By Ben Parisi
in the midst of economic and political crisis, Venezuela is a tough place to keep a school running. Electricity is routinely cut off, gasoline is more and more unaffordable for many, and the risk of violent protests in the streets is ever present. This all makes it difficult and potentially dangerous for children and teachers alike just to get to school, let alone make it through a day productively and safely.
Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, has seen regular blackouts over the past several months, some as long as three days at a time, and phone lines have also been downed. At the British School there, communication is critical to ensure that the school can help provide a secure environment for its student body and its staff. About a third of teachers at the school are expats and have less familiarity with the area and lack some basic knowledge about keeping safe that a local can take for granted.
Head of School Yasir Patel was looking for a way to stay in touch with his teachers even during outages when a board member told him about goTenna Mesh. Patel decided to try out a few units and said they all immediately worked very well so he decided to get all his expat teachers outfitted with a Mesh and to be prepared to use them. “The feedback from the teachers has been great – not one teacher has had a problem,” said Patel following a recent test of the system. The Mesh devices were able to communicate in the 2-3 km range where teachers live, even in crowded and mountainous Caracas.
Like many, Patel says that the country is essentially bordering on a civil war. Talks between the two opposing political sides may soon be restarting, but economic conditions are unlikely to improve quickly, which are sure to mean lingering tensions. Patel hopes that having an extra layer of communication coverage will mean his international staff have more of the preparation his Venezuelan teachers have by way of family and community networks.
goTenna Mesh operates by way of establishing a mesh network of peer-to-peer connections so users can send messages through the closest device and bounce them along a chain, secure and encrypted, until they reach their recipient. That means that no internet or cell towers are needed – just the antenna inside the Mesh, and the bluetooth connection of a phone or similar device. In other words, Mesh is tailor-made for the sort of conditions prevalent in Venezuela, and they have proven useful to many activists in the area as well as Patel’s teachers. The more goTenna Mesh users in an area, the better the coverage – and in Venezuela as in other parts of the world during times of upheaval, this can mean the difference between life and death.
Ben Parisi has a background in research, international development, and campaign organizing. As writer/editor on In The Mesh, he’s interested in the politics of decentralization in technology and society.