By Sean Ley
There are differing individual backgrounds to every community. Some are from urban, developed areas, some from rural areas, less developed, and much more sparsely populated. It is these rural areas set at a technological disadvantage, often having less access to technology than those within cities.
Such differences exist due to the ways of life led by the people who originate from each setting. Many in urban areas grow up around the use of technology, technological development, naturally achieving a greater level of proficiency, while those in the rural areas may have nothing more than a telephone.
In addition to technical disparity, those in rural areas often do not have the time, or resources, to learn of current or developing innovations. The reasons for are ways of life that resemble those you may know of the post-depression era where farming was far more common, and life led a much simpler path. Waking in the early morning and tending to the farm until dusk leaves no time to develop a technical proficiency. Sometimes, influenced rural communities even feel there is no need for such things in their lives.
It is those originating from the underserved communities that programs like the Broadband Access Project seek to benefit and empower. To further our state, to the benefit of new and existing residents, the University of Minnesota has developed the Broadband Access Project (BAP), “a $3.6-million initiative of the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) to improve high-speed internet (broadband) access, awareness, and use in four federally designated poverty zones in Minneapolis and St. Paul.” (http://www.bap.umn.edu/about)
Eleven computer labs exist throughout the Twin Cities, offering free training sessions and broadband access to Minnesota’s underserved populations. These labs exist to serve urban Americans, and expand their access to information. “The project will open doors, enhance lives, and create access and job opportunities through technology.” (http://www.bap.umn.edu/about) Aside providing free high-speed broadband access, these computer centers also offer free training sessions, empowering people to learn the basics and benefits of technology, as well as how to use and implement software.
The Asian communities in Minnesota have striven to do much the same; as the population of Minnesota’s Asian communities grows, we see an increasing number of people from both urban and rural backgrounds. However, the large numbers of people who immigrate from rural communities, joining their families or coming as refugees, are set to a far greater disadvantage.
As people immigrate, they are faced with a whole new way of life, far different than the one they know in their home nation. Many of these immigrants and refugees have never seen a computer, and cannot fathom the effects of technology on their new world, let alone understand how it can benefit them.
Organizations like Saint Paul’s Hmong American Partnership (HAP) act as host to the U of M’s Broadband Access Project, striving to aid those who have, and have found new homes in Minnesota, those displaced by war and conflict. The Hmong American Partnership’s primary programmatic goal is to, “Support Hmong refugee and immigrant adults achieve self-sufficiency for themselves and their families by gaining English language skills, computer and life skills” The use of technology within such organizations’ programs has become especially more prominent in the recent years.
Its English Language Learner (ELL) program and HAPS civics classes help the immigrants and refugees with their immersion. Due to culture shock, many have found it difficult to acclimate to life here, but The Hmong American Partnership has found root and laid ground to aiding immigrants, refugees, and the families who to follow. Aside the youth, and others, at the HAP center, the technological insurgence and training provided by the BAP help those new to our nation advance farther and faster, with the BAP’s emphasis on computer and network literacy.
Since its inception in 1990, “HAP has steadily grown from offering a few programs focused on providing refugee resettlement services to several hundred persons, to becoming a full-fledged social service agency with programs serving several thousand community members each year, to build the knowledge and skills needed to become successfully educated and employed, while retaining their cultural heritage and identity. HAP provides self-sufficiency and youth services out of its center of Saint Paul, its training and education center in Saint Paul’s Frogtown area, and at its location in North Minneapolis. HAP provides Hmong and other refugee communities with services and support to help them adjust to life in America and maximize available opportunities.” To the Karen people of Myanmar, HAP, and other programs like HAP, are places of new beginnings.
Myanmar is preferably known to the Karen by its former name, Burma. The Karen people come from the hills of Burma, and are a largely illiterate people, but they are a peaceful people, driven from the hills by the same militant activity that has renamed Burma. Though the Karen have found homes in other states like California, Texas, and New York, Saint Paul, Minnesota is home to the largest population of Karen outside of Southeast Asia.
The HFC stands with other organizations like The International Institute of Minnesota, Catholic Charities, the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, and World Relief Minnesota, to help these refugees in their search for food, clothing, and housing, and education in America. HFC has been a gale-wind force in the Karen’s English education, largely supplemented by the introduction of technology, a pinnacle example of those populations the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center’s Broadband Access Project labs serve.
Sean Ley has been with the Asian American Press since 2011. His position began as Webmaster of MulticulturalLife.org, but has developed into office management, including accounting and advertising sales. To the Asian American Press and its affiliated organizations, he brings Associate’s degrees in Management and Accounting from the Saint Cloud Technical College.