For this years Software Freedom Day, I was having a rather unusual target. For the last few months, we (SPACE) were in discussion with Community Agrobiodiversity Centre of MSSRF to setup a free software based community computing centre at a tribal hamlet in Wayanad. It was decided that we would start the work after Onam. By chance it fell around this years Software Freedom Day hence we decided to make our celebration at Wayanad jointly with MSSRF. Myself and Nishi was entrusted with this mission.
Kolagappara is a small village around 25 km from Kalpatta, the nearest major town. A majority of inhabitants of the village were from Paniya community, one of the largest and backward communities in Kerala. We (Myself, Bineesh and Gopal) started from MSSRF on 19th Sept 2013 in the morning with two computers. I had installed these computers with free software(Debian squeeze) on the previous day. Question of how children will react to the computers was before us. Friends at MSSRF had told me that sometime they might run away fearing that we were there to teach them. They enjoy their freedom (‘from being taught’)! We din’t have any clear plans as we were not sure about how they would react. The mission before me was to befriend with local children in the coming 3 days , see how they would respond to the machines(Computers) and understand what they are more interested in.
On the way to the village we stopped, at a small wayside shop, for having tea and snacks. From there we contacted Bindu, one of the community facilitators who was assigned to support us for the initiative. She told us that only two children came. In the shop we met Mr Suresh, a local politician. He said, “They will come, the only thing is you should teach them interesting topics”. These words din’t give us much confidence. But we had no other choice but to try.
On the way to the place where we were going to set the computer, we stopped the car near a house. It was the first house in that tribal colony. Binesh and Gopal went inside to see whether some one was there. As expected there were none :)
We reached the place and saw that around 8 children had assembled there. Boys were busy playing football and girls were running around. They went on as if they didn’t notice us at all. I took out the computers from the car and started setting them up. Bineesh asked every one to gather in 10 minutes. In 10-15 minutes we started with Bineesh introducing me to children.
They were looking blank at me. As I talked, I switched into my Thalassery slang unknowingly. Soon I could see the glow in their eyes and they started responding. They wanted to know what was inside the computer. Together we opened the machine and I explained them about different parts.
What they liked most about the computer was inserting memory (RAM) into the slot. The ‘Tick’ sound that comes when you insert the memory fascinated them. This reminded me about my first experience with computer hardware. Finally we assembled the machine and started exploring Gnome desktop.
We had lunch together. I joined Bindu and Sujatha, two local facilitators to serve lunch to all children. After lunch we played football . Then we decided to try out some ‘Games’ in computer. I showed them various puzzles in free software and Chess. Teaching them how to play Chess was a good experience. It was time for us to leave and we decided to meet next day at the Agro Biodiversity Centre.
The next day, morning at 10 am when I reached the computer lab at Agro Biodiversity centre,every one was there. We decided to spend the day using camera and sound recorder. I gave them the equipments and showed them how to use it. Those equipments were totally new to them (some of them had used mobile phones).
Next day(21st) we were having a session on squishy circuit at the centre as part of another program. I thought it would be interesting if they can also join in. I asked them and they were interested. I could feel their sincerity when they said ‘We will try our best, teacher’. Later they said Squishy circuits were the most interesting program of all.
We had a cake to celebrate software freedom day together with other children at MSSRF.
We took lot to decide who will cut cake. The lot went to Gopi from Kolagappara village. The Cake had a terrible fate! Within seconds after the first piece was cut, fifty hands fell on it and the cake vanished from the face of earth.
Before leaving, they invited me to their ‘Chenda Arangettam’ – the first public performance in the coming month.
It is just a beginning. We are waiting to see how these children use and play with the computer in the coming days. We will be going again and working with them. The Software Freedom Day was truly special, trying to bring freedom in computing to a community that cherish their freedom. Though freedom in computing hardly mattered them today, still I am glad that I could get them start computing in free software.