Revi Sterling (pictured above), who is ATLAS director of graduate studies in Information and Communication Technologies for Development, and CU Electrical Engineering professor Alan Mickelson led an explorative trip along the Napo River in Peru in the summer of 2009, then began planning a pilot project that connects communication exchange and educational efforts in order to raise the level of skill and economic capacity of the river communities.
The trip built on previous CU communications with community leaders in Loreto, who unanimously explained the need for development services along the Napo River, especially in the wake of conflict between indigenous populations, the Peruvian military and oil companies.
The mid and upper Napo regions represent one of Peru’s major development challenges due to the remote geography and lack of infrastructure.
The mounting challenges and pressures of globalization – especially oil and timber concessions – are adversely affecting these communities.
Already poor and underserved, the rise in commodity prices is introducing even greater levels of poverty, including hunger and jealousy between communities.
The communities placed education as their highest need. They approached the CU professors to help them enable opportunities for teens and adults to pass the Peruvian high school degree equivalency exams, which would open a world of opportunities previously out of reach, including jobs and vocational training programs.
These would feed back into the community, raise the standard of living and promote the cycle of education. With 50% of the population under 18, education is critical to community development and addressing the challenges that these communities face. Sterling and Mickelson conducted community feasibility studies and technology appraisals in the remote Loreto district.
They now are planning a pilot project to connect communities though Wi-Fi phones that support point-to-point communication quickly and without cost to users.
The project involves both engineering and social science faculty to ensure that it is an appropriate, sustainable and equitable community development project, as defined by the communities.
Students and additional faculty across ATLAS, the Mortenson Center for Engineering for Developing Communities, and Engineers without Borders will contribute to the project. There is a project Web site/blog at http://ecee.colorado.edu/wpmu/naponet/ for team members and students, and a six-minute video vignette on YouTube that offers an introduction to the region, the communities, and their development issues and aspirations.