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Society, Politics & Law

Afro-Web: Interview

Updated Wednesday 1st March 2006

How are young designers in Kenya using the web to fight poverty? We asked the web team

NairoWeb page Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Ineke Aquarius

What is NairoBits? (answered by Ineke Aquarius, project co-ordinator NairoBits Amsterdam)
NairoBits was founded in the Netherlands to realise cultural projects that create two-way channels of communication between Africa and the rest of the world, thus improving Africa's media presence. The first impetus was the initiators' wish to gain a first-hand, less media-tainted knowledge of Africa. Next came the urge to take action to counter the digital divide between Africa and the developed world. Bearing this in mind NairoBits started developing a computer course that would teach young Africans the skills of a Webmaster, thus giving them a voice on the Internet. The course would also provide the students with means to gain some financial independence and a more self determined future. The plan was set to start January 2000: After creating all these agreements and partnerships the NairoBits team set down to the hard slog of getting financial sponsorship for the project. After approaching every possible fund, two days before our deadline, the Prince Claus Fund became our first financial supporter, quickly followed by ICCO, Sans Souci, Cordaid, Mama Cash and the Dutch Embassy.

February and March 2000 were two intensive months of training for the 20 participants. The youths learnt to work with five industry standard software applications: Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Microsoft Word, Gif Builder and Netscape. They also learnt to scan, print and maintain the computers. By the end of two months each youth had made his/her own website with self made photos of their city, a story written about their new home on a virtual deserted island, a computer drawn self portrait, a group made animation on a self chosen theme, and an animated button to link the pages together.

From April to December 2000, the youths continued training for 2 days and 2 mornings. Faith Longwe, information technologist from Nairobi, agreed to train with us and co-ordinate the project for the rest of the year 2000. During the part-time training programme, Faith was assisted by guest teachers from the Internet community in Nairobi, short visits from the Dutch crew and by mail contact.

In the original plan, the main partner MYSA (all NairoBits students are members of MYSA, who selected the youths), would adopt the project and organise spreading the skills towards the other 10 000 youths. Plans changed, because the participants, initiators and sponsors feel there is more to achieve. In short: a new organisation called NairoBits Kenya is to be set up in order to bring the project to a higher, self supported, longer level in a period of 3 to 4 years.

 
Nairobi Street Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission

How did the idea for NairoBits originate?
NairoBits originally was a one-year course for 20 youths, developed and organised by web designers Emer Beamer and Hester Ezra and artist Fiona Whelan in Amsterdam, co-ordinated in Nairobi by Faith Longwe (Kenyan IT-professional) and Ineke Aquarius.

What has happened at NairoBits since the Well Connected team visited? (answered by Wilson Masaka)
Since then, NairoBits has got a nice office in Westlands whereby training of new MYSA youths is taking place, all the trainees being given lessons by the new guest teachers as well as working on commercial websites.

What sort of response do you have from the NairoBits website?
Many questions from people who have the same ideas. Many people who want to compliment us ask for information, want to chat/mail with the students, want to help by teaching or donating, i.e. software. Many people who are looking for jobs.

How are Wilson Masaka and Joseph Mulei getting on since they left to get jobs with web design companies?
Wilson is still with the Nairobits working on projects basically designing sites and receiving training from the new guest teachers together with the group. On the other hand Mulei is also still working with Wananchi online and he doing quite well thus gaining some more experience.

Since Joseph and Wilson left NairoBits have any other members had similar success?
Three of them won a scholarship to study for a year in Norway. All the others are still in NairoBits earning a small salary for creating websites for clients, next to their training and training other youths.

What contact do students have from people around the world via the website? (answered by Simon Matheka)
The contact that the NairoBits students have with people around the world has actually strengthened the students' belief in making our future bright, since we are getting online support not only from Holland but also as far as USA. We (the students) have also secured ourselves a group of experienced web designers in Holland who are playing a vital role in improving our web design skills.

 
Surfing at a computer Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

How does the Internet change these students lives?
The Internet has provided a ray of hope to these youths since they can apply for jobs now using the web design skills that they've acquired. The youths have also learned to work with five industry standard software applications: Adobe PhotoShop, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Microsoft Word, GIF Builder and Netscape. They also learnt to scan, print and maintain the computers.

Is MYSA still involved with NairoBits, and if so to what extent?
MYSA and NairoBits are partners in development since they both have one aim to improve the lives of those youths with creativity but not the resource.

Will access be a problem for these students once the course is over?
There are very many Internet cafes in Nairobi where all people are surfing and e-mailing. NairoBits' students will probably find jobs where they work with computers in the office. At the MYSA there are PCs!

Do you feel that NairoBits has succeeded in its goal?
NairoBits has succeeded in its original goals. With the current set of goals, to become a self-sustaining organisation, we are still busy. Some of the progress we have made is intangible, such as improving the general skills of the trainees. To date we are not sure if we will make it due to various setbacks. We are continually breaking new ground. Also, the influence of the Kenyan economy takes its toll.

What future directions do you think the project will take?
NairoBits encourages the participants to transfer their knowledge to their fellow youths. After two years of hard work, foundation NairoBits wants to take the opportunity to enlarge the Internet community among the slum inhabitants, to train a broader base of youth, to enable the current participants to continue their learning process and to teach them how to make profits out of their talents.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

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