Thursday, May 6, 2010

Student Reflection

by Lara Sanoica

I attended our last team meeting today to wrap up some loose ends before we all break for the summer session.  Although we won’t meet physically, we’re hoping to keep maintenance projects (newsletters, phone calls, databases, tech glitches) going during the summer.

The Costa Rican university students will also be on summer break, and will likely not be able to collaborate until Fall 2010.  In the meantime, I’m hoping that we will be able to set up a workable timeline that chronicles our (US) involvement with the Nuestra Voz project.  One of the harshest criticisms of international organizations based in developed countries is that the organization encourages a hierarchical structure that perpetuates foreign supremacy over a host nation.  For example, a Utah-based NGO decides to go build wells in East Africa.  When these altruistic volunteers go to these waterless villages, they build wells the American way with American tools, and then leave.  What if the village needs a new well?  To meet the standards of the last well, they’ll need American tools and American expertise, thus creating a need for the Utah group to return.  Unless this NGO can train other community members to build wells with tools that are readily available in that region, the village will not be able to build wells on its own.

Justin and Ari’s long term goals have always included handing over Nuestra Voz to its members and for us in the States to step back and let it grow according to the needs of the organizations that use it.  Our job is simply to set up the network.  However, for the network to be effective, we have to teach users how to use and manage that network.  While we are currently working in a partnership with Costa Rican organizations to develop the basic framework of the website, we eventually want Earth University to take control and manage the site themselves.  Thus, there are two levels of training that we need to set up before we can confidently hand the project over.

On a general level, we need to set up training modules and materials that Earth University can work with to teach other members of the community.  These sessions will include how to use the Nuestra Voz website and the use of online networking to facilitate real life collaboration.  We will also have to teach Earth University students how to use Drupal open source and other necessary technical skills in order to manage the website without our help up North.  I am hoping to use myself as a guinea pig with the Drupal platform.  Since I would be learning from scratch, I’d be able to make a note of what was confusing to learn and then come up with a less confusing way to explain it.

Even when we don’t look at the technological hurdles that need to be cleared, there is still so much that needs to be done.  With one U of I student studying abroad next semester and the other graduating in a couple days, we’re going to need all of the help we can get.  SPAN 232 and SPAN 332 volunteers would be greatly appreciated.  In the meantime, preparation and maintenance is key.  By Fall 2010, we’ll be ready to hit the ground running with Earth University.

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