‘e-Villages: Tackling ICT one step at a time – Read my article on DiGIT online ICT magazine. Visit the link http://www.digit.lk/eVillages_february2009
Concept of the eVillage was born in the village of Mahavilachchiya in 2004. Having served the village with ICT and English education since 1998 through Horizon Lanka http://www.horizonlanka.org, we were looking for innovative ways of expanding our services in a way the ICTs can be used in a wider spectrum, not just focusing the children alone.
We had already taken steps to get the parents of the children involved in ad-hoc computer lessons, field trips, IT exhibitions in Colombo, etc. but we needed a formal and an organized program to get the villagers of all walks actively involved in the ICTs. Endless discussions were done with the staff, Diaspora and local ICT experts to plan out a practical program. It was when we were searching for an attractive name for the planned project, Dr Bandu Ranasinghe visited us and having learnt about the planned work, suggested the name “Model eVillage” for the project which aptly suited to describe the whole concept. Mahavilachchiya, the Model eVillage of Sri Lanka project http://www.mahavilachchiya.net was launched officially in January 2005 by the Horizon Lanka Foundation.
Purpose of initiating the Model eVillage Project.
The concept behind the e-Village project was to bring about a positive change in the community of Mahavilachchiya, by introducing people to the advantages of ICT usage in seeking developmental solutions. By giving the community access to information like agricultural information, weather forecasts and market information, the villagers can use this to make decisions on harvesting and selling their produce and on job opportunities for example. The access to information from all over the world can be used as an inspiration to the children and youth of the village to help broaden their horizons. We mustn’t forget that ICT will also bring better communication links between the people in the village and those across the country, whether they be friends, relatives or business links. Ultimately, access to the internet, an understanding of ICT and training in these areas will improve the quality of life of the community. The project will focus on enhancing the community by ICT education, providing them an access point to Internet from their homes and ICT centre and other related services.
The Master Plan
There were six main steps for making Mahavilachchiya a Model e-Village.
1. Relationship Building
Before we can begin creating our e-Village, Horizon Lanka Foundation must begin forming relationships with local organizations and people. Having the support of local schools, temples, police authorities, government officials and the local community will be success of this project. Without them, the project cannot succeed.
2. Installation of Equipment
The ICTA provided a grant close to 10,000 US$ that included 5 PCs for our lab along with the licensed Windows OS and Microsoft Office suit. The ICTA also agreed to pay the monthly internet bill and they still continue to do so. The ICTA also funded a study tour to Chennai, India for two of the staff members of Horizon Lanka.
3. Training and Workshops
In order to educate the community, we need to ensure our staff understands what needs to be taught. With the help of IDM, 4 members of the Horizon Lanka team were given “Training the Trainer” courses in order that they will be able to disseminate the ICT message correctly.
Many students already attending Horizon Lanka Academy have been given training through workshops in software packages such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver. They will be able to pass their knowledge on to those who take an interest in graphic and web design and even with the basics of computer usage.
4. Implementation of ICT Educational Plan
Currently Horizon Lanka Academy already has an ICT Educational Plan for its students. They have weekly lessons in all aspects of ICT. For the community, the Educational Plan began with a series of training sessions and workshops aimed at introducing the community to the concept of an e-Village and familiarizing them with ICT usage and its benefits. It is hoped that the community will begin taking a more active interest and at this point, Horizon Lanka hopes to offer them more advanced tutoring and even organize standard training courses for them through some of the institutes with whom they have firm relationships. The ICT Educational Plan will also aim to give individuals specific information relating to their profession, e.g., farming, co-operatives, which may be of benefit to them.
5. Other Services to the Community
i. Multimedia Library
The project provided the community with a multimedia library containing books, newspapers, periodicals, VCD, audio CD, DVD, audio cassettes, downloaded data CDs and other relevant reference materials. The center also provides a service which involves the team conducting information searches upon request. Using both the internet and international resources Horizon Lanka provides this service for members of the community and local businesses. We also invite scholars, researchers, educationists, professionals and donors to contribute to our library by sending any valuable resources that may benefit our research facilities.
Basic communication services will also be provided. Almost all the fixed and mobile telephone networks operate in Mahavilachchiya now. Horizon Lanka was involved in getting the first mobile phone network to cover the village in 2006. Horizon Lanka provides Internet facility to the village through the main computer lab and through the mesh network. The existing problems in the mesh network will be sorted out shortly.
iii. Digital Photography
Digital photography, graphic designing and digital arts is another service currently provided by the e-Village group. By sourcing contracts from local and international businesses the team aims to enhance the skills base of the youth and provide further diversification of income within the village.
iv. Videoing and video editing
Horizon Lanka has acquired the necessary equipment to do videoing and video editing education within the community.
v. Secretarial services
By providing MS Office facilities, Horizon Lanka e-Village has created several presentations. By using MS PowerPoint and Macromedia Flash clients can be provided with effective presentations to use for their respective businesses. This can be broadened to including typesetting for letters and documents.
vi. Webpage and Graphic Design
Web design is a positive initiative that has already commenced within the village. By taking up offshore web designing contracts, a promising ground for new career opportunities within the village has been created. By gaining new contracts, Horizon Lanka aims to nurture this talent in the community further, bringing further economic growth into the district.
vii. Consulting services
The Foundation is able to share its experiences in taking ICT to rural communities of Sri Lanka. The Foundation can provide consulting services with respect to launching and setting up rural level ICT centers throughout the country in villages that may also benefit from this form of education.
6. Implementation of mesh Technology
Mahavilachchiya became the first rural village to benefit from mesh technology thanks to the Asia Pacific Development Information Programme and Enterprise Technologies Pvt. Ltd. Mesh technology has the whole community access to the internet from their homes. ICTA acted as a facilitator of this initiative.
Horizon Lanka has now helped to furnish over 50 homes with used desktop computers and it still searching for more donors to help families who have saved their half of the cost under Digital Butterflies project. http://digitalbutterflies.wordpress.com Mesh technology enables homes with a PC to enjoy the benefits of wireless internet connection. It utilizes the internet connection already put in place by Horizon Lanka. For details of the pilot program, please go to http://www.apdip.net/projects/ictrnd/2004/L43-lk/proposal. Mesh technology has no doubt become the back bone of our e-village status and will help enhance the educational plan in place by providing families with access, not just one person. Since this was a pilot project there were some technical and other disturbances few months after the commission of the network. We have submitted a new a new funding proposal which has been shortlisted for funding and now the proposal is being discussed to rectify the existing problems of the network. Once the new project comes into play it will not only solve the problems in the network but also extend the mesh internet network to 30 other houses in the village.
Benefits of eVillage Project
The benefits of making Mahavilachchiya a model e-village are endless.
The work of Horizon Lanka has already seen success by making village students IT professionals. Public schools in rural areas have poor resources, meaning that subjects like ICT are often overlooked. By providing children access to computers and the internet, they can learn to use these tools to improve their standard of work and stand them in the same ground as students from city schools. Opening communication links between children from other schools will bring about better understanding and perhaps a sharing of resources. Horizon Lanka is helping the public schools, temples, etc. by providing computers and Internet so that more children in the village can benefit.
2. Health care
The Local hospital, doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacies have very limited means of communication with each other presently. This specific section of the community is probably one of the most important. The Horizon Lanka Foundation project donated a used PC to the hospital and hopes to provide Internet access to the hospital if mesh network can be extended to that area too. If the health workers use IT, hopefully it will cut down time wastage, improve record keeping and provide a better sharing of information. More importantly, patients can begin to seek health advice from the internet rather than traveling to see a doctor. We hope to initiate a telemedicine project by combining Mahavilachchiya hospital with a city hospital if there is necessary funding and government help.
The community can access their bank accounts using internet now from their homes. Information on accounts and services can be accessed without having to travel and waste time in queues. Most of the Sri Lankan banks provide online fund management facilities and they respond to queries send as emails, so the people do not have to spend on phone calls and traveling to Anuradhapura town anymore for most of the banking needs now.
4. Information Services
The need for disseminating information quickly is sometimes of the utmost importance especially in a crisis like a national disaster, war or drought. Presently supplying the rural areas with this information has been near impossible. Public information suppliers from NGOs and government can now access the rural communities. Thus the community will begin to feel less isolated and become more interested in what is happening in the rest of the country.
ICT in the rural village will benefit the community the most. Farmers now have easier access to wholesalers, weather reports, crop prices, and other relevant information which will facilitate their work at harvesting time and during the year. For the unemployed, access to information from the multimedia library and internet will help them in searching for employment. Gaining ICT skills will be beneficial for their future employment as well. Communication between villagers will be enhanced. With access to the web at home and now the knowledge to use it, families can talk with each other using web mail and IP Telephony services like Skype, all without any cost to themselves.
Horizon Lanka’s eVillage concept is now being replicated islandwide and we will talk about that in the next edition of this online magazine.