Saturday, June 26, 2010

A trip to Ramallah, Gaza

I've just got in from a trip to Gaza, which was incredibly interesting.

If you just want pics, the full album is here:

First was a trip to Ramallah, where we showed up at a coding event and gave a quick talk, and then let them get on with it.

It was in a treehouse/café called Snobar, which confused us, but it's arabic for 'pine'. About 100 people turned up. Good results.

The following day, we went to Gaza for 3 days, which involved a lot of red tape. It was our second attempt to get in - the first was back in november, when our passes never came through. This it went smoother.

Once there, we headed to the hotel, and checked in, and left our stuff. Then we headed out to a summer camp, where some of the 200, 000 girls and boys from the UNRWA-funded schools can play together and work on arts and crafts for a couple of weeks.

After that, off to an actual school to talk with teachers about some of their challenges. They have very few computers (I wrote down 640, but for 200, 000 students, that seems way too low). But, they're implementing a school for basic arabic and maths for the 45, 000 students who are currently failing them. Many schools run split shifts - that is, different students morning and evening, because there aren't enough buildings.

Then, to the UNRWA, where we learnt some pretty shocking statistics - I won't preach them at you now, but suffice to say, the region is destitute.

After that, some lunch, and then to a school for the deaf, who learn english, arabic and have a partially equipped hearing aid and medical lab, funded largely by donations. 300 students learn classes and vocational training - some stay to work in the workshops making furniture, rugs and trinktes. You can buy online from here:

Then it was time for a meeting with Impact Consulting, and a chat about some of the problems Gaza faces. It turns out that actually, the internet is one thing they do have access to, and with pretty good speeds.  Their biggest issues are equipment - there's a 1 year waiting list to get ADSL, although when you get it, it's 2meg, and reliable. Companies frequently have 20 meg or more. Universities are well connected too.

Then, back to the hotel to meet some kids who were working with Mercy Corps to learn about global politics. Their YT Channel is here:

Then, dinner with MercyCorps, who had helped us get in - their work behind the scenes can't be overstated, and they're there every day, not just for a short visit like us.

Bed time (so tired), and then up at 6, for another day of full meetings. The morning was spent visiting 3 universities with varying degrees of technology - they all had internet with PC labs, but facilities varied wildly, and 2 universities had 20k students. The backbones were anything up to 1gig networks, but outbound was significantly lower, ranging from 5 - 20 meg.

The third started as an e-learning centre, but the government refused to recognise e-learning as attendance, which is a requirement for obtaining a degree, so they've pioneered a video streaming and archiving service for their entire curricula which means students can always go back and watch, and easily find out their tasks, as well as video chat with other students and professors. Pretty awesome.

As mentioned in one of the pictures, we also saw a makeshift UPS from car batteries, and a mechatronics lab.

Next, Marna House, where a number of companies talked to us about what they're up to. Everything from web design and SEO, Android development, serach engines, trading platforms through to ISPs and e-government initiatives.

Then, off to meet an incubation program, PICTI, which invests in student projects. One of the universities ran a similar program, with three clear steps from idea to functioning business, and mentors along the way. Many startups are building apps for phones or the cloud, taking advantage of the global economy. One major problem is banking - the few banks which remain often can't cash cheques - one guy had a $3000 check that he couldn't cash.

Finally, we had some students present to us their ideas, which ranged from a prayer time display to a wirelss health monitor for ICUs, complete with business plans. A little rough around the edges, but impressive to see such work being done at all.

Then the third day, we presented for 5 hours to a crowd of developers, entrepreneurs and students keen to learn how Google could help them. We covered Adsense, Blogger, Knol, Chrome, Geo, Translation and Transliteration, Chrome Extensions, HTML5, Mobile Web, App Engine, Google apps, as well as sessions on basic search and innovation. The questions asked showed a pretty decent understanding of the web, and many people already had websites operating. The one that sticks in my head is Uses the Maps API, too.

Then, off to the checkpoint for 3pm, for some insane security checks and re-entry to Israel. 

Friday, June 4, 2010


I thought I'd better update my blog, given that I'm at G-Ghana today, and just presented a session on blogging. It doesn't look good when I haven't updated in a while.
It's been an incredible week over here, and it's such a shame it's coming to an end. We started with Doodle for Google on wednesday, and the last couple of days have been the G-Ghana event.