From March 4th thru March 10th, a delegation of Information and Communication Technology [ICT] experts visited Dharamsala, India, at the invitation of the Tibetan Computer Resource Center within the Department of Information and International Relations. Dharamsala is in Himachal Pradesh (state) in India – in the Himalayan foothills.
We had several private meetings with individuals and groups, and tours of the Upper Tibetan Children’s Village, the Norbulingka Institute and the Men-Tsee-Khang Central Association of Traditional Tibetan Medicine, followed by joint meetings with TCRC and additional NGOs on March 7th thru 9th.
Dorji Tsering, who is head of the TCRC coordinated our visit. The three days of meetings were attended by about 25 participants each day. The secretary of the DIIR, Thubten Samphel, joined us on the first day. On this day we tried to focus on listening to statements of local IT issues and needs, without posing solutions. However, it was clear to us from the first day we arrived that “bandwidth” was a major factor limiting the growth of ICT within the local Tibetan exile community! On the second day we got into more solutions and specifics, and also had a meeting with Kalon Lobsang Nyandak whose new responsibilities include the DIIR. (Click the photo to the left to see a 4.2mb Quicktime movie!) We also parlayed with the local group to discuss how to organize for future work. On the third day we divided the group according to interests and talked and demo’d. In terms of demos, the group was most intrigued by Erik’s and Locke’s security demos.
Two groups were formed to take continuing action. The first is the local Dharamsala group consisting of representatives of all organizations and whose actions will be coordinated by TCRC. The second is the “Experts” working group, to be coordinated by Thubten Samdup.
The bandwidth issues – without adequate bandwidth, the TCRC and other CTA entities cannot participate in the modern information society. A Google search can take an hour. Getting your email can take two hours. Large downloads of video and audio are impossible. (The photo to the right shows a Wi-Fi high-gain antenna being used to provide initial Wi-Fi coverage for this part of Dharamsala.) Thus, these activities are prohibited or limited to specific individuals. When someone whose computer is not allowed Internet access needs to Google an answer to a question, they try to find an unused computer that does have access, or they ask some for the use of their computer, and then begin the tedious process. The Google search takes a fraction of a second, but the downloading of the results page can take minutes. Entities which do require broadband may get Isdn (64k) lines of their own – Voice of Tibet (mp3 “radio”) is an example. This omnipresent bandwidth problem means that local workers have little, if any, access to outside resources that are routinely available online in much of the Western world. Among the resources they lack are collaboration with outside experts. There are several possible ways the bandwidth problem may be solved, including private solutions and also the promised arrival of DSL in this part of India in the near future.
Short term solutions – by pairing up our “outside” resources with Dharamsala’s internal resources, we will gain further precision in identifying problems, and will suggest ways of solving problems or will point to resources and find ways of getting them to the local groups. We expect to invite additional individuals or groups to visit Dharamsala to instruct and train locals on specific technologies or procedures. The goal is to build self-reliance in the local community.
This model should be applicable to other communities that are off-network. We intend to document what we’re doing and to offer models that can be used by others in similar situations.
[Updated categories, and links to photos 2007-08-14]