South-South ICT-Enabled Traveling Workshop, India (3)

Claudia from Paraguay, and others...

The day began with a brief welcome by Prof. Arunachalam who hinted on what the day would look like. He then invited 3 participants who arrived later than others to introduce themselves and the project they are involved with. The first was from Kenya’s CISSO. Registered in 2001, CISSO delivers IT services, has the only computer center in the district which has provided training for about 300 ladies and 200 men people to date. These young people have formal high school education but are mostly unable to continue to college, so are empowered to get employment after the computer training. The center also helps with research and internet services. CISSO also runs a community technology center that provides social support services for the community. The center is able to enjoy the services of volunteers, who themselves have been trained at the center. Peter hinted that one of the challenges they have includes the need for space that can house the additional PCs they have.

Senfuka from the Council for Economic Empowerment for Women in Africa (Uganda) was next, and he stated that CEEWA’s mission is to empower women in the development process – through advocacy, research, training and information dissemination. CEEWA’s 4 thematic areas include Women and Agriculture; Women and Finance; Women and Economic Decision-Making; and Women and Entrepreneurship Development through ICTs. Through the Women’s Information Resource Electronic Services (WIRES), women entrepreneurs and organisations access information on markets, prices, advisory services and trade support. They also work with already established telecenters (where they exist), and focus groups where there are no telecenters, to work with women, and also have a radio program that gives information on agriculture, market services, and more. Sylvie from Congo Brazzaville works with AZUR Development, which has a training center for young men and women. They also organize workshops on ICT applications in such areas such as HIV/AIDs, development and multistakeholder engagement. The organisation also helps Congo NGOs host their website through portal, and publishes an online newsletter that features various topics that can help Congo’s NGOs work better. Very recently, they have been engaging postgraduate students around the need for research on ICTs and development. After Sylvie’s presentation, workshop participants asked specific questions about the projects and further clarification was given by each of the project presenters.

After the brief presentations, Prof. Arunachalam invited K. Murugan, a village knowledge worker from Koonichempet, which has 531 women and 619 men. An Information Needs Assessment was conducted in order to identify service offerings for the community. Their facilities have proved useful, not only to the villagers, but to neighbouring communities. Over 50 students have been trained and CDs have been given to primary school students to help enhance their studies. Thirty women participated in a recent livestock maintenance training coordinated by the center; and another training has been held on cancer, in partnership with a major medical school in India. Knowledge workers have been trained on computer hardware, screen printing, and health. He mentioned problems that the center has faced, including a thunder strike experience that affected PCs and students who visit censored sites. It is also interesting to note that the educational materials are provided in form of games, which has proved popular with young people – and some of them are addicted to the educational materials/games.

After the presentation, participants were shown round the premises of the RKC Hub. The major functions of the hub include establishing knowledge centers, identifying people’s information needs, identifying sources of information, developing information into local language format (and transferring the same to all village knowledge centers) and impact assessment. The hub is also involved with training and capacity building. In the server room, hub staff explained the practical ways in which work is carried out, and highlighted the role of the two technology platforms (spread spectrum and 2-way radio) used for communication purposes. The hub also has a rural library that is open to everyone, and a digital library where we were treated to a demonstration of information download and conversion into local language for the community’s use. Incidentally, there was a warning (36 hours in advance) of a cyclone forming in a region of the Indian East coast.

Participants proceeded to Koonichempet village, where we learnt more about the village, the knowledge centre and the role of youth in development – through the instrumentality of ICTs. On arrival, participants were decorated (with garlands) by the local community, and met with the founders of the youth association – that demanded for a knowledge center from the MSSRF – and the knowledge workers at the center, who are mostly youth. In her comments, one of the villagers (who spoke in the local language, like all others after her) noted that even though they are poor, the knowledge center has come to their aid. She asked if participants’ countries had such initiatives that help empower the poor. A farmer from the village, who expressed excitement at working with the center, said he is excited about the support they get from the center, such as scientific-based knowledge to help with their farming practices. After his comment, a woman from the village passionately spoke about how proud she is of the young people from the community, who helped bring the Knowledge Center to the village over 3 years ago. In her words (as translated), “we used to send one of two children to school, but now send both. We no longer have to send our children to rich people’s houses, but to school. Instead of exposure to early death, we now have polio vaccines. We are proud of our children!”

It was good to meet a villager from the neighbouring village who had come all the way to Koonichempet to seek knowledge after reading about the opportunity from a community newspaper. Outside the training he came for, he is also excited that the newspaper tells him how and where to pay his bills. At the end of the “roundtable”, the knowledge workers showed off their awards to participants. After the visit, we had lunch and then moved on to the computer maker’s (HCL) factory. At the factory, our hosts hinted that in spite of the advancement of technology in India, the masses are not adequately reached – hence HCL’s focus on the production of low-cost PCs. He demonstrated the 4-in-1 computer unit that utilizes Linux operating system and allows multiple activities through independent monitors, keyboards and mouse (and has the capacity of running 6 systems on one machine). We were shown round the factory premises, with detailed introduction to work at each production stage.

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