Friday, April 20, 2007

SETTING DIGITAL PACE IN KENYA’S EASTLANDS

By Rebecca Wanjiku

When Dr Bitange Ndemo, Information and Communication Permanent Secretary asked Collin Bruce and his team to visit Eastlands, everybody was eager.

Eager because the PS had sang praises about Kimathi Information Centre (KIC) and how it had used Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to uplift the lives of the youth in the area.

As the PS and his team snaked through the streets of Maringo, Jerusalem, Bahati and Uhuru, the team of youth at KIC were putting final touches to the presentation. The KIC team is comprised of Catherine Atieno Agallo {21}, Jose Njuki-Imwe Ngunjiri {26} and Lillian Gloria Okumu {28).

Before welcoming the visitors, the KIC team and the volunteers had to ensure that all the work due to the local schools has been delivered and any other pending jobs are finalized. This is their day to show what the youth can do.

The PS has been so impressed by KIC’s digital innovation and integration to the community that every visitor to Ndemo’s office is referred to the centre for examples of how Kenya has embraced ICTs.

Bruce, the World Bank country director was not disappointed at what he saw. He witnessed how the area youth had worked with meager resources to improve living conditions in the area.

“We have received tremendous support from Dr. Ndemo. It has motivated us to keep exploring our potential,” said Ngunjiri.

He was speaking at the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) monthly forum, where innovators in ICTs showcase their achievements to other industry players as well as the public.

So why was KIC started?

According to Ngunjiri, they teamed up in December 2005 and decided to come up with innovative practical solutions to the problems of unemployed youth in the area. KIC serves Eastland’s community in Kimathi, Bahati, Jerusalem, Maringo and Uhuru.

Apart from unemployment, the youth in the area lack of proper skills to search for jobs, lack job interview skills and some have been unable to secure attachment opportunities after university.

Armed with their findings and suggested solutions, the trio approached Computer for Schools Kenya and the International Development Research Council (IDRC) seeking assistance.

Impressed by the innovation, the two organizations donated 13 computers and agreed that the trio would train and equip the youth and the whole communities in the area.

“I think they have done an excellent job that can be shared with others,” said Edith Adera from IDRC.

Ngunjiri told KICTANet members how that partnership has improved ICT knowledge, reduced crime rate, unemployment and ignorance among the youth.

“We have tried to ensure that the community owns the project, they give collective security and our equipment has never been stolen. The youth who would have been out mugging people is now working behind computers,” Ngunjiri added.

KIC works with neighbouring schools to provide computer services if needed. For instance, at the end of the term, the teachers forward the scores for tallying and grading instead of doing it manually.

“It is now easier and time saving for teachers to grade the students. Once they mark the exams, we send one volunteer to get the data, organise according to instructions then send back to the school. A minimal cost is charged,” said Ngunjiri.

KIC has tried to integrate everybody into the project provided they show interest in learning. Those with skills they can share with others are encouraged to visit the centre and benefit the others.

Working with university graduates, KIC goes beyond ICTs skills and teaches accounting and small business management skills to those aspiring to start businesses.

Other services offered include- research and study centre, library centre through e-learning, data base centre for small business entrepreneurs, security pay point for Kimathi estate, networking centre, web design training for teenagers under the Mtandao Africa initiative.

Out of the activities, the centre raises money to sustain itself and pay minimal wages to the workers. The priority now is to ensure the community fully embraces ICTs before they can pursue profits.

To fulfill their social responsibility, Ngunjiri told KICTANet forum how KIC supports Shelter of Hope Centre- the local children’s home. The home houses sixty orphans in the neighboring Kiambiu slum.

Because the space at KIC is limited, two trainers from the children’s home have been trained with the expectation that they will impart the orphans with ICT knowledge. Every Sunday, have a volunteer from KIC teaches 5 students from the children’s centre on computer packages and any advanced skills needed.

The progress of KIC has not gone unnoticed by the corporate sector, Popote wireless gave thirty volunteers a chance market the company’s products.

The library and research centre expects to train many students and enter competition for international awards including the Bill and Melinda gate Foundation Program.

Ends

4 comments:

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