Hemlata Jain explains how the Owerri Digital Village is providing ICT training for disadvantaged youth in eastern Nigeria.
The Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) believes that young people are quick learners, and are agents of change in their communities. Since 2000, the YTF has been working at the grassroots level in Nigeria to help rural youth develop a passion for technology and to use ICTs as learning tools.
The Owerri Digital Village, a community technology and learning centre in eastern Nigeria, is the embodiment of YTF’s vision. The centre offers ICT training to disadvantaged young people aged between 8 and 25, helping them to develop their selfconfidence and an entrepreneurial spirit.
The Foundation prides itself as the innovator of the ‘digital village movement’ in Nigeria, according to Njideka Harry, founder and executive director of YTF. Since establishing the Owerri Digital Village, the YTF has worked with other non-profit organizations interested in establishing digital villages. The YTF advises them on how to set up and manage a community technology centre following the Owerri model.
All YTF programmes are developed with inputs from the local community. This is to ensure that community members get a sense of true ownership and commitment to the work of the Foundation. One prerequisite for all participants in the programmes is that they should not have had any other formal technology training. This is to ensure that YTF reaches disadvantaged students who need the services most.
In the TechKids programme, designed for children aged between 8 and 12, students work together to create projects and solve problems. They are taught how to use a digital camera and a scanner, for instance, and how to download the images to a computer and modify them to create a custom slide show. Through this programme, students learn about team building, communication and goal setting. ‘We start out by giving them something fun to do to develop their interest’, says Vincent Chukwuemeka, a 19- year-old intern at Owerri. ‘This allows them to overcome any fears of technology they may have and to become aware of the benefits of ICTs’.
The children enrolled in the TechKids programme start out by sharing a computer so that they are not intimidated by the new skills they are about to explore. A quarter of the way into the programme, they are then assigned their own individual computer. Chinyere Mbachu, an instructor at Owerri, recalls Tuochukwu, an eight-year-old boy who was at first a little disappointed at not having a computer to himself. ‘I explained to him why it was important for him to share a computer with a friend in the first week of the programme. But he wasn’t convinced. It is inspirational to see how passionate these young people are about technology and the magic of software – something they don’t know anything about before enrolling in our youth programme’.
In 2003, the YTF entered into a joint venture with the John C. Ford Program Inc. a non-profit organization and the developer of the Global Education Initiative (GEI), a project that YTF is implementing. The project uses open and distance learning methodologies to connect youth in Owerri and in other countries such as Kenya, South Africa and the USA. During the 10-week programme the participants have an opportunity to use technology to solve a concrete problem in their community.
Between July and September 2004, the participants worked on the GEI project at Owerri Digital Village, focusing on ‘Educating our communities on HIV/AIDS’. The students learned how to use technology to conduct research on the prevention of HIV/AIDS, and to use office applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. They collected data, documented and disseminated information about the health, education and economic problems that they face as a result of HIV/AIDS. At the same time, they were able to develop an increased awareness of and respect for national and cultural differences through collaborative, project-based learning with their digital peers in other countries. Activities included computer and Internet training, online education, research and group exercises.
The Foundation believes that opportunities to participate in lifeenhancing activities should be open to anyone with the talent, potential and drive to do so. The children YTF serves all have these characteristics, but the right conditions and resources are not in place for them to succeed. ‘You may never know what is in their minds and how much potential they have’, says Njideka Harry, ‘unless they are given the right opportunity to unlock it. That is what the YTF seeks to do’.
Hemlata Jain works as a volunteer for YTF in Nigeria. For more information, visit the Youth for Technology web site.