Like so many other things here, we take internet for granted, but in Dagbamete it is difficult. Popper (pü-pá) runs the ICT centre at the school and he coordinates the classes so that the classes access the internet in the same month; he gets a block of data for his personal cell phone for that month and sets-up the wifi. Popper maintains a small fleet of laptop computers. The laptops were manufactured in Ghana almost 20 years ago. Popper does his best to keep the laptops running, but they are having problems, mainly battery issues.
I brought three RaspberryPi computers. These are very small, very efficient and very fast computers. The computers are so efficient that they do not need a fan. This is very important, there is always fine red sand in the air and a computer’s fan collects this sand. Along with the computers, and with the help of other travellers, we brought modern flat screen monitors, keyboards, mice and speakers. We set up the computers on the Monday after we arrived … that was the easy part.
My goal on this trip was to look at what they have, what they need and look into permanent internet access. A few years ago, they got a quote for internet and it was going to cost US$600 to install and then US$600 per month; this was not sustainable. Popper had done some research and found a new company that could install the equipment for US$400. The best part of this internet connection is that the speed and the amount of data can be scaled up or down from month-to-month. The basic service costs US$40 per month and provides 35GB of data. This should be sufficient for the school, but Kwasi wants internet access at the Kathy Armstrong Lodge as well.
We ordered and paid for the internet to be installed at the ICT Centre and this was done in a few days. The ICT is about 250m from the Lodge and there are multiple buildings in the way. I had brought a pair of Cisco networking radios. Too slow by North-American standards, these radios are very robust. After several days of trying to configure the radios, we finally got them configured so that one at the ICT transmits the network toward the Lodge where the other radio receives the network and provides wifi. The only glitch in the plan was that I left one of the mounting brackets in Ottawa (I didn’t think we would need it). Luckily, more people are coming from Ottawa for next weekend’s festival and with some help from my family and Lois, the bracket will soon be on its way. (Yay!)
The idea with the internet connection is that we can fund the basic service and then if people are staying at the Lodge, part of their fees will go towards increasing the internet bandwidth for the time they are here. Maybe one day, enough people will be staying at the Lodge that it will pay for the internet permanently; however, in the meantime, we will need to subsidize it. Between me and Christopher, we have pledged to cover the first year. We will arrange something through Conrad Richter when we are back in Ottawa.
If anyone reading this blogpost would like to contribute to this project, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Pictures to follow! The connection was poor tonight. I spent 20 minutes trying to upload a single photo.