Johnson Sembo, 28, did the unthinkable when he left Mzuzu City in northern Malawi for his village to acquire information and communication technology (ICT) skills. When many Malawians go to cities and towns to bring their career ambitions to fruition, Sembo did the reverse.
“After I finished my purchasing and supply course at Mzuzu University, the next thing I wanted to do was to get ICT skills,” Sembo said. “Computer knowledge is a must for every job-seeker today.”
While he considered enrolling for an ICT course in Mzuzu, Sembo says he heard about the opening of an ICT facility near his Peter Mwangalaba Village, about 22 km west of Karonga Town.
“When I heard about the facility that had been set up near my village, complete with computers, I was very happy. I rushed home and enrolled for an ICT certificate course at the centre,” Sembo said.
The facility that lured Sembo home was the Lupaso Community Telecentre project that the Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority (Macra) built for the local people. The K80 million facility was officially opened on September 6 last year, and it has become the pride of the locals.
Stanley Mwandosya, manager for Lupaso Telecentre, said the project is contributing to the improvement of their lives.
“It is making life easier for people here,” Mwandosya said.
Macra financed the telecentre after seven villages of Peter Mwangalaba, Mwakwama, Simon, Mwambanya, Sefu, Mwandosya and Donald provided sand and bricks for the project.
The facility is one of the 43 telecentres that different stakeholders, including the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), World Bank, Macra and other local operators have so far set up across the country in partnership with the Ministry of Information and Civic Education.
Government has invested in the project over K800 million through the Ministry of Information, Emily Khamula-Lungu, Macra deputy director for ICT Development, said in an earlier interview.
Khamula-Lungu said government recognises that access to ICT services are a key ingredient in its national and community development efforts, especially given that Malawi’s economy is agro-based.
“With an agricultural-based economy, people need information on prices and sources of agricultural inputs as well as markets and prices to sell their products,” she said, adding: “Unfortunately, the bulk of the ICT infrastructure for Malawi, like many African countries, is located in urban areas where only 15 percent of the population lives.”
According to Mwandosya, at the beginning, people were not sure if the project would be completed due to an earthquake disaster that hit the district on December 6 2009.
“The earthquake destroyed many buildings within and outside Karonga Town, including part of the telecentre project,” Mwandosya said.
With the construction of the telecentre, people in villages around Lupaso no longer spend money going to Karonga Town to access the Internet or other ITC services as they used to in the past.
The centre offers Internet, computer tutorial, photocopy, printing, lamination, binding, library, Internet tutorials and conference services.
Mwandosya said primary and secondary school pupils, school-leavers, school teachers and religious leaders are some of the people who patronise the telecentre.
“They use it as a source of knowledge and a place where they can acquire computing skills,” he said: “We receive about 117 people on a monthly basis.”
The telecentre, according to Mwandosya, is so user-friendly that even those who do not know how to read or write also patronise it to access its range of ITC services.
The customer care officer who helps such people is none other than Sembo, who is thankful to Macra for the project. He said it not only made him computer literate but also gave him a job opportunity.
“This is a good thing. Can you imagine anyone doing a computer course in the village? People are coming here for ICT training and then leave for the town to seek jobs,” Sembo said.
He encouraged school-leavers in the area to make full use of the facility for them to become computer literate. He said its ICT courses were comparatively affordable.
“I would urge all school-leavers to come here for ICT courses,” he said.
Godfrey Munkhondya, chairperson for the Media and Communications Committee of Parliament, said knowledge of ICT is vital in today’s world.
Munkhondya said with the introduction of the internet, computers have become a means of communication to the outside world.
“Lupaso is in a remote area, and one would think being in a rural area, the computer will not be useful. But the opposite is true,” said Munkhondya, who is also member of Parliament for Chitipa Wenya.
He said since Lupaso was a rural area with an agro-based economy, the Internet at the telecentre would help farmers advertise their agricultural products, thereby improve their households’ well-being.
Lupaso area is the largest producer of tomatoes and other vegetable crops in the district. Farmers grow vegetables throughout the year, and supply them to Karonga Town.
“In general, the telecentre will assist farmers in advertising their crops. Through the telecentres, farmers can get information on inputs, crop prices and markets,” Munkhondya said.
He said apart from being of great importance to farmers, young people would also find the facility useful in their quest for computer knowledge, and would assist school-leavers when applying for jobs.
He added that it was the wish of his committee and all members of Parliament that the Telecentre Programme should be rolled out to all constituencies so that it benefits as many Malawians as possible.