Coolab joins the “semillero” of community networks in Mexico

On June 19th, 2019 I was in Cherán, Purépecha region, Michoacán State, Mexico. We found out an amazing autonomous community with its own government and many stories. There was happening one of the most important traditional celebration of Cherán, the “Fiesta de Cuerpos”. A bunch of people wearing traditional costumes with hives, live and dead animals, throwing flour on our faces, a lot of tequila and an incredible tamarind drink.

The first “Semillero de Redes Comunitarias del Abya Yala” was beginning, an event to share experiences with different groups that work with community networks in Mexico and Argentina. We counted with the participation of several Latin American groups from the project “Connecting the unconnected: Supporting community networks and other community-based connectivity initiatives.”. The groups were Altermundi, Coolab, Colnodo e IEBB.

Our hostess in Cherán was from Xamoneta collective, the responsible for Fogata radio. The whole meeting was previously thought by this amazing women group that has been fighting against oppression and has raised its voice to demand their own way to appropriate technology.

Just at the presentation of the schedule, the autonomous local government authorities introduced their selves and talked about Cherán and its struggle, that now is recognized by the state supreme court as an autonomous government by its ways and costumes.

Presentations dynamics… a lot of people from Oaxaca and Michoacán. The group was divided into two workgroups; one dedicated to Participatory Design of Community Intranets, facilitated by REDES A.C, and another about community networks construction, facilitated by Altermundi.

I joined the participatory design group. A revolutionary methodology to work with community communication based on indigenous peoples ancestral knowledge, developed by the brilliant Redes AC group. Right at the presentation, a very interesting characteristic emerged; there was a lot of people from the community mobile phone networks. I noticed that great part of the group had the same difficulties that we had at the beginning, concerning the production of documentation of basic technical themes.

I liked a lot the presentation of Technology choice matrix because it avoids technology determinism, highlighting the community participatory design.

It became very clear to me that beyond the technology we need to understand the place we are and its own mode of existence. We could see that even when we are successful in a community project, that is not enough to guarantee the success of future projects because participatory construction is essential, which seems an interesting achievement in itself

The starting point is the territory. It points to us the identity and all the questions we may have in a particular place, as examples: who we are, where we are, how we live and how we make things. A very important issue is to identify the strategy and collective dreams. At this moment, we can think about conflicts and things that can be wrong, therefore we can bring forward things that can disturb the goals.

As an example, we made an exercise using the methodology in the PSP case. In this community, a latent issue is the confluence of people that were born in the community and people that come from other places.
A good strategy was to search for the local memories, and share this with the people that are arriving, trying to make habits and customs to be understood. On the same way, the foreigners can bring different customs to share, and through the cultural exchange, a new communication arises.
Another strategy is to get aware of things that are happening in the community and find out the similarities.
The next step is to work on the technology project (ICT), that means, analyze technology, explore the options of use and appropriation and then implement it.

Finally is time to party. The celebration is an essential part of the process and announces the end of the cycle! Through this methodology, the next cycle can begin with an evaluation of the past process, and then, open space to reflect about the territory, identity, strategy, technology, implementation, celebration and so on… one cycle feeds another.

In the end, a lot of things have been said, but the most important was about the conflicts we are constantly exposed in a community network. The most important lesson is to avoid these conflicts because they will show up, it’s natural. The idea of this methodology is not to put a focus on them but to highlight the dreams, which are the ones that bind people together. This makes the process easier and more acceptable.

Coding dojo with local networks

While the semillero activities were continuing I was focused in organizing the local network. We’ve got a celeron with 2GB of ram and 2TB of ram and the idea was to install in it the yunohost, the same system that we use for a long time at PSP. Besides that, the challenge was to configure on libremesh/librerouter, so the local server would be available by the domain chosen by community. As noticed in the beginning, there were a lot of doubts about technical issues, so we decided to make a workshop to solve them and to use and adjust the methodology of coding dojo.

Coding dojo is a learning methodology very well known and used in hackerspaces to learn how to make coding. In this dynamic, all of the participants build together a solution, alternating the positions of the pilot (the person that make things), the copilot (the person that help with ideas) and the audience (people that pay attention). Everyone in the audience will take turns with the pilot and the copilot. So the challenge will be constructed by the sum of all the pilots’ work.

The coding dojo is organized with micro-steps, and they have to be as simple as possible, so everyone can follow up, even with no technical expertise. If a question appears is important to manifest it, so the whole team can go forward together.
We followed the next micro-steps:

Step 0- Design the network and its connected devices.

Step 1- Turn on the computer and connect to the mesh networks.

bonus – Explore the tools that exist in the computer to access other devices

Step 2 – Find out what is the IP of the device.

Step 3- Find out the router IP and the local server.

Step 4- Configure an IP fixed on server with yunohost in etc/networks/interfaces

Step 5 – Access the devices with different tools founded.

Step 6 – Signing up the local server on /etc/hosts

Step 7- Signing up the server on dhcp

Step 8- Configuring the rerouting of the pirania in etc/config/pirania e resetar em /etc/init.d/pirania restart

It was technically very interesting set up the local server in a mesh network in a resilient way.

Quite often, we add the server adress in /etc/hosts with a server fixed IP and the name we wanted it to have on network. But in this configuration it could happen that the router could offer the same server IP adress to another client, which could cause a big IP conflict. We found out a solution!!! We add one line in /etc/config/dhcp.

We installed the yunohost to use with the Cheran’s community. Before the meeting, the collective Xamoneta could generate its own strategy, using the participatory design methodology. From then on they could elected their own technologies. In this case, the Nextcloud was chosen (to file sharing), the wordpress (a blog to share stories) and even a game called hextris.

Before leaving Cherán, we noticed that if the users decided to enter in the server without someone to explain the browser error message – that the server is self-assigned and not trusted – it could make people believe that it was not working.

On the one hand, it was an opportunity to understand how internet and protocols work, but on the other hand, this was not an insignificant thing when first perceived and the user should be trained to ignore the warning message.

Coding Dojo with Redes AC

We also developed another very special activity: I was invited by Karla to make a coding dojo with the collective REDES AC. Karla, Blanca, and Adrian joined us. We made something like the coding dojo that we’ve done with people in “Semillero”. But now we started with the yunohost installation.

We had a problem to install the yunohost in a computer that had a Ubuntu operative system. The problem was that the yunohost/debian installer found the computer existing partitions and did not created new partitions, neither erased the existent ones, going back to a strange error.

To solve it we entered in the expert/raid mode and erased the whole disc, restarting the installation, in the empty disc.

After installed, we spent a good time to set an IP. I didn’t remembered exactly how to do it , and that was an interesting moment to understand the server’s file /etc/network/interfaces.

Once everything was installed and configured we went into the certificate ssl issue. There was a need to provide an internet connection so the local server would be able to get the ssl certificate (even with letsencript). Usually, this kind of installation is made offline.

We finally got to the point that an intranet network like the one we installed in Cherán doesn’t need to have the SSL certificate since it is not connected to the internet. However, installed browsers will always complain and block servers with self-signed certificates, which is the logic of SSL. We found ourselves in a unique situation there.

I took this issue to my collective and we are studying the better way to solve this question.