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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Do you live in a global village or in a vast insurmountable planet?

 By Bett Kipsang’

‘Global village’ is a phrase commonly used to define the world we live in today. In reality the earth is a vast mass covered with land, rocks, vegetations, air and water bodies. Referring it as a ‘village’ is hard to imagine without the advancement brought in by modern technology. It is argued that those who can access and afford modern technological infrastructure like transport and communication are the only ones who can boast as living in a global village. The rest who are cut off from road network, air transport, land-line or wireless telephony and the internet are virtually in the dark and therefore lives ‘‘far away from the global village!’

ICT students practice their skills at Maarifa Centre
No other phenomenon brings out the realities of a ‘global village’ than the internet. People can stream videos and chat in real time and share information across the world. People’s voices are heard and perhaps no other medium has ever brought in such empowerment before.

In the recent past, East Africa has witnessed massive infrastructural development in the communication industry. The landing of undersea fiber optic cables was the peak of the positive developments bringing the global village closer to East Africa and vice versa.

The landing of the cables alone was not enough. There is need to initiate affirmative action to deliberately target the marginalized communities with information, even when the initiatives are not necessarily bringing profits to the governments and the telecommunication industries.

Arid Lands information Network (ALIN),, has curved a niche for itself by purposely conceiving and executing the mandate to connect the marginalized arid lands communities with information and communication infrastructure, necessary to enable them access and use information and also to make their voice heard in a global village.

For close to two decades, the organization has worked tirelessly to link up remote villages in East Africa to the knowledge economy, efforts that have elevated the organization to the global radar in the recent past. ALIN is known for its (Maarifa) knowledge centres where communities living far from the tools of information and communication can access the services, gaining important knowledge and using it to better their lives. The Maarifa centres often established in remote locations offer free access to the internet, free ICT training, library services and information related to agriculture and climate change adaptation.

A community member learning ICT at Ng'arua Maarifa Centre
N’garua Maarifa Centre, located in Sipili market of Laikipia County in Kenya, has just released 100 computer literate community members who have been training at the centre for the last three months. Had it not been for ALIN, these beneficiaries would never have imagined touching a computer. Each student who has been through the exercise has a story to tell. The following is a random selection of a few trainees who gave moving tales and hearty appreciation to ALIN for bringing the golden opportunity closer to them.

Geoffrey N’getich, an Administration Police Officer in Sipili division, never imagined he could land such an opportunity, considering the nature of his duty. Ng’etich acknowledges that he was completely green as far as computers are concerned. He is grateful to the people who came up with the noble idea to empower the marginalized communities with knowledge.

‘‘As I speak now’’ Ng’etich said ‘‘am able to power a computer, compose a letter and align it accordingly, perform calculations using excel and validate my pay slip over the internet just to name a few.’’

 He also said that the knowledge he has acquired will help him increase efficiency at his workplace and probably facilitate promotion. ‘‘I did not have an email before but now I have one. I no longer require anybody to assist me do my personal stuff on the net and this has enhanced my privacy,” he said. Ng’etich is optimistic that his office will soon be computerized and he will be best placed to use the technology.

This comes at a time when the Kenyan government is adopting a new constitutional dispensation where government services which were traditionally centralized in the headquarters, mostly in Kenya’s capital Nairobi and which was hard to be accessed, will be devolved to the counties. A lot of time and resources were lost in the process of seeking access to basic government services which are now only a click away. An internet access point like the Maarifa centre, located in a place like this is by far a blessing to the rural folks.

Esther Kamuri is a medical lab technologist at a nearby health centre and she is proud to be ICT literate. She had never used a computer before and was excited to hear about free ICT training at N’garua maarifa centre. “I just came to try my luck and I was both surprised and happy, there were no much hustle, interested persons could just enroll as long as there were vacancies,” Kamuri said.

 Word spread quickly about the trainings and people wanting to be enrolled thronged the centre, making it a beehive of activity. Kamuri can now stand tall and say she is computer literate. Asked of what she is now able to do with a computer, she took a deep breath, and deliberately narrated the skills she had learnt. ‘‘I can type and print a document, send and reply e-mails, work with several applications effectively, connect with friends through chats on social media like Face book and access my pay slip online,” she said adding that she has also learnt the components of a computer. She reported that she was able to understand almost everything and that was because the training was offered in a friendly environment and at a comfortable pace. She intends to use the acquired skills to improve on her work output.

On her part, Jacinta Kairu, a support staff at a nearby health centre, was not very new to computers. She however, was not comfortable using one because she wasn’t well equipped with the adequate knowledge in computers as she now is. Like the rest, Kairu narrated how she is now able to use PowerPoint to create slideshows of her choice, perform her calculations in excel and communicate through the internet comfortably besides having a better understanding of ICT.

She says that the learning environment at the Maarifa centre was friendly with a lively instructor and welcoming ALIN staff. ‘‘It was a team of wonderful people who worked seamlessly to ensure that everything fell into place’’ she said. Kairu loves teaching and is longing to become an ICT teacher some day. ‘‘I thank ALIN so much for educating me for free’’ she said. And as luck would have it, Kairu has secured a job in Nyeri as a result of the ICT training. ‘‘Thanks be to God’’ she said happily.

The Free training has caused a revolution in the life of Peninah Njoroge. Looking into her eyes, one could tell of the bubbling joy she had after being able to understand and work comfortably using a computer. Among the things she can do includes switching on and off a computer, creating, saving and retrieving documents, using search engine such as Google to access information e.g. jobs, reading and sending e-mails. Peninah is also able to use several programs simultaneously, otherwise known as multitasking.

She says she would really like to teach what she has learnt to those who are not computer conversant and also apply what she has learnt in her business. The skills have also increased her thirst for knowledge on various issues of interest which she quenches by searching for it through the internet. ‘‘I thank ALIN very much for according me the opportunity to train,’’ Njoroge said.

For Mary Wamuyu, a nurse at a public health centre, a positive change has taken place in her life from the time she walked into the training room and now. ‘‘I am very happy to be computer literate because the skills will enable me to write my reports using the computer among other office responsibilities’’ Wamuyu said.

‘‘I credit my success to ALIN for offering me the free training. God bless ALIN for the good work, keep it up!’’ she added.

Wamuyu didn’t have any knowledge on computer, but she now can confidently say that she is literate after learning how to use a mouse, keyboard, print information, open and close programs of her choice, search for medical information for her E-learning of health matters and access government updates e.g. GHRIS, H.I.S etc.

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