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ICTs for development, Ghana’s rural community on the moveNkurakan is a rural community in a valley in the Eastern part of the West African State of Ghana. It has a robust economic activity of trading in foodstuffs from the farms on the hills surrounding it.
On market days, which fall on Mondays and Thursdays, Nkurakan plays host to visitors who travel to the village to purchase items.
George Teye mans an Electronic Commerce And Renewable Energy (E-CARE) centre in the town where everybody knows each other. However, he is more popular because his communication centre is the only one that functions as the ‘nerve centre’ of the village with its bright blue and yellow colours matched against the few brown and dusty cement buildings in the midst of mud houses.
On market days, the Centre receives a fair share of marketing activities, being a place where the population of about 1,200 are eager to use any of the facilities which otherwise would have required a trip to the regional capital to undertake. Stella Djabanor is a vegetable seller. She says she did not have to travel to print her cards and neither did she travel to invite relatives to her engagement held in August. “I just had to buy units at the E-CARE centre to call and invite them.”
Teye is excited about the one-year old facility, which provides basic IT services such as telephone, fax, printing, typesetting and top up units to the township and its environs.
On a quite day, Teye takes Primary Six pupils of the Roman Catholic School in the town through computer usage with his single computer. This gesture, though free of charge, is not frequent but he is happy to be part of efforts to ensure that every child leaves school with some ICT knowledge.
An excited thirteen-year old Enoch Azu says “I was able to type my name and see it on the computer. “I want to learn more about the computer and be able to practice it,” he said.
Teye believes the computer will give the children skills other than “book knowledge” because the world is changing and one needs technology to succeed individually and collectively as a nation.
He is working towards the installation of Internet service in the next few months after which he believes he can provide information on health, education, agriculture and environment. He says his biggest challenge is to be able to inform his people about the United States’ Millennium Challenge Account signed by Ghana in August and hopefully help them design proposals to benefit from the fund.
Teye’s venture is one of the E-CARE pilot projects provided by the Ghana Telecommunications Company and the United Nations Foundation, the United Nations Energy Programme and the Telecom Management Partner to promote ICTs.
The Centres are located in 37 peri-urban and rural communities where the collaborators provide fixed telephone facilities with antennae and upgraded GSM network to communities where there is no fixed line coverage by combining renewable energy system (solar) and electricity where available with information technology tools such as telephones with circular terminals, computers, printers, uninterruptible power supply system, solar panels and easy to learn MS software for day-to-day typing and design work. Where there is no electricity, E-CARE runs on solar panels.
Among other benefits, the Centres are expected to ensure access to ICTs in the communities, help educate them on ICTs, provide vital information on health, weather conditions, pricing of food stuffs and agricultural extension services and also keep communities the in touch with other parts of the country.
Entrepreneurs, who man the Centres including Teye, provide a percentage of the seed capital as a commitment for accessing the facility. They also undertake to pay back the investment amount over a flexible period of time.
Joseph Abanyin, Project Manager, says this is to ensure that the entrepreneur has a sense of ownership and responsibility and will protect not only his interest but also that of the sponsors. The amount received from the entrepreneur is reinvested in the establishment of more centres.
He believes the implementers can establish about 50 of the centres by December of 2006 and 200 by 2008 to help bridge the ICT gap between the rural and urban. The centres have also provided employment to the youth who assists the entrepreneurs to man them. In one of the centres in Adjaraja in the Brong Ahafo region, two young women, Esther and Martha (19 and 18 years respectively) have returned from an urban centre after completing computer training to assist in giving the Kokomba farming community with services such as charging of mobile phones with solar energy, typesetting and (phone) calls in an area without electricity.
Mr Abanyin explains the project is fashioned to complement the government’s efforts to provide Communication Information Centres (CICs) in all 230 electoral constituencies in Ghana.
Beneficiaries of the E-CARE facilities in Adjaraja, Parembo Number one, Duayawnkwanta, about seven to eight hours’ drive from the capital, Accra, are excited about the facilities without which Ayishetu Osman, one of the entrepreneurs says her customers would not be able to communicate with their relations in the urban communities.
However, the major problem for the centres is the absence of Internet facilities. People travel for long distances to access the Internet only to be told it is not available. Some of the communities also have unstable reception for their mobile networks. People move out of their rooms to stand under trees or in the middle of roads to get the reception.
But Mr Abanyin says in the next few weeks some of the centres will be assisted with Internet services on trial basis. He says his office will also work to improve the network reception.
He is positive the whole nation will soon be covered with ICT infrastructure and facilities because the government is providing similar services to the district capitals while the E-CARE centres are spreading to the very remote areas.
The government has established about 70 of the CICs at some district capitals as part of the ICT4D programme but it is yet to deploy the required infrastructure to roll out the project.
About 49 trainer of trainers and six zonal coordinators have completed a programme in the International Computer Driver License, Microsoft partners in learning, office projects, word processing and spreadsheets, database management and Internet usage. The training is to make them district managers of the government and the UNDP assisted project.
Mr Kwasi Adu-Gyan, a Director of IT and a Technical Advisor at the Ministry of Communications says the centres will be manned like SMEs and the district assemblies which are the lowest level of the governance structure will assist in ensuring that the projects are run on sustainable basis.
The CICs are expected to assist in bridging the ICT gap between rural and urban, provide community information needs and enhance national integration, create ICT awareness in rural communities, disseminate development information particularly on health, agriculture, environment and local government, provide ICT training in rural and deprived communities and support economic activities in the rural areas by providing ready information on marketing, production practices extension services and credit facilities. They are also to support schools in the rural communities and provide HIV/AIDS Public Sensitisation Information.
All the CICs are to be provided with Internet enabled computers, software based on local information needs, facsimile and printing facilities, photocopiers, telephones, radio, television and library facilities.
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