Community Networks Stories: Coolab Camp, an immersive, collaborative event for learning about hardware, software and care

As part of the “Connecting the Unconnected: Supporting community networks and other community-based connectivity initiatives” project, 12 community network organisations (four in Africa, four in Asia and four in Latin America) were selected and granted funding towards activities that create and foster a peer learning community. Over the coming weeks we will be sharing stories from the members of this peer community about local impacts of the work they carried out with the help of this funding. Today’s story was shared by Coolab in Brazil.

Coolab Camp was an event held in November 2019 in Monteiro Lobato, São Paulo, organised with the support of a Connecting the Unconnected project learning grant. We chose the Bairro do Souza community to host this experience, since this is where many of Coolab's experiences have come to life through the Portal Sem Porteiras Association community network.

The “camp” format was chosen for the event based on our experiences throughout the year with a variety of different community networks. We have been asking ourselves about human relations and their fundamental role in the development of a community network, which is why we decided to make it a “barefoot” event, an immersive event, a camp where we slept and woke up together over the course of several days, sharing and learning about the technology of hardware, software and care. Our meeting took the form of an “unconference”, with a decentralised approach that we also seek to apply in communication protocols.

The first day started with a party, but the thirst for learning was so great that a “lightning” workshop on DJing with free/libre software spontaneously arose, just to get in the mood.

On Saturday morning, we sat on the floor together and used flash cards to indicate activities that we would like to offer and that we would like to see offered, as a way of presenting an open format approach to scheduling activities. We then grouped together similar activities, matched up the offers with the requests, and eventually managed to fit them all together into a schedule for the camp.

After a delicious lunch prepared by Chimbica, a woman leader from the community, it was time to put our activities into practice. The first was a presentation by Thiago Novaes about the use of spectrum, including the current situation and the relevance of this issue for community networks.

This was followed by a number of activities that took place in parallel: a talking circle on methodologies and another on decentralised applications. The day continued with an activity to exchange experiences in the configuration of long-distance links.

In the talking circle on methodologies, we shared our perspectives on our experiences and the different demands we encounter. Karla Velasco Ramos, a member of REDES A.C in Mexico, told us about a methodology they use in which they carry out an assessment with a focus on communication that is not limited to internet networks: it is the community itself that goes through a process to choose which infrastructure will be used.

That night, some of the men met around the campfire, while the women took part in a women’s circle. This circle emerged from the women’s desire to find a space where they feel safe to place themselves. And the men’s meeting took place to explore the question of why women still feel the need for a women’s circle. Finally we were able to all meet together for a conversation where we shared what we were feeling.

The next day seemed to be permeated by this atmosphere of dialogue from the night before, which led to a much more fluid and spontaneous experience.

We began with a training on the installation of LibreMesh, used to set up wireless mesh networks, beginning with the very step, when the firmware is “cooked” and installed. This activity responded to a heartfelt request that emerged during the women’s circle. Quite often, certain steps are passed over quite quickly during trainings, as if they were very simple to perform. This can result in discouraging women from taking on a task because of a feeling of ineptitude: “If this is so easy and I can’t do it, it must be because I’m not capable of doing this kind of task.” For this training, we used the Coding Dojo methodology, in which a task is divided into micro steps that are carried out by a “pilot” and “co-pilot”, and these positions are continuously rotated, so that all of the participants pass through them eventually.

This was followed by a conversation about technoculture and digital rights, which led to a conversation about radio and its possibilities. Bruna Zanolli told us a bit about her experience with this communication medium and its particularities.

Finally, we gathered on the lawn for a closing activity, to bring the meeting to an end. But in fact, many of the participants were unable to leave, and stayed in the community for an extra week. This was beneficial for the community: we continue to learn new techniques to communicate.

The participants in the camp included representatives of Coolab, Nupef, ARTICLE 19, AlterMundi, REDES A.C., Rede Moinho, Colnodo, Casa dos Meninos, Comunidade Kalunga, Portal sem Porteiras and Conecta, along with others interested in developing community networks.

Watch a video made during the camp:

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