Education builds hope. Hope that can help challenge an overtly globalised society in which the centralisation of technology has stifled local innovation and resulted in the uneven distribution of wealth. That the Soliga people possess such hope was evident in the way they worked with educators and technologists to develop locally-tuned digital products and services for themselves.
In 2025, a Soliga child studying at the Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK) in BR hills signs up to participate in a government inter-school competition. The topic: designing hopeful technology futures for local contexts. A You-Learn coding kit arrives in the school’s mailroom. You-Learn advocates for fairer technology for all and seeks to help people understand and then take control of the algorithms and code that affect their lives. This simple metal box contains the building blocks of many futures. A Class 8 student takes the kit, cradling the box in her arms as she walks home.
Deepa’s parents are hovering over her. Just 12 years old,she is the youngest school lead in this inaugural You-Learn competition. She knows she’s smart. She’s always been that. Her parents watch with expectation and trepidation as she opens the shiny metal box. Inside is the world’s first microcomputer that can be programmed by speech. In Deepa’s hands, it will become the world’s first Soliga voice assistant. Deepa was part of the first group that helped user-test the alpha release nearly two years ago. Working with a young Soliga researcher, Dr. Nagamma C,she and the team tested the technology to see if it could help catalogue and preserve the sounds of the forest. Now, she has two weeks to lead the team that will build a prototype voice assistant, one that will be tested directly by the tribe’s elders. A voice assistant that can be sung to.
Deepa finishes unboxing the microcomputer, plugs it in, and says what she has been waiting two years to say: “Hi Soli, can we get started?” Tiny lights on the circuit board flicker like fireflies in spring as a Soliga voice says *Opening file: Hello BR Hills. Adjusting mic-array to 80cm. Calibrating for female voice. Hello Deepa, what do you want to do?*