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Guatemalan Maya Get High Tech

March 11, 2005

GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemala’sMaya community can now, for the firsttime, access automated bank tellermachines and word-processing computerprograms in their native Quiche language.The project, organized by theGuatemalan Academy of Maya Languages(ALMG) and the Rural Development Bank(Banrural), is being offered in select partsof the country to Maya of Quiche ethnicity,who number some 1.3 million inGuatemala.There are plans to extend the project inthe future to cover other Indian languages,according to project organizers.MORE than 60% of Guatemala’sroughly 12 million people are Indians,members of the 23 ethnicities throughoutthe country.Yet despite representing a majority ofthe population, the Indians are mostly poorand often subject to discrimination andmarginalization.The new technology programs offeredin Quiche hope to change some of that, byhelping to bring the Maya into the modernizedworld and, hopefully, helping tobridge the digital divide.THE word-processing program inQuiche was created by a group of linguistswith the help of systems-engineering studentsat Guatemala’s University of SanCarlos.The program was developed on a U.S.Open Office platform with the Linux open sourceoperating system, which is free.The software program provides all thefeatures of a modern word-processingpackage, including formatting, editing,tools, a dictionary and spell-check, all inthe Quiche language.The goal of the project, according toMaya language academy presidentModesto Baquiax, is to “spread and preservethe Quiche language,” one of themost important and widely spoken amongGuatemala’s Indians.Although the software so far has beendistributed to only a few Maya academicinstitutions, the plan is to eventually use itin all private and public organizations, atleast in the provinces with majority QuicheIndian populations.TO preserve their native tongue, thousandsof Maya have made a consciousdecision to continue being monolingualand not learn Spanish.That situation motivated Guatemalanbank Banrural to create a separate softwareprogram that would allow Indians tohave access to ATMs in their own language.The banking institution’s techniciansdeveloped the so-called “MultilingualATM” project, with support from the U.S.Agency for International Development(USAID).In addition to offering all the services ofa normal ATM, the multilingual machineswill allow illiterate Indian customers to usethe machines with fingerprint identificationinstead of a numeric pin code.THE main goal of the project, saysBanrural manager Fernando Peña, “is tomake it easier for the Indian population touse ATMs, since most of them do not speakSpanish and do not know how to read orwrite.”The first multilingual automated-tellermachine was inaugurated last Friday byPresident Oscar Berger in the Indianmunicipality of Chichicastenango, in thenorthwestern province of Quiche.Plans call for the installation of 130additional multilingual ATMs throughoutindigenous-populated Guatemala.The new ATMs will eventually allowtransactions in the Quiche, Kaqchikel,Q’eqchi, Mam, Q’anjob’al and Ixil Mayalanguages.

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