New Civilization News: The Mac Maya Project -- Computers for Guatemala School Kids    
 The Mac Maya Project -- Computers for Guatemala School Kids1 comment
30 Dec 2005 @ 16:33, by Ned Hamson

The following story and text describes how a Peace Corps member -- Margaret Molinari -- friend of mine, with a little help from me, Got 300 plus Macintosh computers to a rural area of Guatemala (homeland of the Maya). After that bit of history, there is a letter and funding proposal to make the project even better and give many Mayan students access to computers and the internet to further their education.

Mac Maya

The following describes how a friend of mine, with a little help from me, Got 300 plus Macintosh computers to a rural area of Guatemala (homeland of the Maya). After that bit of history, there is a letter and funding proposal to make the project even better and give many Mayan students access to computers and the internet to further their education.

The History of the Mac Maya Project to Date... From Margaret Molinari via Ned Hamson

Well, thanks to each one of you, the 370 computers have arrived in San Martin Jilotepeque, Guatemala, as of Monday the 4th of November. Unfortunately I was not here when they arrived, but they are safely stored in the house of the mayor. When I think of miracles and such, this whole operation fits into my definition. Some of you don't know the whole story, so lets document it.

First Ned, you sent me a note written by Will asking if any NGO wanted 400 used Mac computers for the cost of warehousing and shipping. I went directly to the Mayor here and asked if he was interested. He was, and wanted to find out what it would cost, so he contacted Rudy Navas, who works with the Municipality of San Martin as a contractor, who got a ballpark figure. That came out to under $20 per computer, so we went with it. I called Will to get more information and he explained the situation. The material came from a ¨well-to-do school district (cover for Steve Silvius of the Montgomery County School District in Maryland and Camita who works with him) and was originally to go to New Vision for Africa (and somehow World Computer Exchange was involved.). There was a glitch and frankly, Will was trying to get rid of them because they were costing rental money for storage.

I called the Director of the Peace Corps in Guatemala, Cindy Threlkeld, and she referred me to Carlos Vasquez who handles such shipments. Carlos was very helpful. The material could come into the country tax free if sent to the Peace Corps in care of the American Embassy. So that hurdle was overcome. We wouldn't have to pay taxes. (And then the director of SOSEP--the President's wife's social project fund--promised help getting them through if we had any problems.) But we needed an inventory to get through customs. (In the end because of the state of emergency that was declared after the effects of the hurricane, they could come in under that umbrella too.)

Now the fun part. We didn't know what was on the pallets, nor did we have anyone to count what was on them. All we knew was that we had roughly twenty pallets and probably near 400 computers but nothing more. After a number of false starts, Scott Gutowski and his wife offered to go to the warehouse and count them. By the way, he was contacted through some web site and is an expert on Macs, plus he and his wife speak Spanish. They did go and they developed a list. We had 316 computers and lots of other good stuff.

Will noticed that there are several pallets of peripherals, which could be put on top of other pallets and other machines added. But who could get them? Scott offered, and Steve agreed to supply them from the Montgomery County schools. But then Steve got caught up in the opening of schools and was absolutely overwhelmed. I frankly felt bad when I finally did get through to him in his rush time. We in San Martin decided to pay an extra month's rental of $200 if it meant 40 to 50 other machines. So we waited for Steve's work to calm down. Then Scott's company lost an employee and he was absolutely overwhelmed with 60 hours of work a week. Now what could we do. We could have the computers but there was no way to get them to the warehouse.

Will called Reese, our contact at Overflow Warehouse, and he agreed to go get them for $150. Whew. He did and rearranged the pallets, shrink wrapped them, and got them into a container. He has been so very patient and helpful as we struggled through the process. And now that part is history.

Our fun now is how to handle the container when it comes. There is doubt that it can enter San Martin due to the sharp curves on the road in, but it made it. So we were playing around with alternatives including warehousing them in Guatemala City and transporting them to San Martin a truckload at a time. The mayor was positive they would get in, and he was right. The mayor is letting us use his old house which has offices, etc., because they could be under lock and key. We have to make sure they work, etc., and put Spanish software on them. Again, this will be a lot of work. One of the volunteers here in San Martin works with a Healthy Schools program, so she is willing to help out during the next two months of school vacations.

That's the story so far. I'll keep you all updated about what happens next. But the real reason for this note, apart from documenting it so that you can all see what happened, was that I wanted to let each of you know how important your role was in the whole thing. Each of you has had a really pivotal influence on helping the students of San Martin get these new computers. Each one of you has been an important part of this miracle. From the bottom of my heart I say thank you to each and every one of you. I also know that the mayor and city council are very, very grateful. City council members are awestruck as I update them on the progress. I think they thought it would all fade away. One asked me today if they were really coming. And two stopped me on the street yesterday after moving them in and they had great big grins on their faces.

I assure you, if anyone wants to visit us (especially if you want to take your vacation helping to set up some Mac computers!), you will be most warmly welcomed here. I have an extra bedroom in my house, and we would work out whatever else was necessary. (Sorry, we can't pay your way down!) The mayor told me he would be delighted to have you here and he lives in a gorgeous house with all the amenities you are used to.

Let me tell you who you helped. San Martin Jilotepeque is a typical Guatemalan town in many ways. It's 60,000 inhabitants are 90% indigenous and very poor. The economy is based on agriculture. There is no possibility of any industry other than small shops due to the hilliness of the countryside and lack of available space in the urban area. The community was badly hurt in the earthquake that hit Guatemala in the 70´s, and was one of the most affected by the 30 year armed conflict that ended in 1996. The current mayor and his city council are focused on development of the community and have accomplished a lot. They see that development as concrete—new roads, new schools, a new hospital, etc. The city council has backed small ways of increasing the budget, like making sure every store pays its Q10 license ($1.40) every month, etc. The goal is to find more ways of steadying the income of the municipality rather than relying on national income or project grants. With this money, they can afford such projects as paying for the transport of the computers.

I have just worked up some figures on children in school. Although it is the law that children attend school, there is no enforcement of this. It is especially sad that the prevailing view is that many young girls are not sent to school, and that many girls and boys drop out before the end of primary school (6th grade.) Over half the population is under 18 years of age. There are 13,950 students in 116 primary schools which amounts to 80% of the population eligible. I was shocked and surprised and delighted by this figure, because it means that there has been some success in getting kids in school and keeping them there. If you count those who leave in fifth or sixth grade (which happens to a good number) after learning to read and write, it seems from the figures that most students go to school for some time. That's something, not great, but better than not going to school at all.

The municipality, especially with the help of national funds and foundations, is building schools as fast as it can. I just worked on the proposal for a secondary school using video tapes (and thus less work intensive for teachers) for one of the communities centrally located in the countryside. This will be the 9th of its kind for the 251 square kilometer municipality. (Altogether there are 33 secondary schools and 1,815 students.)

The schools have no room for the computers, so one of the things we are thinking about is building small new buildings for the computers. Simple structures with bars for security and a good door. If you want to see that proposal, let me know.

Another fact—schools are badly overcrowded. A friend of mine has a class of 48 students. That is typical. Also typical is having a teacher teach two, three or four grades all at once.

Well, again thank you so much from everyone here. When you are down, think you can't do anything right, or are just plain sad, picture the people who look at me with incredulous faces when I tell them what's coming to town. You helped them believe. You helped them be acknowledged by a great big world out there. And you will help their children become part of that world.

Grateful in this great dance of life, Margaret

Margaret Molinari Peace Corps Volunteer San Martin Jilotepeque Chimaltenango Guatemala, Central America Tel 502-5527--5213

The Mac Maya Proposal; Letter Dear Sir,

San Martin Jilotepeque has a vision and needs help in implementing it. As a third year Peace Corps Volunteer in San Martin, I am writing on their behalf. The mayor and city council don't speak English. I would like to offer you the opportunity of adopting this community and aiding in their economic and technological development.

We have acquired 350 computers and have a desire to put them in 15 simple and secure computer centers in the city's natural micro regions where community development councils exist and are functioning well. Through their learning to use them, these centers will allow the rural, indigenous adults and children of San Martin to grow, learn and become part of the global network.

San Martin needs $40,000 to do this. San Martin has shown its commitment to its vision. The leadership is very aggressive at seeking support and funds for the many projects it sponsors. The mayor and city council have stretched their budget as far as they can but they cannot do this project alone. They have already paid over $20 per computer to have them shipped to Guatemala. The people of each community will provide the labor and local resources to construct the buildings.

Quite frankly, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have been very careful to not become a money raiser for the community. I will only ask for help when I know that the project is special and will have a long term effect. This project will open new doors to both the adults and children of a poor, rural indigenous community. It will answer San Martin's basic needs and help it to improve its economy. This is different. These structures will house communications to the outside world that will link an old, traditional Mayan culture to the world at large.

I have enclosed a proposal, a list of some facts about San Martin Jilotepeque and some personal anecdotes. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. If you speak Spanish, give the mayor a call to get further information, but be persistent because he is always running around. If you get frustrated trying to reach him, try Otto Vielman from the Office of Municipal Planning where I work.

Thank you for your consideration of this project.

Margaret Molinari Peace Corps Volunteer San Martin Jilotepeque, Chimaltenango Guatemala, Central America 520-319-5689 (In the US until 13 Jan. 06) 502-5527-5213 (My Cell Phone in Guatemala) 502-7883-0365 (Office of Municipal Planning, SMJ—They do not speak English) 502-7844-8053 (Phone and Fax of the municipal building and number for the mayor)

Mac Maya Funding Proposal San Martin Jilotepeque Chimaltenango, Guatemala Proposal

Municipal Vision--To make of San Martin Jilotepeque a municipality that is more just, equitable, sustainable and human in an environment of peace and respect for the cultural and biological diversity as well as providing integrated development for all of its people.

Municipal Mission—To organize and educate the community by providing and promoting the conscious use of natural resources, facilitating technical, financial and human assistance, providing the basic and necessary infrastructure for each person to have the same opportunities for achievement.

San Martin Jilotepeque has a vision to become a model community in Guatemala by incorporating technology into its rural indigenous life. In fighting the many years of poverty and war that have affected the residents here, the mayor and city council have searched aggressively for new ways to answer old problems. For example, based on a new national law, they have actively implemented a system of community development councils that identify community needs and prioritize them. They bought an ecologically friendly incinerator to deal with the massive problems of garbage. They have lobbied and pushed the national government to build the first municipal hospital and birthing center. They have supported a municipality wide effort to use organic farming techniques to improve their traditional corn and bean as well as market crops.

And they have responded to an offer of 350 computers that were available from the Montgomery County Maryland school system paying only for their shipment to Guatemala. As a town of 60,000 people within 251 square kilometers, and with 116 primary schools, the security, distribution, and maintenance of these computers is daunting.

The first problem is finding secure space for the 15 centers of computation that are envisioned. This corresponds to the 15 regional community development councils that have been functioning productively for the past two years. (There are 141 village councils as well.) One solution might be the schools, but they are full because the people of San Martin value education. Just recently a community council leader expressed his gratitude for 4 new classrooms by saying that even though he never could attend school because he was a war orphan, his children all were there. (This school has 1500 students with 8 teachers. Next year they will get 5 more teachers!) Schools rarely have any extra space.

Rarely do any of the communities have any civic building either because their priorities lie in building roads to get their crops to market, clean water systems, schools and health centers.

Fifteen simple but secure buildings are needed to fulfill the dream of bringing this technology to the people. They do not need to be fancy, just block buildings with secure metal lamina roofs. But they need security bars on the windows, strong metal doors and electric power. Roughly each would cost 20,000 Quetzales ($2666) with a total of 300,000 Quetzales ($40,000). The community would help by providing labor and locally available resources like wood and sand. The municipality would help with supervision and architecture as well as furnishings.

Who will use these computer centers? First are the students of the schools. --They need to learn how to use the computer first, and then use it as a learning tool. Already a number of schools use a national program of video presentations as their basic form of instruction. -- As soon as the children are competent to use the computers, they can begin to use didactic programming. -- With the availability of the appropriate software such as encyclopedias and atlases, students can do research on various topics. There is one library in town now with perhaps 3,000 books. In town there is also a store where you pay to use their unconnected computers that have encyclopedias and atlases on them.

Adult programs will be highly encouraged to use the computers. Clearly many of the older and more traditional people will reject it, but others, younger and more comfortable with information can attend courses such as the following. -- Use of the computer. -- Coming to a central location, they will have the opportunity to learn how to use the internet to understand their agricultural and artisan markets. MAGA, the national department of agriculture has agreed to develop this course. This is especially needed with the coming of CAFTA. -- Women who make fabric art can discover new marketing techniques. -- There is a search on right now to see if simple literacy programs exist to help adults improve their reading and writing abilities. -- There are Kaqchiquel programs available.

And lest we forget, the teachers will benefit -- They will learn how to use a computer. -- They will have available access to the Internet in the municipal center for research. -- They will learn how to use the didactic programs to help their students learn. -- They can use the computer for developing their own didactic materials.

How will the centers be maintained -- Current thoughts are that each regional community development committee will take responsibility for running the center, including asking parents and users to contribute to the costs. It is normal for local development groups to raise money for schools and other social needs. -- One idea circulating is to “charge” students, especially those who are poor, with some article, like a glass jar or tin can that can be recycled. These can then be sold to provide income to maintain the centers. (It will also help the environment.)

The future has many possibilities including the following— -- When the technology is available, it will be beneficial to hook up each of the 15 centers to the internet. Given the mountainous nature of San Martin, this means using technology that is not cost effective today. -- Farmers can have direct relations with their international markets. -- Artisans can establish new markets. -- When there are enough students familiar with the use of the computer, the community can begin searching for work that can be done within San Martin. This to me is very important that there is concern for future work possibilities. The municipality of San Martin was helped greatly by USAID to update its systems and has digitalized its births and death records, its finances and the office of the Municipal Secretary. The national identification certificate, the cedula, will be digitalized next.


Municipality -- Mayor Don Nery Ruano Galve (second 4 year term of office) -- City council of 2 trustees and 7 council persons -- Community mayors in villages -- 12 aldeas or micro regions plus the urban area.

Inhabitants -- 59,578 (as of the year 2000) -- Rural Area 49,796, Urban Area 8,782 -- Growth rate between 3 and 4% a year (190 births and 30 deaths per month) -- 40% very poor (live on less that $1 a day) and 20% poor -- 89% Indigenous Kaqchiquel Maya. Kaqchiquel is still spoken by many inhabitants -- Over 10,000 people are working in the United States -- A large percentage of men work in Chimaltenango or Guatemala City -- Over 50% of the population is under 18 years of age

Economy 1. Agriculture—corn, beans, coffee, fruits and vegetables 2. Livestock—cows, horses, pigs 3. Craft and Artisan Work—weaving, woodworking 4. Communication/Transportation—buses to the capital and local transportation Other -- Money sent from relatives working in the US comprises a large percentage of the income of the town, especially the rural area. -- There are two cooperatives exporting to the US—One agricultural and one making wooden objects. -- Market days are Sunday, Thursday and to a lesser extent Tuesday

Location -- 18.5 kilometers from Chimaltenango, the department capital -- 72 kilometers from Guatemala City, the national capital -- 251 square kilometers in the northeast corner of the department of Chimaltenango -- 1755.55 meters above sea level

Transportation -- The rural roads are paved with stones -- The urban roads are paved with stone, concrete, cobblestone and paving blocks. -- The topography is irregular with flat sections, rugged areas and foothills with ravines and hills

Schools -- 56 pre-primary programs with 1,517 students -- 116 primary schools with 13,950 students -- 33 Basico or middle schools with 1,815 students -- 4 Diversificado or secondary schools with 528 students. -- Best Guess is that 1% of the population is at the University = 600 -- More and more schools are bilingual—Kaqchiquel and Spanish and some schools graduate bilingual Spanish/English secretaries.

Utilities -- 90% of houses have electricity -- Cell phone service exists in town and in much of the countryside

Religion -- Predominantly Catholic with a strong Evangelical community as well -- Churches and festivals are a large part of social life of the community

Health -- One Health Center in the urban area -- 8 Health Posts in the aldeas -- 50 Convergence Centers in villages -- Being built—1 hospital and 1 birthing center -- Most frequent illnesses—Respiratory infections, diarrhea, measles, whooping cough, mumps, tonsillitis, smallpox, urinary infections, skin diseases, parasites and rheumatism -- Dentists are in the urban area only


Don Nery, the mayor, looked at me with faraway eyes, and said that he wants to be the first municipality where all students, no matter their background, have access to computer technology. There are no communities in Guatemala where this exists. The city council continued to ask me during the long drawn out process of getting the computers shipped if it was really happening. And the day they arrived two of them stopped me on the street and were almost giggling in their excitement.

Don Flaviano came to me one day to ask how he could get email messages. He is one of the directors of Stancia, a cooperative that raises green beans and exports them to the US. They have been having to pay someone outside the community to receive email messages concerning their shipments from one of their suppliers. He wanted to avoid that. What could he do?

A young man approached me on the bus—actually, he offered me his middle seat which is almost unheard of on the crowded chicken buses of Guatemala. He works at the school supervisory office and has been studying on weekends for his degree in computers, with an eventual goal of becoming a graphic artist. He wanted to know what ideas I had for how he could stay in San Martin and use his skills.

Guatecompras is a new program of the Guatemalan government requiring that all improvement projects done by a municipality over 30,000 Quetzales must be advertised on the internet for open bidding from any company that would like to bid. San Martin has two internet cafes operational and no access in the municipal building.

I was circulating some information about scholarships when a father and son came to visit me about them. Both are teachers and very excited about the computers with dreams of a computer academy in the urban area. They told me of a young man who travels to Guatemala City every day for his job inputting data for a computer company. He makes very good money by local standards. He earns 4,000 Quetzales or $533 per month. (By the way, that's a lot more than I live on!)

An indigenous woman who is a university graduate in Social Work was telling me the other day that when she purchased her computer she had no idea how to operate it. She asked a friend to just show her how to turn it on and off. From that little training she has become very adept at its use. We co-trained the city council and the municipal development council together using many documents she produced from our municipal computers. And she wrote her thesis on one.

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1 comment

30 Dec 2005 @ 21:55 by jerryvest : Thanks, Ned. This is really a fantastic
global project that you have shared with us. I am going to pass this article on to my friend who is a Dean in our School of Education here at New Mexico State University. I also know that our Director and faculty of our School of Social Work will appreciate the teamwork, cooperation and planning involved in bringing technology and support to Guatemala students and wider community.

Our school has historically been involved in advancing technology with our colleagues in Autonoma University, Juarez, Mexico and also support the many family health clinics of the city. I remember how inspired and excited our social work students were when they purchased and delivered computers for our neighbors and organized medical supplies for the hospitals and health clinics in this border city. (I certainly appreciate all of the complications involved in shipping and engaging Immigration officials on both sides of the border.)

We can be very proud of the efforts of one of our social workers you mention in Guatemala and, Ned, we at NCN can applaud your fine efforts in this great service project.  

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