When recent graduate Della Moran and fourth-year Mateo Ginsberg-Jaeckle decided to assist the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH)an organization that focuses on protecting and regaining the rights of indigenous groupsthey did not anticipate that their summer commitment would extend into the following spring.
Immediately after Moran and Ginsberg-Jaeckle had arrived, COPINH members interested in learning basic computer skills approached them. At the time, COPINH's central office operated on two sporadically malfunctioning computers, which lacked Internet connection and basic word processing programs. Sensing the need to narrow the digital divide between global corporate interests and indigenous grassroots efforts and optimize COPINH's resource base, the pair devised a computer-training program called Rising Roots International (RRI).
Even before interacting with COPINH, Moran and a few of her friends from the College had discussed the possibility of initiating a program that would provide marginalized social groups with the necessary tools to popularize their views. Moran and Ginsberg-Jaeckle's exposure to COPINH refined this vision.
RRI stands as an important model of the proactive change that can be affected on the campus level. RRI aims to stimulate grassroots movements in marginalized Latin America and Caribbean communities, establish connections between movements, and provide the educational tools necessary to foster inquiry and action.
Paradoxically, the relationship between RRI and other movement organizations is best characterized as ephemeral. According to Jillian Spindle, one of the founding members, RRI consciously acts more as a catalyst, rather than a domineering mentor.
By modernizing their organization, COPINH was able to better communicate with the 300 indigenous communities it represents, draft budget proposals, create and maintain a member database, access international news sources, and contact grassroots movements worldwide.
Some may find it ironic that a movement fighting against corporate globalization's marginalization and exploitation of indigenous people would rely on computer technologythe adhesive to a global communityto advance their collective interests. However, according to RRI, grassroots movements' appropriation of technology and conflation into Internet culture is vital for its long-term survival.
In a self-censoring media culture, where there are only an estimated 40,000 Internet users within a population exceeding 6 million, it is an innovative move for COPINH to utilize a communicative base that will expediently mediate their struggles and goals to the outside world.
To combat Honduras' obscure position in the global community, RRI organized the "Honduras Delegation 2003" this past July as a means of bringing attention to the issues affecting marginalized social groups. Delegates from organizations such as the Ford Foundation and Global Exchange were taken to "problem sites." They saw firsthand the tensions between a government following a neo-liberal model of development and the fading lifestyle of indigenous people.
"We met with women who worked in sweatshops, heard their experiences and difficulties," Moran said. "We went inside a shrimp-packing factory, where slave labor still occurs today in Honduras and other parts of the world."
RRI is in the process of raising money for its next training program, Women in Technology, to take place in Winter 2004 in Jamaica. Because Jamaica has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the Caribbean and has a stagnant economy, the program intends to give young mothers an edge in a job market of which they would otherwise be shut out.
RRI has yet to successfully raise any money for the program, but will be hosting a Full Moon Fundraising Event on November 8.
The absence of reliable financial sources places RRI in a predicament. Given that RRI aligns itself with movements against corporate globalization, receiving corporate donations to achieve its goals would seem contrary to its mission.
The subject is sensitive within the organization, and it remains to be seen how the group will raise funds while keeping its core beliefs.
University students will soon get an opportunity to hear a direct account on the collective effort of the indigenous rights movement when Berta Carceres, the lead organizer of COPINH, is set to speak here on November 4 in Pick Lounge at 5 p.m.