MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, life in the fast lane.
Three babies born in four weeks on one Seattle highway.
BRAND: First, we're back with tech contributor Xeni Jardin. Hi, Xeni.
XENI JARDIN: Hello.
CHADWICK: Hey, Xeni. In this same week when DAY TO DAY interviews Bill Gates about the release of Vista, you've been reporting this series about digital technology in Guatemala, even in remote villages there; people building water filters out of tin and sand, and still these are places where technology is helping people recover from the past, and there's a lot of past to recover from, political violence, civil war. This series you've called Guatemala: Unearthing the Future.
BRAND: But with all these projects - these are actually engineers on these projects - what about the daily technology going on down there? I mean you've got Mayan villagers, very poor, but they're using the Internet?
JARDIN: I don't want to overlook reality. I mean in some of these places people are hungry. People are surviving on two or three U.S. dollars a day. But technology is making life better in specific and interesting ways. And we're talking about things that we might not think of here as technology.
Like eco engineering - the water pumps, the homemade circuits that I reported on - these are sometimes designs from the 19th century. So Steve Crowe - he's an engineer with this workshop called Xela Teco - he says rural villagers who are creating this great green technology, they face doubts even from urban Guatemalans. And the city people always ask the same thing.
Mr. STEVE CROWE (Engineer, Xela Teco): If you're not putting in any gasoline or electricity, how's it going to work? But a lot of the people in the rural communities really see the potential of it a lot quicker. Maybe because they're technologically apt. In some ways it's part of their cultural and also because they really have a deep respect for the Earth.
CHADWICK: Xeni, it's not just poverty that we get from your reporting. The indigenous people genuinely are fearful of the government often and of outsiders. And with reason. They often are oppressed. So how is technology going to change that?
JARDIN: Well, the Mayan people in Guatemala face substantial discrimination in many different areas in of their lives. I mean it's social as well. I spoke with a man named Martine Sacashot(ph). He's the Guatemalan government's indigenous people's advocate. Here's what he said about that.
Mr. MARTINE SACASHOT (Indigenous Peoples Advocate): (Through translator) The law says that indigenous language must be used with decorum. There is an historic fear in Guatemala that we indigenous people, we speak our language in order to offend the mestizos. So in creating this law, the mestizos are saying that we must have permission to speak our language.
JARDIN: So in other words, discrimination is sometimes even written in to the law. But he said also, Internet technology can be a way to keep Mayan languages alive. There's some 22, 23 of them. You know, online distance courses in Mayan languages or digital libraries so Mayan textbooks and Mayan books of myth and science can be made available for young students for free in different communities.
BRAND: Xeni, your series this week had some great reporting on the forensic anthropology that's going on there in Guatemala. And tell us more about that, the group you followed, Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala.
JARDIN: Right. They are trying to create a DNA database. They need genetic information so they can trace the living family members of death squad victims they're trying to identify. Now, for good reason people in some of the villages that were affected by this political violence, they don't trust authority. You know, someone in uniform who's asking for anything, let alone blood samples.
So FAFG, this group of anthropologists, is trying to explain exactly what they're doing and how it could benefit the villagers in each of these places. Freddy Peccerelli, he leads that group. He's come up with a plan to do that using a little movie.
Mr. FREDDY PECCERELLI (Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala): We are working on an educational video, and the idea is to explain DNA. We are going to explain it through, you know, 3D animation. The main characters are a little DNA strand and Pedro, an archeologist. And we're going to be going to each community, giving them the information. What is DNA? How can you contribute? And if you want to, you know, we're here.
JARDIN: And that kind of ingenuity is what I encountered over and over. People using new technologies in ways that make sense locally, ways that outsiders can't imagine for them. I mean it suggests to me that the greatest promise for encouraging development in these places may be when outsiders provide resources or training and local people develop solutions on their own.
CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY tech contributor Xeni Jardin. She is co-editor of the Web site BoingBoing.net. Xeni, thank you again.
JARDIN: Thank you.
BRAND: And you can find slideshows and videos from our series Guatemala: Unearthing the Future at Xeni's page on our Web site. That's npr.org/xeni. And Xeni is spelled X-E-N-I. So that's npr.org/xeni.