VA STAR Provides Puerto Rican Communities with Laptops

Background

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the devastation was catastrophic, resulting in 100% loss of electric power, and almost total loss of water and communications.  Project Coquí was born in response to the magnitude of this damage.  The coqui is a very tiny frog and is the unofficial mascot of Puerto Rico.  Having an innovation background, immediately recognized the disaster as a "white canvas" that offers an opportunity to innovate.  We knew prior to the first visit, that this was going to be one of many because Puerto Rico is the place that we call home and have family there.  My daughter decided to name our efforts Project Coquí because our vision is to leapfrog our society from not being self-sufficient to a world-class economy.

Our initial mission was to provide free satellite communications by connecting residents from Ponce with the rest of the world.  This humanitarian mission has grown in scope and has expanded to all of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  We have visited five times and provided water filters, food, generators, satellite phones, airtime, medical equipment, computers, cash donations, and many miscellaneous items.  We adopted a Public Montessori School in Comerio, by funding the local construction of chairs, tables, shelves and classroom materials and established a cultural exchange program.  Additionally, we ordered classroom materials for the Montessori School in Yabucoa.  We coordinated a visit by Dror Studios, which blends architectural design with nature.  Dror’s contribution is free access to his Intellectual Property (IP) and has plans to build a Supernature Lab in Puerto Rico to build resilient structures.  Also, coordinated a visit by International Connector to conduct Dream Hub Workshops with ten communities.

 Melvin with the first load of aid (October 2017) including water filtration systems, food, flashlights and batteries, satellite phones, and more...

Melvin with the first load of aid (October 2017) including water filtration systems, food, flashlights and batteries, satellite phones, and more...

What started as a small project of humanitarian assistance is growing in size and scope to build capacity with the finest professionals in our networks.  Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands need help and we have partnered with a forward-leaning organization; People-Centered Internet, (PCI) https://peoplecentered.net/pci-leadership-team/.  It was founded by Vinton Cerf (Father of the Internet) and Mei Lin Fung (CRM Pioneer) and is led by David Bray (Former FCC CIO).  PCI is committed to using the power of the Internet to improve the conditions of global poverty, by using data to transform communities and meet their basic needs.  PCI’s partners include the World Economic Forum, World Bank, IEEE, IFLA, and the Internet Society.  Together with its partners, PCI is developing a global impact grid to share breakthroughs and benefits quickly, using local projects to create global learning.  People-Centered Internet (PCI) is the catalyst that offers the best opportunity we have to innovate in the Caribbean.  The need is huge and hope we find ways to partner with other organizations.

Many Thanks To...

One of those organizations is, Virginia Student Training and Refurbishing Program, known as VA STAR.  Government agencies and private entities donate surplus computers to VA STAR.  High School students get hands-on experience renovating used computers for productive new service, earning valuable IT certifications and gaining skills vital to high-paying careers in the process.  Once the computer systems are restored to good working condition, they are donated to students and their families, schools, and civic organizations in need.  VA STAR means success for students, schools, and communities in the digital world.  They have since donated over 14,000 laptops!

 Melvin picking up the donated laptops for Puerto Rico at VA STAR's workspace.

Melvin picking up the donated laptops for Puerto Rico at VA STAR's workspace.

We just completed our fifth trip post-Maria to Puerto Rico.  The focus of this trip in partnership with International Connector was to activate 10 communities by donating a laptop provided by VA STAR to each community and get “ground truth” on how to be of greater assistance, as we transition from “aid” to capacity building.  Our goal is to leverage the Internet, which is the number one economic success in the world.  It has lifted many people from poverty, has made many millionaires and even multi-billionaires.  Unfortunately, only 50% of the people in the world has access.  Our immediate objective is to innovate the next phase of the Internet in PR and VI, by developing new economic models at the community level.

 Melvin (left) posing with Chuck Drake (right)

Melvin (left) posing with Chuck Drake (right)

The ten laptops donated by Mr. Chuck Drake, VA STAR State Coordinator, delivered hope to communities in Yabucoa, Patillas, Ponce (2), San Juan (2), Barranquitas, Comerio, Aibonito, and Vieques.  They represent a unique opportunity to leverage the Internet at the community level to provide unprecedented access to education, medical assistance, economic opportunity, services and personal connections.  Our vision is to foster innovation, provide tools and knowledge, and to experiment with network-oriented models that will enable and empower communities in need to rise from poverty, resulting in job creation and economic growth.

The Future

We are a growing team of professionals that are volunteering to rally big players around helping Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  It is our conviction, that if we can express the hopes and dreams of communities in a roadmap or pathway to recovery, then the big players can more clearly see the role they can play and how they can contribute.

Unfortunately, the current paradigm, while incredibly well-intentioned, pertaining to “aid” is predicated on donations.  What is often not seen by many, other than those on the ground, is the capacity for the local population, with strategic support, to address and solve many of the primary challenges themselves.  Together with its partners, PCI is developing a global impact grid to share breakthroughs and benefits quickly, using local projects to create global learning.

Our family, friends, and extended network have been hard at work to attempt to bring our best contributions to the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  Our model seeks to empower the communities by assisting them in developing a local vision and with global response in a centralized collaboration and decentralized execution manner.  Our goal is to accelerate the innovation cycle by investing in the creativity, imagination and the will of Puerto Ricans to create a future for the benefit of the future generations.

Today is a very special day and sometime in the future, I hope that we can look back and say that the selfless collaboration by VA STAR played a role in helping PR & VI leapfrog to a world-class digital economy.  Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands want to plot a future to show the world that locally led community development, can sustain the community and improve resilience.

Daksha Cordova