I had previously mentioned RAP Ceibal (Red de Apoyo al Plan Ceibal - Support Network for Plan Ceibal) in the overview of the various organizations and communities working in the context of OLPC in Uruguay. Given the vital role it has played in many ways in the past few years I thought that it's worth taking a closer look at this community.
This last word - community - is key in understanding RAP Ceibal and how it differs from other entities such as ceibalJAM and Flor de Ceibo which are an organization and a university project respectively. As with many communities it's hard to assess just how many people are involved with RAP Ceibal. In general approximately 1500 people have shown their interest in volunteering at one point or another. RAP Ceibal's Ning Site which combined with its blog and forums is the group's main communication platform has roughly 400 members. However there's also many people who show up out of the blue to help out on one occasion and are then never heard from again.
In terms of the history of RAP Ceibal it's a community consisting of local groups that came together to fill what many individuals perceived to be gaps in Plan Ceibal's initial implementation. Hence at the beginning the RAP Ceibal volunteers were mostly involved in things like internal introductions to the XOs and Sugar followed by discovering the possibilities of the XOs and how to use them - both during as well as after class - together with teachers, parents and pupils. During 2008 and 2009 RAP Ceibal was also quite involved with the distribution of the XOs across the country.
Now that the general distribution of the XOs in Uruguay's primary schools has been completed the various local groups are mostly involved in activities such as:
- simple repairs (e.g. re-flashing or unblocking XOs)
- providing information about repair/replacement procedures to parents
- organizing information events for parents and teachers before the XOs are handed out to new pupils
- helping to organize and spread information about the visits of Ceibal Móvil, the mobile repair-teams by Plan Ceibal that offer repair services at schools around the country
RAP Ceibal = many helping hands
One of the more advanced efforts that RAP Ceibal members are involved in are the setup of public Internet access and WiFi networks in collaboration with companies and other local organizations such as cooperatives.
Another one which I found very exciting is RAP SMS, which provides people with quick answers to questions that they can ask via a text-message. Needless to say I had to try this myself so I sent a text-message saying that my son's XO couldn't be turned on anymore. It took only a couple of hours for my mobile phone to alert me to a reply telling me how and when to contact Plan Ceibal's repair hotline. How cool is that?!
Talking to RAP Ceibal volunteers it's impossible not to be impressed by their dedication and commitment. In my mind this is a great example of the important contribution that individuals and groups of people (aka "grassroot communities") can provide to an undertaking such as Plan Ceibal. When asked about the motivation to spend their spare time volunteering the people I talked to replied with answers ranging from "I didn't think Plan Ceibal would work without it", "it's a great way to do something for my neighborhood", "as many people as possible should be involved in a project such as this one" to "I feel like I'm part of a big and important effort".
As with many other communities working in similar spaces RAP Ceibal of course also faces challenges such as how to coordinate their efforts with the official Plan Ceibal as well as issues such as how to organize and communicate effectively and efficiently. The CITS is sometimes supporting the volunteers by covering expenses for long trips, lending them XOs as well as involving them in certain efforts. On the one hand it seems as though expanding this support could result in significant benefits to Plan Ceibal that CITS isn't able to provide itself. On the other hand this would probably also require RAP Ceibal to become an organization rather than continue to be a community which in turn could eliminate many of the benefits - such as its high short-term flexibility - that it currently has.
From an outsider's point of view spending some time with a RAP Ceibal group is also a great way of gathering opinions and experiences that go beyond what one hears from people working within Plan Ceibal. Sitting in one of the weekly meetings as well as observing the kind of issues that children and their parents ask the volunteers about as well as simply talking to pupils while their XOs were being reflashed definitely added a whole new dimension to my experience in Uruguay.