The Solar SPELL team from Cal Poly held a full-day training session at Peace Corps Headquarters in Port Vila, Vanuatu, on September 9, 2015. Volunteers traveled to the training from across many of the islands that comprise Vanuatu, and were extremely enthusiastic about being able to use the digital libraries in the schools and communities where they are stationed.
This training was the second of two this summer carried out by Cal Poly Professor Laura Hosman and the team of students in the Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies (LAES) Program at Cal Poly who worked on designing, developing, and deploying the library over the past few months. A total of 50 Spell libraries have been deployed with the Peace Corps in the Federated States of Micronesia and in Vanuatu.
Prof. Hosman led the training with the assistance of Ginger Jacobs, a student who participated in the LAES course. Ginger played a leading role in finding and curating the library’s content, and led the training that focused on that area. Another student from the course, Beth Hotchkiss, who had focused on the library’s design and production while on-campus, served as the team’s videographer and photographer during the on-site training.
The Peace Corps volunteers across the Pacific Islands commit to two years of volunteer service, and are most frequently posted to schools. The majority of these schools will not have reliable electricity/power or Internet connectivity, so these libraries are designed to provide relevant educational content in these challenging environmental conditions—especially for first-time users of such technology.
The Solar SPELL library was designed to help meet the needs of the Peace Corps volunteers, vis-à-vis enabling and improving education, in the field. It includes open access content, much of which is localized for the Pacific Islands. The offline library’s content can also be found in on-line version here: http://pacificschoolserver.org
The library’s hardware is designed to be as simple to use as possible, with no moving parts in order to avoid overheating. The solar panel and plastic case are waterproof, providing an extra level of protection against the salt air and humidity that is ever-present in the Islands.
After covering the nuts-and-bolts of how to use the library (and the tablets) during the morning session, the afternoon training session shifted to a more frank discussion of the societal, political, and human-nature-type challenges that the volunteers might face in introducing new technology to places it has not been used before. New technologies are most frequently disruptive when introduced for the first time. We therefore initiated a brainstorming and discussion session of “What might happen?”, “What could go wrong?”, and (therefore) “What should I do?” Considerations such as meeting with village chiefs and school principals before introducing the technology within the schools or communities were brought up. Many participants reflected that this session had been, for them, the most valuable of the day.
The enthusiasm of the Peace Corps volunteers was matched only by the gratitude they expressed to the team for our work on the libraries, for its relevance and helpfulness to their work, and for the training session itself. This appreciation was echoed by the Peace Corps staff as well. It was both humbling and extremely gratifying to hear so many expressions of “Thank you so much,” “This will be so appreciated by my community,” “This is fantastic.”
A quote from the first email of thanks we received, the day after the training: “I really can’t praise or thank you all enough for what you’ve done (and are still doing) in this project, and feel very privileged to have a role in it. That being said, I can at least say this much:
Y’all done real real real good.”
Our team is particularly grateful to Peace Corps Vanuatu Country Director Keith Honda, for being an early supporter of the project and for encouraging the partnership and training to take place, and to Alexis Cullen PCV, for her diligence and enthusiasm in spreading the word about the libraries across Vanuatu’s volunteers, and in co-coordinating the training. Additional thanks to Solomon Jimmy, and we look forward to keeping in touch with all of you as we gather feedback from Vanuatu and work to improve the libraries!
The SPELL Solar Digital Libraries project was made financially possible through a Community Grant from the Pacific Telecommunications Council, an in-kind donation (of Banana Pis) from LeMaker, as well as an in-kind donation (of Nexus 7 Tablets) from Inveneo.