ALIN Awarded 2011 Access to Learning Award by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
James Nguo, ALIN Regional Director, rejoices after the announcement in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo: © BMGF
Members of these communities use the technology and other tools at ALIN’s Knowledge Centers to gain information to improve their health, increase their incomes, and better their lives.
ALIN’s 12 Knowledge Centers - known as Maarifa Centers - focus on providing practical information, particularly in the area of agricultural development. The vast majority of people in these regions are small-scale farmers who need information about issues such as drought, pests, and finding markets for their crops. The centers offer information geared toward the communities’ specific needs.
"We understand that each community we serve is different, and each individual we serve is different," said James Nguo, director of ALIN. "Some communities need information about water harvesting, while others are dealing with a particular kind of pest. We’ve also found that while some people have taken to the computers and technology, others prefer live demonstrations or lectures in their native language."
In addition to providing agricultural information to farmers, Maarifa Centers address health issues such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, ways to improve people’s daily lives such as how to create an energy efficient biogas stove, and administrative requirements such as applying for an official identity card or getting tax exempt status. Some people have used the centers to create groups for the disabled, earn advanced degrees online, or create thriving small businesses.
"Thousands of people in these remote communities of Eastern Africa are improving their lives through the information available at these centers," said Deborah Jacobs, director of the Global Libraries initiative for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at an award ceremony in San Juan, Puerto Rico. "All knowledge workers can learn from this inventive model of delivering targeted, customized information."
"We understand that each community we serve is different, and each individual we serve is different,"
All Maarifa Centers offer free access to computers and the Internet and provide free training in how to use them. Because there is only one paid staff member at each center, ALIN relies on volunteer facilitators to help provide core services. These volunteers receive training in a variety of key areas, including computer skills, good farming practices, treatment of medical conditions, and communications skills, which they use to educate others in their communities.
For example, ALIN and the staff of the Kyuso Maarifa Center formed a group of seven farmers to participate in a pilot project that sent them to other parts of the country where they could learn techniques to deal with their extremely dry, arid climate. When the farmers returned to Kyuso, they implemented those techniques and were able to significantly improve their yields. The farmers worked with the staff of the Maarifa Center to pass these innovations on to others, through demonstrations, field days, videos, podcasts, and articles in ALIN’s Baobab magazine. One community pastor even preached about the new techniques in church.
"From Baobab and from the information here in our Maarifa Center, I got to know about water harvesting. I came to know more about good agricultural practices from other areas," said Ali Hassan Mulei, one of the seven farmers who participated in the pilot project. "During the dry seasons you get nothing from the farm. But I prepare the land during the dry season. I get some cash from my business, go to the farm, make terraces, make structures for water harvesting, and I wait for the rainy season to come."
The foundation's annual Access to Learning Award recognizes the innovative efforts of libraries and similar organizations outside the United States in providing free access to computers and the Internet. It is awarded by the foundation’s Global Libraries initiative, which works to open the world of knowledge, information, and opportunity to help improve the lives of millions of people.
Microsoft, a partner of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has offered US$270,000 worth of software and technology training curriculum to help the organization serve the local community.
ALIN will use its award to expand its network of Knowledge Centers, upgrade its hardware and software, increase the number of computers available to its users, and expand on the training and education provided to its community knowledge facilitators. Part of the money will also be dedicated to creating an innovation centre in an effort to create ideas in information and communication technology.
- For more on the award click http://www.gatesfoundation.org/atla/Pages/2011-atla-winner-alin-eastern-africa.aspx.
- Watch video: Bill Gates Sr congratulations ALIN on winning the Access to Learning Award 2011.
- Watch video: Nguo accepting the award and being interviewed about it
- More about Maarifa Centres
- Read Baobab online