Village Chief Alloyse Ongere pictured a dynamic hub of information and services in his village of 20,000 citizens on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. He knew that the people in his village were resourceful and eager to learn. They just needed the information and resources to get started.
He found a partner in his local member of parliament who introduced him to Cisco and its work with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). Now, the Nyangwete Community Center is part of a network of Community Knowledge Centers (CKCs) across Africa that provide power, communications access, and training to empower their communities.
For such a tiny village, Nyangwete has big challenges. The remote fishing village was isolated by location and lack of power before the CKC opened. Extreme poverty forced more than 12,000 children into the care of the state because parents could not provide for them. The village suffers from one of the highest infection rates of HIV/AIDs in Kenya.
By connecting the village to the world, Chief Alloyse Ongere believed residents would be able to lead healthier, more productive lives. When he became chief in 2002, he began work on a community center.
In the Honourable James Rege, Member of Parliament of Karachuonyo Constituency, Alloyse found a champion who has brought resources and global partners like Cisco to Nyangwete to nurture capacity for transformation within the community.
The center became part of a network of 10 Community Knowledge Centers (CKCs) in Kenya as part of Cisco’s Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment to bring power, connectivity, and training to underserved communities in sub-Saharan Africa.
“People are hungry for knowledge and information,” said Hital Muraj, the Cisco Corporate Affairs Manager for East Africa. “It is through training programs that people get access to marketable skills that help them build their economies and create jobs for themselves and others living in their villages.”
The nonprofit One Global Economy trains young people (aged 15 to 21) in technology leadership, marketing, and digital media to help their communities become more technologically literate. They are supported by a “Beehive” community-based website, tailored to the local language and information needs. Another nonprofit, Inveneo, provides solar power to centers without access to power and Appleseeds Academy trains local community members how to run the CKCs as social businesses. In addition to seed funding, Cisco provides Cisco Networking Academy curriculum for IT Essentials. Orange provides wireless connectivity.
The CKC has become a gathering place for all ages and social groups and the anchor of a growing business community. A pharmacy, an mPesa (mobile bank site), a barber shop, a restaurant, and other businesses have popped up around the CKC. Many of them were founded by people who took classes at the CKC.
According to Chief Ongere, local farmers learned about seed bulking (producing seeds for other farmers) through the center. The new market for their harvest has increased income into the village by 34 million Kenya shilling. “They have a group and use the Internet to communicate with seed buyers,” said the Chief. “With the increased income, farmers can now send their children to school, open businesses, and make other investments.”
Every day from 4 to 6pm, a market forms where women sell fish, vegetables, and other goods. Judith Yucabetotieno, a former primary school teacher who sells sorghum, maize, millet and fish, took the basic information communications technology (ICT) skills class at the CKC. Now, she emails and Skypes with her children and grandchildren who have moved away from the village. She was inspired to develop her fishing business and fix her boat.
The success of the CKCs throughout Kenya has inspired the Honorable Rege to extend the program to secondary and then primary schools in his district. He plans to hire young people who have trained in the CKCs to connect computer labs and help teach classes.
The Chief is most proud of the dramatic impact the rising standard of living has had on the children of the village. The number of children who depend on the state has dropped from 12,000 to 6000. As villagers prosper, more parents are able to care for their own children.
“I have seen a big change in the community since the center opened,” said resident David Ojijostudied. “Everyone comes to the center—fishermen, a lot of old men, a lot of small kids. They are aggressive. They want to learn.”
In Africa, Cisco and several nonprofit partners are establishing Community Knowledge Centers to give people in once-isolated communities the knowledge and skills they need to participate in the global economy. Watch video.