On Saturday, a handful of Coastsiders were glued to photos from disadvantaged parts of Peru as they listened to Montara resident Gary Selnow's description of what he and WiRED International, the organization he founded in 1997, are doing about them.
WiRED brings medical and health education to communities in underserved, war-torn or impoverished regions worldwide — without relying on the Internet or power grid.
It began its work in war-torn eastern Croatia, and “really got started” in Kosovo in 1999. Since then Selnow has continued WiRED's mission of providing community health education through cutting-edge technology and tailored to specific regions. Those include other Balkan region countries, and regions in Africa and Iraq.
And most recently, he has brought medical information via technology to remote stretches of the Amazon in Peru.
With a doctoral degree in mass media from Michigan State University, Selnow is a professor in the Marian Edelman Wright Institute at San Francisco State University. But most recently with WiRED, he had traveled to Peru perhaps six times over the past four years, to tributaries of the Amazon River.
That is where biological contaminants and mercury in the water resulted in diseases and illnesses including dengue fever, cholera and diarrhea. The results were frequently dangerous levels of dehydration, Selnow said.
In that area, Selnow said, roughly 85 percent of residents did not have access to medical education through the Internet. And it was not feasible to bring books, pamphlets or medical journals there, he said.
Consequently, in tandem with WiRED, he tested new hardware configurations packaged in a portable bundle. Called Pack ’n’ Go, each package includes solar panels, a lithium-ion battery, a compact projector and a laptop loaded with programs. It could all be tucked into a backpack.
It made for an “anything portable” means to bring modules or training programs to health care workers, no matter how remote their locations.
“The project was ideal because one person can teach an entire community with a projector and a laptop,” he said, citing advances in laptop and projector size, and in power sources such as lithium-ion batteries or solar panels.
Among Selnow's guests Saturday were Coastsiders who have supported WiRED with cash donations, logistical help like taking Selnow to the airport or help with the modules or training programs developed over time.
The photos summed up Project Amazonas, in a water-surrounded area where residents got around by dugout canoes propelled by paddles made from the roots of local trees.
“They've never seen wheels,” said Selnow.
Other portraits showed the people who would benefit from the medical information, including one sweet-faced grandmother paddling a dugout with her grandson. A more humorous photo showed local artist Grippa, whose colorful work hangs, framed, in Selnow's home.
For more information on WiRED and its programs, visit wiredinternational.org.