A Tiny Island Finally Connects To The World Wide Web

Sandwiched between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, the island of Idjwi had no Internet access until last month. Host Scott Simon speaks with Jacques Sebisaho, a doctor and native of Idjwi Island, about how the community has responded to the Internet.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When's the last time you connected to the Internet? Maybe we should say when are you ever not connected? But two-thirds of the world's population does not have access to the World Wide Web, and until recently neither did the people of Idjwi Island in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The island, which is located on a lake right on the border with Rwanda, has just gotten wired. We're now joined by Jacques Sebisaho, who is a doctor and a native of the island. And he splits his time there between there and New York City. Doctor, thank you very much for being with us.

DR. JACQUES SEBISAHO: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: So, how did this idea of bringing the Internet to Idjwi Island come about?

SEBISAHO: Twice we lost doctors. So, the first one who came, who didn't last more than a few weeks, said he liked the idea. Initially, he believed in it but he couldn't get in touch with his family. And the second one, who is in the middle of finishing his master's degree in public health, said he couldn't get in touch with his professors. So, I went back to the community and asked them how we could help keep the doctors on the island. They've heard of Internet but they've never seen. They just suggest that we should get Internet.

SIMON: Is it very expensive?

SEBISAHO: Yeah, it's very expensive. We have to pay $1,500 a month for that.

SIMON: Wow. You raise money for that in New York?

SEBISAHO: Yes, we do. A friend of mine who's also the president of our board, donated the money to buy the expensive equipment and pay the first month.

SIMON: But tell us how it's helping you, what effect it's having.

SEBISAHO: Whenever I'm in New York, communication with the staff is almost impossible. One physician has to climb the mountain to just speak with me about the case. But now, I'm able to Skype with the physicians. Whenever they have a case, they will just send me an email and I will go on Skype and we consult together.

SIMON: Not everything on the Web is going to be directly helpful, is it?

SEBISAHO: That was our fear. Our first fear was that this island that has been isolated in many ways from the conflict and consumer society, now we were wondering now that they have Internet, they will start watching all these stuff that can get people to start consuming.

SIMON: But I suspect you know that it's only a little while before people start watching funny cat videos.

(LAUGHTER)

SEBISAHO: I'm sure you're right. I do enjoy them too.

SIMON: Yes. Gosh, something just occurred to me. What happens if something goes wrong with your Internet connection or your computer?

SEBISAHO: Our provider is based in Israel. Should we have problems or if I'm not able to connect on the island, they will notice that and they will fix it from Israel.

SIMON: Boy. What an age we're living in.

SEBISAHO: It's a beautiful age and a surprising age.

SIMON: Jacque Sebisaho is a doctor from Idjwi Island and a New Voices fellow at the Aspen Institute speaking from New York. Doctor, thanks so much for being with us.

SEBISAHO: Thank you so much, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in foreign language)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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