Powering schools in the Peruvian Amazon

With more than 23,000 students and teachers having direct access to educational materials and technology training, PPI is continuing its mission with a new computer lab in the San Francisco Rio Itaya School in the Belén District.

This summer, Powering Potential Inc. (PPI), a nonprofit organization based in NYC, has completed its pilot expansion of their award-winning SPARC (Solar-Powered Access to Raspberry Computing) labs in Iquitos, Peru! The cause has already installed 29 solar power systems and 203 devices in 29 secondary schools in Tanzania.

With more than 23,000 students and teachers having direct access to educational materials and technology training, PPI is continuing its mission with a new computer lab in the San Francisco Rio Itaya School in the Belén District.

It is an amazing opportunity to serve the community in Iquitos. The largest city in the world without main access by road, Iquitos is surrounded by the Amazon River and flanked by the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, which set the world record for tree diversity in 1988. Iquitos is also known for the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve, and the Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve.

Beyond Peru’s borders, Iquitos had been largely associated with harvesting latex during the rubber boom from the 1880s-1920s. Today, the damaging effects of droughts and deforestation in this region are often mentioned as cautionary tales on the reality of unregulated industry and climate change. A setting like this makes access to educational resources difficult, which made Iquitos a prime location for PPI’s programs.

Dana Rensi, PPI Regional Director, Latin America, is currently on site conducting training for teachers and students now that the installation has been completed. Ms. Rensi has been an Educational Media Specialist in Ashland, Oregon and a recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching. After a full year as a Fulbright exchange teacher in Iquitos, she is ecstatic to be back among other educators at the San Francisco Rio Itaya School on a grant from Learning Equality.

When asked about her reasons for initiating the project, Rensi said, “Every child deserves the opportunity to have a free quality public education, no matter where they are born or under what circumstances.”

V. Ena Haines, retired Director of Information at Teachers College, Columbia University and member of PPI’s Management Team, gave her expertise to the project as well. From July 16th through the 22nd, she worked side-by-side with workers to make the lab a reality. “The most wonderful part of the experience was the curiosity and engagement of the children and teachers,” Haines told PPI staff after returning to the States. “We already knew that the principal was a strong ally and outstanding leader, but we were glad to get to know more of the staff and students.”

woman in peru with computer equipment Dana Rensi, PPI Regional Director, Latin America with the lab installation grid. (Photo: Powering Potential)

Also on the PPI Management Team is Rich Segal, Ph.D., Computer Scientist at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center. He visited the site with his wife and daughter, PPI Volunteers Joanna and Annie Segal, to help with the implementation of the pilot.

Founding Director Janice Lathen is excited that Powering Potential’s program has been launched in a second country and extremely pleased with the progress at the school. “Dana, Ena and Rich are a dream team for the design and implementation of our Educating Through Technology program in the Peruvian Amazon.”

Powering Potential’s award-winning SPARC labs are solar-powered, which solves the problem of lack of electricity many schools face in remote regions. The pilot SPARC lab includes 15 Raspberry Pi desktops, 15 Sceptre E165W 16" LED monitors, a 1TB RACHEL Plus content server with 1 backup, a 1TB RACHEL Plus, five 265W solar panels, four 200Ah batteries, two 50A Charge controllers, a 250W inverter, a 24 Port Ethernet Switch and a Wireless Router.

In addition, a Pi-oneer is on location, consisting of a 512GB RACHEL Pi, an AAXA P300 Projector and a portable battery pack. The Pi-oneer system enables teachers to use audiovisual teaching tools while utilizing solar power. After this pilot installation, PPI plans to expand to other schools in the small villages along the Amazon River.

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Our mission is to use technology to enhance education and stimulate imaginations of students in underdeveloped countries while respecting and incorporating values of the local culture — especially cooperation over competition, community over the individual, modesty over pride, and spirituality over materiality.

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