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Helping Children Access Reading Materials: A Bridge Pi Story

March 18, 2022

What does it mean to have people use their time and talent for the good of others?  What types of projects transform others while also transforming ourselves?  It can help to hear about one specific project and how two people worked together to create a solution for people in another part of the world.

One example of people thinking and acting creatively to help those around the world is efforts by Bill Kessler, LexisNexis North America & UK Sales Engineer, and Dave DiCicco, Senior Director of Product Management, to help the community in Lower Johnsonville, Liberia through ground-breaking technology for a village which lacks infrastructure. They helped make technology more accessible through a Bridge Pi, a device that consist of commonly available hardware items to enable access to data using solar power!

The project started with a problem. The children in Lower Johnsonville, Liberia are testing as illiterate.  In fact, more than 80% of them cannot read.  And if they cannot read now, they have little hope of every reading as an adult—and thus reading the law or accessing justice.  And so, LNROLF worked with a Liberian charity, Agents of Positive Change, to make a real difference in children’s lives.  A shipping container filled with books and supplies was sent and Bill and David figured out a solution for the books that did not fit into the container. 

Below is the story of how this project came to be from Bill and David:

Bill Kessler (top) and Dave DiCicco (bottom) and building the Bridge Pi devices.

Q:  Can you explain exactly what is a Bridge Pi? 

A:  A Bridge Pi (sometimes called a “Raspberry Pi” which is used as a “bridge”) is a WiFi hotspot which can be built through relatively inexpensive parts. The Raspberry Pi is a low cost, credit-card sized computer. The resulting device is about the size of a fishing tackle box.  It is portable, and it can be carried to the location where it can be useful to the largest group of people.  The device also does not require electrical power to operate.  The Bridge Pi has a solar power charging component.  It allows the Bridge Pi to be used in a rural location, such as Lower Johnsonville, Liberia, where the village lacks electricity.  The WiFi will allow laptops or mobile phones to access a hosted server. The system allows people of all ages to get to educational or legal materials.

Using low-cost commonly available hardware (solar panel, battery pack, and Raspberry Pi computer), and when coupled with high-quality curated content, this solution allows access to library with resources to enable patrons in Liberia to improve and learn new skills in the digital age and progress more successfully in their education.

Q:  Did you work with others to establish this Bridge Pi, and will you be working with this same group or others on similar devices in the future?

A:  We worked with a non-profit group called U.S.-Africa Children’s Fellowship (USACF), as they have put together a dedicated hosted server to house over 1,000 books for early-learning literacy.  The server was a logical place for the WiFi to link.  The village will be able to access the information on the hosted server.  While in this instance, Liberian citizens would access literacy materials.  We are excited that this instance is just a beginning.  Just recently, the work we can do on Bridge Pi has been included in a U.S. government grant to assist in bolstering the human rights of people in rural parts of Malaysia.  In this project, the Bridge Pi device will be deployed in rural Sabah to link to servers developed by LNSEA which house laws, policies, and guidelines on establishing State IDs and birth registry. 

Q:  Why did you get involved in volunteering on this project?

A: (Dave) I have always been interested in computers and technology. Whether it was pestering my mom to let me take a summer class on programming when I was 9 or building my own Raspberry Pi system at 49. I was excited to take my lifelong interest in computers to give back and provide a solution to people who could truly benefit from this simple, but transformational technology. Building a Bridge Pi was a fun and enjoyable way to help others.  We are the ones who are the “go to” people within our families and our communities on technology.  Giving this same technological skill to others is a passion—and it is also interesting and fun for us!

 Q:  Do you have any suggestions on how others can get involved?

A: (Bill) I volunteered last year to work on the ABCs of the Rule of Law Coloring Book for the children in Liberia.  When you (Terry Jennings) brought the Bridge Pi issue to Dave DiCicco as a project that needed to be done, Dave mentioned it to me.  I jumped at the chance to help.  Being able to assist others in an area where the poverty level was so low was important to me.  I love the famous quote by John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”  I grew up in a family of educators who lived in a way that emphasized the importance of giving back to others.  An opportunity to do more for the children of Liberia, use my own talents, and build towards our LexisNexis mission to advance the rule of law checked all of my personal boxes.

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