Community Networks Stories: On the road to building internet access for all, why not take our children with us?

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, we are featuring a story that was shared with us by AlterMundi, based in Argentina.

In June 2019, the first Semillero de Redes Comunitarias del Abya Yala (Abya Yala Community Networks Seedbed) convening was held in Cherán, Mexico. This event was also used as an opportunity to organise a meeting of the Latin American members of the Connecting the Unconnected learning grant peer community.

More than 50 people from various communities in Mexico participated in the event to think about communication from and for their territories, together with representatives of the Xamoneta Collective (Cherán), Coolab (Brazil), Colnodo (Colombia), Instituto Bem Estar (Brazil), Rhizomatica (México), Redes por la Diversidad, Equidad y Sustentabilidad A.C. (Mexico) and AlterMundi (Argentina).

AlterMundi’s main role there was to facilitate training on community networks for internet access. On this occasion, it was Gui, Santiago Piccinini and Jésica who went on behalf of the organisation, and Jésica brought along her little boy, Sihuel. The idea was that someone would babysit him during the day, but it wasn’t possible to find the right person in time.

On the first day of the event, according to the schedule, Jésica was supposed to start the activities. Sihuel had had a bad night, and when it was time to get started, he was sleeping in his mother’s arms. Every time she tried to pass Sihuel to someone else, even though he knows Santiago and Gui really well, he would wake up and refuse to be separated from his mother. And so in the end, Jésica led the introductory activities for the community networks group while holding her sleeping baby.

That night, while planning for the next day, Gui commented that at first he felt bad because he wasn’t able to take care of Sihuel, but after the third time he tried to take the baby from his mother, he looked at the group, and felt that there was a lot to learn from the fact that despite it all, Jésica was able to move along with the session, even while holding her son. Some people in the group were obviously surprised by the situation, and started thinking about the possibility of having their children with them during training events like the “seedbed” convening. They realised that it was possible to include them, and that children might not be an obstacle to attending events like this one.

The next day another baby-centred scene unfolded. Gui was looking after Sihuel while Jésica was with other members of the group on the rooftop of the community centre. A woman who was there with her baby girl told Gui that she wanted to go up on the rooftop too, but she was waiting for her sister to come and take care of her daughter. Gui offered to take care of both babies, but the woman declined.

They continued chatting, and she asked a few rhetorical questions, taking a number of things for granted. The conversation went more or less like this:

“So you’re the baby’s father.”

“No, no.”

“His uncle.”

“No, I’m a friend of Jésica’s.”

“Ah, and you’re not up on the roof because you don’t know much about building networks.”

“Actually, I know a lot about networks, but right now I want to be here, and I’m glad that Jésica is up there. And also, I don’t spend a lot of time in Argentina, so this gives me a chance to spend time with Sihuel.”

After a few more exchanges like this, the woman agreed to let Gui take care of her daughter. The woman’s sister arrived just a few minutes later, but it was enough time to rethink a lot of things.

Both Gui and Santiago have actively participated in the role of caregiver for Sihuel, and it’s at times of pressure like these that we learn the most if we are able to step back and look at the situation calmly and lovingly. As a mother and a friend, Jésica feels proud and lucky to have Gui and Santiago by her side.

For some time now, AlterMundi has been looking for ways to include children in their activities, both because of family dynamics and also because of how enjoyable it can be to share these experiences with children and the collective growth that can come out of them. And there are always people who comment that they would have also liked to bring their kids along, or who talk about how much they miss their kids and how lucky the people from AlterMundi are to be able to have their children with them at an event. AlterMundi welcomes these comments with open arms, because they confirm that on the road of our struggles and our dreams, our children should be with us.

AlterMundi makes a concerted effort to include children in the events that they coordinate, and to have children included in the events where they are invited to participate. And the results prove that this effort is definitely worthwhile.

 

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