IBM volunteer in Argentina helps bridge the digital divide and more

Luis Inclan
Luis Inclan worked with IBM and
Rotary International to create Labs
Informatica, which helps bridge the
digital divide in Argentina.
With a literacy rate of 98%, you wouldn’t think Argentina has much of a digital divide, but that’s simply not true. While the majority of Argentinians can read, the unfortunate truth is that, according to government statistics, almost 50% of Argentinians have not used the Internet. This lack of access affects everything from education to employment – and most importantly, it affects the poverty level in Argentina.

Luis Inclan, a senior project manager for IBM, decided to do something about the problem. He says that, “In 2006, I began researching how to reduce the digital divide. I was inspired by the volunteers and opportunities I found on the IBM On Demand Community, and I knew that I wanted to give something back.”

Luis started by donating a single PC to a school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “I wanted to reduce the digital divide between the new technologies and those who need it the most,” says Luis. “I approached Rotary International and IBM to help me achieve this goal.”

Labs Informatica was born, and Luis and other volunteers from IBM and Rotary began helping the digitally disconnected across Buenos Aires.

Reaching across the city and the digital divide

Only a year after he conceived the idea, Luis secured an IBM Community Grant for School 504. As a result of Luis’ volunteer efforts, IBM donated five PCs, helping to originate the school’s lab informatica – or computer lab.

“Approximately 300 students, ages 3 to 18, attend this school, which provides home assistance and integration services to children with severe emotional disturbance. They don’t have the opportunity to access PCs and other computer equipment at home or elsewhere,” says Luis.

Initially, Luis worked only in schools for children with disabilities. But as the program grew and more volunteers from both IBM and Rotary International began working with Luis, the Labs Informatica program expanded.

“At the beginning we worked with schools for children with disabilities, then with elementary schools, and now with technical high schools. In every school where we work, we help to develop their curricula,” says Luis. “And because they own the technology, they can continue to adapt their curricula as industry and regulations change.”

Analyzing infrastructure and installing smiles

Mostly, Luis and the team at Labs Informatica work with teachers and administrators. “We analyze infrastructure, help set up the infrastructure, and install hardware and software. We also have become quite adept at repairing older equipment in each school,” says Luis.

But occasionally, Luis gets to interact with the children, as well. “It’s always quite emotional when we get to see the children use what we have donated. They are so grateful for the possibility to learn new things, learn about technology. This is a possibility they do not have at home or in their personal lives,” he says.

As the program has expanded to reach more than 14 schools, Labs Informatica has affected the lives of hundreds of students now. “For a while, we were even donating servers – along with PCs – to the schools,” says Luis.

Delivering additional opportunity and skills

This year, Luis and Labs Informatica returned to the first school helped by the organization, School 504.

“These children get real-world skills at the school, and this year we helped to improve the workshops that provide career skills. There are classes in hairdressing and gardening, among others, and we helped purchase new tools so that the teachers and the students had the possibility to create their 2015 programs.”

There were many tools purchased. Some of them included a lawn mower, a grinder, a hand sander, a steam iron, a hammer drill, a jig saw, a hair straightener, a hair dryer, a dryer, a hand blender, a hand mixer, a mixer with bowl, and a camcorder.

Although this project was born out of the need to bridge the digital divide, Luis believes in its expanded mission. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to help those who most need it. I do not expect anything in return. Instead, I am filled with enthusiasm and only want to help more,” says Luis.

Luis closes with a final thought about how his volunteer project – which focuses on closing the digital gap – has also bridged the divide between those who need help and those who want to help.

“I truly appreciate being able to help. But, for that to be possible there must be two parts: one to help and the other which allows help. It is a benefit to us both.”

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