Mesh in a rain forest. Wireless IT, that is!

Google Mail – Funedesin – Using New Technology in Amazonia

Amazonian Mesh Network Supports Education, Science, Medicine and Eco-Tourism in Ecuador. The award winning ecology centre, “Yachana FUNEDESIN” use wireless mesh to link their many operations in the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle to the rest of the world. Funedesin use the LocustWorld system.

LocustWorld is a UK based company providing new technology for internet connectivity using wireless mesh networking.

FUNEDESIN – The Foundation for Integrated Education and Development – use a wireless mesh to distribute internet through their extensive site in the
Amazonian jungle, linking the Yachana Technical High School, Yachana Lodge
Ecotourism Centre, The Bio Science Centre, Medical Clinic, Offices and
Visitors. FUNEDESIN is 2.5 hours by motorised canoe from the nearest small
city where there is an airport. All power on the site is provided using
solar panels.

Douglas McMeekin, Executive Director of the foundation, was recently in the
UK with a party of four students from the Yachana High School attending an
event on “Young People and Sustainable Development” hosted by British
Council and the EU, where he reported his mesh networking progress to

The mesh distributes broadband from a satellite link between the various
sites on the river, including the Yachana Lodge Hotel, the High School,
which is 1500 meters away and the Bio Science Centre, which is 5km down
river. All of these locations get online through the mesh, which also
provides the potential for local communication between these places.

The mesh has been designed and installed by Bruce Schulte, an American who
has been working on wireless networking projects in Ecuador for many years.
Bruce attended an IICD course in mesh networking organised by the IICD in
Ecuador last year. Joe Roper was sent by LocustWorld from the UK to teach
the course, with materials translated into Spanish by the IICD, and gave a
dozen students from Ecuador and Bolivia a primer in setting up mesh

The Yachana High School, founded in 2005, provides vocational training. The
school operates year round, with two groups of students alternating for 28
days each as boarders, giving them time to work at home helping in their
local communities. The school offers a degree in Ecotourism and Sustainable
Development, specialising in ecotourism and sustainable development,
specialising in Ecotourism, Conservation, Agronomy, Animal Husbandry and
Micro-Enterprise development. Secondary education in Ecuador is provided
free by the state, but the quality in rural areas is very poor and the
students learn theory not practical skills. The Yachana High School is
serving students from four provinces and five ethnic groups in the Amazon,
all of whom are very poor. Funedesin relies on donations to help cover the
difference between the token $40 per annum the students pay for this
education and the true costs. Being online provides an incredible
educational benefit for the students and teachers in every subject and helps
them to bridge the digital divide between the developed and lesser developed
parts of the world.

The vocational training provided at the High School focuses on appropriate
technology, with classes making water filter and led flashlight bulbs for
marketing to local people. 7500 elementary schools in Ecuador have no
potable water, so a locally made water filter provides a great boost to the
health of students.

With such modest electric capacity it is amazing that the IT networks work
at all. This is achieved using a 3.5kw solar panel array and very low power
devices. The meshboxes use around 6watts, and the standard computer used is
a laptop, with inbuilt battery to overcome power outages. The potential for
using 12v low power PCs, containing similar technology to the meshbox, like
the VIA Mini ITX, is very great. VIA’s work on the PC-1 program is
pioneering new markets for PC use such as this.

In addition to the Solar Power in use at Yachana and FUNEDESIN, there are
also opportunities for other alternative power, such as fuel cell
electricity generation. Bio-fuel, and methanol from the Ecuador onshore oil
production and processing industry would both provide a potential fuel for
fuel cell power, to supplement the Solar electricity already used at the

The Medical Clinic that FUNEDESIN built in 1997 gets a great benefit from
now being online. Through Tele-Medicine, the medical residents going their
annual rural year of service can now have live tele-medicine consultation
from this remote clinic to experts in the Metropolitano Hospital in the
capital city of Quito, or throughout the world, through this internet

Yachana Lodge provide a unique experience in ecotourism holidays in
Amazonia. Profits from their business go towards funding the Yachana
Technical High School, with 2,000 visitors annually and capacity for 40 at
any one time, the lodge is busy all year round. Having an online connection
is a great service for visitors, who can maintain their contacts with the
rest of the world while they are enjoying the jungle experience.

FUNEDESIN owns 4380 acres of rainforest that is protecting biodiversity and
the culture of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest. The purchase
of much of this land was made possible through donations from Rainforest

Funedesin aims to be self-sustaining through eco-tourism and micro
enterprise, and is now getting recognition for their world-class pioneering
work in these areas from many major institutions. Yachana Lodge was awarded
the “Conde Naste Ecotourism Award” 2004 and was a finalist in the World
Travel and Tourism Council award 2005.

The mesh network provides the opportunity to run voice over IP within the
mesh, and to link the mesh users to the worldwide public telephone network
through the internet. Satellite internet does give a little delay when used
for voice services, but it is certainly a great improvement on no link.
Personal voip products like skype work fine, and the foundation plan to set
up their own VOIP server too. Using their own voip server local users could
also link into the cellphone network, which is just accessible from the
foundation’s tower, allowing incoming and outgoing calls via terrestrial
networks too.

Further down the river the Bio Science Field Station is run by Global Vision
International. Recently a new species of frog was discovered at the GVI Bio
Station. Being online allowed the centre to confirm their discovery and
upload photos to the internet whereas without being online these activities
would have taken weeks.

Historically FUNEDESIN and Yachana have run an office in Quito to handle
their administration, bookings, accounts and other functions. Now that there
is an internet connection throughout the jungle site all of these functions
are moving from Quito to Yachana, saving money, time and travel costs.
Having universal internet access lets the foundation run all of their office
functions from Yachana.

The Foundation also provides potential to operate as centre for teaching
others to follow this model of bottom up development, teaching wireless
internet, voice over IP, alternative high school operations in the remote
jungle, tele-medicine and ecotourism so that other communities can emulate
the success at FUNEDESIN.

FUNEDESIN and Yachana are great examples of how internet services, delivered
by wireless mesh, can bring benefits for so many different aspects of life
in remote locations.


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