Jhai Foundation Press Release

Looks like the Jhai Foundation project that needed $25,000 is under way. I got this press release via email but I can’t find it on the Jhai Foundation website, so here’s the whole darn thing:




Jesse Thorn 1 415 225 1665, splangy@splangy.com

Earl Mardle 612 9787 4527, earl@techempower.net

do you do when you want to do a little business, and you have no telephones,
no electricity and an impassable road? Noy Chanthavong and her neighbors
in Phon Kham village in rural Laos asked Jhai Foundation (www.jhai.org
and www.jhaicoffee.com) to help
them get connected to the world wide web. Noy and her neighbors want voice
and written communications with overseas relatives at affordable rates.
They want access to price information for rice, vegetables, and woven
goods in market towns and to get education on computers and the internet
for their kids. They also want the ability to send spreadsheets and written
bids to clients for small construction jobs, the ability to call the doctor,
and a free way to talk with friends in neighboring villages.

reported in The Economist and the New York Times Magazine
(see both articles below), Jhai Foundation will launch its rugged, pedal-powered,
wireless-connected Jhai computer and communications system in Phon
Kham village, Hin Heup District, Vientiane Province, Lao PDR, on February
13, at noon
. You are most welcome to come.

In the remote areas of rural Laos villagers lack connectivity. There are
no good roads, no electricity, no telephones, and certainly no email.
People from one such village, Phon Kham, along with four of its neighbors,
have told the Jhai Foundation www.jhai.org
that this connectivity is what they need. They want it for a variety of
reasons: to contact relatives oversees and in the capital, to better coordinate
cooperative economics, to get up-to-date commodity price information,
and to gather information to improve their business techniques.

For the pilot project, the Jhai Foundation is building an 802.11b wireless
computer network to link the five villages with each other and the internet,
providing email, voice-over-IP telephony, and telephone access. The network
will link five ultra-rugged Jhai computers and printers in each village
whose power requirements in various configurations have been measured
at less 20 watts – which allows the systems to be powered by a battery
charged by stationary bicycle. The Jhai Foundation is also localizing
the Linux-based KDE Graphical Desktop and productivity resources, allowing
for communications, word processing, and simple spreadsheets, all in the
Lao language.

one of the process is a single village launch, connecting Phon Kham Village
to the network as a demonstrator for the other villages in the proposed
network. We expect to launch the entire five-village network before the
rainy season, which starts in May.

The Remote IT Village pilot test will link five villages in the Hin Heup
District, Vientiane Province, in a wireless Wide-Area Network (WAN). Villagers
will use Voice-over-I.P. telephony and Lao-language business tools to
improve their standard of living while preserving traditions. The network
will immediately enhance business and trade opportunities for organic
rice and produce in market towns and the capital, Vientiane, and the establishment
of a local market for sales of a variety of products among villagers themselves.
Villagers will also connect by voice and email with family members who
now live overseas.

Noted hardware developer Lee
and networking specialist Mark Summer, are working with
a 10 person Jhai Foundation team. Vorasone Dengkayaphichith, one of Laos’
leading IT experts, coordinates project implementation. Anousak Souphavanh
of IBM heads the localization of the open source KDE desktop and other
tools. Lee Thorn, chair of Jhai Foundation, manages.

Foundation, an American 501(c)3 non-profit, reconciliation organization,
was begun in 1997 by Mr. Thorn, a bomb-loader during the American war
in Laos, and Bounthanh Phommasathit, a Lao refugee from the American bombing.
Currently, Jhai Foundation works in 20 villages in Lao PDR. on technology,
a weaving initiative, and an organic coffee initiative. Jhai’s four Internet
Learning Centers
have implemented a financially sustainable model
for educational and community-based computing. The Economist and The New
York Times magazine feature our project. The Swedish representative has
nominated this project as ‘best practices’ to the Secretariat of the UN.

Noon, 13 February,
Phon Kham Village, Hip Heup District,
Vientiane Province,

also see FAQ
and other information at www.jhai.org
to answer questions you might have. New York Times magazine and the Economist
stories follow …

the Web world-wide

Sep 26th 2002
From The Economist print edition

Project In Laos Is Giving Internet Access To Villagers Without Electricity

creation of the PC is the best thing that ever happened," said Bill
Gates at a conference on "digital dividends" in 2000. He even
wondered if it might be possible to make computers for the poor in countries
without an electric power grid. The answer is yes, and things are going
even further. Villagers in a remote region of Laos that has neither electricity
nor telephone connections are being wired up to the Internet.

Thorn, the head of the Jhai Foundation, an American-Lao organisation,
has been working for nearly five years in the Hin Heup district. The foundation
has helped villagers build schools, install wells and organise a weaving
co-operative. But those villagers told Mr Thorn that what they needed
most was access to the Internet. To have any hope of meeting that need,
in an environment which is both physically harsh and far removed from
technical support, Mr Thorn realised that a robust computer was the first

therefore turned to engineers working with the Jhai Foundation, who devised
a machine that has no moving, and few delicate, parts. Instead of a hard
disk, the Jhai PC relies on flash-memory chips to store its data. Its
screen is a liquid-crystal display, rather than an energy-guzzling glass
cathode-ray tube-an exception to the rule that the components used are
old-fashioned, and therefore cheap. (No Pentiums, for example, just a
486-type processor.) Mr Thorn estimates that, built in quantity, each
Jhai PC would cost around $400. Furthermore, because of its simplicity,
a Jhai PC can be powered by a car battery charged with bicycle cranks-thus
removing the need for a connection to the grid.

Internet cards connect each Jhai PC to a solar-powered hilltop relay station
which then passes the signals on to a computer in town that is connected
to both the Lao phone system (for local calls) and to the Internet. Meanwhile,
the Linux-based software that will run the computers is in the final stages
of being "localised" into Lao by a group of expatriates in America.

thing that the new network will allow villagers to do is decide whether
it is worth going to market. Phon Hong, the local market town, is 30km
away, so it is worth knowing the price of rice before you set off to sell
some there. Links farther afield may allow decisions about growing crops
for foreign markets to be taken more sensibly-and help with bargaining
when these are sold. And there is also the pleasure of using Internet
telephony to talk to relatives who have gone to the capital, Vientiane,
or even abroad.

it works, the Jhai PC and its associated network could be a widespread
success. So far, the foundation has had expressions of interest from groups
working in Peru, Chile and South Africa. The prototype should be operational
in Laos this December and it, or something very much like it, may soon
be bridging the digital divide elsewhere as well.

© 2002 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights

Internet, The


this: A remote farmer in the dirt-poor country of Laos wants to check
some e-mail. So he goes to the only computer in his village. (It’s bolted
to the floor of a public building, to prevent theft.) He brings a friend
along — not to Web-surf with him, but to pedal a bicycle-driven generator
that powers the computer. When they’ve cranked out enough juice, they
can log onto the Web, using a jury-rigged set of wireless antennae. It’s
a clunky system made out of spare parts, but when it goes live next year,
it will become the newest way to hook up the developing world: the pedal-powered

Laotian farmers hatched the scheme this year while talking with development
workers from the Jhai Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit group. Laos
is a brutal place to farm, littered with Vietnam-era unexploded ordnance
and racked by a dusty dry season. The farmers figured that the Web would
help them track weather movements and price swings in rice, allowing them
to optimize the scanty profits from their crops. ”And they all want to
keep in touch with their families,” says Lee Thorn, Jhai’s chairman.
”They all left the bombed villages, so these families are really isolated.
There are people they haven’t had contact with for 25 years.”

just one problem. How do you bring the Web to people who don’t have phone
lines — or even electricity?

a level of ingenuity that would have impressed Robinson Crusoe, it turns
out. Thorn’s group is cobbling together five inexpensive computers with
out-of-date microchips. To link these computers to the Internet, they’re
using cheap wireless broadcasting stations — much like the ones that
you can buy at Radio Shack for a few hundred dollars. A tower located
in a Laotian city will tap into the Net and the local phone system, then
blast the signal toward the villages nine miles away. A second tower will
catch that signal and route it wirelessly to each village, like a hub
with spokes. No expensive satellites or copper-wire phone lines needed.
And as for electricity? That pedal-power technology is straight out of
”Gilligan’s Island.” ”It’s the same stuff I had on my bike when I was
a kid, to power my headlight,” Thorn says.

groups are watching the project closely, and for good reason. With this
strange Rube Goldberg contraption, the farmers will effectively leapfrog
100 years of technological evolution. This year, they’re living in the
19th century; next year, they’ll be in the 21st. Few have traveled so
far using a bicycle.


Jesse Thorn 1 415 225 1665, splangy@splangy.com
Earl Mardle 612 9787 4527, earl@techempower.net