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March 14, 2005

Cebu – The Pro(b)logue

I envied my brother whose skill as a pediatrician got him a chance to practice in Aceh after the tsunami.  Now, thanks to Dr. Bill, Mary and I will get a chance to use our knowledge of Internet communication and VoIP in the developing world.

My brother’s day job is as President and CEO of Wilcox Hospital on Kauai.  Doctors from Wilcox have been taking part in a Rotary-sponsored program called Rotaplast.  They volunteer to go to the Philippines to fix cleft palates.  These contacts are evolving into a sister hospital arrangement between Wilcox and Vincente Soto Memorial Hospital in Cebu,  Philippines. 

Wilcox is involved in an equipment upgrade which has displaced some very serviceable medical equipment; some of this equipment is being donated to Vincente.  The equipment is one part of the sister-hospital arrangement.  The second part is provided by the Rotary Clubs in Cebu and Kauai which arrange for shipping of the equipment and provide local contacts.  The third part of the arrangement is reliable, low-cost direct contact between the staff of the hospitals.  If they can talk cheaply or at no incremental cost, then we hope that personal relationships will deepen more quickly and that Cebu and Kauai will both benefit more.

So that’s where Mary and I come in.  Getting broadband shouldn’t be much harder than it was here in rural Vermont.  There is broadband in the City of Cebu.  Installing the critical applications on broadband is where we hope to make a difference.  Email and IM, of course; but that could be done on narrowband.  Voice and video conferencing should be where the real payoff is.  We hope that calls will be useful for future consultations, missions, and setting up visits between the two hospitals.

Of course, we Googled Cebu.  It is the place where Magellan first baptized Filipinos.  It is also near here where Magellan was killed when he took sides in a local conflict.  Accounts differ on whether he was killed by his adversaries, his allies, or his own men.  There is an annual celebration of victory over this colonialist. 

After Cebu, there is a small chance that we’ll be able to accompany Bill back to some of the Tsunami-affected areas.  Communication is always an issue in disaster zones, often satellite phones at $10/minute are the only alternative.  Satellite IP with a small earth station and a WiFi hotspot around them would be useful for both data and voice and, I would guess, much more cost-effective than traditional satellite phones.

Since communications is what we’re going to work on, it may be that I won’t have good enough connections to blog or at least to blog regularly.  On the other hand, I may have some interesting things to report back on once I do get a connection.

I am also going to have to miss David Isenberg’s interesting Freedom to Connect Conference (F2C) in Washington, DC where I had planned to speak.  David is forgiving me in hopes that I’ll help somebody’s freedom to communicate.  But there is still time for you to sign up for the conference.

Mary and I know first hand from experience at ITXC what a huge difference modern communications can make in the developing world.  We also know some of the obstacles to getting the infrastructure and applications in place.  It has been our hope in retirement to use this knowledge in the nonprofit sector before we, ourselves, become obsolete.  Up until now, we’ve given lots of advice but we haven’t really gone out and done things.  We know we’ll learn by doing things in the field; we hope to do some good as well.

If you have apps – they’ve got to really working – that we should look at for this or equipment to donate or would like to consult long-distance to us, please comment here or email me.  I would particularly like to know of any experience – good or bad – with small satellite earth stations in the Indian Ocean region.  I don’t promise we’ll use everything offered but we’ll ruthlessly take advantage of anything that can help.

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