A Light in the Dark

By Adam Swartzbaugh, Founder and Executive Director of The GENESIS Network

To reach the recently built Baan Phai Du village school from the nearest town, you must travel two hours by road and then motocross your way on an all-terrain dirt-bike or snorkel-fed Land Rover for three hours and through endless miles of flooded trails and winding jungle paths.  If you arrive at night, you’ll be surrounded by thick darkness and a cacophony of chatter from the jungle’s wildlife.  Overhead, you’ll swear you can see far-flung galaxies in a sky that has turned a translucent gray by the sheer volume of stars now visible through a crystal-clear atmosphere.  The feeling of isolation is so great you are forced to reconsider your own significance in the universe.  Today, when you arrive, you will see and hear something more.  From within the schoolhouse comes the laughter of villagers of all ages.  They are huddled around the dim glow of solar-powered computers connected by satellite to the internet.

When I think of resource networking as the foundation of what makes GENESIS possible, I don’t picture bricks and mortar, computers and desks, or trucks and planes.  I think of us.  The greatest untapped resource cannot be found in the ground, the ocean or in outer space.  It is not a mineral or a substance, a particle or a compound.  It is people.  It is the human mind.

Several years ago the internet made local networking and file-sharing possible.  Now, it is the single largest depository of human knowledge.  A couple days ago, after due haggling with a satellite dish, deciphering network keys and a whole lot of cave man-style banging on modems and routers, this world of knowledge was made open and available to over a hundred students and hundreds more villagers.  Rarely can you multiply anything by near infinity – but, in this case, it is true when it comes to mental capacity and reach.

Within two hours of figuring out how to operate the keyboard and “ON” button of their new laptops, students are surfing the net at blistering speeds, Googling everything from instructions on how to fix a generator that has been broken for months, to videos by popular Thai singers.  A student is reading news about Thailand’s King Adulyadej and asking his older sister what “monarchy” means.  A parent just pinpointed her position on Google Earth.  One of the younger girls is watching a Rihanna video.

This school has become more than a mere building. It is no longer a place in the middle of a remote jungle, isolated from the world.  It is everywhere.  Time and space is less of a physical obstruction as people are enabled to travel around the globe with the stroke of a key.  The day after the internet became operable, a student who had never considered anything outside of agriculture and working the land was now immersed in web pages about religions of the world.  He now states he wants to become like Buddha.  Another student is claiming he will become a famous rapper – specifically, the next Eminem.  I cannot imagine a more perfect balance.

In the computer light that now shines from the school, children are going to places they’ve never been, learning about things they’ve never seen, and dreaming of becoming more than anything they have ever imagined.

Adam’s development career ranges from disability rights policy development with USAID and the UNDP in Vietnam to tsunami disaster relief and reconstruction in Thailand. He also is an active duty officer in the United States Army and received both his BA in International Relations and MA in Social and Economic Development from Brown University.

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