A Virtual Volunteer has a real-life adventure with the Amazon Connection
Two years ago I had an amazing opportunity to visit one of my favorite Ericsson Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility projects: the Amazon Connection.
Since 2009, when the first 3G site in Belterra in Brazil was established, the project – a collaboration between the Brazilian telecom operator Vivo, local non-governmental organization Saúde e Alegria and Ericsson – has brought important advances to the Amazon region, including connectivity for the Abaré hospital boat in 2011. The connection was expanded to Suruacá, an extractive reserve community around the Tapajós River in the Brazilian Amazon, with the Connect to Learn program implemented there in 2012 and the Virtual Volunteer connection program during 2013 and 2014.
The virtual volunteer program is for employees in Latin America who want to engage in Technology for Good projects. In Suruacá the group is focused on promoting digital inclusion and supporting our Connect to Learn program with ICT training as well as teaching students how to step safely into the cloud. The program consists of weekly connections via Skype, and we help the students use YouTube and create their own e-mail and social media accounts.
I am a virtual volunteer, and as part of the program, we had the opportunity for a face-to-face class on site.
My trip to Suruacá was one of the best experiences ever. I had to take a flight from São Paulo to Santarém (3,200km), an important city in the north of Brazil due to the junction of two big rivers: the Amazon and Tapajós. Then we went by car to Alter do Chão (40km), considered “the Freshwater Caribbean” and called in the British newspaper The Guardian the best beach in Brazil.
From Alter do Chão, I took a fast boat towards Suruacá (1 hour). After getting soaked by the water coming from the boat jumping the waves, I arrived in Suruacá. It took almost one full day of traveling to get to the community.
When I arrived all the kids and the teacher were waiting for me on the beach. They are very isolated, and every visit it is a real party to them, I don’t have words to express what I felt at that moment. Than we climbed up some stairs to get to the community – only pictures can give you an idea of how amazing it is.
Guided by perfect hostesses, I was taken for a tour, including to Telefônica Vivo’s tower, which is powered by solar panels, a wind generator and a battery bank. And I could see that even the youngest child knew what the tower is for and knew about Ericsson’s project with Vivo.
They had never had access to the internet before this project, and now they are my friends on Facebook and are connected to the world. During my visit, I had the chance to connect them with a school in Portugal and give them a different cultural experience. In the beginning they were all very shy, but after some minutes they were all having a lot of fun with the differences between Portuguese from Brazil and from Portugal.
Promoting digital inclusion, whether assisting students in the Amazon with social media tools or taking them on virtual tours around the world via Google maps, the program allowed us to break a barrier with the children and show them a world of possibilities. The enthusiasm we can see on their faces assures us that we are on the right track!
The program made me see that to change lives and create opportunities, we do not need to be physically near to people. With the Virtual Volunteer program, we can make a positive impact on people’s lives anywhere in the world.
After my trip the kids were not so shy during our virtual classes. Certainly we are transforming their lives, and, for sure, they have transformed mine 🙂