The Social Network (you know, the one in Chad)

The code is written and tested, all our servers are upgraded, the picture and video upload is up and running! I slap my laptop closed and sit back with a sigh and a smile. It’s 2am.

I hear you thinking “Ah, of course, these geeky software people, they work all night and never see the light of day!” But we have good excuses: our teammates are in Chad, with an 8-hour time difference with where we live, California. Scheduling a meeting is…complicated.

Our teammates are Sudanese refugees from Darfur. Right now, in the refugee camps of Chad, it’s rainy season: the mud and thatch huts are constantly flooded, flies and locusts are all over the food, people, animals, houses. Our teammates don’t have running water or power outlets, but they do have a computer, and a satellite modem, batteries, solar panels, cameras, and determination.

To get to our online meeting, I only had to sit on my living room couch and switch on my little white Macbook. Abdulaziz had to carry his little white Macbook, along with his 6-pound satellite modem, to his neighbor who has a gas-powered generator. (In rainy season, recharging the batteries with the solar panel takes days.) It’s noisy and costly, so they only turn it on at 8am. Abdulaziz had to wait, and so did we: midnight PT it is!

Djabal camp’s students had been sending regular posts on Commkit, our home-made social networking site, but no pictures or videos. On the phone, school teacher Abdulaziz had said that “we can not send pictures, we follow the instructions but it doesn’t work.” A little cryptic, but then again, from a user who had never seen a computer 6 months ago, pretty good troubleshooting already.

12:06am: Djabal is online! I call Abdulaziz’s cell phone, and the Chadian phone network being in a good mood today, I get him on the third try. After the inescapable african-style greetings (“How are you? How are your students? How are things in the camp? How is your family?”) I explain today’s plan: Abdulaziz is going to update Djabal’s commkit to version 14, and then I’ll walk him through the brand-new picture upload feature. I can hear his little kids chatter in the background.

1:37am: Djabal is offline. Abdulaziz has successfully uploaded 3 pictures under my (remotely) watchful eye. He types so much faster than he did when we visited the camp! Soon we’ll be seeing pictures posted by Murtada, Rahma, Khaltouma, Ali, Busseina and the others. Well, not Khaltouma, whose father refused to have her to go to school since she became pregnant. And not Murtada, who left for Ndjamena, the Chadian capital, to find a job (illegally, since refugees do not have work permits). They are only 16. I worry for them. I guess it’s part of the job description.

“So they hardly have proper food and houses, and you’re giving them…Facebook?” Yeah, that’s what we do. Before hanging up, my friend the Darfuri school teacher thanked me many times, and repeated once again how happy he was to be part of Commkit. After all, we only built it because they asked. Our customer, the refugee, is king.

They said “No people should be an island.” So we built the bridge. We connected our island and their island.

Photo and note from Abdullaziz sent through our CommKit social network:

Hello my friends I hope you are well. I want to tell you that we had distributed certificates to the students yesterday so we finished our school year and also we are very proud of our results of our school because we get good mark in this year OBAMA school is the best one this year its degree was 86 percent and also about other schools also their results are very good so many students went to the farms to help their parents and some of them are decided to study English classes your friend ABDULLAZIZ

celebrating_school_supplies.jpg This is the picture of refugees community came to share the celebration of distribution certificates of students of OBAMA SCHOOL in Djabal camp. Thanks.

*Blog cross-posted from iactivism.org.

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