Antonio Alfaro's free Wi-Fi service for students. Antonio Alfaro's free Wi-Fi service for students.

VW van delivers free internet so students in Chiapas can study

Initiative in Comitán provides Wi-Fi to poor neighborhoods

In the barrios of Comitán, Chiapas, where home internet is a rare commodity, students in need of Wi-Fi to do schoolwork during the coronavirus pandemic are getting it from an unusual source: a Volkswagen van.

It all started when Antonio Alfaro convinced his mother to open her store to children in need of Wi-Fi. He organized neighbors to donate chairs and tables and the two created a space where students could access the internet for 10 pesos.

But then Alfaro noticed more and more children arriving from other neighborhoods to study. In response, he dusted off his old Volkswagen van —also known in Mexico as a “combi.”

With help from technology-savvy friends, he outfitted the vehicle with an antenna and hooked it up to satellite internet, creating a mobile Wi-Fi hub that he now drives into Comitan’s poorer neighborhoods, offering free internet to anyone within 300 meters of where he’s parked.

Last Saturday, when he parked in in the Miguel Alemán neighborhood, it immediately attracted six children asking how much it was to connect. The children, who needed to do homework, were surprised to learn it was free.

After a news story publicized his efforts, teachers and other citizens in other parts of Chiapas have been contacting Alfaro to find out how he accomplished his mobile internet setup, with an eye for replicating it in their own communities.

According to Mexico’s statistics agency Inegi, Chiapas last year was ranked as one of the worst two states for internet availability, along with Oaxaca. Only 26.4% of Chiapas’ population had home internet access.

“I would love it if this became a statewide thing. I don’t have anyone’s support, just my family’s, but I would like Comitán’s municipal council … and the [city’s] school directors to organize study groups and then set up a schedule where the combiteca could go,” he said.

Combiteca is a combination of the Spanish words combi and biblioteca, the latter meaning “library.”

While Alfaro has big dreams for his initiative, his schedule is already quite busy: this Monday, the van will be parked in the Del Valle neighborhood starting at 9 a.m., then return to Alfaro’s San Sebastian neighborhood for renovations to give it the look of a library.

On Wednesday, it will arrive in Parmalá, the first rural community to request its presence.   

Source: Reforma (sp)

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