WALKING THE JOURNEY
It’s a whole new world at this digital era, children and women are not left out. When I first introduced this journey (the digital journey) to the women in my community in 2012 it seemed very easy as at first as I talked to the middle aged, out of school and young mothers. They seemed to embrace the idea and as much as most of them just heard about computers they didn't know that one day they too will have a chance to sit in front of one. I took the initiative through our partners to take them through a one day experience with a computer, it was quite amazing about 26 women who were either married “come we stay” single mothers in small businesses while others were just mere house wives came with their children to just have the experience of their life.
The experience was one of a kind, the women were taken through a few basics of a computer of which they didn't know and just thought this was another kind of a TV set until it was explained to them the differences between the two and how a computer works and its importance. It was a day full of joy having learnt how to register into some social sites that to them seemed never to exist. Several women were assisted to open their face book accounts for the very first time; it was very evident that using a computer to them was a bit scaring since even dragging and pressing the click button of the mouse was almost close to impossible, while they used one hand and one finger to figure out the keys on the keyboard.
While I picked it from there, their experience on that one day made me realize that there was a vacuum left in digital skills and women; really not everyone has access to a computer or has ever seen one and thus I realized it is my responsibility to take a step. This is in the city and people do not know the importance of having digital skills. Women at the grassroots especially have literally lost hope in digital skills, they think you only need to learn how to us a computer if and when working in an office setup and so have left this vital aspect of life to men and the youth.
I have so far walked the journey with these women despite the challenges we face each day, training them is not always the easiest thing to do as I had or always have to help them change their mindset on why the technology skills and it being useful to them at their level. It sometimes can take a day a week a month or three to convince a woman whose business it to sell sukuma wiki, githeri or even a shop keeper why digital skills are important to her life and business. This is quite a big challenge and really a dragging process but for the few who come on board they appreciate. Though they take time to learn they never want to miss out especially now that they have realized they can interact with the whole world, do research, market their products, see other people’s products. Though others cannot do most of these things, they prefer you open an email address to them and help them send emails, read incoming mails, all they need is a bridge to help them communicate with their clients. Other challenge is when for those who are married and their husbands notices that they have acquired some computer knowledge, they are actually stopped, reason being that they are either being to exposed to the world and men will always feel threatened due to the fact that social media as it has been known in my community people join to look for wives and husbands and this is one very common challenge.
Some of this women also, due to financial challenges and especially house wives they are forced to come with their young ones for the sessions at times as they don’t have the money to pay for their child’s day care.
At the center, the space is a bit limited and the computers are also not so many so sometimes two women are forced to use one computer for learning bearing in mind these same computers are the same ones which are used by the staff for office work. So far we have 4 desktop computers and 2 laptops in a class of 10 – 12 students. This has been a great challenge as sometimes we have to keep changing positions so that everyone can have a chance to access the computer.
While as an office the organization requires to be sustained and noting that Slumcode depends on friends and its members, we decided to charge these women a small fee so that we could be able to take care of bills like electricity, stationery, internet supply and a small token for the facilitator. This sometimes is a challenge for some of the women to raise, and for those who depend on their husbands, some are supportive while others are not and so payment is not always consistent as some pay bit by bit while others don’t pay at all.
Some of these challenges we have been able to tackle, we have encouraged these women to work together in that for those who have small children we can always get one person to take care of them and they are paid a minimal amount for the two hours they spend at the Slumcode center.
For those whose husbands are not supportive, we encourage them to pay what they are able to pay and if they can’t we train them for free on basics.
I have also encouraged them to start a support group which we raise minimum amount Kshs. 20/ per day (table banking) these helps them to be self independent and we encourage them to take small loans and start businesses.
I have been able to guide these women on social sites and help them to understand that they have to respect their marriages and can only post and upload what is building and not that that would bring down their marriages, and same for young women I encourage them to use social sites to market their products and skills but if a single woman would find a suitable husband on a social site they can only do as they wish.
Based on all these challenges I feel if we got more computers this would really help and each woman would be comfortable using their own computer. Learning would be much easier and effective. The training space is squeezed and if we get an extra room just for training alone it would truly help. Now that most phones are WAP enabled, cheap and affordable and most of these women have them, I have shown them how to use this simple tool to access internet and it has also become very convenient for some, though if they need any help they can always come to the Slumcode center for help.
Fast and sustainable internet is also very important as this would enable the women to upload their videos on You-tube while in class or in their businesses. Sometimes when the internet is not consistent due to maybe late payment or even when it is slow and cannot upload photos it really discourages. Power backup would also help since we have become victims of power failure in this part of slum and sometimes we can stay for 3 to 4 days without power.
Some of these women have become computer gurus so to say and are training the new comers and guiding them through. I have mentored them and become very patient with them throughout and this has made them build self confidence, they also have a learner’s heart and have to ask a lot of questions just for them to understand. Sometimes I sit in their class and listen and wow it feels very encouraging to understand that what I have taught them will live on and on.