Las Marías of Azacualpa: Internet for Raising Women’s Voices
Azacualpa Yamaranguila, a village in the Intibuca region in Honduras, is celebrating. And not for nothing. Last Saturday was a historic day as they accessed the Internet for the very first time. For many of us, the Internet is taken for granted, but for the Lenca people it started like a dream 6 months ago when the Internet Society Honduras’ Chapter gave them the idea of connecting their village to the Internet. This idea became a reality thanks to the collective effort of the community and the support of Beyond the Net.
The party is for everyone but it focuses on them: Las Marías. With great curiosity, the women of the community came to the celebration early.
When I arrived after a 4-hour trip from Tegucigalpa, they were already there, dressed in colorful clothing. They were selling their products, taking care of their children, and anxiously awaiting the inauguration of the first community network of Azacualpa.
It was also the first anniversary of the radio ‘La Voz de las Mujeres’ (‘The Voice of the Women’) and María Santos, one of the heroes of the day and a leader of the community, was the first to approach me. She told me about her program “Amanecer Ranchero” (“Wake up Folks”) and about the objectives of the radio: “we want our rights as women to be recognized and achieve gender equality.”
This first local radio amplified the voices of the women in the community. But “The Marías” knew that they could strengthen their messages – and the Internet was the key.
“Having Internet will allow us to better prepare our radio programs as we will have more information from around the world and we will also be able to share what we do with other people,” says María Guadalupe, one of the first to access Internet in the community. She also shared that she was a little scared when she saw one of her colleagues on the screen during a video call.
The men of the community recognized that times have changed. The role of women in their community has a great weight. “On the Internet we see a possibility to claim our rights – as women and as Lenca people,” María Candida said. This was the message of one of the songs they prepared for the celebration.
A real party.
The “Comunidades Inteligentes” (“Smart Communities”) community network project made it possible for the 300 families of the Lenca indigenous community of Azacualpa to have access to the Internet.
The community is far from cities, which makes it difficult not only to communicate, but also to access basic services such as electricity, water, and healthcare. Although the Internet isn’t the answer to all of the challenges the community faces, it is one more tool to help overcome them.
“The Lenca community have a great desire to learn about technology because they know that it can improve some aspects of their daily life. Giving them the possibility of having Internet access through a community network seemed the right way to do so and applying to Beyond the Net gave us that possibility,” says Eduardo Tomé of the Honduras Chapter.
Reaching this historic day was not easy. It took a lot of effort.
The project received the support of national and international technicians who together with the Internet Society Honduras Chapter and “Red de Desarrollo Sostenible Honduras” (RDS-Honduras) carried out the deployment of four towers that give access to WiFi to the community and surroundings.
In addition to Internet access, the more than 1200 people who live in Azacualpa have a telecentre with five computers connected to the network and more than 70 smartphones. Until two weeks ago, the community only had two smartphones.
Many kids were already using those phones to play, chat, and communicate with each other. The Lenca people know their future lies with this evolution but they are also keen to preserve their traditions. “We want to keep our roots but also learn new things and develop and on the Internet we see an opportunity, for example, to preserve our local language,” said one of the community members.
The brand-new network of Azacualpa was made by the community and will be managed by the community. “If we want to empower them, we must also give them the tools to manage the network and to be sustainable in the long term. We do not want them to depend on others to assert their right to communicate and access the Internet,” said Raquel Isaula, director of RDS-HN during the opening ceremony.
This is without doubt, the power of community networks.
The Lenca people organized themselves in work groups. Each group received different trainings on issues of resource management, technology, and safe Internet use. Twelve of those were groups entirely composed of women. For RDS, the gender approach in these projects is essential for change.
María Lourdes, María Cándida, and María Lourdes told me that there is still a lot to do in their community. Some girls who took selfies with me said they still are a little nervous to enter the telecentre.
In the Lenca community, the literacy rate is 50% and the most affected are women and girls. The challenges in education are significant since there is only one school until ninth grade.
Before coming to Honduras, Eduardo Tomé had already told me that improving education through the Internet is one of the Chapter’s next challenges.
Now back in Argentina, I look forward to email promised by the Marías, some of whom are using the Internet for the first time.
I told them I would share their photos on the Internet so that everyone knows them and I did so right away… using the WiFi Network of Azacualpa.
I arrived in Honduras as Agustina. I left as María Agustina.
Read more about the project: How the Lenca are Restoring the Past to Build Their Future.
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