“Twenty years of dreams were finally given a breath of life by a pandemic,” founder of Dunia Moja Twahir Hussein says about his work with underprivileged communities in Kilifi, on the coast of Kenya. For years, Dunia Moja has focused on creating a path out of poverty with the help of digital devices and skills in Kilifi. Their main target is youth, whom they train on digital literacy through children’s protection organisation Lamuka Hub, with the help of an APC subgrant.
An area with high poverty rates
Trainings are designed mostly for “boda boda” riders, who drive a type of motorcycle taxi in East Africa, and “Mama Mbogas”, women who sell vegetables. The organisation also works with university students, who often become trainers for other young kids afterwards.
“We are in an area with high poverty rates, and we do what we can. Most of the times either our organisation pays student fees from our own pocket or raises funds with friends. We are now in the process of forming a foundation that would seek to better channel the issue of funds,” Hussein says, in conversation with APC.
When asked if they get any public or institutional support, he explains that “in Kenya, we have been through a very corrosive electioneering period, with a focus on matters that bring votes. Despite this, we have had a government minister visiting our centre to grace graduation of kids whom we took through a coding camp during holidays,” he adds.
Education for the most vulnerable
“Twenty years of dreams were finally given a breath of life by a pandemic,” Hussein says, as he remembers how he presented several concept notes to the government, but no action was taken despite there being available resources to support connectivity in rural schools. “In March 2020, when learning institutions were ordered to shut down as the country monitored the pandemic, we realised the lockdown would take the worst toll on underprivileged communities,” he recalls.
“Here we were, in a rural village where schools are a way to keep kids out of the street, facing another pandemic: youth being shattered by drug abuse or teenage pregnancies,” he adds.
In this lockdown context, with online tools being deployed in the absence of physical gatherings, Hussein contacted Kilifi’s local primary school head teacher, Madam Shume. He asked her if she would be willing to train teachers on digital skills and eventually get them and their students connected to the internet. She embraced the idea and within a week of discussions the first Digital Literacy lesson gathered a team of eight school teachers. From there, things escalated in the best way, with teachers from other schools being invited and joining the workshop. By early May, the kids joined the hub.
While building skills among teachers and students, Dunia Moja also made a plan to deal with the lack of connectivity affecting the population living in the region. Through the Kilifi Digital Villages project, they set up community network nodes in village public schools across the constituency.
“We set up rudimentary Wi-Fi hotspots that allowed the kids to sit under trees to follow lessons that were being taught online by their teachers; the kids used government-issued tablets that Mtondia Primary provided,” Hussein described. “Needless to say, the kids' studies continued unabated and they managed to complete their syllabus in good time.”
When asked about the gender digital divide, Hussein explains that women and young girls have been part of the programmes from the onset. Challenging local stereotypes of placing girls out of the limelight, Dunia Moja works with them to give them opportunities to excel and avoid what Hussein calls “another pandemic”: early pregnancies.
Hussein also points at the challenges of the environment they live in: “Young boys are becoming an ignored part of the society to the extent that the dropout rates are skyrocketing. While girls are excelling in education, many heading to university and accessing good jobs, boys head for the 'boda boda' trade. It is high time that this anomaly is addressed before we have a lost boys pandemic.”
Working with children with hearing impairment
Having strong local roots allows Dunia Moja to know the concerns and priorities of the different communities and respond to existing needs, whether they entail social issues such as early pregnancy among teenagers, gender concerns or disabilities.
Among the school teachers that participated in this programme was the deputy head teacher of Kibarani School for the Deaf, a dedicated teacher willing to embrace new teaching methods with a community that has been traditionally ignored and marginalised: children with hearing impairment.
“Making the internet available to the school enabled the teachers, now skilled 21st century teachers, to integrate the use of technology and enrich their lessons. Now the students go on virtual global trips, from taking a virtual safari to watch wildebeest migration from Masai Mara to witnessing a bison stampede in the US,” Hussein explains. “They get to witness the Pope addressing people from the Vatican and the Haj from Mecca. The silent world is put visual across aided by subtitles that the teachers explain further,” he adds.
This work has helped not only children with hearing impairment, but it’s contributing to changing social perceptions of people with disabilities. “People who have been able to visit the school and interacted with students have seen that these kids are just as vibrant as others their age,” says Hussein. “I must say that there is a positive awakening, slow as it may be, of our society towards empowering disabled kids.”
Kenya National School of Community Networks
Dunia Moja is part of the first National School of Community Networks in Kenya, a collective capacity-building and strengthening effort for the creation, development and consolidation of community networks. They currently have seven community networks as part of the school, which includes people with different levels of expertise, “so even though we bring professionals to take us through the different aspects of a community network, there’s a lot of support between the students themselves,” Hussein stresses.
Independence and autonomy are key so that the community can cover what it really needs, and this is something community networks provide, he emphasises. “These networks get to manage the links beyond the internet service providers, like providing offnet connectivity, especially for schools and students after school.”
The impact of the School can already be seen in the jobs created after it took place. “People going through this learning experience are now working as network installers, ICT trainers for schools, cyber cafe staff or trainers in coding. They also have a team of university students working on an app for 'boda boda' motorcyle taxis,” Hussein concludes.
Beyond Kenya, the National Schools are taking place in Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria and South Africa as part of the project “Supporting Community-led Approaches to Addressing the Digital Divide” led by APC and Rhizomatica, with support from the UK Government’s Digital Access Programme. In addition to being a learning powerhouse, each school seeks to be a multiplier of community-led initiatives, bringing together people from different communities around the country and fostering collaboration with other organisations acting towards digital inclusion.
Photo and video by Dunia Moja.
This piece is based on information provided by Dunia Moja as part of the project “Connecting the Unconnected”, adapted and updated for the Seeding Change column. This column presents the experiences of APC members and partners who were recipients of funding through APC's core subgranting programme, supported by Sida, and of subgrants offered through other APC projects.
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