Access to information

Now that I am left with some time for reflection, one topic has most absorbed my thinking: the importance of world-wide access to information as a means to a more peaceful world.

I recently heard a talk from Nicholas Negroponte at MIT, in which he announced this as his focus moving forward. Through this speech, I was able to connect some stories from Rwanda.

Recently, I was at my friend’s house in Rwanda and he told me a story about his neighbor. She is a pastor of a large congregation. Eight years ago she separated from her husband and left Kigali in search of other opportunities. After eight years, she decided to return to Kigali, she wanted to return to her church, and husband. The only problem was that she was pregnant. She knew that if her congregation and husband knew she had strayed they would not welcome her back to their home and to her job. But she came back with a story–she told them all that she, in fact, had been pregnant for 8 years and the baby had chose not to be born until she returned to Kigali to be with her family. While this story is laughable to most, her family and congregation believed her story of adversity and welcomed her back with open arms. The baby is now a few months old (yes, it was finally born) and everyone from her congregation still remarks on the miracle.

My friend expressed frustration with that fact that hundreds could so blindly believe such a lie. But it just reinvigorated my passion about our project. We are now working with many students who now can easily research this story and find out that this story could not be true.

But this access to information can be related to a large, more  important story. The major way the genocide in Rwanda was able to occur was the lack of accurate, non-biased information. Radios and TV personalities used their power to preach hate. Unfortunately, many in Rwanda did not have access to information to draw their own, independent conclusions. Most of the population was rather isolated reachable only by gossip from their neighbors or the voices oozing hate from their radios.

And what can you expect? When you, maybe, have not received an education, or you have received a short one, and you have no access to any information, not even a book, what can you do besides hope that those, more educated, or more vocal, give you the right information….

But, this year, as, hopefully, another 100,000 children will receive their own laptops and access to the unlimited wealth of world information and resources, maybe we can start to consider if something as silly as a woman claiming pregnancy for 8-years, or something as serious as a horrible genocide may become more and more difficult to repeat.

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