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Pedal-Powered Computers for Rural Villages

A U.S. nonprofit group works to bring a $200 computer, and social empowerment, to villages in Laos and other countries. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

A nonprofit group in San Francisco, California, is trying to take bicycle-powered computers to rural villages around the world. The computer was developed with villagers in Laos.

The group is the Jhai Foundation. Jhai, j-h-a-i, is a word in the Lao language that means "hearts and minds working together."

Lee Thorn is the chairman. He says there are tens of thousands of dead computers in rural villages. He says villages often receive computers that they do not know how to use or how to keep working.

So Lee Thorn worked with another Lee -- Lee Felsenstein, an early developer of personal computers. The result is the Jhai PC. The small computer costs about two hundred dollars. It does not use much electricity. The battery that powers it is recharged when a person pedals a bicycle.

Memory-storage devices called flash drives are connected to the computer to hold information. The Jhai PC has a steel cover designed to resist water and weather. The foundation says the computer is built to work for ten years.

In addition to Laos, the group is in contact with villages in Vietnam, India, Ghana and other countries.

The foundation offers to help villagers learn to make the computers themselves with local materials. The group looks for a business person in each village who will create a ten-year business plan. The plan must include hiring people in the village. It also must include maintaining the computers and paying for electricity and a connection to the Internet.

The Jhai Foundation provides business and computer training. It also provides classes for teachers on ways to use computers in school. The group has received awards from the United Nations.

The group also works with villagers on other ways to improve their lives. Fifty-one villages in Laos are in a coffee farmers cooperative. The foundation is helping the farmers sell their coffee in the United States.

Lee Thorn started the foundation ten years ago after visiting Laos to begin a process of reconciliation. He calls it the opposite of war. He was in the United States Navy during the Vietnam war. On an aircraft carrier he loaded planes with bombs to drop on neighboring Laos. Later he and Lee Felsenstein were active in the antiwar movement.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Karen Leggett.