Happy Birthday Diplo, and many more years to come – In early 2008 I was bored. Well, not so much bored as restless. Retirement for teachers here is compulsory at 60. The papers had been processed. I would be employed on contract perhaps for another couple of years to fill gaps in the system. Otherwise the rest of my life was stretching out a little emptily ahead of me. So when I saw the advertisement for the Diplo course I was really interested. Rudi Daniel had spoken about it – a strange teaching method that required comments on an online text. This intrigued me. Mind you they wanted “young” applicants – well, you’re as young as you feel? So I applied – and they turned me down. Disappointing, but half expected. Oh well!
But then, a short time later, another message, asking whether I was still interested as some of the selected applicants had not been able to accept the opportunity after all. And so it began. An early memory is of having an exchange with a young enthusiastic technician called Jovan, looking at the hypertext mark-ups in terms of palimpsests. It was only later that I learned that Jovan was Dr Kurbalija, the Director and founding father of the whole programme.
At first the other students were from the Caribbean, but later they came from all parts of the world. By August I was working with Jamil from Lahore in Pakistan. One day he asked me if I would be attending the IGF in Hyderabad. I remember my answer very clearly – what me! Go to India? Come on Jamil! I certainly can’t afford it, and I think it’s highly unlikely that anyone else would be willing to pay for me. He told me off. He said that you should always assume that things are possible, never dismiss things without trying, that there’s always a chance.
He was right. At the end of the course I got an email with the list of course participants who were being offered funding to go to Hyderabad. And my name was on it. I was flabbergasted! Jamil’s name was there too. So we made a date to eat a Lahori breakfast together in India (we had been meeting to work at his breakfast time which was my supper time). Only then there was the horror of the Mumbai bombing. I wrote to my children in London and Peru offering to refuse the funding if they were worried. My son wrote back – “oh mum, nobody’s going to blow YOU up!” (Like Jamil in the summer he was right, if not very flattering.) But travel across the Pakistan/India border became almost impossible, and Jamil didn’t come to Hyderabad. Our breakfast date is sadly still pending.
During the IGF in Hyderabad I had promised to look for any information that might be available to help a friend who was being progressively paralysed by motor neurone disease. That was how I became involved with the Dynamic Coalition for Accessibility and Disability (DCAD). I did more Diplo courses, and qualified to be a tutor myself. I’ve travelled to IGFs all over the world. I’ve had funding from all sorts of sources – including myself (I self-funded my trip to Vilnius in 2010 from a legacy). I’ve also attended LACIGFs all over South and Central America, and Caribbean IGFs on various islands across the region – with partial or complete funding, for which I am VERY grateful. I was elected as one of two co-coordinators of the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus (the IGC) and was selected as civil society speaker at the opening ceremony of the Istanbul IGF.
At the IGF I have focussed my attention on remote participation and on access and disability. If I cannot attend the meeting in situ I do my best to attend online. In Bali at the IGF in 2013 I met the remote moderator from a session in Nairobi in 2011 (which I had attended remotely) and we recognised and remembered one another. My family and friends now accept that “I have a meeting in Geneva next week” means that I will be getting up at 3am and may not be very much use during regular daytime. Virtual jetlag is much worse than the thing itself.
A year ago I was invited to join the Caribbean ICT Collaboration Committee (CICC), a new initiative started by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), which is an opportunity to make an input into regional ICT related policy.
The last 10 years have been very rewarding, very exciting, very hard work and great fun. And it still feels just a little like magic, as if I might wake up tomorrow morning and find that it was all a dream. Because things like that just don’t happen to people like me. But they did!
Thank you Diplo, and have a very happy birthday.

Deirdre Williams