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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Hundreds of people from marginalized communities in East Africa benefit from free ICT training by ALIN

By David Kiarie

When he retired as an education officer in the year 2002, Joseph Mwati never thought he would go back to class after retirement, whether as a teacher or a student.

Mwati retreated to his Karungubii village home in Sipili of Laikipia West district in Kenya to concentrate on farming, which he had been practicing alongside his teaching career.

Joseph Mwati, in spectacles, follows keenly during
a computer lesson at Ng'arua Maarifa centre.
But ten years down the line, the 68-year-old man is taking computer lessons in order to advance his farming and business skills.

Having taught for more than three decades, the former teacher who retired as a teachers’ advisory tutor understands the importance of education and has always seized learning opportunities whenever they emerge.

“As an educationist, I know the importance of being computer literate and when I learnt that there was a place where I could be trained in ICT, and without paying a single penny, I had to grab the opportunity,” said the grand father of seven.

Mwati is among over 100 residents of Ng’arua area in Laikipia West district who have benefitted from free information communication technology (ICT) training, thanks to Arid Lands Information Network.

The international non governmental organization which operates in the East African region targets to train over 1,500 members of arid land communities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania as a way of increasing computer literacy among the marginalized communities.

A big number of these beneficiaries would probably not take computer lessons in their lifetime either due to the high fees charged by commercial colleges or the long distances from such colleges and the remote villages where these communities live.

Mwati is glad that he is now able to hold a mouse and click his way into the world outside his remote Karungubii village.

“I want to know the daily occurrences in the country and abroad through the internet,” he said. 
Besides this, the renown farmer intends to use the internet to dig as much information as possible relating to different crops and animal production, disease and pest control as well as marketing. Mwati rears cattle and sheep, and grows fruits on his farm among other assorted crops.

He further says his computer knowledge will enable him communicate with his relatives, friends and colleagues through email without having to ask for assistance.

“I am a leader of several groups in my village and I often use internet services to send mails. But each time I go to an internet cafe, I have to ask for assistance to type and send documents some of which are private therefore compromising the confidentiality of the message,” Mwati said as he served members of Sipili cereals bank at their store where he is the chairman.

Joseph Mwati, right, chats with farmers outside
Sipili cereal bank where they had gone to pick fertilizer.
Mwati is the chairman of the community development group.
He is glad that the illiteracy problem is no more thanks to the free computer training.

Mwati is now appealing to his peers and the general Ng’arua community to take advantage of the training in order to sharpen their skills.

“Learning is not just for the young people. It is meant for all. I am presently taking the classes with students the age of my grand children and I am sure I will beat them in the exams,” the retired teacher said with a broad smile.

 He is grateful to ALIN for facilitating the training saying the organization has opened the villagers to the outside world.

“We shall continue to mobilize as many members of our community to take advantage of the free training since this will push us several steps ahead in relation to local development,” Mwati said.

Another beneficiary Duncan Ndegwa, 40, is taking the computer lessons together with his teenage son who just cleared high school last year.

Duncan Ndegwa operates a computer at
Ng'arua maarifa centre.
Ndegwa who runs a clothes shop and a private school within Sipili division says he had not touched a computer before and is glad that he has so far learnt two packages.

“I and my son revise and do assignments together in the evening. We compete to outdo one another and coincidentally we both got 88 percent in our last exam,” said the father of three.

He intends to use his computer knowledge to digitize his school work including the syllabus, class attendance and staff duties and salaries.

“We are now in the computer era and everyone regardless of their profession should have basic computer training,” Ndegwa said as he urged those who are not yet exposed to the computer world to take advantage of the free training right at their village.

“It feels good to walk into a cyber cafe and send or check mails without bothering anyone for assistance. I want to be able to browse on my own and look forward to the time I will be fully IT literate,” Ndegwa says.

Martha Wanjiku on her part had always wanted to take computer lessons since she graduated from high school in 2005.

Martha Wanjiku doing a computer practical lesson.
Her quest for computer knowledge saw her seek employment first as a house help where she was earning Ksh 2,000 per month.

And although she was saving some of the money, it was difficult to raise the full sum of the required fees.

At times, needs would arise and she would use her savings to attend to the pressing issues.

Later on, Wanjiku got herself a job as an MPESA, mobile cash transfer, shop attendant where she was taking home Ksh 3,000 monthly.

And although she could squeeze her budget and raise college fees, she could not find time for classes since the business was running from 8.00 am to 6.00pm including on weekends.

After five years as an employee, Wanjiku who is now 24 left her job and used her savings to open a milk bar cum hotel at Sipili market.

So when word went round at the market that ALIN was recruiting students to take free computer classes, she knew that her long time prayer had been answered.

“I was among the first students to register for training,” the elated youthful business lady told us.
She is comfortable with the schedules of the lessons as she can close her business or leave someone to attend to it as she takes her two-hour lessons.

“I intend to use the skills to keep my business records and even to advertise the work online,” Wanjiku says.

The training has benefitted farmers, pastoralists, traders, school leavers and employees from the private sector, community organizations, NGOs and public servants.

Grace Njoroge, a nurse at Sipili health centre says the training was timely, coming at a time when she plans to further her medical studies.

Grace Njoroge, right, and Esther Kamuri do their
computer practicals assignment at Ng'arua maarifa centre. 
“I plan to go back to class in the near future and I will be able to type my notes, research, write reports and do my exam project using computer,” she said adding that she will not have to spend money to pay for the typing of her school work.

Njoroge who also plans to purchase a computer to use in the house says she will be able to keep in touch with her friends through social networks.

“I needed the training badly and I am glad I was offered a chance. I am grateful to ALIN for coming up with the program because it has put a small market like Sipili on the global map where we are in touch with the world and therefore at par with the technologically advanced people in the developed world," she said.

Njoroge too is at home with the flexibility of the lessons as she is able to attend to patients at the health facility and go to class in the evening after working hour.

“The lessons are quite enjoyable and besides that they are helping to keep the youths preoccupied,” she said.

ICT trainer Brian Bundi, in the background, lectures
students during a computer class.
Ng’arua Maarifa centre ICT trainer Brian Bundi says he is shocked with the high level of interest by the local community to learn computer studies.

“Their quest for computer knowledge is amazing and my desire is to quench that thirst,” he said.
Bundi says besides being punctual, their performance in class is well above average with most of the students doing well in both theory and practical exams.

Last year, ALIN won the prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Access to Learning Award (ATLA) taking with them US $ 1 million.

The funds are being utilized to increase computer literacy among arid land communities within the East Africa region through the free computer training.

The training comes at a time when the Kenyan government is digitizing most of its systems including the judiciary, primary and secondary schools curriculum, radio and television frequencies, school bursaries application, national examination registration and results publishing among others.
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