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Remote Village Technology in Laos
Alex Steffen, 1 Dec 03

The Jhai Foundation's Remote IT Village project is creating innovative technology to better the lives of poor rural villagers, and creating a global model in the process:

"Our Remote IT Village project responds to villagers expressed needs for telecommunications, business opportunities, and enhanced education for their children through the development of a solid-state, low-wattage computer that can be powered by a foot-crank, a high-bandwidth wireless network, and support for village small businesses.

"Farmers in Ban Phon Kam and nearby villages are now able to grow surpluses of rice and other crops-thanks in part to organic farming techniques that Jhai helped introduce. To profit on their surplus, however, they need accurate and timely information about pricing in the market town of Phon Hong and the capital, Vientiane.

"Without telephone lines or electricity, amid torrential rains followed by high temperatures and thick red dust, standard technologies won't function. Many of the villagers whom Jhai is working with are low-literate and do not speak English, so e-mail won't help them, the Internet is inappropriate. To respond to their needs, Jhai Foundation is developing:

"A rugged computer and printer assembled from off-the-shelf components that draws less than 20 watts in normal use - less than 70 watts when the printer is printing - and that can survive dirt, heat, and immersion in water

"A wireless Local Area Network with relay stations based on the 802.11b protocol, which will transmit signals between the villages and a server located at the Phon Hong Hospital for switching to the Internet or the Lao telephone system

"A Lao-language version of the free, Linux-based KDE graphical desktop and Lao-language office tools. Villagers in five villages and their surroundings will use this Jhai Communications Center to make telephone calls within Lao PDR and internationally (using voice-over-Internet technologies), and for the activities, such as accounting, letter writing, email, that are so important for their start-up enterprises.

"Village youth and children will receive technology training and microenterprise training using the Jhai Computer, with some young people joining the project as Youth IT Entrepreneurs. The Youth IT Entrepreneurs will support their elders in the use of the technology and in business operations."

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