Internet Access at the Grassroots is an effective Tool for Rapid Community Development and Global Development Process.
Personally, use of the internet has become the most critical tool I use on a day to day basis. However my community and the grassroots organizations I am working with do not have easy access to the internet.
My ancestral home, Amor village, has no internet access and if I had remained there I would continue to be oblivious to the influence and power of the internet. However through support from abroad I was able to complete my schooling and tertiary studies during which I was exposed to the internet.
The two main challenges in my community that limits participation online are literacy and availability.
Often women in my community have not completed primary education and are barely literate this often makes them unwilling to try new things where literacy skills would be required.
In the rural communities outside of urban centers there is little or no mobile network and fixed phone lines. This means that there is a lack of internet cafes, libraries, and public buildings with internet access in my community limiting easy access for training and familiarization. For one to access internet from Amor Village district where I come from, one has to travel to Tororo town; 18km each way.
Internet access is very expensive to a local low income earner with 3Gb data access costing approximately $US30, or 25% of the average Ugandan monthly income (and probably around 50% or the average Eastern Ugandan monthly income. In addition to this expense the poor signal that is often provided means that pages often take several minutes to load. Internet café’s (where available) charge by the time so slow access increases costs to users.
Availability of the internet is also reduced by the lack of electricity in the rural communities. Amor village is yet to be electrified and as far as I am aware no one in the community has a computer. Many women do have inexpensive mobile phones which they will walk many miles to charge for a fee (which can lead to a whole other set of safety and security issues).
Finally the other factor in rural communities that limits access is cultural. Men currently often misinterprets women’s use of mobile phones and often accuse women of having love affairs via the phone. This can lead to fights, family breakups and violence.
Amor village and the provincial capital both have no library or space where free/subsidized internet access is available. Currently the Amor community is building a library but at this point there is significant cost issues in the provision of computers and internet access due to the project reliance on donations and volunteers to complete the project.
I graduated with Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology and this has also driven me to use internet and technology in effecting change in my community in different ways. I am a World Pulse Voices of Our Future Fellow and a Pulsewire Vocal Contributor since 2010; I advise other women and men in Uganda and those from across the globe to use World Pulse website and media platform to effect change in their communities. Several of these women including my sisters and relatives and friends from across the globe have joined World Pulse website.
I am an advocate for girl child education and empowerment; my grassroots NGO – Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation through the Rural Girl Child Mentorship (RGCM) project, we match rural impoverished girls with sponsors and mentors from across the globe who support their vision and dreams. 69 out of the current 103 girls have been matched with individuals from the United States, Europe and Australia who exchange letters, videos and skype calls with them. We use the social media including World Pulse website and Facebook to connect with these mentors and sponsors on a daily basis; created a Facebook group page where we post the latest updates to them on a daily basis. 25 of these mentors, sponsors and volunteers have visited with the community since 2012.
We are currently constructing a community Library and a community hall in Amor village so as to provide access for the use of computers, internet, books and become a place for social gathering with electricity access. We are targeting 48 rural schools and institutions an estimate of 5000 learners and 4000 parent beneficiaries per year.
We have created women groups with different entrepreneurial and economic ventures especially in farming and agriculture, art and crafts, music, dance and drama all focusing on quality production for global market. To access global market, we are already using the internet to market our products. For example market paper beads/jewelries, mats and baskets, in Germany, United States and Australia, we have raised over USD2000 doing this; we use internet and e-commerce.
We are increasing literacy among the women and girls through providing sponsorship opportunities, literacy increases chances for search for information and knowledge and the use of internet. The current 103 girls under our sponsorship program are the next generation of the grassroots women who will effect change in Uganda and globally by use of internet and technology.
Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation supports a population of over 700000 people in Tororo and Buteleja districts of Uganda, we are very effective in mobilizing, sensitizing and educating the community; given technological support we shall effectively use it to effect change in this community.
I visit secure websites, change my passwords frequently, update my computer software regularly, I do not respond to untrusted emails.
The recommendations I am giving to technology companies and governments includes;
1. Produce affordable technology products and services which meets the needs of the low income communities.
2. Provide secure platforms while protecting the privacy of the users as well as build platforms that can track hackers and crackers.
3. Consider health related hazards while improving technology, where necessary should provide warnings.
4. The government should consider electrification and providing better telecommunication infrastructures for the rural communities.
5. The technology companies and the government should consider credit facilities to those who cannot easily afford the technology products and services.
6. Technological Trainings and Educational services should be given to the grassroots communities.