Human Capacity Puzzle Pieces in ICT4D Projects

Many computer labs go unused because no one in the community sees the need to use computers and therefore they have not even learned how to use them. Yet the community cannot return the computers nor afford their upkeep.
However, this is not the case regarding a computer lab near me in Kenya. The organization that sold the computers to the community provided intensive training to the lab managers. The youth center that owns the lab has plans to hold classes, as well as use the lab as an information center to educate on and prevent drug abuse and HIV/AIDS infection for the community. This demonstrates that they both had an idea of how to use the computers and had thought of activities for which they could be used.
Sustabale computer lab installation does not stop here
Instead, they faced three simple, yet seemingly insurmountable problems:

  1. Finding someone who could teach the community to use the computers and guide users in finding the information on HIV/AIDS or drug abuse
  2. Finding the money to pay that person on a regular basis
  3. Paying for the Internet access and bandwidth costs

These issues reflect two themes prevalent in many development projects: lack of funding and lack of initiative. First, the director of the program thought there was nothing to do until the money came to pay a teacher. Then he also did not think to volunteer as an instructor, or ask his center manager (also trained on computers) to volunteer, or search for a volunteer in the community.
About two months ago the missing piece of this lab's puzzle came into the picture: funding. The leadership of a community-based organization (CBO) met the managers of the youth center. After the CBO demonstrated that they were working with ICT and were knowledgeable about open source operating systems and packages (which this lab was running), the seeds of partnership were planted.
The CBO and the director of the youth center are now near signing an agreement whereby the CBO teaches computer classes to the youth center's target population at for small fee, and, in return, they have access to the computer lab to do their administrative work. Future plans to supply Internet access to the lab through the CBO's project are in progress.
The moral of the story is this, lack of knowledge on how to use or the usefulness of computers is not always the cause for computer's disuse in less developed countries. In some situations, the owners/managers are simply waiting for other pieces to fall in place.
Human capacity barriers are some of the most difficult to deal with in community-focused projects. Overcoming them is simply a matter of finding the right outlet for the resource that is needed. As we all know, change often takes time.
Soon, this lab will be drawing the community in for lessons provided by their fellow community members. As in all other endeavors, ICT for development projects should not end with hooking up the technology, it is finding the connections or resources needed to make it usable and useful for the target population.

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