar panels to run computers when the generator is not running.
Takashi worked with Professor Edgar Lopez to repair seven old
computers.  Two machines were updated with 386 and 486 motherboards.
Earth Links provided a 386 computer and two laptop computers for
Siuna.  Siuna is looking forward to telephone service in January and
expansion of computer facilities for students.
    Takashi spent a day in the URACCAN Managua office.  He discussed
plans for future computer development and classes with Jose Armando
Aragon and Felipe Stuart.  Jose has written custom software for
URACCAN for student records and grading.  URACCAN is planning to
expand its program of computer classes to include all three campuses.
More computers will be provided by TecsChange in Boston and Earth
Links.  Takashi reviewed computer books in Spanish for URACCAN and
Earth Links provided funds to buy them.
    The goal of the computer aid program is to provide the initial
training and equipment so that URACCAN eventually will be able to
maintain and develop computers independently.  The program has used
recycled computers to provide computers at very low cost.  URACCAN has
succeeded in adopting computer technology at a level appropriate for a
region with limited resources and difficult environment.

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