Lilongwe, February 24: Johnson Sembo, 28, did what many people would consider bizarre when he left Mzuzu City for his village to acquire Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) skills.
When many Malawians continue to follow the trend to go to cities and towns to bring their career ambitions to fruition, Sembo instead chose to go to the rural area of his village to realize his dream.
“After I finished my purchasing and supply course at Mzuzu University, the next thing I wanted to do was to get ICT skills,” Sembo said. “Computer knowledge is a must for every job- seeker today.”
He said it was as he was contemplating enrolling for an ICT course in Mzuzu that he heard an ICT facility had opened near his Peter Mwangalaba Village, about 22 Km west of Karonga Town.
“When I heard about the facility that had been set up near my village complete with computers, I became very happy. I rushed home and enrolled for an ICT certificate course at the centre,” Sembo said.
The facility that lured Sembo home was the Lupaso Community Telecentre project that the Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority (MACRA) had built for the local people.
Just five months after Vice President Khumbo Kachali officially opened the K80- million telecentre on September 6 last year, the facility has become the pride of the locals who refer to it as “our prize”.
Stanley Mwandosya, the Lupaso Telecentre Manager, said MACRA could not have given people of the area a better project which, he observes, is contributing to the improvement of their lives.
“People are very pleased and thank government and MACRA for putting up such a beautiful community multipurpose telecentre at Lupaso,” Mwandosya told Mana. “It is making life easy for them.”
MACRA financed the telecentre after seven villages of Peter Mwangalaba, Mwakwama, Simon, Mwambanya, Sefu, Mwandosya and Donald provided sand and bricks for the project.
The facility is one of 43 telecentres that different stakeholders including the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), World Bank, MACRA, and other local operators have so far set up across the country in partnership with government through the Ministry of Information.
Government has invested in the programme more than K800 million through the Ministry of Information, Emily Khamula- Lungu, MACRA Deputy Director for ICT Development, told Mana in an earlier interview.
Khamula-Lungu said the government recognizes that access to ICT services are a key ingredient in its national and community development efforts, especially given that Malawi’s economy is agro-based.
“With an agricultural-based economy, people need information on prices and sources of agricultural inputs as well as markets and prices to sell their products,” Khamula-Lungu said.
She said: “Unfortunately, the bulk of the ICT infrastructure for Malawi like many African countries is located in urban areas where only 15 per cent of the population lives.”
Mwandosya said at the beginning, people were not sure if the project would be completed due to what he called political reasons and earth quake disaster that hit the district on December 6, 2009.
“The earth quake destroyed many buildings within and outside Karonga Town, including part of the telecentre project,” Mwandosya said. “The telecentre is changing many things for the better.”
With the construction of the telecentre, people in villages around Lupaso no longer spend money going to Karonga Town to access the internet or other ITC services as they used to in the past.
“People here are connected to the entire world through the internet. They don’t travel long distances to access other ICT services as they are at their door-step,” bragged Mwandosya.
The magnificent centre offers internet, computer tutorial, photocopy, printing, lamination, binding, library, internet tutorials and conference services.
Mwandosya said primary and secondary school pupils, school leavers, school teachers and religious leaders were some of the people who frequently patronize the telecentre.
“The centre is very popular among the locals as they use it as a source of knowledge and where they can acquire computing skills,” he said. “We receive about 117 people on a monthly basis.”
The telecentre, according to Mwandosya, is so user-friendly that even those who do not know how to read or write also patronize it to access its range of ITC services.
“When such people come to Lupaso Telecentre to access any service, the customer care officer assists that person accordingly after the client has explained what they want,” Mwandosya said.
The customer care officer is none other than Sembo who is thankful to MACRA for the project. He said it had not only made him computer literate, but also given him a job opportunity.
“MACRA has done a very good thing. Can you imagine anyone doing a computer course in the village? People are coming here for ICT training and then leave for the town to seek jobs,” Sembo said.
Sembo encouraged school leavers in Karonga District to make full use of the facility for them to become computer literate. He said its ICT courses were comparatively affordable.
“I would urge all school leavers to come here for the ICT courses,” he said. “Of course, there are ICT programmes in towns and cities, but they very expensive compared to our charges.”
Godfrey Munkhondya, Chairperson for the Media and Communications Committee of Parliament, praised MACRA for its good gesture, saying knowledge of ICT technology was vital in today’s world.
Munkhondya said at first when computers came, they were seen as ideal for office use only, but with the introduction of the internet, they had become a means of communication to the outside world.
“Lupaso is in a remote area, and one would think being in a rural area, the computer will not be useful. But the opposite is true,” said Munkhondya, who is also Member of Parliament for Chitipa Wenya.
He said since Lupaso was a rural area with an agro-based economy, the internet at the telecentre would help farmers advertise their agricultural products, and thereby improve their households’ well being.
Lupaso area is the largest producer of tomatoes and other vegetable crops in the district. Farmers grow vegetables throughout the year, and supply them to Karonga Town.
‘In general, the telecentre will assist farmers in advertising their crops. Through the telecenters, farmers can get information on inputs, crop prices and markets,” Munkhondya told Mana.
He said apart from being of great importance to farmers, young people would also find the facility useful in their quest for computer knowledge, and would assist school leavers when applying for jobs.
“Right now, I am sponsoring somebody who is taking a computer course in Mzuzu,” Munkhondya said. “If this facility was in my constituency, the course would have been less costly and benefited many.”
He said it was the wish of his committee and all Members of Parliament that the Telecentre Programme should be rolled out to all constituencies so that it benefits as many Malawians as possible.
In commending MACRA for financing the Lupaso Community Telecentre project, Munkhondya said that if there was one area where people could see their tax back, “it is this place.”