Partnering in Oaxaca, Mexico to Connect Indigenous Communities
Updated: Jan 18
Getting digital learning tools, educational resources, and connectivity to Oaxacan families.
The Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca (FAHHO) is working to bring connectivity, digital learning tools and educational resources to rural Indigenous communities in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Working in partnership with the Endless OS Foundation, its main objective is to improve connectivity issues in the mostly offline state of Oaxaca through the effective use of the Endless operating system (OS). Endless OS is running on thousands of computers distributed by the FAHHO in a variety of settings including homes, communities, libraries and schools.
The FAHHO is also assisting Indigenous communities in Oaxaca with the creation of their own digital learning content in their languages. Almost a third of the population of the state of Oaxaca speaks an Indigenous language. Nevertheless, the language rights of speakers of these languages have not been successfully incorporated into education in the state, which has contributed to poor academic achievement.
To assist in this challenging environment the FAHHO is proactively engaged with communities by distributing computers running Endless OS, supporting teachers in the use of this operating system in the classroom, and creating content in the local languages. Through this project, the FAHHO has designed creative and inclusive ways to introduce valuable new digital skills and access to the digital world. Endless OS Foundation has supported this deployment through delivering training, assisting with the procurement of computers and providing customized versions of Endless OS incorporating newly-created Oaxacan content.
Communities in Oaxaca are creating their own digital learning content in their Indigenous languages for the first time – assisting in education and language preservation.
Some of the challenges faced. A mix of community characteristics in Oaxaca has left its communities in an underserved and complicated situation: it is very difficult to access via roads, there is a lack of services, most of the communities have no internet access or poor access and mobile reception, it has an underserved educational system, and it lacks job opportunities. Even though it is the 5th largest state in Mexico, the specific circumstances of Oaxaca have been a challenge to the Mexican government’s centralized planning. The pandemic’s status in Mexico contributes to making Oaxaca’s situation even more difficult.
Oaxaca consists of 570 municipalities, representing 20% of all Mexican municipalities.
The average completed education for the Oaxaca population is 7th grade.
GDP is the lowest in the country of Mexico.
(Above: students unbox and set-up new computers, learn in the computer lab, and use PCs in home settings.)
Computers with Endless OS help Oaxacan students during the pandemic.
The Endless operating system is designed to help offline communities like Oaxaca. The Linux-based OS operates fully without the Internet and comes preloaded with applications and resources that do not require connectivity for a robust learning environment. Endless OS is now in daily use in 45 Oaxacan communities. Since the project began in 2019, the FAHHO has deployed 1,888 computers running Endless OS with the support of the Endless OS Foundation.
In all of these communities, local project liaisons work closely with the schools and families in order to facilitate training, use and maintenance of computers with Endless OS. In some communities schools have coordinated an initiative where every family with school children receives a computer at home to supplement school study and to enjoy exploratory play.
Since the start of COVID-19 to today, there has been no in-person school in Oaxaca, and with poor connectivity most students have not attended school virtually either. Computers with Endless OS's offline educational resources have become a vital tool for children’s learning.
The FAHHO program was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 lockdowns and health protocols that started March 2020. Since the start of those protocols to today, there has been no in-person school for children in Oaxaca. Given the poor connectivity, this has meant that most children in Oaxaca have not been able to attend school virtually either. Under these circumstances, computers loaded with offline educational resources became a unique and vital tool for children’s learning. Because of this, the FAHHO stepped up deployment and also began working in communities closer to Oaxaca City. During 2020, a total of 1015 additional computers were distributed to 29 communities, in part thanks to a collaboration with Banamex through the program “Home Runs Banamex”. So far in 2021, 689 additional computers have been distributed to 15 communities.
Dr. María Isabel Grañén Porrúa, President at FAHHO, speaks to the need for finding the right technology partner equally coupled with deep community engagement for success: “Technology alone is not enough to improve the quality of children’s education. It is crucial to be close to them, their teachers and their families. The projects at the Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca are exciting because we work directly with communities and from this interaction innovative proposals arise, such as the publication of books and digital stories in Oaxacan languages, so that technology responds to the needs of each community.”
Creative uses for PCs and Endless OS: community documentation of languages for the first time, and more.
Highlights of the creative use of Endless OS and computers in Oaxaca include the use of Storyweaver to generate children’s stories in Oaxacan languages digitally and posting them online, as Dr. Grañén Porrúa noted above. This has resulted in opening six Oaxacan languages on the Storyweaver platform: Triqui, Mixe, Chatino, Mixtec, Chocholtec and Zapotec. 438 translations of children’s stories have been created in these languages, approximately 100 of which provide the basis for the Endless OS app “Libros y Recursos multilingües'' (Multilingual Books and Resources), with more accessible through Kolibri on Oaxaca’s deployed computers.
In San Juan Quiahije and Cieneguilla, computers with Endless OS are being used in the community documentation of the Chatino language. Dr. Emiliana Cruz, a linguistic anthropologist at CIESAS (a Mexican national research institute) and native speaker of Chatino, has coordinated a workshop in the community to transcribe recorded texts in Chatino using software that was installed on the Endless computers. According to the FAHHO, this Chatino project is a model for other community-based language documentation projects.
In San Juan Quiahije and Cieneguilla, computers with Endless OS are being used in the digital documentation and transcription of the Chatino language for the first time – helping to preserve the language for future generations.
The FAHHO has also established collaborative ties with the Wikimedia Mexico Foundation to train and develop content about Oaxaca through Wikipedia editing workshops. Wikipedia is the most consulted digital encyclopedia in Mexico, and it is also the basis for content in the Endless OS “Encyclopedia” app which has been updated to include these articles. Indigenous communities, often with little voice in educational institutions and publishing houses, are often misrepresented in Mexico’s educational texts and reference materials. Accurate and truthful information about Indigenous communities and languages in the Endless OS “Encyclopedia” app helps combat the racism and discrimination that often permeate educational materials about Mexico’s Indigenous peoples.
Accurate and truthful information about Indigenous communities and languages in the Endless OS “Encyclopedia” app helps combat the racism and discrimination that often permeate educational materials about Mexico’s Indigenous peoples.
And finally, the first computer class ever given in Cieneguilla was given in Chatino and made use of the Chatino language content on the “Libros y Recursos Multilingües” app. Too often, the deployment of technology reinforces hegemonic languages and cultures and strengthens a common type of discrimination experienced by many Indigenous peoples: that their languages, culture and knowledge belong in the past, not the future. By opening spaces for the development of local content, the FAHHO and its partnering communities not only seek to provide innovative educational experiences that help instill curiosity and a love of learning, but also contribute to the processes of technology appropriation for cultural emancipation.
Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil from the Mixe community of San Pedro y San Pablo Ayutla, and an important figure in Mexico for the rights of Indigenous people, had this to say about the FAHHO / Endless program: “Normally, we hear about the impact that the mere presence of a computer can have on individual children’s learning. However, seeing closely how the Endless computers of the Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca are functioning in Ayutla has confirmed to me that their presence and proper use generates a small family learning community that causes an unsuspected chain of effects for collective learning.”
Community Engagement, new access, and the future.
Reception to the project has been very positive, and has generated considerable interest from the participating communities in various uses of technology. Prior to this, students in some communities never had access to a computer, and now the presence of computers with Endless OS has motivated interest in school and learning. This includes the teaching of programming through the Scratch app and Tux applications designed for small children. Locally-generated content from Oaxaca has also generated considerable interest, and the Endless OS Foundation has worked with the FAHHO to provide updated versions of the OS with the latest content included.
Prior to this, some students in communities never had access to a computer. The computers with Endless OS have motivated interest in school and learning in Oaxaca.
The FAHHO is diligent in vetting each community to identify reliable partners and to seek the biggest impact possible, delivering new PC and operating system training, setting-up points of contact in the communities, and making sure students are active in their use and understanding of their computers, Endless OS and the tools contained.
The development of reliable local content through these Oaxacan programs has had several valuable implications. Importantly, it has generated local interest in the development of Oaxacan content and the technological PC skills this requires. It has also allowed the FAHHO to connect this project with an important international movement of digital activists in Indigenous languages.
The amount of work required to do a successful deployment like this is huge, and these communities are lucky to have a group like the Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca putting so much effort into this important work. The FAHHO feels that the programs and progress being made in Oaxaca could support interest in similar programs rolling out to other offline communities in rural areas of Mexico. There's more to follow, and we look forward to posting an update about the communities in Oaxaca engaging with their new digital tools.