Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles about citizen's media projects that I had the opportunity to visit during a five-week trip through 5 countries in South America.
Photo of the BiblioRedes campaign on a public building in Valparaiso, Chile. Photo by Eduardo Ávila.
Glancing at a map of South America, it is easy to tell that Chile stretches for kilometers and kilometers nestled in between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains. The time it takes to travel along the Pan-American and Austral highways is measured in days, not hours. One might think It is easy for Chileans to feel disconnected from one another due to the physical distance that separates them. A program called BiblioRedes (Network of Libraries) is hoping to close the distances and bring people closer together through the use of the internet provided free in local public libraries.
An initial grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2002 impulsed the program, which has the backing of the Chilean government under the Directorate of Libraries, Archives, and Museums (DIBAM). In each of the 387 public libraries from Visviri, which is located on the Chilean-Bolivian border to the southernmost town of Puerto Williams, located near the Antarctic, the program provides free computer access and broadband internet. In some of the more remote areas of the country with less developed infrastructure, such as Robinson Crusoe Island, the connections are through satellite hookups. A recent census found that the majority of home computers are concentrated in the middle part of the county or where the capital of Santiago is located. This program allows individuals that may not normally have access to these technologies to learn how to use computers. In total, there are approximately 2,300 computers installed in these libraries.
Leading each of the BiblioRedes site is an encargado (coordinator), who is an individual drawn straight from the community. The advantage of this is that each individual is well-trusted in the community and already knows the local cultural context. Coordinators participate in trainings themselves, who then in turn, teach the residents of the local communities.
In addition to free access to the internet, BiblioRedes provides digital literacy training through a series of workshops, including the use of Microsoft Office, Encarta encyclopedia and how to create presentations. To date, more than 200,000 Chileans have taken part in these workshops. One highlight of these trainings is the instruction on how to create their own websites. Many utilize this space to tell about their communities, a special interest they hold, or about their local culture. In all, about 3,000 websites are hosted on the BiblioRedes server.
A blog called Contenidos Locales [es] (Local Content) features the very best of this content and centralizes it on the updated site. Categories such as: History [es], Legends [es], Music [es], Aboriginal People [es], Tourism [es] and Religion [es] make it easier to find content.
Some of theses sites tell about the hobbies of residents from the local community, and created by the participants themselves. For example, Ángel Calfuan created a website called La Esperanza [es] about a group of older adults from the community that have become involved with a club for folkloric dancing. The library in community of Trovolhoe is located in the municipality of Carahue and has its own website [es].
Los adultos de esta agrupación están trabajando en un proyecto llamado DANZANDO LOS AÑOS DORADOS POR UNA VIDA SALUDABLE. Con el cual se han visto beneficiados 18 adultos de la edad de 60 a 97años. El objetivo general de este proyecto es crear espacios de sana convivencia entre los adultos mayores, para favorecer y potenciar la actividad física y la salud mental a través de la práctica de la danza de raíz folclórica. Y en forma especifica tener en Trovolhue un grupo de danza folclórica que represente a los adultos mayores en distintos eventos artísticos y culturales dentro de la comunidad como fuera de ella.
The adults from this group are working on a project called DANCING DURING THE GOLDEN YEARS FOR A HEALTHY LIFE. The program has benefited 18 adults from the ages of 60-97. The general objective of this project is to create opportunities for healthy interaction between older adults, to support and strengthen physical activity and mental health through the practice of folkloric dancing. The objective is also to provide a group of folkloric dancers from Trovolhue to represent the older adults in different artistic and cultural events in and out of the community.
Other sites are used to marketing and publicity tools for local businesses. Gastronomía Magallánica [es] is a site that highlights various restaurants in the city of Punta Arenas. Others are more family-orientated, such as the site created by Jhoscenia Arancibia to promote the company [es] she runs with her husband.
Colmenares Arancibia es una microempresa familiar dedicada a la extracción de productos apicolas, como lo es la miel, y entregar servicios de Polinización. El trabajo con las abejas no es difícil pero es necesario ser metódico. Dedicado y muy responsable, y por supuesto no ser alérgico a la picada de la abeja.
Colmenares Arancibia is a family micro-enterprise that is dedicated to the extraction of apicultural products, such as honey and deliver pollination services. The work with bees is not difficult, but it is necessary to be methodical, dedicated, very responsible, and of course, to not be allergic to bee stings.
Additionally, these sites are also a source of cultural pride especially among indigenous groups. There are a number of native peoples in Chile and the first inhabitants of the Tierra del Fuego region of Chile were the Kawéshkar indigenous group. Carlos Pedraza proudly creates a site [es] to talk about their lifestyle [es] and their customs [es] .
Su idioma es el kawésqar, nombre con el que ellos se autodenominan. En su idioma, esta palabra significa “persona” o “ser humano”. El nombre alacalufe, originalmente tenía una intención despectiva y ellos no lo usan.
Their language is kawésqar, a name that they call themselves. In their language, the word means “person” or “human being.” The name alacalufe, originally had a derogatory meaning and they did not use that term.
Luis Carvajal also maintains a site for an Aymara community in Chile [es], which is an indigenous group that is usually thought to be only located in neighboring Bolivia and Peru.
According to Enzo Abbagliati, National Coordinator of BiblioRedes, there is interest in adding more participatory media training to the program, such as creating a blogging platform that will enable the participants to find like-minded people across Chile and throughout the world.