Although India and Pakistan may seem far away from Penn, one student group now has a lot of ties there, thanks to their most recent project.
Communitech -- an organization run by students in close collaboration with Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science -- finished its most recent project on Sunday, installing four computer labs in some of South Asia's poorest areas.
The project, carried out by a team of four students and one faculty advisor, installed two labs in Himachal Pradesh, India and two in the area surrounding Lahore, Pakistan.
"We [installed] labs in two countries that have just recently overcome tensions: direct flights between New Delhi, India and Lahore, Pakistan just resumed in January," Wharton junior and Communitech Co-President Luke Iseman wrote in an e-mail interview.
"We felt like we were doing our part to ease communication between the two countries," he added later.
The group arrived in Delhi and drove northwest for a full day to reach Himachal Pradesh, where they installed the first two labs. From there, they crossed into neighboring Pakistan and installed labs in Narpur and Una, two towns near Lahore. The group ended up putting 3,000 miles on their car during the trip.
According to Iseman, the group's efforts were closely coordinated with local non-governmental organizations, such as The Citizens Foundation, a group dedicated to increasing literacy in Pakistan.
The group was also assisted by Assistant College Dean Srilata Gangulee.
"She's been the one who has anchored most of our India service projects and led our teams there," said Joseph Sun, director of academic affairs in the Engineering School and faculty advisor to Communitech.
According to its media guide, Communitech strives to tackle "the challenges of bridging the digital divide one person and one project at a time."
On this particular project, one of Iseman's most memorable moments came when he saw an 11- or 12-year-old boy begin using the educational software the team provided.
"He just jumped on the computer and five minutes into it, he was enthralled," he said.
Part of Communitech's mission is not only to build labs, but to train people so that the labs become a permanent asset to the community.
"We want to really give people a sense of ownership," said Iseman.
Joseph Sun, the director of academic affairs at the School of Engineering, serves as one of the group's faculty advisors. He credits the students with expanding the group's focus.
"The initiative came from the students who were leaders in our organization, who attended our first project in Ecuador," he said.
"They came back and wanted to continue to work in other parts of the world and we soon focused on opportunities in India," he added.
Communitech has now installed computer labs in Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, D.C. Himachal Pradesh and Pune, India, as well as in Ghana, Ecuador and now in Lahore, Pakistan.
Iseman said that although no plans had been made, the group discussed Cambodia as a possibility for their next international project.Comments powered by Disqus
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