Class Acts

Somebody Should Set The Title For This Chapter!

“The internet isn’t free.  It just has an economy that makes no sense to capitalism.”  To Brad Shapcott, former Senior Software Engineer at, it easy to see that the “economies” of the internet are boundless, even for those who don’t believe in free lunches.  From paying our bills online to learning about how the earth orbits the sun, both adults and children alike can profit daily from the benefits of the World Wide Web.  This was not the case, however, for the residents of Chalatenango, <st1:country-region w:st="on">El Salvador</st1:country-region>, before the summer of 2009.  When Jeff Elkner and Fransisco “Paco” Roque arrived in August of this year, 9 of 10 children had never even used a computer.  With the help of One Laptop per Child, Jeff and Paco are changing all of that.     


“The largest impact that we have on the children of Chalatenango is connecting them to the internet.  Putting an internet connection and a couple of shared computers in a community like that will give them the world’s resources.”  After two months of delayed delivery, Jeff and Paco introduced 30 XOs and 5 Ubuntu Stations into the community to provide the members with the educational and communicational resources they deserve.  Ubuntu is an African Linux-based system and is part of the free open-source software that Jeff promotes and helps build.  As astounding as it is, all 30 laptops began running on a 1 megabyte connection…since their arrival, Jeff has worked to increase this bandwidth. 


In cooperation with the XO development, Jeff and Paco are demonstrating the benefits of open software to Chalatenango through classes and teaching sessions.  With Jeff’s technical background in Information Technology and Paco’s passion for social activism, the two teamed together in the Spring of 2008 to begin plans for the deployment.  Paco, originally from <st1:country-region w:st="on">El Salvador</st1:country-region>, opened the door to Chalatenango, while Jeff was the pioneer behind the software.  Using the XOs and Ubuntu Stations, they will be the first to present Shapcott’s economic misnomer that is the freedom of the internet.


In Chalatenango, 33 families live on what’s called La Cooperativa Juan Chacon, which is a farming community made up of ex-combatants of the revolutionary army of the El Salvadorian Civil War.  They settled there after the peace process in 1994.  Of the families, none had farming experience, but they were each given a parcel of land with which they began their new lives.  When Jeff and Paco began the deployment, they were astounded by the organization of the community; under the leadership of cooperative-founder Maria del Pilar, a 390-foot deep well was dug in the community to provide fresh drinking water (much of the manual work being done by the community members).  It was this unity and dedication that made the two believe will lead Chalatenango to success with the computing systems.


Like all humanitarian projects, there are many variables that play into the success of the XO and Ubuntu deployment.  Jeff and Paco, however, are posing goals that the community members are dedicated to achieving.  They believe that the return an XO or Ubuntu Station will have in <st1:country-region w:st="on">El Salvador</st1:country-region> shares similarities with what many developed countries are trying to achieve in their youth educational programs.  Using the XO as a bi-lateral structured/unstructured technology, Jeff, Paco, and OLPC are giving children a mathematics and science background that provides opportunity.  “My hunch is that, starting with 30 XOs, in 5 years, we’ll have one or two software programmers that can assist in writing code for us.”  The deployment will have similarly influential effects for the adults in Chalatenango.  “This community is part of a cooperative movement, and the internet is important because they get to tell and publish their story.  Other places around the country will see what they’re doing.”  For all of these reasons, it was no surprise that in the week leading up to August 21, Jeff received full attendance (with as many as 37 people) at his meetings for learning about the laptops.


Another reason that Jeff and Paco are so positive about the continuing growth of the project is the support that is in place for continuing education.  Currently, the Universidad Evangelica (about an hour away), is providing weekend classes (concerning the Sugar Operating System found on the laptops), developing OLPC teaching materials, and translating on-line learning materials for students.  In addition, the new government of El Salvador, known as the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, and the government of Spain are assisting the El Salvadorian Ministry of Education in mandating that all public schools utilize a free and open piece of software called MAX (Madrid Linux).  This is Ubuntu Linux program (, which has an upcoming release known as the MAX 5.0.


Jeff and Paco’s personal excitement about the project is rarely masked.  As a high school teacher computer science and mathematics teacher in Arlington, Virginia, Jeff has his students writing code in the Python scripting language for the XO’s TimeLapse application.  TimeLapse will allow users to create audio and visual data of time-sequenced events, like the habits of the honey bee or the changing of plant life through the seasons.  Jeff was also uplifted by Samuel Kline’s (the content director of OLPC) introduction of content updates in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Uruguay</st1:country-region> (, which he thinks will be applicable to Chalatenango.  Paco continues to act as the logistical coordinator for the deployment, focusing his efforts on communications between all parties involved.


For a more personal touch on Jeff and Paco’s story, see Jeff’s blog at