- They call it a mobile internet kiosk. It’s nothing more than an old car battery wired through a cheap electrical inverter to an ancient personal computer. The three items are loaded onto a hired handcart and delivered by manpower to the “very back of beyond” in Western Kenya.
- by Naftali Mwaura and Reuben Kyama in Nairobi
It was the brainchild of a group of orphaned and unemployed young Kenyans, aged between 20 and 35, who were yearning for access to the outside world. One of the project’s founders in 2004 was Jeremiah Osallah Osallah, who said recently: “The overriding aim of this project is to bridge the electricity gap and enhance access to ICTs, eLearning and e-services to communities in the rural hinterland outside the main power grid, using cheap alternative energy sources.” The group call themselves One Touch Youth Initiative and are now trying to hook up to solar energy.
One Touch Youth Initiatives
Mr Osallah Osallah is a project co-ordinator with these highly innovative young adults who were first registered in 2005 by the Kenyan Ministry of Gender, Youth and Sports. During the Youth Employment Summit in Nairobi in 2006, they revealed an ambitious plan to tackle the traditional rural problems of poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and plain old-fashioned mediocrity.
Osallah admits his country faces monumental obstacles to the growth and expansion of technologies: “Rural Kenya is still in the dark, with no electricity and in dire need of ICTs. This is what gave birth to the idea of enhancing access to ICTs in rural communities outside the main power grid.”
How does it work?
Osallah says, “We use an old PC, a locally assembled inverter and an old car battery to power the PC. All these are mounted on a hired handcart and moved from school to school or to public gatherings like markets.” Where mobile telephone networks are active, the team can use mobile phones as modems to connect villagers to the World Wide Web.
“This innovative project has greatly scaled up access to eLearning and e-services in rural communities, where access to computers and the internet have been a pipe dream.” The project co-ordinator says the One Touch Youth Initiative has opened a wealth of benefits to community members and students who were blacked out of modern forms of communication: “They have opened e-mail accounts, signed up on social networking and educational sites and this has greatly impacted on e-governance, since most of the government services are currently conducted online.”
The group runs a cyber café, computer training and e-banking via mobile phones. A business outsourcing centre is even being planned under the One Touch Youth Initiatives.
Appeal to policy makers
Despite being proud of what the community has been able to achieve through effort and innovation, Osallah calls on the Kenyan authorities to pay more attention to supportive infrastructure, such as the electricity supply that will anchor the expansion of internet and other forms of modern communications to the young people in the countryside. He hopes policy makers will embrace this initiative and popularise it across the country to help realise the dream of universal access to ICTs, as expressed in “Kenya’s Vision 2030” development blueprint.