December 04, 2012
I recently heard a moving story which I thought would be worth sharing. This story was told to me by Nancie Severs at the recently held OLPC San Francisco community summit (olpcsf.org). She has been closely associated with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project initiatives in SE Asia.
Cambodia is a beautiful place. Lush with tropical forests and a coastline, it is a peaceful natural retreat with great people. It's most significant historical site, the Angkor Wat is so prominent, that it is a part of national flag. There is however, one problem; snakes. (okay, there are other problems too).
In the village where there is a small OLPC deployment of a 100 laptops, people routinely get bitten by a variety of poisonous snakes. Normally when a person is bitten, he is not given medical attention, but is instead taken to a witch-doctor. After receiving 'cure' from the witchdoctor, if the person ends up dying, the explanation given is that he was an evil spirit, and the witch-doctors medicine could not have any effect on him because of that.
Seeing this take place, the people running the OLPC project created an exercise for the students in the local school. Armed with little green laptops and internet, they cataloged the different varieties of snakes present in the region, and were given funding to stock the necessary set of antivenoms. The next time a person was bitten, he was administered the medication, so he/she could be taken to the hospital in time. Just last month, they were able to save two lives because of this exercise!
At a macro level, the challenge before us is this. Do we want to see better trained witchdoctors in our future or people who will look past barriers to come up with path-breaking solutions leveraging the power of technology and creative thinking?