Archive for June, 2002

Back from India & Bhutan

Thursday, June 20th, 2002

I just wanted to let you know that I’m back in DC, having
made the 8,000-mile trek back to the US from India and Bhutan. The launch of
our new collaboration with OneWorld South Asia, the Digital Opportunity
Channel (www.digitalopportunity.org) was a great success. Despite working
last week under 115 degree temperatures (46 degrees celsius) and a stream of
power outages and network outages, the team at OneWorld South Asia and OW
International in London managed to complete the site and launch it in time
for Friday’s inaugural event in Delhi. Kanti Kumar and I introduced the
channel to a room full of reporters and local NGO colleagues, and we also
had presentations from OneWorld’s Anuradha Vittachi, DFID’s Yusuf Samiullah,
among others, including a demo by one of the developers of the Simputer, a
low-cost handheld computer being developed for illiterate and
limited-literate users.
I also managed to make a brief two-day visit to Bhutan, where I met with
officials in the capital city of Thimphu. Bhutan is truly a unique place, a
Himalayan Switzerland caught between ancient traditions and the pull of the
future. Bhutanese citizens dress in traditional local costumes, yet speak
fluent English due to the fact that all schooling is conducted in English
rather than the local languages of Dzongka and Sharchopkha. Several
cybercafes have opened up in Thimphu, though if the nation’s one ISP
(Druknet) goes down, all internet access goes down – as I discovered during
my second day in the country.
Among the meetings I had there, I visited the education ministry to meet
with the architect of Bhutan’s first national edtech plan. I also met with
staff of Bhutan’s directorate of technology, plus the publisher of their
national newspaper and the lead anchor of their tv/radio news service. (The
newspaper’s website, www.kuenselonline.com, hosts what is probably the first
indigenous open public discussion on Bhutan ever available to Bhutanese
citizens.) I visited a private school with one of the few Internet pc labs
in the country and met with its principal, who was eager to see the Internet
used more to improve student’s English skills. Lastly, I managed to spend
time in Thimphu’s first commercial IT training center, where everyone from
local students to civil servants are beginning to master numerous software
packages.
Of course, I’ll eventually publish an article about my experiences there,
but first I’ll spend some time getting over jetlag and Delhi Belly before
processing the dozens of pages of notes I took during my brief stay in
Bhutan.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit our new site yet, please visit
www.digitalopportunity.org and let us know what you think. Additionally,
we’re really eager to publish articles and essays about digital divide
issues and ICT uses in global development, especially from local
perspectives in the developing world. If you have any interest in submitting
an article, by all means please email me.