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Two volunteers in Kenya and Cambodia face sociopolitical challenges as they work to give students an opportunity to join the global economy.
Persistence and resourcefulness are critical characteristics of the United Nations Volunteers who work with the Cisco Networking Academy program to train instructors and help underserved students gain networking skills. In Kenya, for example, UN Volunteer Emmanuel Odemba works closely with schools and government agencies. He reports that the social upheavals that followed Kenya’s national elections in early 2008 had a major impact on some of the local academies. Courses had to be shortened because of sporadic violence across the country, and rampant currency inflation reduced enrollment.
Nevertheless, in a single quarter, Odemba helped establish workforce committees at two academies, designed a website that will connect Networking Academy students at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology with potential employers, organized instructor and soft-skills training, helped solve curriculum adoption problems, and worked to publicize the Networking Academy program in several communities. He also organized an event aimed at encouraging women to take advantage of free Internet connections at a local academy, which helped them identify the best markets for their farm produce.
Sophany Hong, a UN Volunteer who works with the UNESCO Next Generation Teacher Project in Cambodia, has not faced the types of disruptions that Odemba encountered. However, a chronic shortage of funds makes it difficult for many of the schools that Hong serves to fully equip their computer labs and establish Internet connections, which are prerequisites for delivering Cisco instructional materials to students. The Ministry of Education also struggles to provide adequate instructor salaries and project support.
These shortcomings complicate the delivery of technical instruction at the high-school and college levels. While working to establish an academy at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC), Hong found that in some cases, instructors could not make the Internet connections necessary to create online courses. He also discovered that few students at ITC knew about the Networking Academy courses or their benefits. Hong worked with the instructors to solve their connectivity glitches, and then conducted a workshop to introduce students to the program. As a result of his efforts, more than 50 students are currently enrolled in the Cisco IT Essentials course at ITC.
Since 2000, Cisco has partnered with the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program to improve ICT training opportunities for underserved populations. The goal is to help foster sustainable development by preparing people for jobs in the global economy. Many of the volunteers have grown up in the communities where they operate and can use their knowledge of the local culture and personal contacts to advance their work. Guided by the principles of volunteerism for development as set forth in the UN Millennium Development Goals, the UNV program mobilizes more than 7500 volunteers every year, 75 percent of whom are in developing countries. Cisco currently supports UN Volunteers in 11 countries.
Many of the communities served by these volunteers face staggering obstacles to development. A networking academy in Kibera, for instance, is located inside the largest slum in Africa, a 630-acre district in Nairobi where approximately a million people live in makeshift dwellings with virtually no sanitation, running water, or other basic services. In such impoverished surroundings, it is hard for people to see a way out of their condition, which is why role models and mentors are so important.
“I organized a visit to the Kibera academy by five advanced students from the Kenya School of Professional Studies, who were able to share their skills and mentor the female students,” Odemba recalls. “A former student from another academy in Eastern Province shared her work experience with the girls and also encouraged them to continue their studies.”
The volunteers also rely on partnerships with educational institutions and government agencies to fulfill their objectives. “In Cambodia, public high schools offer a free education, so they play a critical role in supporting underserved student populations that cannot afford a private education,” says Hong. “By integrating the Cisco IT Essentials curriculum into these schools, we can reach thousands of students. Because the number of computers is limited, I designed a selection process that gives priority to women and the poorer students. My ultimate aim is to help the Cambodian people attain a better life.”