Like many other citizens of this world, I've always felt a responsibility towards our society. In more youthful days, I had decided that I would donate some part of my earnings to charity, an idea that served only the good purpose of making me feel good. I say that coz, although I actually did do it, very soon I realized that it was not an effective method.
A friend once raised a question on the level of involvement of a person in the society. By what I understood, I could classify people into some distinct categories. The first group is that of the most common, abundantly found citizens who donate money (and old clothes!) and consider their role done. The second is that that of the scientists, researchers, innovaters and thinkers who make progress possible. But maybe this progress is doesn't effect all equally. The third is the class of people who work to make this progress reach more people. No, I am not referring to social workers. I am talking of business men who provide employment, industrialists who hold the economy, civil servants who interface between the common man and the government. They do a job which is more gratifying to the soul rather than the intellect. This may not be a view which many will agree with, but it is the spirit of Swecha.
Swecha is not a technical challenge to make a Telugu computer. Nor is it about fighting the digital divide. It addresses issues beyond education, economy, knowledge impartation and freedom. It is a restoring force. It motivates various components of the societal framework to contribute in enhancing the entire structure. My rambling by now may sound absurd and abstruse but if you have the patience to follow this blog a little more, you will hopefully understand this better.
A workshop was conducted to educate Engg. college students on free software in the month of june. It triggered off a series of other interesting activities. At the workshop, we resolved to demonstrate Swecha (GNU/Linux in Telugu) in 21 villages, form 21 GLUGs (GNU/Linux Users Group) and put up an online magazine within a month. We've been largely successful in achieving this.
Sangareddy – Gives Hope
There were heated discussions on how people would perceive the usefulness of a computer in Telugu. We had little hope that the government officials would be receptive and synergize with us. Deciding to be the "earliest failures" we set out to Sangareddy town. Contrary to our expectations, the collector of the district was just too excited about the idea. He promised to support us and has been doing the same. We were given a chance to demostrate the Telugu Gnome desktop at a meeting where all the district officers were present. The honor was more than that. The collector quoted us to be examplary. Not to mention that he was totally incredulous about the fact that we were all well employed, not expecting monetary returns and could come down on a tuesday afternoon to give the demo! We also demonstrated Swecha at a High school there. The school had a computer lab which was run by Aptech. Surprisingly the kids were very comfortable using the Windows desktop. They were pretty excited to see things in Telugu. Although I can't confidently say that the idea of free software sinked in, atleast we know that it is now in the air.
Swecha Second Release
By end of July, 2005 we had taken Swecha over to more than 10 districts in the state. We were by then preparing for the second version of Swecha. Most of the technical challenges in creating a desktop with the basic functionality needed to input/view Telugu was ready. Unfortunately, we did not have enough resources to help with translation of strings in the applications. A small group of students from a not so well known Engg. college in Mehboobnagar were working on the translations with help from FSF-AP. In an attempt to meet the deadline for the second release of Swecha, the students of the GLUG in that college showed a truly admirable spirit. Fighting initial resistance from the college authorities and working in shifts 24 hours a day, they helped complete the Gnome desktop translations. The reward commensurated the efforts as the Collector of Mehboobnagar gave the GLUG a pilot project to install and run Swecha on nearly 60 computers in 10 schools in that district!
We have been conducting workshops to train members of GLUGs on installing and using GNU/Linux. They have been largely successful and in many Engg. colleges the students have started using applications on GNU/Linux desktops. The students have formed mailing lists and are getting into the culture of knowledge sharing. More than 25 Engg. colleges in the state today have GLUGs. But it is not this has happened in these few months. The credit for having done the ground work to make all this possible goes to some of the founding members of FSF-AP.
And There Are More…
The GLUGs are not confined to Engg. and degree colleges. They exist in more interesting and unexpected places too. And they play even more interesting roles! One of them is the GLUG at Steel Plant, Vishakapatnam. The labor union there is working to convice the management on use of free software for cost cutting.
Here, I am narrating a small story. It it not over, so keep coming back! And what would I want u to take from it?
It is hard to have faith, but when u do, it pays off.