Wireless for Communities (W4C), initiative of Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), the Internet Society (ISOC) and Ford Foundation connects rural and remote locations of India, where mainstream Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not so willing to provide internet connectivity as they feel their operations would not be commercially viable.The project involves line-of-sight wireless technology and low-cost Wi-Fi equipment which utilizes the unlicensed 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz spectrum bands to create community-owned and operated wireless networks. To further localize the initiative, it strengthens grassroots expertise by training community members in basic wireless technology, enabling these ‘barefoot engineers’ not only to run and manage these networks but to pass on their skills to others. We facilitate wireless set-up and management training programmes, digital literacy programmes and other entrepreneurship programmes to create local entrepreneurs.
LOCATION: Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh
Wireless Network Engineer (Trainer)
PRIOR TO W4C: Unemployed
When in October 2010 Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) and the Internet Society (ISOC) launched “Wireless for Communities”
(W4C) program in the region, Ansari joined their Internet training classes. Initially he had very little interest in the subject, but as classes progressed, he became fascinated by the wide scope and immense possibilities that the Internet offers. Today, Ansari has knowledge of Geo Specific locations and Wi-Fi routers. Besides, he also knows how to configure line of sight links.
Ansari has begun working as a networking engineer for W4C. He also runs a Cyber Cafe in Chanderi. According to Ansari, “My computer knowledge became helpful in opening a Cyber Cafe.” As Chanderi is a historic area with more than 300 monuments within a 5 kilometer radius, it is visited by a lot of tourists. Many of them use Anasari’s café to browse the Internet and avail of e-mail facilities, etc. The cyber cafe has also become a learning centre for the Chanderi youth.
Mudassar Ansari’s example underlines the changes that have been occurring in Chanderi. Three years ago, there was no cyber café, no teller machines and the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd was the only Internet provider in Chanderi. When W4C was established, it created an environment for the free flow of information.Hundreds of young people flocked to DEF’s Community Information Resource Center to learn computers, become digitally literate, gain vocational training in ICT, learn textile and apparel designs on computers, digital drum printers for full-sized designs and digitalization of all historical patterns.Mudassar Ansari is now not an isolated netizen ofChanderi; there are several people who accompany him in a journey of exploration.“My computer knowledge became helpful in opening a Cyber Cafe.” As Chanderi is a historic area with more than 300 monuments within a 5 kilometer radius, it is visited by a lot of tourists. Many of them use Anasari’s café to browse the Internet and avail of e-mail facilities, etc. The cyber cafe has also become a learning centre for the Chanderi youth.
LOCATION: Baran, Rajasthan
Wireless Network Engineer (Trainer)
PRIOR TO W4C: Volunteer with a local NGO
All the nodal points have facilities like video conferencing, telehealth, video cameras, web cams, projectors, printers, scanners and availability of more than 45 MBPS of broadband.
This broadband wireless Internet connectivity established with the help of Vijay and his newly acquired skills has already benefited at least 2,000 Sahariya tribes through digital literacy, vocational programs, tele-health programs, and entrepreneurial skill building.
Vijay adds, “We conveyed to the farmers that most of them have remained poor because of the remnants of an archaic agricultural system, which is based on inefficient market structures. Now, they are convinced about the fact that through Internet connectivity, they can benefit greatly from easy access to market information and vertical market integration.”
“This broadband wireless Internet connectivity established with the help of Vijay and his newly acquired skills has already benefited at least 2,000 Sahariya tribes through digital literacy, vocational programs, tele-health programs, and entrepreneurial skill building.”
RAJESH KUMAR VERMA
LOCATION: Giridih, Jharkhand
NGO founder & director
PRIOR TO W4C: Social Worker
Rajesh Kumar Verma, 37, is a graduate in political science. He lives in Giridih, a backward district, which is one of the most active corridors of Naxalism in the country.Before the W4C project took off in Giridih, Rajesh had no inclination towards any training in technology,computers,networking or website development. In 2012, under the Wireless for Community program of ISOC & DEF, Rajesh got trained in wireless technology.During the training, Rajesh acquired the expertise to establish and provide Wi-Fi broadband Internet connectivity in hisarea of operation. As a result, Rajesh’s NGO, Nav Jagriti Mandal, is now equipped with low cost Wi-Fi connectivity, a connectivity which was earlier available only 50 kilometres away from his centre. Rajesh has also been able to spread this Internet connectivity to several users in a 5 kilometre radius. He has helped in developing more the 25 Village Council websites, and provided connectivity to local government offices, small business units and few village councillors.
“He has helped in developing more the 25 Village Council websites, and provided connectivity to local government offices, small business units and few village councillors“.
LOCATION: Khandela (Baran), Rajasthan
Editor Khoj Khabar, a local newspaper
PRIOR TO W4C: Unemployed
When theW4C program of ISOC-DEF was launched, the Khandela centre in Baran began using broadband Wi-Fi connectivity. Availing of this facility, Rajkumari was in a batch of 10-15 girls who were trained by the centre and became adept in computer usage. Now, Rajkumari spends much of her time on the computer and surfs the Internet. She edits a local newspaper, ‘Khoj Khabar’ (meaning: News Hunt) that focuses on the Sahariya tribe, who were forced to work as bonded agricultural labourers by the landed gentry of the region. Victims of poor governance, neglect, and misguided policies, the tribal and backward caste people of Baran have largely remained poor, asset-less and illiterate.
“The paper only covers news about the Sahariya people,” says Rajkumari. When the day’s work is done, she spends time teaching science to schoolchildren.
Some of the skills that tribal youth acquire at Khandela W4C centre include basic word-processing and accounting software skills. They also surf the Internet and converse with students and faculty across all the seven centres in Baran via video conferencing. The centre is frequented by schoolchildren, who in their free time watch educational videos and learn origami, and drawing.Now, Rajkumari spends much of her time on the computer and surfs the Internet. She edits a local newspaper, ‘Khoj Khabar’ (meaning: News Hunt) that focuses on the Sahariya tribe, who were forced to work as bonded agricultural labourers by the landed gentry of the region.
LOCATION: Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh
PRIOR TO W4C: School Teacher
In his one room tutorial home with limited infrastructure and no computer based teaching-learning equipment, Sharma’s teaching delivery had been limited to a blackboard and few old subject books. However, he had always wished to add new tools and provisions like a computer with connectivity so that his students could learn in the most efficient way and achieve the maximum output. Until recently, the lack of connectivity restricted his desire to bring about these changes in his profession. At long last, in July 2012, this dream was realised as his tutorial home became equipped with low cost Wi-Fi connectivity. This was made possible as a result of the Wi-Fi services provided by the W4C (Wireless for Communities) program in Chanderi. Sharma has set up his own PC lab. His Wi-Fi tutorial home is the new K-12 resource centre in Chanderi with access to audio-visual learning.
Today, Sharma’s skills are in great demand and there is a long queue for enrolment at his centre. Every day Sharma runs 5-6 batches of around 20 students each. Thus in Chanderi and beyond, the W4C, continues to empower citizens and communities with Internet connectivity.
“With low cost and reliable connectivity, there is a new found joy in learning and teaching at the centre,” reflects Sharma.
BIRNI BLOCK OFFICE
LOCATION: Birni, Giridih, Jharkhand
Goverment office district sub-division
Office without reliable connectivity
In today’s fast-paced world, if any of the blocks are not online or connected through computers and Internet, they are always lagging behind, in terms of both responsibilities and delivery of services, as well as accountability.
Incidentally, for a long time, Birni and all other blocks in Giridih have had computers and all the necessary software to manage and update all the government and citizen services work. But they were unable to update any data, or coordinate work with their district and state headquarters offices because they did not have Internet connectivity except through government owned BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited) or through data card, both of which were not reliable and had very restricted bandwidth.While the other 11 blocks of Giridih still struggle and lag behind without reliable broadband connectivity, the Birni block office and several other offices in its neighbourhood are up to date, connected,and update their website and MIS (Management Information System) in real time.According to Gautam Kumar, who is a computer operator in Birni Block office, “With uninterrupted connectivity, now we are able to do all the online entries of muster rolls of daily wages workers, pension fund schemes, old age schemes, etc. In recent times, all departmental information comes through email. In this situation, W4C connectivity is a lifeline for Birni Block Centre.” He adds,“There is a demand for video conferencing from district and state office.”
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
LOCATION: Birni, Giridih, Jharkhand
Block level office of education department
Working without reliable connectivity
The challenge for most of the mid-day meals record keeping is that they have to do the entry online as there is no offline console or interface for entering mid-day meal related information – at least not for schools in Jharkhand. Birni is a small block in the Adivasi dominated Jharkhand state, which has 215 schools managed by Department of Education (DOE).
Unlike many other remote districts in Jharkhand, Birni’s school mid-day meal status is up-to-date. This is because Birni’s DOE office uses broadband Wi-Fi connectivity provided by the W4C program through local NGO called Nav Jagriti Mandal. Ironically, even through DOE is a government office; it does not use the government’s biggest telecom, BSNL’s services because of its poor and unreliable quality.
Abhishek Gaurav, special online data entry operator at DOE in Birni says, “I do all the jobs online. The W4C connectivity helps in preparing the online annual report and budget. It has also revolutionized our email communications across our department in Birni. As a matter of public accountability, the online entry of mid-day meal gives details of all the beneficiaries i.e., how many children from a school got the meal on a particular day of the particular month.” Waiting for expansion of the W4C project’s Wi-Fi network provision, the DOE is interested in having the Internet for all the schools so that children are exposed to digital literacy and interactive learning.
Providing advanced health care through wireless connectivity
Since Chanderi is a very poor town with almost no medical facilities, DEF has helped the town to be equipped with ECG and NIP as well as other tests with the help of software and machines. It has also made easy communication with doctors through technology.
Securing family income through wireless connectivity
With the help of DEF, people are now enjoying the benefits of a cyber café at Chanderi. According to an anonymous user, in June 2015, there were about 100 people who visited the cyber café. The security guard at the café records the mobile number & address.
Chanderi is known for its architecture, masonry, stone carving, weaving and elegant sarees. Rapid urbanization has made the condition of weavers worse as they find it difficult to earn their livelihood. As a statistical comparison, these entrepreneurs earn about 2-3 thousand Rupees per month.
Sahariya tribe in Baran district of Rajasthan
Sahariya tribe in Baran district of Rajasthan are now reaping the benefits of wireless internet. In this district, 40% are tribal population which is nomadic laborers are illiterate. 60% of the women are illiterate. These communities have historically been subjugated.
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