This weekend I was contacted by my good friend Ove Larsen, from the organization FAIR, that are currently working in Malawi to prepare computers for use in high schools. Computers that are disposed in Denmark, but which can easily be used by students in the third world. The message was about compiling a spellchecker in LibreOffice for the language Chichewa, which is the main language in Malawi. Malawi is on the UN top-10 list of least developed countries, and there exists no official dictionary.
The starting point was an old American priest who many years ago manually typed 50,000 words into an RTF-file.
Benjamin Bach, who is also in Malawi on behalf of FAIR, first made a prototype, as Esben Aaberg quickly formed into a useful dictionary.
Dictionaries are parts of the efforts to make information technology more relevant and accessible. Open source is absolutely fundamental, and schools in the projects enjoying the results and expressed great enthusiasm for, among many others; Ubuntu, Wikipedia and LibreOffice. The latter is now officially supported in the examination at secondary schools.
The inquiry from Malawi was passed to our local expert, Esben Aaberg, who after a few hours of work got the dictionary to work. Unfortunately dictionaries can not be registered without the language been known by LibreOffice. Instead, Esben "cheated" by using a language code from another language. Of course we need the language Chichewa registered, but here and now, it works after all.
Schools, educational institutions, health care, etc. in developing countries have a great need for this technology to become part of the information society globally. Information technology is an important prerequisite for development within democracy, education and health.
About FAIR: http://www.fairdanmark.dk/en/
About Malawi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malawi
About Chichewa (Nyanja): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chewa_language