Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bridge Builders 1: Rise of the Youth Corpers.

This is the first instalment of what I will be calling “Bridge Builders”. Bridge Builders are people and institutions that are working to help people bridge the digital divide in our society.

Some would claim that Surulere is the heart of Lagos. This borough of Lagos with an estimated population of anything between a quarter to half a million inhabitants is dense puree of Lagos life representing every extreme of the society. From the wealthiest of the wealthy to the most destitute of the poor, all are found deeply intertwined within its maze-like streets.

Surulere, Lagos - Nigeria Surulere panorama taken from Dr. P.T.F’s Flickr page.

Surelere’s very nature means you will find those who are fully enjoying the benefits of information technology living cheek by jowl with those who are not. You will find those for whom a computer is an unknown quantity on the edge of their of consciousness – certainly not something they own, use or interact with regularly. Certainly not a tool with which their lives are interwoven.

Members of the National Youth Service Corps (“Youth Corpers” to the majority of us) decided that this just wasn’t right. Many of these young men and women had grown up with computers. Many have their own computers including laptops. As computer science or engineering graduates they know how computing technology has transformed the lives of individuals and of entire societies. They understood that a dangerous number of people, particularly children, in Surulere were going through life with no access to computer education. Without such an education the opportunities available to people through computing is at risk of giving many Surulere inhabitants a complete miss.image

So they decided to do something about it. The InfoTech Community Development (CD) Group was created to bring the skills of the computer professionals and enthusiasts among them to bear on the problem. In their own words:

“InfoTech is a special CD group in the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) scheme. As our slogan reads “bringing information to the finger tips of the masses”, we believe that with our expertise is ICT we can educate less opportune people in this area. Thus, the group was established with the following objectives in mind;

Our Objectives

1. To enlighten our Community about the relevance of ICT today.

2. To impact youths with ICT skills through the medium of training and encourage them to take up careers in the field.

3. To liaise with the Government Agencies and Non-Governmental organizations with the same vision.

4. To publish and promote publications that creates ICT awareness.”

These are not just words. These Corpers are currently engaged in several projects that are impacting the Surulere communities. They have opened information technology clubs in 10 secondary schools and are involved in training the senior secondary students in computer usage. They are also actively engaged in training the staff of the local NYSC secretariat in computer usage.

These laudable efforts have surprisingly met with some resistance. Take the case of the school proprietor who has no computer training program in his school’s curriculum and yet is very reluctant to grant the Corpers even an hour each week to train his students. Some people, even educators, clearly don’t get it.

The Corpers are not daunted, neither are they content to limit themselves to this training programme. They are actively engaged in building an ICT training centre where more in-depth training can take place. They envision PCs and Servers, networked together with modern software and connected to the internet. This of course, costs money and they don’t have it.

So, they pound the pavement talking to businesses and individuals trying to raise money. Taking pledges of cash, they are equally desirous of donated computers, printers, hubs and switches, and legal copies of software. They are committed to achieving their goals despite discouraging responses from people and organisations understandably reluctant to part with money and equipment during tough economic times.

So if you live or work in Surulere, or perhaps you just breeze in eat pepper soup (or is it lafun?) at Shitta once in while, take a thought to helping these bridge builders in some way. You can visit their facility, look around and see what you can do. If you’re not comfortable with giving them cash or hardware, you can choose to mentor them, or actively participate in their training programmes as facilitators. If you’re a principal or school owner, you can let them into your school and encourage your students to join the IT clubs. Let’s all help ensure that no one is left behind, at least in Surulere.

Contact details are available on their rather nicely laid out website.

UPDATE: I have just been informed that NYSC has asked the Corpers to stop collecting contributions from individuals. They are only allowed to receive sponsorship and donations from organisations. So if you run or work for an organisation that would like to be associated with this great enterprise, please don't miss the chance to make life a whole lot better for someone.


Do you know of any bridge builders out there in Lagos or other parts of the nation? Let us know about them and we just might write about them in Digital Crossings and hopefully, get more support for such praiseworthy works.


Olamide Ayeni said...

Hi Dejo,

I actually don't know what to say but, that was a masterpiece. Not because i was once an Infotech member but, because i read between the lines and i saw a great writer in you.

You've said it all.

Thanks for that write-up

Dejo said...

Thanks! The comment is much appreciated. Now if you would just send my blog to 500 of your closest friends ... (:


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