Inveneo UMCom Archives

Opening a New World of Educational Content for ICT Students

  1. Posted by Inveneo on August 21, 2014 in the categories: Education, News
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An IT classroom with students in the DR Congo. The IT students currently don’t have access to many computers making their IT studies difficult. Photo Credit: Jill Costello – Inveneo

University life is an exciting time for students around the world. As undergraduates work hard in their studies and set their hopes for the future, the ICT field continues to expand in countless ways. Unfortunately, ICT students around the world don’t have equal access to the same resources. For example, while students in the United States enjoy computer labs and state-of-the-art equipment, students in the DR Congo lack computers and current computer science coding material, making them ill-equipped to market themselves on a global scale.

What’s the result? University students in the DR Congo who graduate with a college degree in ICT who rarely worked on computers. But UMCom and Inveneo are working together to change that.

Led by UMCom’s Director of ICT4D Church Initiatives, Rev. Neelley Hicks has asked Inveneo to setup a server installed and loaded with educational content that students in developing countries can access when they don’t have reliable Internet connectivity.

As a first step this past summer, Inveneo’s tech-savvy intern Corbin Halliwill scoured the Internet to find French university-level content that students in the DR Congo could eventually use offline. Just like World Possible’s RACHEL server and the eGranary Digital Library, Inveneo plans to create a server that is filled with diagrams, slides, documents, and videos that students can reach when offline. (Additionally, from time to time, they may still need a WiFi connection to connect to the server for updates, etc.)

Corbin has found a vast amount of educational material that he feels is reliable and relatable to his own courses he took at UC Berkeley in California. He has worked hard to organize the content by classes, categories, and tags, all to help students in the DR Congo grab what they need efficiently and easily. Going forward, Inveneo’s talented intern Eric Zan will take over the project, continue to download the content, and place it all on a Synology diskstation. UMCom will eventually take the Synology diskstation and will use it in computer labs they are building in the DR Congo.

Inveneo’s long term goals with this project are to give users the ability to select which content they want. In addition, the team is hoping to eventually allow people to contribute or update content as it becomes available. The project will be open sourced so other professors, students, and universities may utilize it in the future. Inveneo and UMCom have enjoyed the combined efforts made in this project, and they are both very excited about how this could positively impact students around the world for years to come!

The E-Waste Dilemma: Where Do Broken Computers Go?

  1. Posted by Inveneo on July 2, 2014 in the categories: Healthcare, News
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That question gets pretty complicated based on where you live, and whether you’re talking about individually-owned computers or those held by large corporations. If you live in a country where there are electronic waste facilities nearby and you don’t have overseas relationships, you may want to stop reading this article now.  But what if you’re a tech enthusiast helping start-up programs in low-resource parts of the world?

OldComputersMy name is Neelley Hicks and I work as the Director for ICT4D Church Initiatives at United Methodist Communications, the communications agency for The United Methodist Church. We have relationships with people and ministries around the world and have a moral mandate to care for the earth. So this is an important question to ask, in this era of emerging technologies, that can make a big difference in quality of life for those who’ve been most left behind by the information age. I’ve been reaching out to colleagues who are fluent in e-waste policies to look at how we can be environmentally responsible, while still promoting the use of technologies for social good in low-resource areas. Here are some good practices I’ve found:

1) Determine What Is Right for the Context

If you think that the computers that work well in your regularly air-conditioned office are going to benefit the program you’re supporting in Africa or Haiti, think again. Instead, look at newer low-energy computers that survive high-heat, humidity, and dust and that run on batteries for extended periods of time. They’ll last longer, fulfill intended purposes better, and keep some of the toxins found in old computers out of areas that don’t have local e-waste management. If you still want to re-use an old computer, consider using it in a similar context – there may be a program right down the road from you that will really appreciate the donation!

2) Local Repair, Local Maintenance

If you donate or install technology overseas, what’s going to happen when you leave? Have you connected reliable ICT specialists with your program, or will users have to wait until you visit again for questions to be answered and repairs to take place? You can find certified specialists through Inveneo in 25 different countries. Also, NetHope provides a good network of in-country technicians, and they have an ongoing program to build field capacity. Consider strengthening in-field capacity and ICT knowledge during installation – not only will equipment be used to greater capacity, but you may also spark some new income-generating ideas for the programs you care about.

3) Rebuild Computers and Build Local Workforce

One broken component doesn’t mean the whole computer is bad. Maybe this is a good opportunity for a local university to dissect, test, and retain the good parts. In time, there will be enough good parts to make a whole computer that could be sold locally or used at the university. Along the way, knowledge will be gained – helping local workforce development.

United Methodist Communications is hosting an ICT4D conference September 3-5, 2014, focusing on how to implement successful tech projects in low-resource areas. Join the discussion with others who care about living into this technological era equitably and responsibly. Go to www.umcom.org/gamechangers to learn more.

Have other e-waste tips to share? Add comments below to be considered for inclusion during the conference.

ICT Brings Students and Communities Together in the DR Congo

  1. Posted by Inveneo on June 19, 2014 in the categories: Education, News
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A happy computer user in the DR Congo.

A happy computer user in the DR Congo.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) is one of Africa’s most conflict-ridden and war-torn countries. Covering a vast expanse of over 900,000 square miles (the same as two-thirds of the European Union), the country holds a rich store of minerals. But, tragically, this abundance of resources fuels fire for hostile war. Civil war, genocide, and mass rape have all contributed to the brutality many have seen during the DR Congo’s history. In addition, corruption is extremely common and, according to the United States Institute of Peace, the DR Congo ranks at the bottom for every corruption index. Although its people are incredibly resilient, the country continues to suffer from poor infrastructure and weak governmental organizations.

Inveneo’s Manager of Special Projects, Jill Costello, traveled last month to DR Congo knowing it would be a challenge. But she arrived with her sleeves rolled up and ready to get to work.

A class at KMU. The IT students currently don't have access to many computers making their IT studies difficult.

A class at KMU. The IT students currently don’t have access to many computers making their IT studies difficult.

Inveneo teamed up with United Methodist Communications (UMCom) and Steve Bryant from the General Board of Discipleship to begin building a power and financially sustainable Computer Center serving three institutions of higher learning in Kamina. Currently, Kamina Methodist University (KMU) is unable to offer students in its ICT program a functioning computer lab, a loss which results in the inability to do hands-on work to support their theoretical learnings. Once completed, however, the Computer Center will be used by KMU students, the Health Sciences College, the Teachers College, and local community members as a place to gather knowledge and build skills. It will serve 1,000 people!

On behalf of Inveneo, Jill travelled to Kamina to discuss the technical nature of the ICT project with academic and local community members. Along with UMCom and Steve Bryant, she hosted presentations and meetings for IT and general faculty at KMU and interested community members in order to listen to and truly understand their needs. The team also worked to identify an ideal location for the Center and to begin to determine suitable computing equipment for challenging environments such as these.

But there is still work to be done. In order for the Computer Center to come to fruition, the Kamina community must meet and expand upon the business plan in development. The Center will bring in funds to cover staff salaries, provide for additional computing purchases, and replace equipment when needed.

Inveneo's Jill Costello (left) meets with community members to discuss details on an United Methodist Communications project for DRCongo.

Inveneo’s Jill Costello (left) meets with community members to discuss details on an United Methodist Communications project for DRCongo.

The Inveneo team will continue to help guide and contribute to this building process. Inveneo is currently recommending what equipment is needed and appropriate for the new Center (both solar and computing equipment). In addition, it is researching French-based University-level IT content that will eventually be used offline by KMU. Relevant content should be available for use by late 2014. Communication and development on both sides of the Atlantic will continue to push the project forward.

Our team welcomed the opportunity to partner with UMCom, Steve Bryant, university-level and local community leaders in Kamina on this meaningful project in the DR Congo. We look forward to continue bringing online connections and educational resources to the many students and community members in Kamina!

Learn how you can partner with Inveneo in this project by visiting our Donate page.

ShopUMC Product Evaluation Report

  1. Posted by Inveneo on May 13, 2014 in the categories: Publications
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ShopUMCReportCoverRecently United Methodist Communications (UMCom) asked Inveneo to test, rate, and recommend IT equipment suitable for the diverse environments that ICT4D practitioners work in. Inveneo staff conducted several tests on laptops, tablets, desktops, and monitors/projectors. During the testing stage, the engineers rated each piece of equipment in terms of battery life, power consumption, performance, and several other components.

To share the results and offer recommendations, the team published the “ShopUMC Product Evaluation Report” for UMCom’s audience and the larger ICT community.

The “ShopUMC Product Evaluation Report” was commissioned by UMCom. The equipment is available at the Shop UMC store.

Update from The Philippines: Continued Connectivity and Progress

  1. Posted by Inveneo on March 27, 2014 in the categories: News, Projects
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Extensive damage from Super Typhoon Haiyan

Extensive damage from Super Typhoon Haiyan

When Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, people lost their lives, their homes, and were without access to clean water or food. Inveneo responded within days, sending a team to jump-start assessment and launch communications relief efforts. Since the typhoon, Inveneo has been on the ground in Leyte and Samar (islands in the Visayas region of the Southern Philippines) supporting emergency communications for major NGOs providing lifesaving aid.

Aid workers gather together to coordinate relief efforts. Inveneo worked with over 20 major NGOs in the past few months.

Aid workers gather together to coordinate relief efforts. Inveneo worked with over 20 major NGOs in the past few months.

In November, a week after Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Visayas, our assessment team provided disaster communications assistance to our partners United Methodist Communications (UMCOM) and United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). UMCOM/UMCOR teams were previously operating without any form of emergency communications in areas where cellular networks were non-functional.

In December, and with support from our partner UMCOM, we loaded up rugged tablets with a suite of disaster response applications to give field staff at 20+ major NGOs including Oxfam, Plan International, and Save the Children access to up-to-date crisis maps and to help coordinate their relief efforts. Inveneo also provided training on use of the tablets.

Inveneo engineer provides satphone training to senior UMCOR staffInnovate ICT’s tower team in the Inveneo / Petzl tower safety workshop in January 2014
Innovate ICT owner Jayson Orebia installs wireless equipment at World Vision International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(L to R) Inveneo engineer provides satphone training to senior UMCOR staff; Innovate ICT’s tower team in the Inveneo / Petzl tower safety workshop in January 2014; Innovate ICT owner Jayson Orebia installs wireless equipment at World Vision International.

In January and February, progress continued as two of our engineers spent a month on the ground. We focused our work in three areas:

Supporting the UN Emergency Telecom Cluster (ETC), providing direct engineering support to the active ETC network in Tacloban City.  The ETC network provides emergency connectivity to the NGO community in Tacloban until local providers can restore services.  Inveneo engineers deployed a new relay site to fill in a dead zone in the ETC network, connecting the offices of  5+ additional NGOs.  This relay site provides them with critical connectivity when they had no other options.  These NGOs, including Save the Children, ACF, and Solidarite and working across diverse issues including food security, water and sanitation, shelter, and children’s issues are now better able to coordinate their operations through the use of email, skype, and other Internet services.

Inveneo trained "Innovate ICT" Systems Tech worker is gearing up to climb a tower

Inveneo trained “Innovate ICT” Systems Tech worker is gearing up to climb a tower

Providing local area network (LAN) networking assistance NGOs: ETC network support ends at delivery of hotspot connectivity to NGO offices.  Inveneo engineers provided LAN networking assistance to several NGOs.  World Vision International (WVI) operates a large office with 100+ staff far outside Tacloban City and beyond the range of the ETC network.  Inveneo engineers worked with WVI IT staff to upgrade their local wireless network, implementing a system to make it much easier for WVI to manage their limited VSAT bandwidth effectively.  Inveneo engineers provided similar services to Plan International in Borongan.
Ubiquiti NanoBridge M5-22 provides connectivity to Save the Children's headquarters in Tacloban

Ubiquiti NanoBridge M5-22 provides connectivity to Save the Children’s headquarters in Tacloban, Philippines

Supporting local IT entrepreneurs with rebuilding efforts:  A core component of Inveneo’s work has always been tight collaboration with local IT entrepreneurs.  Through our efforts to procure wireless equipment locally, Inveneo made contact with a man named Jayson Orebia who operates Innovate ICT in Tacloban City.  Prior to Typhoon Haiyan, Innovate provided wireless network services to schools and NGOs spread across an impressive area throughout Leyte and Samar.  Jayson’s network was devastated by the typhoon.  Inveneo ran Jayson’s team through an intensive  “wireless ISP bootcamp” during our time on the ground offering hands-on training in tower safety, network deployment, and network design.  It is our hope that this training will help Innovate ICT build back connectivity in the region more robustly, efficiently, and safely.  Inveneo also connected Innovate ICT to many prospective clients in the International NGO community.  Jayson has already successfully connected at least three of these clients to his own network, providing them the connectivity they so urgently need to support their programs, and giving him some recurring revenue on which to base his rebuilding.  Jayson has been very happy with the results, saying, “This training will greatly help our efforts to rebuild our network.”

 

 

(L to R)  Inveneo engineer configures equipment providing a critical redundant backhaul link to the Tacloban City ETC network; The Inveneo-installed relay site in western Tacloban City serving 5+ NGOs who have no other connectivity options; Inveneo engineer climbs a tower to install wireless equipment to bring SOS Children’s Villages online.

Inveneo is committed to local sustainability in all of its projects and trains local technicians to ensure that projects will continue long after the Inveneo team leaves. If you would like to help Inveneo continue its work, please visit http://inveneo.org/donate

 

A WiFi Connection for a Leading Bishop in the Philippines

  1. Posted by Inveneo on March 13, 2014 in the categories: Economic Development, News, Projects
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Sam Perales with UMCom’s April, United Methodist Bishop Pete Torio, his wife Joyce, and the rest of Bishop’s team.

Inveneo’s Senior Field Engineer Sam Perales has travelled to more than 10 countries to work on ICT projects, but his latest project was particularly special because of the collaboration between United Methodist Communications (UMCom) and local community members.

Last month Sam was in the Philippines in support of Inveneo’s typhoon relief efforts. He was asked by UMCom to add on a trip to the Baguio city region to design and implement an Internet link for the United Methodist Bishop leading the northern region. The typhoon did not impact the north, but it was still not an easy trek. Mountains and difficult terrain made the journey slow. After six hours of travel, Sam was able to meet up with Bishop Pete Torio and his wife, Joyce.

Sam joined the UMCom team which consisted of Nhots Celzo, a Filipino who is currently working for the UMC in IT, marketing, and website management, and April Gonzaga-Mercado, UMCom field staff who is very involved with the relief efforts from Typhoon Haiyan.

Sam and the team members joined Bishop and Mrs. Torio for dinner to understand the technical requirements and learn a little about how Torio uses the Internet. He described very long hours spent working in his office because it was the only place to get an Internet connection. He would even spend the night there because he had no connection at home (5km away).

Installation at the Bishop’s house was part of the process to build a WiFi connection.

It was clear that Torio was a man dedicated to his work and to serving his community, and that extending an Internet connection to his home would allow him to better reach his people and conduct church business without having to sleep overnight at the office. Needless to say, the Bishop and his wife were very excited at the possibility of getting a broadband connection that would allow him to be more efficient and to work from home when needed. Sam and the rest of the team were set to start the next day.

Morning came and the team began by getting a radio installed on the roof of the UMC 6-story office building. The only way to access this roof was through a small window on the top floor which quickly proved to be a feat in acrobatic moves. Once the team was through the little window and on to the roof, the installation went rather smoothly and quickly. Soon they were off to the other side of the link – the Bishop’s residence.

The project’s main challenge was hard to miss – a 4-story building directly in the way between the Bishop’s office and home. Determined as ever, Sam knew there had to be a way the team could literally “get around” this issue.

The team traveled to several nearby buildings to see if they could get a signal from the neighbors’ balconies. What was previously an Inveneo/UMCom project now quickly turned into a community activity. Residents in several buildings were more than happy to open their doors and let these strangers (and all their equipment including the Inveneo Cable-Free Survey Pole) in. Sam remarked that walking around the community was the one of the most enjoyable parts of the project.

At last the UMCom and Inveneo teams were able to relay a signal by attaching the receiver to a long pole and placing it on the Bishop’s roof on his house. Within the same day they were able to do a full installation that included configuring a radio, cabling, setting up the modem, and installing the software.

Sam and the rest of the team successfully installed the 5km Internet connection. Currently the Bishop is the only one in his neighborhood that has Internet at his house, and this opens the door for network sharing that he and his wife are very happy to offer their neighbors. In the future though, and as other neighbors get their own WiFi connections, this won’t restrict the bandwidth of the Bishop’s Internet.

Getting online to serve the community.

Just the very next day, the Bishop had Internet access at his house because of the combined talents of the UMCom and Inveneo teammates. This will help him spend more time at home with his family, allow him to connect and serve local congregations better and communicate globally as his position requires. In addition, the Bishop and his family can offer their neighbors access to broadband Internet that’s fast and reliable.

By the end of the project, Sam was very pleased to see the increased capacity of the local UMCom workers. He knew of their previous skill sets, but this challenge of finding a signal and setting up a WiFi connection in mountainous terrain will help both Nhots and April in future projects. Sam considers UMCom to be a valued partner to the Inveneo team saying “It was a feel good project.” He felt the team worked very well together on this challenging installation.

The partnership between UMCom and the ICT engineering non-profit Inveneo has been one of continued growth. Collaboration is key in an ICT project like this, and with the combined efforts of UMCom and Inveneo, the enduring partnership is easy to see.

Written by Jana Melpolder, Inveneo Staff