I don’t frequently talk about specific projects because sometimes, other than teaching, projects pop up and disappear and if every Peace Corps volunteer mentioned every project that was initiated regardless of if it completely coalesced, well, we would seem like super people, which we aren’t. The fact of the matter is that in development you throw 100 projects against a filter and half of one will come out and it will be all sorts of disfigured from the initial concept, but it will be the only thing slightly usable so you go with it.
I am lucky however to participate in a project that is materializing quite nicely, 100% due to the dedication of the project lead, my friend Crystal Watley Kigoni. She is the founder of the Voices of Africa NGO and one of the NGO’s current projects is the Rural Internet Kiosk (RIK). A RIK is basically a pentagonally-shaped stall where three of the five sides have computer terminals, one side a door, and the final side a shop-window. On the roof are a solar-panel and a satellite dish. It’s a, “wireless,” drop-anywhere, Internet-connected income generating activity, cyber cafe, or computer school, all wrapped up in an easily deliverable package. And I get to play tech support.
The RIK hardware is a concept by a man named Jitu and Crystal hopes to use his technology to fulfill her own NGO’s goal of empowering the youth of developing Africa through Internet technologies. The third major player in this game is a corporation known as Intersat, which provides commercial and private satellite Internet connectivity solutions in Africa (Intersat is based in Nairobi). Put them all together, and after months of working on this project the team has finally released their first RIK, “in the wild.”
More specifically, the first RIK was launched on 27th February, 2010. Photos from the event can be found on my Flickr Photostream which you can also access over at the right. It has been released in a town called Ukunda, famous for being the home to Diani Beach, arguably the nicest beach in Kenya (and therefore, the entire East African seaboard). The RIK program is structured so that VoA searches out desirable locations, and community-based organizations (CBOs) at that location subsequently apply for a RIK. The local CBO must provide the funding either through fund-raising or partnerships or grants (the usual development funding-cocktail). Part of the cost of the RIK is subsidized by Intersat, who owns the rights to the concept and design. Once the RIK is funded, control is handed over to the local CBO, who can then use it as an income-generating activity, with the mandate that they must focus on youth empowerment activities, as well as whatever stipulations the specific funding entails. For example, almost all money the US government gives in Kenya is stipulated to somehow, for better or worse, be connected to HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, and the US Gov is not the only funder that stipulates how its money is used.
The RIK in Ukunda is connected to a CBO called Voice of Diani and it has been going now for about one full week. On the ground, we have a Masters student, Mariel, from American University hosting the training and coordinating the VOA-related work to help empower the youth. Crystal is in Nairobi focusing on other RIK launches. My friend and fellow PCV Jeff down in Msambweni is handling advising the Voice of Diani CBO on all matters business. The CBO founders and members are all focusing on learning as much as they can so that they can take over control of the RIK, and meanwhile, I am on call for technical support when needed. It’s an interesting project and it involves a lot of people, and if it succeeds, it can be a really neat addition to the rural-connectivity landscape here in Kenya and all around Africa.
Over time, as the the picture of the RIK and its successes and shortfalls become clearer, I will continue to post. I hope to be spending more time with this project, as much of my Peace Corps secondary project time is spent working in conjunction with VoA anyways and the RIK is an extension of that. For now though, I must first finish up my semester and see what my travel schedule looks like for the holiday month of April.
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