Thursday, August 11, 2005

Notes from Chennai 2

on my last day in Chennai, i was supposed to go on a field trip to one of these "knowledge centers" at the city's outskirts. good thing that the other workshop participants decided to come with me. or i would have gone on my own with just the cab driver, an address, and a mobile phone number. which, on hindsight, would have been a worrisome prospect considering that my destination was actually not in tamil nadu after all but about 4 to 5 hours away in the neighboring pondicherry state. so, going to pondicherry, i had a good dose of local argentinian and chilean news from ezequiel and patricio. we stopped twice to get pictures of temporary shelters built by the indian government for the tsunami victims and of logs used by fisherfolks in boat-making. had our breakfast in a restaurant beside the road where i ordered rice cakes and a milkshake.

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i had no idea at all of what i would find in the knowledge centers. we first came to this cluster of buildings that stood there in sharp contrast to the surrounding agricultural fields. this was supposed to be the "hub" of the network of 7 to 10 village information centers. from the hub, information like weather reports, market prices of agricultural products, employment opportunities, community news, and national development initiatives are sent to the village centers. the latter broadcast the information through a public address system, or process such information and disseminate it through the village newsletter, bulletin board, and other such methods. the knowledge centers have even moved on into promoting web-based learning. modules on basic education for children and on skill-specific training programs for adults have been developed and are currently being implemented. according to our local guide, there are now several of these knowledge centers operating in different parts of india.

during the visit, alvin toffler's third wave and the possibility of "leap-frogging" development through technological innovations came to mind. but i kept wondering how much was spent in setting up the whole thing and in operating it during the past 3 years or so. with all those private sector sponsors and international donor agencies listed at the entrance of the research centre in pondicherry, i magine it must have run into thousands or even millions of dollars. and was it worth the cost? on the way back to chennai, neena was telling us of her interview with this fisher in the village that we visited coming from the hub. the fisher supposedly kept on talking about all these benefits and nice things they've been getting from the village information center. soon after the interview, the fisher's wife pulled neena to one spot and commented that the husband's story did not reflect exactly how things were in the village then.

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