19 November 2008

Internet in African Bush Changes Lives

Internet is a powerful engine for development. Today this became true again, making another big impact in our family life.

On the website of LinkNet there are many stories on how Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has been an engine for development at Macha. The story of how information was gathered through the internet that added sunflower growing to the agricultural landscape of Macha is well read. As is the information on the data entry work via the Internet at Macha. Interest often focus on financial significance.

The biggest impact that I experience of the full time availability is in inspired lives; Esther Kalambo is now certified pastor in the Brethren in Christ Church, after numbers of years hard study on a college in the USA connected from her home in Macha. She did so while uninterrupted serving Macha Hospital and the rural community at large. Fred Mweetwa is well underway in his Bachelors studies Public Administration at the University of South Africa. He does so from his tiny room in the Ark, while continuing to serve as emerging leader in rural Community Development. Doctor Sitali is studying for a Masters in Public Health from his house in rural Macha, while continuing to serve as medical doctor at Macha Hospital. And in Mukinge, the matron of Mukinge Hospital, Lynn Hacker has commenced an online MBA study. Most educators I know in these rural areas are now studying online, or are having plans to do so. This development in minds and skills of local people will have lasting impact on society.

Every day life of most professionals in Macha is now intertwined with the rest of the world. Sending and receiving e-mails is a continuous routine. Searching the internet for answers too. Exchange of pictures of medical cases to check with peers are nothing special anymore. We are all connected through Facebook and instant messaging, we post and discuss, and put Standard Operating Practices on Intranets. Local and online file servers, document servers, and application servers do their job, and internet libraries are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some even buy cars in Japan, and almost all tickets and lodging bookings are done online. In Macha it is now news when the internet is down, not when it is up. It is like tab water, one only takes note when it is not flowing.

Of course, this is not applicable for everyone in Macha. Most people are not yet connected to, or using, the Internet. Like many do not have running water or a power connection. However, ICTs are now available and accessible. And most professionals in the community are able to use this connectivity to communicate with family and friends and do online studies. Through peer-to-peer communications with others the quality of work improves. One can even start thinking about 'efficiency' in rural Africa as personal effectiveness is enhanced.

We run between 4 and 10 Gb a day through the internet from this rural village. That is almost a DVD full of information flowing into this rural area, every day. It was ony a few years ago that the only way of communication was per weekly post batch or by HF or VHF radio.

Today, for our family, there was an apporteosis. At 17.30 hours, Merel sat behind her kindly donated, full size piano keyboard, glancing at the computer screen in front of her. Through the Internet connection she was able to see what her teacher Kristin was saying and showing on her piano, over 15.000 kilometers and 8 hours time difference away. Diligently she played on the piano keys for the first time, keenly watched over by her teacher in her music studio in Minneapolis. Merel played "kitten are we, cute as can be, playing the keys, miauw", and two other rimes.

We live as a family in rural Africa. This implies advantages and disadvantages for our children. I saw our daughter doing piano lessons today ..... there are no words to describe how I felt. Wow, thanks God, technology, all involved, and anybody else! This is life to the fullest, which should be available for all on earth, also to those living in rural Africa.