Carovana X is heading for Senegal


Author: Marco Fioretti

Some hackers in Florence and other Italian cities are busy
these days putting together Carovana X, an Italian-led
initiative to help some Senegal communities. The members of this
project are raising funds, assembling used computers, refurbishing
them with Linux, and also collecting medical equipment and
other first-necessity items. Besides Linux, the list
already includes one ambulance and 26 hospital beds.

In Italian, “carovana” means caravan or convoy, and Carovana’s goal
is to pack everything on some trucks and drive them
to Senegal. The reason for driving is to stop every now and then in
European and African cities to gather more materials and
participate in events like Linux install fests.

Carovana X also hopes to share useful information for, and stimulate,
similar initiatives in other parts of the world. North Americans, for
example, would be in an ideal position to start their own Carovana
for Central and South America.

How it all started

The Carovana volunteers are not beginners. Support for Senegal
started in 2000 through several activities promoted by the Italian Center of
Cultures in Florence
. This led to what is today a network of more than 10,000
people active in health care, education, and quality of life
projects. The City Council of Florence is also offering
logistic assistance.

A measure of the participants’ commitment, and of the interest raised by
the Carovana, is the fact that they have already managed to secure
more coverage from traditional media than many other FOSS projects. The
production of a Carovana X TV commercial is almost finished, and
several TV channels have already agreed to broadcast it at no
cost. RAI is the Italian public TV Network (RAdiotelevisione Italiana),
broadcasting simultaneously on three channels (plus satellite). RAI 3 plans to air, once a week for four months, a five-
minute video clip about the Carovana. Besides advertising the
initiative on television, the team organizes concerts and conferences
whenever possible.

Schedule and scope

The trucks should leave Florence in July 2005. To reach Dakar,
they’ll cross France, Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania. The
exact route, time schedule, and size of the expedition will be decided
at the end of March, depending upon the amount of money,
volunteers, and other resources available. The group will make
special stops wherever local city administrations, LUGs,
or any other group will provide support, or at least declare their
interest. At these stops the Carovana, through
festivals, conferences, and whatnot, will ask for
more medicine and other equipment for Senegal schools and hospitals.

Once in Dakar, all the goods, manpower, and expertise will
be used to set up schools, train medical and IT workers, and promote
sport activities. Part of the effort will be devoted to a
campaign for women’s rights.

The Free Software side

The Carovana IT committee consists of about 10 people from all of Italy. Some of them belong to Ingegneria
Senza Frontiere
, an organization dedicated to supporting disadvantaged communities through sustainable engineering projects.

A Senegalese
system administrator who has been living in Italy for many years
is helping the rest of the committee prepare software training
programs that match as closely as possible the local cultural and
school needs.

The Carovana IT project hopes to trigger a chain
reaction in Senegal. The starting point is the conversion to FOSS of
10 Internet Points in Dakar. All of these existing shops’ managers have already asked for help. The only conditions that the Carovana has imposed to provide assistance are
that each shop set up, at no cost for students, Free Software classes, and commit to training and supporting more Internet Points that will make the same switch to FOSS.

The used hardware collected in Europe is not supposed to go to these Internet
Points. Most of them already have, or could collect by themselves,
plenty of equipment: on the hardware side, the only assistance needed is with the migration to GNU/Linux, if necessary, and the optimal setup of the resulting network. The computers brought by the Carovana will go directly to schools and
hospitals. The only involvement of the kiosk personnel with this
equipment should be to provide tech support to their actual
recipients. Planners hope this will lead to long-term job
opportunities for local system administrators.

The people in Dakar see Free Software not only as a way to save some
money, but also as a necessity, if all students and citizen are to
have equal access to information and free speech. Yet they face many difficulties, even after the hardware has reached Senegal and has been installed. In schools, for example, it will be important to make sure that all the systems are put to real, productive use,
instead of being relegated to game arcade replacements, as often
happens in some classes of the so-called First World.

How to get involved

Carovana members hope that this adventure
becomes a truly international one. The project is still open to any
contribution, from personally volunteering as a driver, interpreter, or
technician, to sponsorship by public and private organizations. Now is the time to jump in, when the initial planning is still ongoing. If
you were considering a trip to Senegal, or were looking for
something useful to do next summer, see if your skills may be
needed in this mission. If you have useful information or
pointers, please let us know by adding a comment to this page. If not,
are you a legal assistant, photographer, cameraman, teacher,
programmer, or fund raiser? If so, there’s probably something for
you to do too. You can email or surf to the Carovana X Web site, which is now being
set up.