Sunday, March 6, 2016

Building Bridges Through The Internet

One of Rotary's four main objectives is "the advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional people united in the ideal of service." This goal underlies more than twenty years of collaboration between the north country Rotary clubs and the Santa Barbara Rotary Club. The perspective of Rotarians from the north is that the professionals in the Santa Barbara Rotary Club are much more capable than we to identify critical needs in their home territory. Our tasks in the north are to help people in our area to develop a compassionate understanding of our connections to Honduras and to determine which of the critical needs we are best able to serve.

The Internet and digital technology are effecting dramatic changes in the ways we collaborate. Traditionally, communications between Santa Barbara and the north needed to occur face-to-face. Even then, we could understand a need only by sending an advance team of northerners along with local Rotarians to a place to prepare a plan of action. Now people in remote villages have cell phones with cameras and email -- even when there is not electrical utility service in the village. Before the north country Rotarians arrive, it is possible to have satellite images of a project site and instant photos of the inside of buildings and the conditions of the local population. Even better, communications no longer need to be limited to the annual mission trip.

I know only a few words of Spanish. This year I could send an email from Honduras to my wife Becky in Wisconsin (who is fluent in Spanish) and ask her to let the teachers in a village down the road know that i will bring them some instructional equipment at 8:30 A.M. the next day. The teachers sent Becky photos of the donation event before I returned to my hotel. There is nothing better than face-to-face communication, but today's technology allows us to stay in touch year-round.

Before Steve and i came to Santa Barbara, Becky sent an email to the teachers in that village (Colonia Las Brisas del Pinal; N14.94619, W088.23431), where we built a two-room kindergarten two years ago. A number of people from the United Presbyterian-Congregational Church in Ashland, Wisconsin assisted Rotary in building that kindergarten. Becky has stayed in touch with those teachers ever since, especially with Lily May Oliver-Urbina. Becky asked Lily May if her students needed notebooks, pencils, and crayons that our church had collected for me to take to Honduras. Lily May replied that the school really needed a digital projector so that whole classrooms of students could see a computer screen.

Our church provided me with a projector to give to the school. Our hope is that communications among the people in our communities no longer need be limited to annual trips. Kids in Honduras can watch kids up north sail-skiing on an ice-covered lake, and kids in Ashland can watch barefoot kids in Honduras adeptly passing soccer balls in the shadow of verdant mountain peaks.

When I was in elementary school, my teachers arranged for me to write "pen pals" at far-away schools. That entire process has been replaced by Facebook pages and instant messages. It is even more important in this age of instant messages that people have a more sensitive understanding of other people's cultures. We hope that, by sharing this technology, we can build digital bridges between our communities to enhance international understanding united in the ideal of service.

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