A Trip to the Amazonas A disconnected community within a connected world

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A Trip to the Amazonas: A disconnected community within
a connected world
unicefstories.org/2016/09/16/a-trip-to-the-amazonas-a-disconnected-community-within-a-connected-world
By unicefstories
By Naroa Zurutuza
Manaus is the capital city of the Amazonas state in Brazil. With 2 million inhabitants – half of
the population of the Amazonas state – it is the 7th largest city in the country and one of the
host cities of the 2014 World Cup. However, unlike other big cities, Manaus lacks accessible
roads – disconnecting the area from the other parts of the country and the rest of the world.
The ‘only’ way to access Manaus is by plane or boat – unless you want to drive through
Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru to finally reach Brazil.
Pier at Juma community, a ‘bus stop’ in Madeira river
And Manaus is the city’s capital, so imagine how disconnected the rest of the state is. It
consists of remote, isolated villages that are situated in an area larger than France, Germany
and Greece’s land mass combined. These villages are home to several indigenous
communities – using boats as their means of transport. It takes a 9-day boat trip from Manaus
to reach some of these communities. When the river is low, boats cannot go through, and
people are unable to reach the nearest town. Within this environment, providing essential
services like education and health to children becomes extremely complicated and
challenging.
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With the support of UNICEF’s Manaus Field Office and Fundação Amazonas Sustentável
(FAS), I was privileged to be part of a research trip to the Amazonas for a project called
‘InfoPoverty’ that the Office of Innovation is working on. InfoPoverty is similar to the concept of
understanding nutritional needs of children. We all know that a child needs to consume a
certain amount of calories per day to be healthy, but what do they need to ‘consume’ when it
comes to information? In the connected world that we live in, access to information becomes
more and more necessary. If we can determine the minimum amount of Kbytes a day a child
should consume to be ‘information healthy,’ we can help the most vulnerable children access
better opportunities in life.
The goal of InfoPoverty is to measure the
required amount of access to information and
to identify who are the most informationdeprived children and the factors that are
causing the situation. The results and analysis
from the InfoPoverty project will help
governments, international organizations and
private companies like telecoms, Facebook,
and more, to target their efforts, allocate their
resources, make policy, and plan their
programs efficiently.
Indigenous kid living in an informal settlement in
Manaus
During my trip, I visited different
neighborhoods and indigenous communities in Manaus and in the rural areas. We talked to
children and adolescents in each area, understanding how they access information (or how
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they are unable to access information), what type of information they access (or what type they
are unable to access) and what their needs and wishes were.
Focus group with children in school at Juma community
The results show that while many students in Manaus have a phone (mainly used to talk and
send messages to their friends and family and for social media), youth in rural communities do
not have radio coverage, mobile phone coverage or anything similar. They live in communities
that are 3 to 4 hours by boat from the closest town, and their only way to access information
on a daily basis is through watching TV and attending school – if they are even lucky enough
to go to school. Also, since some of them can only speak their own language (there are more
than 200 spoken languages in the Amazonas) they are unable to understand most of the
online, TV and radio content transmitted as it is delivered only in their national language,
Portuguese.
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TV, Digital TV receiver, phone, and speakers at Riveirinha community – there is no signal there.
To address these issues, an initiative called Media Center for Education (CEMEAM) was
established by the government of Brazil in 2007. The initiative allows several communities to
receive connectivity for few hours a day – receiving education and lessons via satellite. This
project aims to bring secondary education to remote areas in the Amazonas state, where there
are not enough teachers. So they built a Media Center in Manaus, a production studio – with
its cameras, multiple stages, make-up areas, assistants, etc. – where teachers give live
lessons, which are then transmitted via satellite to the rural communities. To access these
lessons, each community gets a kit (an antenna, a TV, a video camera, etc.) to install within
their community. Aside from being able to watch the lessons, people can also ask questions in
real-time – it’s an interactive system. The initiative has been adopted by over 2,000 schools
and serves over 40,000 kids from more than 3000 communities.
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A lesson is being transmitted from the Media Center Studio in Manaus
The CEMEAM is an example of a possible solution to reduce information poverty, and my
research is a step in working to find a broader way to help. It highlights the importance of how
access to information can pave the way to provide other essential services like education and
health to children. It also shows that providing access to information to the most remote,
inaccessible areas in the world is possible.
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Center of Fundação Amazonas Sustentável at Juma community with antenna to receive transmissions from Media
Center in Manaus
This trip provided me with a better understanding of the different faces of information poverty. It
also confirms the importance of InfoPoverty and importance of identifying and mapping
different info-poor areas and communities around the world. The results and analysis of this
trip will be used to build the first InfoPoverty prototype and will serve as a foundation towards
future projects the Office of Innovation is planning to implement in Brazil and other countries.
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