Feb 17, 2009
Sengerema Telecentre, monday morning. The floor in front of the training room is covered with shoes of people taking an exam ...
Sengerema Telecentre, monday morning. The floor in front of the training room is covered with shoes of people taking an exam in basic computer skills. A corner of the reception is being transformed into a little shop: a young entrepreneur is going to repair, refurbish and sell computers.
I am visiting the telecentre to meet Mr Felician Ncheye, manager of the telecentre and board member of TTN, the Tanzania Telecentre Network. Since last October, the telecentre is not the only place anymore where people can browse the internet in Sengarema. IICD assisted the Tanzania Telecentre Network in piloting a shared wireless (mesh) community network in Sengerema, making internet available and affordable to a large number of people living in the rural areas around the telecentre.
October is months away and I am curious to find out how the wireless mesh network is functioning. Are the clients still connected? Are they satisfied? In what way is the internet useful to them? And, very important in terms of sustainability: are they paying their monthly fee?
According to Mr Ncheye, the mesh network is working fine and most clients are paying their monthly bills in time. There are some problems with hardware, and ignorance on internet use.
Lismas, the technician, spends a lot of time teaching customers how to browse the internet.
“A customer told me there is a problem with the internet. When I checked it, I found out he typed only two w’s instead of three to enter the World Wide Web”.
Lismas also teaches customers how to find information. All have anti-virus software installed. Viruses still cause problems though.
Later that morning I continue my way to the Teachers Resource Centre (TRC), one of the customers of the mesh network. TRC coordinator Mr Mugusi and Mr Mungo, headmaster of Sengerema Secondary School tell me that the internet is working well and used extensively by teachers of the school. Both are using the internet to study at the Open University Tanzania (www.out.ac.tz), which has a distance education programme. Mugusi is doing a Bachelor in Education and a minor in Kiswahili. He just started, and it takes four years. Mungo already studied before the teachers centre got its own connection; he is doing a Master in Education.
The teachers also use the internet to find teaching materials. Sometimes they print it to disseminate in class. They use Yahoo and Google to find materials. They also like www.answers.com. They feel that they need to catch up with the internet, as the students are picking it up much faster and are often challenging the teachers! Students sometimes come to the TRC too to use the internet but also go to the telecentre. Other teachers are still discovering the internet.
Mugusi: “To them the internet is still ‘uchawi’, witchcraft; they were amazed to see videos of Obama’s speeches online.”
Is the internet also having a negative impact? According to headmaster Mungo: “The secondary school has 20 teachers for 800 students. They used to have 36 teachers; most of them left for greener pastures. The possibility of distance-learning through internet may actually increase this brain drain”..
With Lismas I visit the Centre for Disabled People. An unstable plug prevents them from browsing, and Lismas quickly fixes it. They like to use the internet for skype and email. Their favourite Tanzanian website is www.mwananchi.co.tz, a newspaper in Kiswahili. They also have been looking online for funding for their centre.
Slowly but surely, the internet becomes a reality for the Sengerema community. In April the mesh network is going to be evaluated, providing more information on how the customers appreciate it and what kind of changes come with access to online information.
What I’ve seen in just half a day is promising. To be continued!