- Dawn Breaks for ICT Students in Slum
The Nation (Nairobi) (NEWSPAPER)
19 September 2007
Posted to the web 18 September 2007
By Oliver Mathenge
She is a teenage orphan living with an uncle at Nairobi's Kibera slums.
And like most of her neighbours, access to electricity, let alone a computer, was until recently, one of her wildest dreams.
But after receiving a certificate in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) last month, 15-year-old Mercy Achieng and 19 colleagues have become pioneers in ICT development in the slum.
Achieng and colleagues Hanifa Malasen, Vincent Onyango and Silas Mudimba could not hide their delight after successfully completing an ICT certificate course at Kibera Cisco Networking Academy.
The four were among the first 20 of 76 students enrolled at the academy.
Despite their poor backgrounds and challenges during the course, the students are now banking their future aspirations on their new achievement.
And as they recount their achievements, they also challenge the private sector and the Government to come up with similar projects to cater for more of the slum population.
According to Achieng, a Form Two student at the centre, the course was boring and complicated in the beginning but persistence helped them through.
The student, who wants to be a manager in future, sees ICT training as the way to fight poverty in the slum. She hopes that more well-wishers will start such projects to benefit more people.
"It only costs Sh600 for us to be able to cover all the course requirements in the Cisco programme. This would have cost us up to Sh15,000 in city colleges," Achieng adds.
Her uncle accepted the challenge and pledged to support her to undertake the course. Achieng reckons that such vocational training can stop slum youths from engaging in crime.
Her colleague, 17-year-old Mudimba, says the training is a stepping stone to his dream career as a network manager.
"During the course of the training, I have learnt how to use, assemble and repair computers," Mudimba told the Nation after their graduation on August 28.
Their certificates indicate that they gained competencies in building, configuring, upgrading and maintaining computers. They can also set up, manage and support networks.
Malasen says she was the first in her family to train in ICT.
"It is really hard for most of us in the slum to get this kind of training but we are always ready to take up the challenge and prove that we can learn like anyone else," she added.
For 15-year old Onyango, the course provides an alternative route to his envisaged career as an accountant.
After the training, Onyango says they can teach others as well as set up businesses if they obtain finance.
Project coordinators hope to network with the Government which intends to set up Digital Village Centres across the country.
According to Cisco marketing director David Seda, the organisation will help the graduates gain internship in corporate firms.
He urged the Government to utilise the students' potential when it sets up the digital villages.
However, the project faced challenges.
The centre's principal, Mr Michael Mutula, says they can not cater for the high number of students due to lack of facilities.
"We are in need of more classrooms and computers to be able to cater for the growing population," says Mr Mutula.
"We should work on a way to turn the programme into an income generating project to help it stand on its own," said Mr Mutula.
"What we have are all-rounded graduates. It is like having a salesman who can drive. You then don't have to hire a driver," said Mr Mutula.
The principal also says they are hoping to get financiers to help the students access higher education as well as start their own businesses.
For some of the students, convincing their parents to invest Sh600 in the training was an enormous task. Several of them could not afford the fees.
"A well-wisher paid for my fees as my parents could not afford it," says Malasen. And she had to plan her time for the training to ensure that it did not interfere with her classes.
Despite the bottlenecks, students would like more projects initiated to enable more slum dwellers take up similar courses to alleviate poverty.
"Just because we are slum dwellers does not make us less than our colleagues from other areas," Malasen said.
She complains that fees charged by most colleges in the city are too high for the majority of young people in the slums
Mudimba would like to see more of such projects initiated and sustained in the slums as most young people in settlements were idle.
"Creating opportunities in the slums gives us the chance to prove ourselves to the rest of the community since we also have the capacity and ability to do so," says Mudimba. "It is our prayer that the society will initiate more projects that can even help slum youths earn a living."Asif
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