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Innovative programs aim to improve living conditions within two of Africa's poorest communities.
Two educational programs that were recently launched in Kibera and Lodwar help demonstrate that even in the poorest areas on Earth, individuals are fighting to overcome tremendous obstacles in unexpected and innovative ways.
Kibera, the second largest slum in Africa, is one of nearly 200 slums that surround the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Residents of Kibera lack access to even the most basic services, such as sanitation. After years of avoiding the problem, the Kenyan government, with the help of the United Nations, is set to embark on a massive reform program to improve housing and sanitary conditions.
On a smaller scale, Cisco Networking Academy Program Manager Hital Muraj undertook a bold effort to create an ICT skills training center in Kibera in 2007. Despite a pressing need for basic necessities such as food and water, residents of Kibera shared Muraj's long-term vision and enthusiastically embraced the scheme.
Given the desperately low incomes of most inhabitants of Kibera, Muraj envisaged a self-supported educational center that would enable students to enroll in the Networking Academy IT Essentials course for free, or at a very low cost. She also sought support in the form of donated computers to create a student computer lab. As a result of Muraj's efforts and the support she received, the academy was opened at the Raila Educational Centre in 2007. Eighty students registered for Networking Academy courses during the first week of operation.
Muraj hopes the program will help provide a passport out of the squalor of the slum by enabling students to develop marketable skills. More importantly perhaps, the project offers residents an opportunity to achieve something for themselves within the scope of the wider improvements planned for their community.
Kibera Student Success
Stephen Ondieki is a graduate of the academy at the Raila Educational Centre in Kibera. Ondieki completed a computer studies program at the academy and received his IT Essentials certificate. Ondieki also completed the free business training offered at the academy, which provides guidance in the areas of job seeking, entrepreneurship, and customer service.
Ondieki has used his career skills and the technical skills he gained through the program to open a computer repair shop. He started the business with two computers and a printer, which were acquired though donations.
In addition to earning US$8 a day in a place where millions of individuals earn less than $1 a day, Ondieki is reaching out to the youth of Kibera who are involved in deviant activities such as drugs and gambling in hopes of attracting them to various aspects of technology, such as computer games. "Most of them can relate to me because I grew up in the neighborhood," he explains. "They see me overcoming the same challenges they face and they're motivated to try to make some changes themselves."
Ondieki invites youth to spend time at his repair shop. "It's a place for them to socialize and think more positively," he says. "They talk and argue about social issues and other things that affect them. At the same time, while they're here they can avoid situations that lead them in the wrong direction and might cause them to become just another sad story."
Ondieki hopes to ultimately expand his business into an information center that will enable him to provide a variety of services to his community.
Elsewhere in Kenya, another ambitious project has already become a reality for the 30,000 residents of Lodwar, the largest town in the Northwest region of the country. Lodwar is one of the few communities in Kenya where nomadic pastoralists such as the Gabbra, Turkana, and Samburu continue their ancient way of life. Their adherence to a strictly traditional lifestyle and dress is increasingly rare in East Africa.
A forward-thinking Networking Academy representative, Antonio Herrera, is encouraging residents of Lodwar to develop ICT skills. Herrera, the international operations manager for Cisco in Europe and Emerging Markets, believes that these types of skills will soon be highly-valued in this town, which until recently did not have a paved road to the outside world.
As a result of Herrera's dedication to this project, the IT Essentials Tuition Center opened in October 2006, in a building owned by the Catholic diocese. In support of the launch, Hital Muraj arranged for a group of female students from Loreto College Msongari in Nairobi, Kenya to help set up the lab. "For 6000 Euros, we were able to equip the center with 20 computers and everything necessary to teach ITE," says Herrera, who made a personal contribution in support of the project. The balance was covered by a charity fund from a networking academy in Madrid, Spain.
Until now, the area's foremost industry has been tourism, chiefly from safaris and adventure-style holidays. So what positive benefits can ICT skills bring this remote part of the world? Herrera explains: "The idea is that as the number of computers in the region grows, in hospitals, hotels, and so on, there will be skilled people available to maintain them."
As the African network infrastructure develops, Africans with the right skills will be there to help maintain and support the growth of the ICT industry. The potential benefits are obvious and far reaching, including significant gains in self-confidence, independence, and prosperity.