Dear Friends,
Read "More Lemonade", an emotional story about how the Nakaseke telecentre changed the lives of the rural community in Rich Fuchs' own words in the latest issue of the telecentre magazine (April_June 2010). Rich Fuchs has been involved with the telecentre movement for almost 25 years. He launched the first telecentres in North America and worked closely with telecentre start-ups in Africa and Asia. He was IDRC's Director of ICT'4D from 2001-06 and served as their Regional Director in SE Asia. Rich is co-founder and Vice Chair of the Telecentre.org Foundation. The column, telecentresRus will be a collection of stories from telecentres around the world. You can reach Richard at rfuchs@futureworks.ca. In the above picture Rich Fuchs is preparing for a live demonstration of tele-conferencing.

Here I am presenting some beautiful excerpts from the story that shows what a telecentre can do in the lives of the rural community. This is one of my favourites :)

The experience changed my life, forever. It was 1997. I had travelled to Uganda, East Africa to help with the selection of partners and the location for the first-ever telecentre in that part of the world. The drive to rural Nakaseke from the capital city, Kampala, took almost two hours, the last 40 minutes of which was down a narrow jungle path. Villagers drove past us on bicycles with their crop of plantain, a sort of vegetable-banana, tied to their bike chassis with telephone wire. No telephone call had been made from this district for 10 years. The telephone wire was more valuable as twine!

The poorest place

This was the poorest place I had ever been. It was part of the infamous Luwero Triangle from where the current President Museveni had launched his final successful assault on the forces of Idi Amin and Milton Obote (often referred to as Obote II). The violence and genocide in the village had been gruesome. 10 years later people still walked with hunched shoulders. With heads down, eye contact barely occurred.

Several months before my visit, the President had returned to Nakaseke and dedicated a new memorial building for all the souls that had departed. I visited it on my first day. When the concrete cover with iron rebar handles opened the basement repository, 1,500 skulls stared up at me. The mix of horror and almost religious moment deeply affected me. It was too spiritual and too private to use my camera. This was a very private, very personal horror that had befallen each skinless face beneath me. A "killing field" on a different continent!

We visited the school in the village and environs. Smiling African children in uniforms of green and white colours. No shoes. No power. No running water. The headmaster, sitting in his thatched-hut-office, told us, "The maize crop failed last year. The students walk from their rural homes to the school and we don't have anything to give them for lunch. They return home in the evening on empty stomachs." Yet the children smiled and stood neatly in line. They sang and played their drums for us. We were served lunch with all of them watching. Boiled beef, plantain and peanut sauce! With formality and special moment, the pop bottles appeared in their plastic transport box to be served with the meal as a testament to the event and the special visitors.

Form library to telecentre

The Library Committee assembled to meet us for the principal purpose of our visit. Where would the new telecentre be located and what would be more important, the computers or the books? Their Committee's name had hastily been changed prior to our visit to the 'Telecentre Committee'. There had been a longstanding tradition of librarianship in Uganda. That was until Idi Amin took power and, much like the Khmer Rouge, half a world away at just about the same time in history, education and learning came to be associated with treachery. Appearing educated and curious were grounds for death.

The small, 10X12 shambled building that had been home to the manually operated telephone switch in Nakaseke was now the principal residence for four families. Of course, the Uganda Post and Telcoms Ltd (UPTL), as it was then called, didn't know this. When we first met them, they described the telephone service in Nakaseke as being basic, but functional.

We held a special event in the Kampala International Convention Centre on 'Telecentres in Development'. Arriving by chartered bus, 75 people from rural Nakaseke came all the way to be there. They were all dressed in their Sunday finest. The others at the day-long session were from the capital city, Kampala, from institutions like Makerere University, UNESCO, local ISPs, fledgling computer companies, along with politicians and other assorted Ugandan literati.

Read the full story: More Lemonade...!


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