Jean-Pierre is member of a French NGO dedicated to extreme poverty in France. He works closely with some nomad gypsy families who live in poverty near Paris. He sometimes brings them his laptop, a digital camera, a printer and an Internet connection and made some experiments with Skype and other software. They enjoy getting some news about Romania through online newspapers and websites. The young father of one of these families told Jean-Pierre how cool it would be if computing allowed him to get some recent pictures from his 5 years-old son who stayed in Romania. It has been 2 years since he last saw him. Another person is trying to get in touch with their mother who suffers from some disease in Romania.
When I read that on Jean-Pierre’s blog, I started trying to identify some Romanian volunteer who would visit that remote family with a digital camera, take some pictures and send them back to Jean-Pierre’s laptop via the Internet. I wrote a blog entry for this. I asked a Romanian colleague in the company I was working for at the time. I also sent a couple of emails to some Romanian IT services companies which offer offshore consulting services to French customers. Unsuccessfully.
Some time ago, a French guy in Bucharest contacted me in order to volunteer. Unfortunately, he was not located near the Romanian area where these families are, as Jean-Pierre explained us. So he could not help.
I don’t know much things about these families in Romania. As far as I know, they are in the area called Mehedinti, near the city of Girla Mare. I assume they are gypsies. Another Romanian colleague told me a bit more about this area. It is a very poor rural area with small mountains (up to 1000m high) near the Romanian border with Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro. He told me that the Romanian government had been saying for years that no such extremely poor and excluded gypsies exist in the country (until the European Union required from them that they recognize the importance of their minorities). From what I saw about gypsy families in the Czech Republic, I imagine that they live far from any town or village, without any sort of infrastructure. Maybe the road that leads to their place has no asphalt. Maybe they are in the middle of a forest, in some muddy place (Dilbert’s Elbonia anyone?). Maybe they live in a giant soviet-like sinister building in the forest where broken windows have never been replaced (this is the reason why they might be interested in linux BTW). They probably don’t have electricity nor any phone line. They most probably live on the fringe of society as their French cousins do in some way. I wonder how far such a picture is from reality. I hope I would be wrong.
Anyway, as I joined a new company, I investigated our presence in Romania still in search for some would-be volunteer. Our corporate directory randomly gave me the coordinates of one of our employees in Bucharest. I sent him an email like I would be sending a bottle into the sea. How surprised I am by his answer!
He tells me that he asked all of his colleagues about what we can do. One of them knows someone in this rural area. This local person is the head of a mountaineering club. He tells us that he is very enthusiastic about helping there. At the same time, my employer might be motivated by the idea of connecting some unconnected families in such a rural area and may support such an initiative. Or I am once again too naive. Anyway I am now investigating this opportunity internally. I also have to answer this mountaineer and try to understand a little bit more his motivations and expectations. I have to get sure that he does not think this would bring him any money because this is so far from what I am interested in.