By APCNews TOULOUSE, France, 02 May 2006
Telecentres are a model for community ownership of information and communication technologies: a model that works and is gaining strength, according to various successful experiences in Latin America. APC member in Brazil, RITS, is a civil society organisation committed to this new logic which is based on solidarity.
These spaces which make computers and internet connections available to vulnerable communities, are not a novelty in Brazil. Telecentres slowly appeared in San Pablo in 2001 as result of a municipal programme. Although there is currently no official data, at least 3,200 public access points are now in existence. President Lula da Silva’s government has defined telecentres as an “intensive information technology project to fight poverty that intends to guarantee the citizens’ digital privacy and security, their insertion in the information society and the strengthening of local development.”
Civil society and some state institutions set the conditions together and guess what? Results already show. RITS is coordinating a project in which the National Information Technology Institute (ITI) and Petrobrás, the national petroleum firm participate. Fifty telecentres with internet access have been installed since mid-2005 in vulnerable communities throughout the Brazilian territory. According to a statistic system specifically developed for the project (which keeps a count on the number of times users access the system) more than 30,000 people from Amazonia, Northeast Sertão and the outskirts of big cities have participated in this internet solidarity initiative.
In addition to being in charge of the general coordination of the project, RITS provides administrative and financial support for the project and for configuring the technical systems and free software applications. The Sao Paulo-based group also ensures the training of the telecentre coordinators and trainers, individuals committed and belonging to the community and who ensure proper administration of the premises.
What is the secret to ensure the optimal operation of the telecentres? Precisely, the participation of members of the community. There are no formulas for the proper use of the internet: every group has characteristics that make it unique and it is up to its members to define priorities and produce content that caters to its needs and reality. In addition to the aforementioned facilitators, each telecentre relies on a local Management Council which assumes the directorship.
Training builds strength: “the least important thing is the equipment, That is relatively easy to get. But its use depends on training. A hundred young people have already been trained,” narrates Luiz Antonio Carvalho, coordinator of special projects at RITS, and the individual responsible for monitoring the initiative.
Young people are the ones most drawn to the telecentres. There, they can seek employment, become programmers, or simply play on the net. According to data from the operating locations, 70 per cent of users are at least 30 years old. In terms of the gender of the attendees, little over 55 per cent are women. That is not all, since approximately 1,500 people a day communicate, learn, become informed, advocate for their rights and enjoy themselves in the telecentres that have already been inaugurated.