It is break time. Some students who live in villages surrounding Goliati Trading Centre in Thyolo sit around modern books and computers in a telecentre to help them complete their assignments as they prepare for the next class.
Farmers also frequent the telecentre to use the Internet so they can find new information about their crops and markets for their produce.
Only six years ago, surfing the Internet by students and farmers in Thyolo, and other districts was just a dream. But thanks to telecentres which, among other things, have computers connected to Internet, fax machines, telephones and a library fully stocked with modern books on various subjects, people in rural areas no longer have to travel long distances to town to access these service.
One of the students who benefit from the services at the telecentre, Regina Namondwe, recalls how her class performance was not impressive because of lack of reference books and additional information on various subjects. She says most libraries in her area do not have enough books.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The notes we take during lessons are not enough, but before the telecentre was established, there was nothing we could do about the problem,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says.
She says the telecentre has also helped students pursuing distance learning programmes since they get lessons on the Internet right in their neighbourhood as opposed to travelling to Blantyre for the same services as they did in the past.
As for farmers, their lives, too, are expected to change for the better considering that they are able to source markets of their products online.
The telecentre at Goliati Trading Centre caters for villages such as Katundu, Mitabali, Chilombo and Kamoto. It also serves travellers who require Internet and secretarial services, among others.
Similar centres are in Karonga, Mwanza and Kasungu.
The telecentre project is being run by Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) and the Malawi Postal Corporation (MPC) as part of its strategies to meet MDG Eight of global partnership for development whose other focus is to boost the use of information communication for social change by 2015.
MacraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s communications manager Zadziko Mankhambo says the project comes under three categories; those funded by Macra for a year to assist committees raise funds and thereafter, be financially fit but still getting expert supervision from the authority.
He says other telecentres are funded by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) which provides equipment, with Macra providing infrastructure, training and funding for a specific period.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Others are funded by ITU on equipment while infrastructure is provided by MPC and Macra provides Internet. These are telecentres located within selected post offices,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mankhambo says.
He adds that Macra is looking forward to the digital migration project which will allow the country to have a local television bouquet and accord ICT consumers cheaper audio-visual services.
According to him, Macra currently has 33 telecentres.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture Kingsley Namakhwa says the introduction of telecentres has brought relief to most farmers who are now able to get the latest information on weather patterns and prices of various commodities.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They now know how to source markets since they have realised that farming is business. They are also aware of what crops to grow based on the demand and supply,Ã¢â‚¬Â Namakhwa observes.
Government is also rolling out the telecentre project in post offices to allow rural people to access books in the library apart from Internet services.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Already, 30 telecentres are operational, including those opened during the first phase in Karonga, Kasungu, Mwanza and Thyolo,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Minister of Information and Civic Education,Ã‚Â Patricia Kaliati.
She says the telecentres have brought employment opportunities to the unemployed youths and development in the areas.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“These centres are designed in such a way that various leadership meetings and weddings take place there for income generating purposes. They have made life easier for the rural dwellers, not just in terms of Internet access,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kaliati says.
Government says 12 more telecentres will be opened in different parts of the country by April 2012.