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Using ICT to empower the young

WOMAN'S INSTINCT
By NANJINIA WAMUSWA | June 9th 2012

Priya Budhabhatti, 30, is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Craft Silicon Foundation that offers free Information and Communications Technology (ICT) training and empowerment programme to poor youths in city slums through a customised computer bus. She spoke to NANJINIA WAMUSWA

Q. Tell us about Craft Silicon Foundation.

A. Craft Silicon Foundation is a registered non-profit-making organisation that offers free Information and Communications Technology (ICT) education to the less privileged youths from slums and children’s homes. It does so through a mobile computer classroom that is a bus fully equipped with computers.  

The project’s aim is to promote universal computer literacy to youths and young girls in the slums and enable them use computer knowledge and skills to seize opportunities that will make them self reliant and also initiate and promote developments in these areas. Youths who benefit from the programme are expected to go out into the market and create jobs, because ICT is about job creation.

Q. Tell us about the computer bus.

A. It is an ICT mobile computer lab fitted with computers, specialised servers, education courseware, Internet, printers and scanners. It is also fitted with solar panels that power the equipment.

I chose a bus over building classroom blocks in the different areas we cover because it’s affordable compared to constructing classes in every area, equipping these classes with computers and employing teachers. However, with the bus, the same equipment and teachers serve many more children at a lower cost.

Q. How did your background influence this?

A. I was born in 1982 in Nairobi. I attended Kongoni Primary School, where l was the only pupil of Indian origin, but bonded well with local pupils. I later joined Ngara Girls High School.

After secondary school l lacked money for college fees to further my education and had to find ways to get things going. Thankfully, l got a job at Equity as a cashier. Equity was then a microfinance institution where operations were manual, including writing and counting money.

I’m glad to have been part of it at that moment because, though challenging, l learned a lot. I used my salary to pay for evening classes at Nairobi Computer Data Centre, while pursuing a diploma in ICT.

It was while at Equity that l met my husband, Kamal Budhabhatti, a software developer. He’d come to do business with Equity. We realised we had so much in common.

After marriage we started Craft Silicon Company. He handled technical issues while l handled all administration duties including tea girl receptionist and cleaning. With time the company grew and l became its CEO.

?Q. What inspired you to start this project?

A.As I have indicated, I was born and brought up in a humble background. My life experiences are similar to those of many young girls and youths in the slums. This is what inspired me to start the programme. Despite the setbacks in my early life, I still held onto a dream to triumph and assist the needy. I was passionate about it and with this project, I’m living my childhood dream.

Prior to starting this foundation, I visited various slums over holidays to donate foodstuffs and celebrate with the children and youth. Through interaction, I discovered they had great potential, talents and dreams, but couldn’t access education and it was not their choice. Some ended up in crime while girls became pregnant at an early stage.

I realised giving them foodstuffs and material things would not end their problems, but that education would be a long-term investment to unlock successes in their future. So then I opted to help them in the area of ICT because computer literacy is core to all aspects of our lives. It literally connects us to the world.

 

Q. How do you strike a balance between your family and job?

A. This is easy with a supportive husband. I’m ambitious and he encourages me all along. Whenever I have an idea, I share it with him and he guides me around it. He helped me come up with the slum ICT project and he’s the main sponsor.  He’s made me who I am today.

?Q. Whom does the project target, why and what are the qualifications?

A. I target girls aged nine to 13, so as to instil in them a positive attitude towards science and technical subjects, often thought to be a preserve of boys. We also target young men and women aged 18-24 who have completed secondary school education and are unable to further their education. This helps keep them off drugs and crime.

Other than age, one needs just the basic education and interest to qualify. Mobilisation is achieved through partnerships with local youth groups, churches, NGOs, religious and community leaders.

Q. How is the training conducted?

A. The bus moves in the slums of Kawangware, Kibera, Huruma, Kangemi and Mukuru kwa Nyayo on given days of the week. Every Sunday, the bus is specifically dedicated to young girls, who enjoy four sessions of two-hours training.

The youth classes accommodate 36 students at a go. They have three sessions a day.

The training is made up of three stages. On recruitment, students join the first stage where they are taught basic computer operations. In the second stage, they move to the Craft Silicon Foundation Centre for advanced ICT training skills.

And in the third stage, they learn communication, business and entrepreneurial skills offered at the centre. A full course takes six months to complete. There are three intakes every year for the youth and young girls.

Those who complete the course successfully graduate and receive certificates.

Q. After completion of the training, where do they go?

A. So far 6,000 students have gone through the programme with most of these securing decent employment in various ICT firms. Others have started small businesses within the slum. The foundation’s main sponsor also offers opportunity to bright students and links others to his clients and friends for employment.

The young girls continue with their education focusing on science and technical subjects.

Q. How many staff do you have?

A. I have ten permanent employees who include the bus driver and tutors. We also accommodate volunteers from learning institutions.

Q. What are some of the challenges you are facing?

A. The main challenge is finance. To acquire and design the bus into a computer lab cost me Sh10 million. The programme is free of charge, therefore, has attracted hundreds of students who want to benefit. Yet I have only one bus. This forces me to put on hold many other students until those in training complete their course.

Some students get a chance to study, but drop out for reasons I cannot tell, therefore, wasting time for the serious ones.

Q. What are you proud of?

A. That my project is the first of its kind where computer literacy is propagated on wheels in an innovative and environmentally friendly manner. This makes me proud.

To have transformed the lives of nearly 6,000 poor children and youths in slums through ICT, and counting, is another.

Similarly, the project was recognised in 2011 by CIO East African award for being the most innovative ICT project with a huge impact on youths. It was the only charitable organisation among the top 100 ICT companies.

Q. How is your relationship with the beneficiaries?

A. All who have gone through or are still in the programme are my siblings, and the small girls are my children. It is a friendship that started way before the project. I have a big family and the responsibility to take care of it.

My eight-year-old daughter likes and enjoys being with the young girls in the slums. Whenever I want to introduce something to them I first try it out on her and if she likes it, then I’m assured they too, will like it. This formula works well.

Q. What is your future plan for the project?

I wish to source for more sponsors and increase the number of ICT buses to provide services to the poor across the country. To do so, I’m organising a Technology Expo and Charity Walk dubbed “Tego” in July to raise funds.

The event will bring together individuals and corporates with a common goal of developing ICT

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