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The Internet as a Window to Education and Volunteer Opportunities

I live in rural Washington state, nearly an hour from the nearest large town. Ten miles away there is a small library – the first straw bale library in the U.S. in fact. They are open only a few hours a day, but they do have a broadband internet connection. My experience with the internet was limited to use at work. The cost of a basic internet connection became a priority to me when my teenage son left home to serve for five months as a page in the U.S. Senate. I couldn’t bear to think of being out of contact with him and I didn’t want to borrow a neighbor’s computer or sit in my car outside a locked building trying to surf off the wireless internet connection that extended into the parking lot; so we had a small wireless dish installed outside our house. That was only three years ago, and during my adjustment to a household now dependent on our wireless connection, I have come to realize how it has opened my world. Three of my children have been able to attend college or other classes on-line. Without the internet, only kids with a car and a family that could afford the 120 miles a day round trip to community college could take advantage of that opportunity. I finally applied to an on-line graduate school, and at the age of almost 50, I am continuing my education. I study information and library science at the University of Washington – one of the best programs in the country and nearly 200 miles away. My studies have given me a different lens for seeing the information needs in my community. As a rural resident who lives among the poorest in my state, I am acutely aware of the digital divide both in terms of technology access and digital literacy skills. Without broadband, I am often unable to access certain lectures, supplied videos or download software needed for a project. I have to drive to “town” to borrow a broadband connection at the gas station or a friend’s house. I now spend as much time volunteering in my community, as I do in my graduate studies. I am helping school libraries reach out to the community to fill gaps left by the public library system. People without a permanent residence, who speak only Spanish or are not U.S. citizens are reluctant to make use of our tiny library. They are comfortable at school, however, and I am helping to open the school after hours so parents can use the library and internet connection there. After a recent unfortunate purge of all non-English books from the schools here, I am using the internet to find grants to augment the school’s multi-cultural and bi-lingual literature to make the library more useful to Spanish speaking mono-lingual parents – over 60% of the population. Using the internet I recently found and wrote a digital literacy grant through the Washington Library Association for the local high school. They received the grant and I have volunteered help them implement digital collaboration, communication and community leadership skills using existing and new technology. The high school is 95% Hispanic and has gone to 100% federal free and reduced lunch status rates because of high poverty rates. My hope is that students who cannot leave their rural environment will become aware of the same possibilities the internet held for me – the ability to reach beyond my isolated community to learn and be able to influence the world around me in ways I would never have known. I have become involved as an on-line volunteer raising awareness of the digital needs of rural populations and the underserved. Most importantly, I found World Pulse on the internet and was suddenly connected with stories of women who overcome significant challenges to use the internet to open their communities and lead women beyond their horizons as well. Hearing their stories motivates me further to look for ways to make the internet a life changing reality for my own community. The technology is here, but women should know how they can use it for more than basic information and entertainment. They need to know they can make a difference for themselves, their children and community by using the vast possibilities offered by the internet.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Women Weave the Web Digital Action Campaign. Learn more »

Comments

LeanaM's picture

Welcome!

Welcome, friend, so happy to see you joining the campaign! I love reading the stories of people in the US, who are seeing and realizing the digital divide exists in their own backyard. I have to say though, it pains me to hear about what is going on in your community; how is it possible that there is a purge of non-English books in a community that is 95% Hispanic? What happened to the US' supposed claims of multiculturalism?

Perhaps more importantly though, and on a positive note, I am so glad that the Internet is giving you the opportunity to do all of these fantastic things for your community...I wish you much success in those endeavors!

inetmom's picture

Multi-culturalism

Dear LeanaM,

There are some places in America where cultural superiority, especially in terms of language, outweighs cultural competency, tolerance and celebration of diversity. Yes it is important to have a common language but in a global society I believe we must move beyond that mantra in order to participate in the digital world. Next month I hope to introduce a group of Spanish speakers to the internet through World Pulse. The school principal I have been working with is open to letting us use the computer lab! Extra time means extra opportunities. (My B.A. is in French and all of my children are learning a second language.)

LeanaM's picture

Fantastic!

So wonderful to hear about all of this incredible work you are doing in your community. Did you know that all of the World Pulse pages can be translated into other languages using the Google translate button at the top? The campaign page on how to participate is also available in Spanish: http://worldpulse.com/campaigns/www/las-mujeres-tejen-la-red-como-partic...

Also, we have a booklet about how to start using World Pulse....if you are interested, shoot me an email!

inetmom's picture

World Pulse in Spanish

Hello! Yes. I will definitely need to show most of the ladies in Spanish. I will have a high school student help me translate. 62% of parents in our community speak only Spanish and most of the rest are bi-lingual. I really think they would enjoy the meaningful interaction on World Pulse. I have seen the campaign page in Spanish. And I think I may have the outreach packet as well.

Thanks so much for your reply!

kellyannaustin's picture

beautiful

What a way to contribute to your community and to find the positive that the internet has to offer. Reaching out to people on the web is wonderful. And finding out the needs of your community and addressing them through the resources of the web is such a gift. Keep on keeping on!

Wishing you continued learning experiences,

Kelly

inetmom's picture

All the Internet has to Offer

Thanks Kelly!

I hope to teach more people about how they can reach beyond the limitations of a rural community to open up opportunities. There are so many young people that can't afford to leave and go to college. Why should they? They can go to college right here in cyberspace!

Best wishes - Tiffany

AngelHeart's picture

Keep up the good work!

What a beautiful example of internet access being used for connection, collaboration and community building. I am embarrassed to admit that it had not occurred to me that digital access was an issue for anyone in the US. That is why I am so grateful to have found World Pulse, to continue to learn from others about not only the greater global community but, my own backyard.

You have inspired me to find out more about the limitations of access in my community here in the mountains of North Carolina. Thank you for sharing and I wish you continued success in your studies and community projects.

In gratitude, AngelHeart

Alithea Gailliot, LMBT
Owner/Myofascial Release Therapist
Mind the Body Therapies, Inc

inetmom's picture

Humbling Knowledge

Dear Alithea,

I know how you feel in learning about the limitations of others. One of the ladies on World Pulse shared how happy she was to be able to use the internet; that she used to pay 1000 Congolese francs an hour to use a slow, unreliable internet connection in a café filled with men that would harass her. How much is that? I looked it up and it is about $1.09. How much does the average person in the DRC make? Less than $250 a year. So one hour on the internet was the equivalent of about three days wages (calculated on a 5 day work week). Even with my limitations, internet access is possible. I am happy to have my spotty, affordable internet access.

Best wishes for continued community with your own community,

Tiffany

Shilpa Balakrishnan's picture

Welcome...Dear...

First of all,welcoming you to this world. Its great to have you here,and thank you for sharing this story. Its sad to know about your community,but i thought that as a developed country every place will be as much as like towns. Commonly everybody think like that,at least here. Internet had really helped you and your community. Good to have you here. Expecting more inspiring stories from you.
Love
Shilpa.

inetmom's picture

Inspiring friends

Dear Shilpa -
One of the things I like about World Pulse is it helps us realize we all have common problems that can be solved in ways that inspire others in other countries around the world. Seeing a problem, and being willing to help solve it is a good start. Thanks for your interest in my story. I am hoping to volunteer to teach internet to a women's group in a few weeks!

RosemaryC's picture

Dear inetmom: I was so happy

Dear inetmom:
I was so happy to read your story about how the internet has created connection, and expanded community, for you, and you in turn have done so for others.
I was initially puzzled about what you said about how some resources for your studies can only be downloaded via broadband, rather than wireless. Then I remembered a story I read about, a number of years ago, on a project called e-Granary which was designed to provide resources for schools in Africa, where internet access was severely limited and so people had difficulties downloading resources.
I wonder if there might be any way this kind of approach might be useful for your community? See http://www.widernet.org/egranary/
I was saddened to read about the purge of non-English books in your community - and so glad to know that you are able to open up the school after hours for people who might not feel comfortable using the library. I like the idea of 'lighted schools' that are community resources for the evening as well as the day time.
With all best wishes for your continuing achievements,
Rosemary

inetmom's picture

Lighted Schools

Thanks Rosemary for that term - "lighted schools". I'll pass it along to the school principal. I registered his school through an organization called First Book that provides books to kids worldwide in English, Spanish, French and other languages. 150 wonderful bi-lingual books are on their way! We are also using the International Digital Children's Library to give parents access to bi-lingual books at home for FREE! Check them out! http://en.childrenslibrary.org/

Sydney's picture

Uplifting

inetmom,

Thanks for sharing your story! I've traveled through rural Washington and was struck by how beautiful and remote it can be. I am glad that you were not only able to find reliable internet, but to use in such a transformative way. The work you are doing for your community is so important. I really enjoyed learning about your community engagement and the grant you wrote for the high school. Is there a similar grant you can use to help other members of your community, such as the parents you described?

Sydney

inetmom's picture

Community Grant

Dear Sydney - I had never considered a grant for digital learning in the community. That is something worth pursuing. I am planning my first volunteer training in a few weeks to see if there is interest among women here in learning how to use the internet and in connecting with World Pulse in Spanish.

Thanks for the idea!

mlf's picture

Congratulations

Greetings from North Carolina. Congratulations on your inspiring work,not the least of which is returning to school at almost 50. Thank you for sharing your story about your work in the community. I appreciate all that you are doing. Thank you also for teaching me what a straw bale library is. I had no idea so I went to the internet and got myself educated!
Miriam

Soumya Vilekar's picture

lovely share

Dear inetmom,
you shared the most normal yet the minute things which can change our world,if we are connected to the world through internet. It opens the way to a broader horizon. Loved the initiative that you are taking in learning and also in helping out others.
Best wishes to all,
Soumya

Dear Soumya, That is how I feel. I can sit at my kitchen table in the middle of an apple orchard miles from the nearest house and still "talk" to people, "listen" to others and share what I have to give.

Jan K Askin's picture

Reverse the migration

Dear Inetmom,

I second all of the thoughtful comments above from the World Pulse community.

Given the problems created by our expanding urban areas, your example shows the way to revitalizing our rural areas by enfolding them into the greater community on the Internet. Rural America can be beautiful. Living in rural areas can be fulfilling. The deterrent is isolation; the Internet provides a global community!

Your sister in California,

Jan

Jan Askin

inetmom's picture

A global community

Dear Jan - Thanks for your comments and for validating my voice. My goal for myself and for my community is to learn more about on-line volunteering, on-line education (I am currently pursuing my Master's degree on-line) and on-line employment. Geography should not limit our potential.

I hope you are enjoying all California has to offer!

Tiffany

binapatel33's picture

Great job

Thank you for your post! It is very good to see that you have come very far in life with learning the internet, its value, and now you are trying to make a difference at public schools. You are a courageous individual and have a strong will power to carry out your determination to learn the internet. I am so very proud of you and know that you will come quite far in life with your achievements! Take care and all the best.

Bina

Kind Regards,
Bina Patel
hc Mediate, LLC
www.hcmediate.com

Julia O'Byrne's picture

Eye opener

Hi inetmom!
I really enjoyed your post and it really reminded me of how internet use across all of North America is something I take for granted. It was fascinating to read about your experiences in rural Washington and the challenges you've faced in getting online. I loved reading about you've been doing for the local high school and the Spanish speaking students and parents. It's so cool!! I also think it's so great and cool that you are in school studying library science. I enjoyed reading about the specifics you are doing to affect positive change in your community and it was a great reminder that the internet can offer so much more than just entertainment.

I come from Toronto and I love using the Toronto Public Libraries - I think TPL is one of the biggest library systems in the world. I live close to two different branches and they are always full of people reading, using the internet, working, etc. and it makes me happy that libraries are safe and happy places for them to do lots of great things. It sounds like you are making the library at your local high school like that too and it's very inspiring :)

Best wishes,
Julia

Vision40's picture

Great news

Hi Inetmom, thank you for sharing your story with us and enlightening me with your efforts in your own community,

It makes me realise that I must think about how to improve the digital literacy of the parents in my school to break a cycle of poverty. We also have funding available to support this I am sure but I must dedicate some time to finding solutions for families who do not as yet realise what is out there to help them.

Thank you again for keeping me focused on my work and I wish you every success in yours

First you need to believe you can
Take care
Nicola

inetmom's picture

Family Literacy

Dear Nicola - There are so many inspiring posts from around the world that have shown me that literacy does not have to be a deterrent to using the internet. Everyone has something they are interested in. Start there and build on the love of knowledge or curiousity or whatever you find people need to learn. I wish you well in your work.

T.

kstraut's picture

Great insights!

First off, thank you so much for sharing your first hand experience with the challenges of a digital divide here in rural America. It is true that being integrated with the internet is a basic tenant of modern societal functioning. It's amazing to hear how your connection spurred the continuation of higher education! How fantastic! Thanks for being such an inspiration. Keep on doin that good work and connecting with us!

Kendall

erinluhmann's picture

Great Perspective

Hi Intemom! Thanks for articulating the complexity of digital literacy and Internet access in the U.S. Lately, I have been thinking about their relationship between poverty and access in Minnesota. I know certain schools here have acquired grants to outfit students with personal Apple computers. As first, I was skeptical because I wondered if this resource would put a strain on students from low-income families by creating a new hierarchy in their family unit. I also felt it seemed excessive when many of their peers across the U.S. don't even have reliable access to basic computer/Internet tools. That being said, I also realize the importance of digital literacy and computer skills. Thoughts?

inetmom's picture

Putting the cart before the horse...

Dear Erin - I am a library sciences grad student and digital literacy is a favorite topic. Research shows that introducing technology without the context in which to use it is not usually a successful endeavor. There are some countries where cell phones were purchased for rural young men to help them job hunt and access government services. Researchers found them using the phones to access pornography and they were still using non-tech methods of job hunting. Literacy has to do with understanding why in addition to how to use technology. After a need is established, and some context is built into the experience, then perhaps the move can be made to introduce technology. We have the same issue here. A principal used his library budget to purchase ipad minis and e-book accounts for elementary school kids in a low income, rural area. The kids are playing games. The parents don't know how to use the ipads and there are no books in the library. Parents are left out of the literacy loop. Does that make sense? That is why World Pulse is so beautiful. The programs that introduce women to the internet are meaningful and compelling and give them immediate context for using technology no matter what their back ground. The more I learn about World Pulse, the more I am impressed to volunteer to help their projects!

Adahmbah's picture

Congratualations! keep the Spirit

I'm so touched by your work and love to see your community change as an on-line volunteer raising awareness of the digital needs of rural populations and the undeserved in your community...Again your quest for know at 50 inspires me to move faster and do even more.Great inspiration and keep the faith. Im from Cameroon and my organization is struggling to impact the use of technology in the vocabulary of rural women in communities around Nkwen. But i tell you sisters it seems not to be an easy task because most of them are illiterates.They will not want to come for the training in the training centers for no cost.Some by seeing the computer makes them frighten and they tell you it's the things of the youths.Please sisters i think i need some help here to be able to empower many rural women to love and communicate by using the Internets and computers services.
Adah

inetmom's picture

Love of Literacy

Dear Adahmbah -

My community also suffers from literacy challenges in getting people to use the library and the internet. I have learned in my graduate studies, that technology must come AFTER people develop the need or awareness for its use. Your community must help women find a reason to use the computer - is the internet fast enough for video calls? Would looking at food web sites be fun for them? What about teaching women how to talk to their children about books? Even if they can't read, they can learn techniques and questions for guiding their children in reading. This web site http://en.childrenslibrary.org/ has lots of picture books that can be used for these kinds of family workshops. And of course, World Pulse can help them share their stories. Is there a citizen journalist in your community that would help women from your community speak from their experiences? World Pulse will train them. We all want to hear from those ladies. Encourage them to help each other to speak through the power of the internet!

I admire your work. I will ask my teacher and library friends what they do to encourage those who can't write to use computers.

Thanks for writing me!

Pushpa Achanta's picture

A lead(ership) story!

Dear sister Tiffany,

Thanks for this poignant and inspiring piece about your determined, timely and successful interventions and activities. I admire your commitment and realism. The article reveals some harsh, important yet barely known facts about certain places and people in the USA.

Best wishes for continuing and enhancing the wonderful work!

Warmth and love,
Pushpa

RosemaryC's picture

More about Love of Literacy

Dear Tiffany:
I came back to read new posts and was so struck by what you said to Adahmbah - that 'technology must come AFTER people develop the need or awareness for its use" and that communities 'must help women find a reason to use the computer".
I do hope you will write more about how to do this. It would be wonderful to have such a 'primer' to share widely, and you seem like the perfect person to write it :)
Best regards,
Rosemary

inetmom's picture

A Literacy Primer

Dear Rosemary - That's a great suggestion and one I will consider as I read through the journal submissions from women around the world. I know the theory behind why this must happen from my work in graduate school, but it is exciting to me to see women in Guatemala, Nigeria and Tibet being successful in actually doing this. For example, I just read a post about a woman who ran free computer classes only to find that the women who attended could not read or write. Undaunted, she used the computer keyboard to teach them their letters, then on to basic words. Soon they were able to type enough to search for recipes, YouTube videos on how to knit and three years later some of these women are marketing hand made items on-line. THAT is inspiring, and humbling - and the reason a little knowledge is a powerful thing for all of us!

Nabiye Tal's picture

Great Job

Dear Inetmom,
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I never expected that even in the US there will be digital challenges like you mentioned. I used to think it is only in Africa that we have this challenge. I admire the work you are doing with the school and the Library. In Nigeria it is very rare to see a library in a community. Libraries are only in schools and that means you must be in school to have access to a library if the school have one. For those who cannot afford school, they know nothing about Libraries. Your story have inspired me to start thinking of setting up a free community library in future with a free internet so that more women and girls can go to school online and learn alot. Thanks for inspiring me... :)

Nabiye Tal,
Founder/CEO- IEVAWC.
@nabiye, @ievawc

inetmom's picture

Free Libraries

You are right that a free internet connection can open the world to girls and women. Not only can they learn more about reading and writing, they can connect with their own interests and also can read books on-line. This is one of my favorite sites http://en.childrenslibrary.org/ - They have books in many languages and there is no fee to read their books on-line. So nice meeting you!

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