HotCity Wireless: Connecting the Divide

Get young people talking and maybe the guns will be put aside in favor of the Internet

by / August 9, 2006
In a recent play about computer customer service, a representative made no headway with the adult on the phone, so he asked if there were any children in the house. "A nine year old? Perfect! Put her on the phone ma'am," he said.

It is this idea -- the technological adaptability of youth, paired with youthful idealism and hope -- which has been tapped in the war-torn nation of the Philippines.

This island nation is divided by geography, religion and culture. Christianity is prevalent in the north, whereas Islam is common in the South. The Philippines is riddled with violence, animosity and hate. For decades, the Moro people in the south have fought for an independent Muslim state where their culture and way of life can be promoted. This struggle has included both negotiations with successive Filipino administrations, and bloody guerilla warfare. This constant state of war and conflict has had a profound effect on the state of mind of generations of Filipinos.

The non-profit organization, HotCity Wireless, was developed to spread a message of mutual respect and peace in this divided land by connecting children from different areas of the Philippines through low-cost wireless technology. Since the median age of people in the Philippines is 22, educating children about technology counts on the idea that with youth there is hope, idealism, and strong will power -- perhaps as a solution to violence and hate. HotCity Wireless, which was a finalist at the Stockholm Challenge, is trying to foster communication, education and respect between youth of different cultures and religions.

The communities involved have wireless setups which use mostly secondhand equipment. Using line-of-sight technology, a 2.5 to 3 km radius of Internet hot zone is created allowing children from villages, called Barangays in Filipino, to interact, and talk about peace. The "first hello" took place between the small Barangay San Vicente and the larger Lucena City. Just recently, the Iligan City National High School on the southern Island of Mindanao joined with HotCity, making the first connections between the predominantly Catholic north, and the predominantly Muslim south.

Just like the little girl in the play, these children took to technology very quickly. After being exposed to the new technology, some of the youth from Barangay San Vicente were able to represent the Philippines at the 1st International Symposium of Power Users of ICT (Information and Communications Technology). Through this conference the children created a CD for Peace, something HotCity Wireless Founder Jay Vincent S. Plaza in an interview called "a low-cost learning tool." The CD, aimed at reaching out to youth of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, has been distributed to children in various places in the country, including the southern island of Mindanao.

Children are adaptable. They have idealism and hope, but they can also be stubborn, and have the strong resolve to act. In this case, each of these youthful traits are being channeled into change -- these children are rebelling against generations of hate and violence in favor of something good. Get young people talking, and respecting each other, then maybe the guns will be put aside in favor of communication. Plaza said that the children are learning about "other peoples culture[s], they see the beauty ... It's a great thing ... Now they have tools to collaborate and share their knowledge." These children are looking for solutions to violence and hate, ways to bridge the divide -- communication and connection just might be a way.

Gina M. Scott Writer