Free Online Video Can Change Lives, Even a World Away

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By the time you read this article, I’ll be returning from an annual week of giving—in the form of hard manual labor and technology lessons—in Caleta, a rough-and-tumble section of Acapulco, Mexico.

Prepping for the trip while writing this column, my thoughts strayed toward streaming’s social impact. Not social media—although we’ve seen social media play a part during the recent turmoil in the Middle East—but true social impact.

Allow me to explain.

Four years ago, my oldest daughter challenged me to accompany her—challenged may be too strong since she had to have an adult along—to help do back-breaking labor in the hot sun of Mexico’s southern coast at a church-sponsored orphanage.

On that first visit, I’d left all technology at home—save my camera—in anticipation of focusing on the goal of building the foundation of a new dormitory to replace low-slung, 1930s-era cabanas, which had years ago been converted to makeshift sleeping quarters for up to eight orphans per room.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was asked to do an extra technology task: install Wi-Fi. I confess to assuming computers weren’t a big part of life in Caleta, where kids choose to play football (soccer) barefoot on streets of broken asphalt and broken glass. Still, facing withdrawal pangs from the self-imposed tech “cold turkey,” I gladly helped install Wi-Fi in the computer room—the only room that had air conditioning—so that the orphanage director could wirelessly connect his donated laptop.

Fast-forward 2 years to 2010 and another trip to Caleta. Arriving at the orphanage, it was easy to see that the growth in technology had kept pace with construction plans.

On the manual labor front, work on the three-story dormitory had been finished between our second and third visits, so our task for 2010 was to demolish—by hand—several additional stone and adobe cabanas to make way for a second dorm to house the boys. 

On the technology front, we were all able to do something I’d have thought impossible 2 years prior: follow Mexico’s advancement in the World Cup via streaming while sitting around a laptop and a small computer monitor placed in the courtyard.

This scene—groups of people huddled around a streaming-capable device to watch a major event—is playing out more and more in the developing world.

Reuters and other news agencies captured images of small groups of people following India’s recent march to the Cricket World Cup victory in just this fashion. In some ways it parallels the console radio era in the U.S., as our grandparents and their siblings huddled in the living room listening to radio announcements of 1940s-era major events, such as Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers or even the World War II proclamations recounted in the recent movie The King’s Speech.

Beyond just following sports or breaking news, though, the social impact that streaming media has is tangible. At the orphanage last year, the new director was learning to use YouTube to post status videos. He can do so free of charge, allowing donors and others with interest in the ongoing dormitory construction to see the impact of their contributions, while allowing limited funds to be stretched further by eliminating the need to duplicate and mail out DVDs to donors in a foreign land.

The advent of video uploads on social media sites such as Facebook also makes sharing the vision on a one-to-one basis very powerful, as we saw in the Middle East during the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings.

At the orphanage, the story of Facebook video use is on a much smaller but equally motivational scale. It’s not just about posting clips; it’s about learning new skills to shoot, edit, and post those clips—skills that may be beneficial to long-term financial success in a developing country. 

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