Digital Democracy is looking for a volunteer to help pilot long-distance solar-powered wifi antennaes in indigenous communities in Guyana.
Digital Democracy is working with the Wapichan people in the South Rupununi in Guyana to support them in efforts to secure their ancestral territory and increase their autonomy and self-determination. The Wapichan live in 17 villages and 7 smaller "satellites" in a large semi-natural savannah ecosystem surrounded by tropical forest. Communication between villages and with the outside world is difficult due to limited or no cellphone or internet access. We want to help the Wapichan improve their means of communicating with the rest of the world and communicating and coordinating between villages.
Wapichan traditional territory borders Brazil in SE Guyana, at approx. W 59.6°, N 2.7°. The villages are all within the savannah area, covering an area of approx. 760,000ha (1.9 million acres). The entire ancestral territory is 2.8 million hectares (7 million acres). Villages are between 10-20km apart, although a couple are 30km from other villages. The savannah is largely flat, with some low, rolling hills and some areas of forest ("bush islands").
Currently there is cellphone coverage in the town of Lethem (-59.7944, 3.3694) and the village of Aishalton (Aishara Toon) Village (-59.3245, 2.4773). Nearby villages can sometimes receive signal. Data is very slow (<128kbps) over celular in either location. Most villages do not have cellphone coverage.
Internet is in Lethem and in Shorinab Village (-59.7093, 3.0655) via a satellite connection. Shorinab internet has been very unreliable, with ping speeds of >2,0000ms and download speeds <128kbps with a lot of dropped packets. It costs >USD$400 per month. Internet in Lethem can sometimes be faster, but is also unreliable and often does not work at all.
None of the villages are on the electric grid. Some houses and village buildings have solar installations or run a generator at night for power.
Transport between the villages is on unpaved roads. The nearest village is about 1.5 hours from Lethem, the furthest about 6-7 hours drive. During wet season the entire savannah can flood making any travel difficult.
Communication between villages is currently via two-way citizen band radios, powered by solar and a 12V battery. Radios with an antennae and solar cost ~USD$2,000. Villages turn them on a specific time, but communicating is always a challenge, both because villages may not be listening, and because audio quality can be very poor.
Over the border in Brazil the town of Boa Vista (-60.6722, 2.8225) has fast and cheap internet. It is between 100-150km straight-line distance from the Wapichan villages.
The Wapichan villages have organized a team of community monitors who document illegal activity, deforestation and contamination within their territory. They need to be able to share the results of this work with other villages and with the government in Georgetown and the rest of the world.
The Wapichan have recently launched a website which is written and maintained by them: http://wapichanao.communitylands.org/. It can be edited offline but needs an internet connection to update it.
The Wapichan mapping and monitoring tools are built on peer-to-peer technology. Data is currently synchronized via "sneakernet" on USB thumb drives, but could work over a Wifi network if available (without that network needing to be connected to the internet).
The Wapichan need a way to communicate via the internet with funders, partners, and the general public. They need to be able to share photos and videos of environmental violations in their territory. They also need to access satellite imagery which can help them identify new illegal mining and deforestation deep in the forest. They also would benefit from improved communication between villages. Even in villages with cellphone access, the cost of calls and data is an additional burden on families.
Long-distance wifi could connect villages and potentially connect to an internet connection either in Lethem or over the border in Brazil. The current cost of $400 / month for a very poor satellite connection is a major financial burden and unsustainable long-term.
We would like to make a test connection between two villages with towers powered by solar. They would need to be able to survive a storm (with lightening) and be largely maintenance free. Ideally they would use consumer wifi frequencies and not require a license. If this connection worked well we could look at building a mesh network between villages and a long-distance connection (100km+) to Boa Vista in order to share an internet connection.
The Digital Democracy team is planning to travel to Wapichan territory in February 2018 and is looking for volunteers with experience building long-distance wifi networks who would be interested in joining the trip and designing and building a test system.
If you have ideas, contacts, or suggestions please leave a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org