Jan 28, 2010
Earlier this year Radio La Luna in Ecuador surprised us with the great documentary “Memorias de Quito”, a very interesti...
Earlier this year Radio La Luna in Ecuador surprised us with the great documentary “Memorias de Quito”, a very interesting proposal on recovering the collective memories marked by social and racial differences. La Luna is more than a radio station; it is a grassroots communication centre. In November, when I visited them, they were very enthusiastic to show me their computer lab, a 24-seat room based on thin client technology, NComputing. The seats are arranged in a “U” shape and in the centre a screen projector. Funds and knowledge were scarce, thus they had to use all the means available to make it happen.
Mauricio Velasco, project manager, told me they had to break down a wall between two offices to make a larger room. The furniture is simple, "we hired an electrician to set the cables, all the rest we do it by ourselves."
He said it was cheaper to buy the small black boxes (the clients) in US, so they imported them. The LCD screens, keyboards and mouse were bought locally. They couldn’t afford a real server thus they fed up a tower PC with extra RAM memory and powerful processors. Initially they had planned to run everything with open source software, the server as well as the clients. They couldn’t make the server work with Ubuntu, it seems they missed some drivers. So they switched to MS server. The clients do run Open Office, Gimp and Skype (is not open source but it is free).
Then they started the test period. Would so many seats work with the “server”? Could they Skype? Would the USB sticks work? Their approach was very empirical, they tested different scenarios and when they found problems they went to the online forums and tried to find similar problems other people had encounter and how they solved them.
This has been a whole learning experience, at the beginning they didn’t know much about thin client technology. But the whole process of selecting the equipment (choosing for the L-series that allows audio in/out and a USB port), designing the space u-shape in place of rows, installing the system and testing the performance, contacting the technicians from the national network (InfoDesarrollo) or searching in the web for answers. All this process, including the frustrations, generates ownership and embedding.
Not all is solved and a consultancy from the local NComputing provider will check on the setting and look at some bugs. But this is a minor thing.
Congratulations Radio La Luna!
Sep 04, 2009
Quito, is nestled in a long, narrow valley between Volcano Pichincha to the west and the precipitous canyon of the river Mach...
Quito, is nestled in a long, narrow valley between Volcano Pichincha to the west and the precipitous canyon of the river Machángara to the east. From this contrasting river ManchagaraSoft borrowed its name to create a technological park in the heart of the Andes.
MachangaraSoft (www.machangarasoft.com) is a technological park, created by the initiative of a small group of people some 7 years ago. Through their history they have counted an average of 10 enterprises each with 3 to 12 people, totaling 90. Some of them depart, and new ones come continuing with an organic flux. Where resides the success of this umbrella organization? It is hard to pin-point a single success factor but I can mention some attitudes that certainly are important. First of all their independence, they decided to go the hard way, and build up their prestige on the basis of their professional performance. In the long run this has become key to their sustainability. Another key element was its diversity; each company masters a different technology and all of these companies are certified in their field of expertise (Java, Oracle, Microsoft, Cisco, Red Hat, etc.). Their expertise goes hand to hand with their innovative spirit, MachangaraSoft came into being by de-facto in an incubator experience, where coaching was given horizontally, peer-to-peer. And last but not least, their solidarian spirit, on one hand by taking into account the economy of scales, saving by sharing. But it is not only a matter of economy; it is the ideal of being a real collective.
This combination of diversity and togetherness has many advantages; among them the possibility to cover with the help of their sister companies the whole production chain, from infrastructure to software development, project management and training. Togetherness, diversity AND commitment towards development are conscious components when they look for new partners.
Among their latest success we can mention rolling out the whole IT component of the National Assembly in Open Source. A new project is the digitalization of the payroll system for the whole Ecuadorian public administration. Since the government requested the use of the Open Source in the government agencies, they have develop a successfully approach on migrating, for example, to Open Office. At the present they are working with universities and the government in different fields. And their services are been exported to other countries. In order to improve their chances they are piloting certification in a new methodology of developing software. Traditional methodologies (like the Waterfall) are too heavy for the economy of developing countries. Beside all this, they have contributed with Libre Software products, mostly in document management and project management tools.
MachangaraSoft might join us in the Associated Trainer Program of Ecuador, I am very much optimistic that this partnership will be a rich experience.
Mar 10, 2009
Back at the IICD office, it is now time to evaluate my first trip to Zambia. As the new officer for the Capacity Developme...
Back at the IICD office, it is now time to evaluate my first trip to Zambia. As the new officer for the Capacity Development Programme in Zambia I had two objectives: have a general face to face introduction with most of IICD’s project partners and also have some practical insights of the main challenges identified since I came on board.
Going to Zambia for the first time means switching from your daily office work into a more human approach, where names and roles within organisations become real people with actual needs to address. Suddenly, the project proposals you have read until now on paper and couldn't talk are now able to tell you their achievements and future steps.
I spent the first week of my trip in Lusaka. The tight agenda started early in the morning every day. Breakfast at 7:30 AM and jump into the taxi to the first meeting. On the way to the partner office, my colleague Olaf Erz and I discussed the main points of the meeting so we both knew what to expect. Once arrived, the introductions took place and discussions were initiated. My role is to, once the project is started, follow the project partners’ needs in terms of capacity building and assist them in the best way possible to realise their plans. Depending on the project goals, we use different methodologies so our partners get empowered with appropriate technical skills: technical update seminars, on-the-job training or train-the-trainer workshops are different approaches used within IICD. When the project uses tailored ICT tools that have to be developed, a partnership with other local organisations is used so the capacity is built on and for the country.
Although most of the locations I went to were in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, I also traveled to the Western province to meet with the project staff of the Home-Base Care Programme in Mongu. At this moment, staff is being trained in order to use a new information and communication technology (ICT) tool that allows them to record medical information of the patients they visit. Until now, an obsolete system based on hard-copies was used to manage their clinical history and treatments.
In the second week, Saskia Harmsen, the former Officer Capacity Development for the Zambia Country Programme joined me. We had meetings with a number of partners in Lusaka and later went to Kitwe, in the Copperbelt province where a so called ‘Train the Trainer’ workshop was taking place. This workshop provides trainers with a better level of knowledge on how to incorporate technology within their projects, so a snowball effect can take place. During four days, twenty trainers from different IICD projects shared their experience and opinions about how to perform better needs assessments and to prepare better training plans. Although Saskia and I could only assist partially on the last day, I clearly saw how useful it is for people that work on the same goals, to meet up. Sharing and discussing challenges can be so powerful and encouraging!
Back in Lusaka the Open Source Zambian Initiative, an IICD supported network had organised a social gathering, also called “Installation Party”. Some members showed live installations on several Linux systems. Discussions about Open Source Software and its applications and social networking were there that night. It is surely encouraging to find young fellows gathering and sharing the open source case...
Saturday afternoon through Lusaka airport we left Zambia; back to The Netherlands. Once at Schiphol among thousands of busy people, only my slippers could remind me of Zambia,... until the next trip!
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!
Nov 11, 2008
On October 26, 2008, a wireless mesh network was launched in Sengerema, Tanzania, connecting 10 local organisations to the in...
On October 26, 2008, a wireless mesh network was launched in Sengerema, Tanzania, connecting 10 local organisations to the internet through the Sengerema Telecentre.
The network was built during a workshop organised by the IICD supported Tanzania Telecentre Network (TTN), supported by the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD).
In follow up of the site survey in July, a mesh network was implemented in Sengerema, connecting 10 organisations. The purpose is to share the connectivity costs of the Sengerema Telecentre and to pilot this technology for the Tanzania Telecentre Network.
The implementation was combined with a wireless technology workshop for wireless techies in the Lake Zone of Tanzania, hoping they will apply these technologies in their own projects as well as forming the ICT support structure which will secure technical sustainability of the Sengerema infrastructure.
After all the hard work, the workshop and implementation of the network was officially closed and the new wireless network was launched by the guest of honour.
The launch was a festive happening and one of the outputs that we never thought of listing amongst the expected outputs was the Telecentre Song! The telecentre song performed at the launch by a Sengerema teacher.
Also see the other videos on the workshop and implementation.
Feb 08, 2008
It is not easy to give a training on Web 2.0 tools for development, when the internet connection is slower than Sylvestre’s ...
It is not easy to give a training on Web 2.0 tools for development, when the internet connection is slower than Sylvestre’s 2CV and power cuts paralyse the whole network. It is a daily reality in Ouagadougou nowadays. Whereas the internet connection in most countries is getting faster, the connection in Burkina is getting even slower.
Still, Mohamed Ag Acharom of Afriklinks managed to inspire more than thirty members of Burkina NTIC, the IICD supported national ICT4D network in Burkina Faso. He was invited by IICD to follow a web 2.0 course at the international conference Web2forDev in Rome in September. Since the national ICT4D networks in Mali and Burkina Faso had Web 2.0 training high on their priority list, IICD asked Mohamed to train both networks in Bamako and Ouagadougou.
Burkina NTIC made a film on Burkina blogs, which served as a perfect kick-off for the training. Participant Ibaranté Momo, manager of the Telecentre ADEN in Gaoua, commented: ‘I have always wanted to publish on the web, but I did not know how. Now I have seen the film on Burkina blogs, I want to know how to start my own blog.’
Apart from creating a blog, participants discovered how to use free, online tools to share bookmarks, documents, photos and videos, and to make free, online phone calls. Mohamed: ‘This is how you can create a wiki, for example titled ‘The Slow Connection’.’
Blogs captured the attention of the participants. Burkinabe bloggers in the film receive up to 2000 visitors per month. The blog provides ‘an exit door’ according to one blogger. They get reactions from all over the world, especially from the Burkinabe Diaspora. For them, blogs are a way to stay up to date and get unorthodox views on the developments in their home country. If the internet connection allows for it, the blogosphere will soon be besieged by Burkinabe blogs.
Participant Herman Ouedraogo, here with his grandmother in front of her house.
He now knows how to share this picture with the world using flickr.
Nov 12, 2007
Mr. Paul is running a telecentre in Katesh, in the north-east of Tanzania. His telecentre provides computer training, the onl...
Mr. Paul is running a telecentre in Katesh, in the north-east of Tanzania. His telecentre provides computer training, the only one in the region. His customers need information from the internet, like market price information. But the internet has not yet reached Katesh. Mr. Paul is planning to have an internet connection and an email address soon, but he needs information on how to go about it.
I met Mr. Paul last week in Mwanza. He was one of the participants of the first Tanzanian Telecentre Network workshop. Together with many others, I have been planning this workshop for months. Meeting Mr. Paul made again clear to me why a telecentre network is needed. All participants came with questions and all came with answers on: How to improve their services to the community?. Where to get ICT support? Telecentre puzzles were solved in the workshop and its grapevines. Still many need to be solved. By sharing and by joining forces.
In a speed geek session, every telecentre presented its approach to provide services to the community in a sustainable way. Some provide market price information to farmers; others provide computer courses to students, women, elderly, disabled, helping them to get a job. Some provide a community radio to inform the villages on burning issues like HIV-AIDS prevention, others provide library services. Some are entirely financed by the community; others share their internet connection with nearby schools. Some use VSAT connections; others have switched to recently available broadband. The telecentre leaders advised Mr Paul on all the available options.
Through a mapping exercise, the telecentres present were indicated on a Google Earth map. Mr. Paul found out that other telecentres actually were not that far away from him! He now knows who he can contact for support.
Then, after two days of workshopping, it is 4pm. It has been an exhausting day; participants discussed a vision, mission, objectives and organisational structure of their network, and made extensive use of the left part of their brains.
Would there still be anything wise to do, apart from calling it a day? Yes. Let’s use the right part of the brain and create a logo for the network! I was amazed by the sudden energy and creativity burst and tried to grasp it in a picture: the designers, including Mr. Paul standing in the middle, present the winning logo.
Mr. Paul went back to Katesh, connected to a whole new network of colleagues through his mobile. With confidence he told me that the internet connection will soon follow.
Aug 27, 2007
In 2002, the IICD-supported project ‘ICT Basic Training’ (IBAT) was launched at Kyambogo University in Kampala, Uganda. Throu...
In 2002, the IICD-supported project ‘ICT Basic Training’ (IBAT) was launched at Kyambogo University in Kampala, Uganda. Through this project, an ICT training centre equipped with 42 computers was set up to train student-teachers and lecturers for the duration of a full semester course. Aside from being taught basic computer skills they were also shown how to use ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) in the standard curriculum.
In July 2007, after five years, the project was successfully integrated into the University’s curriculum. During the final stage of this process, a discussion took place about the number of students and lecturers who had been introduced to ICTs via this project. A chaotic and protracted debate ensued in which various figures were bandied about, ranging from 6,000 to about 25,000. This discrepancy did not arise from the fact that it was impossible to say how many participants actually took part in the training courses (according to the registration figures, this was 6,200), but rather because it was difficult to estimate with any accuracy the total number of people who had benefited, both directly and indirectly, from the project. First of all, it is not known which percentage of the student-teachers actually uses these skills once they become a teacher. A short survey revealed that 65% of the participants are reaching out to an average of 50 students a year. Secondly, at any university the average computer is not being used by just one student at a time: students who are entitled to go for training have been taking along their friends, brothers, nephews, etc...
In sub-Saharan Africa there is a concept called “Ubuntu”. This concept is difficult to translate: it means something like ‘an individual only exists because of others’.
Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu as follows: “A traveller through our country would stop at a village, and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu but Ubuntu has various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: “Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to improve?”
In other words, Ubuntu when applied to telecentres or computer labs could be taken to mean: ‘If you are entitled to use a computer, you should also take your friends and family to this new world’. Therefore, every time I walk into such a centre and see that the ratio computers:users is 1:3 (or worse) I think two things: “More computers are needed” and “Ubuntu in practice”.