Location and General Information (1)
“Chocó is one of the 32 departments of Colombia, located in the northwest of the country in the Colombian Pacific region. It comprises the jungles of Darien and the basins of the Atrato and San Juan rivers. Its capital is the city of Quibdo. It is the only department of Colombia with coasts on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, with a population composed of 75.68% Black or Afro-Colombians, 11.9% Indigenous , 7.42% Mestizos and 5.01% Whites . It has a total area of 46,530 km2.
The economy of the Department of Chocó is fragile, dependent on mining, forestry exploitation, fisheries, agriculture and livestock. Mining is concentrated mainly on gold, followed on a smaller scale by silver and platinum. Forestry exploitation has been intense and currently poses a threat to the ecosystems of the department. In recent years, the social and economic decline of Chocó Department has been national news. According to the general census of 2005, the Index of unmet basic needs ( NBI ) shows that 79% of households in the Chocó lack some services included in that indicator .” Source: www.choco.gov.co
Makaia in Choco
Makaia is a nonprofit organization that promotes the institutional strengthening of civil society, local governments, nonprofit organizations and CSR initiatives committed to social and economic development. MAKAIA means “to build” or “to make” in Miskito ( indigenous language of Honduras ) . The name represents the goal of MAKAIA to build partnerships and relations geared towards social and economic development.
In 2009 we initiated the National Project for ICT Ownership, which allowed us to travel in the last 5 years to 17 municipalities and 5 districts and gave us the opportunity to understand the realities, the culture and the needs of the Afrodescendant population of this area of the country, who have a great need to have access to education, knowledge and information in order to reach a state of development that will be reflected in opportunities for their communities and progress in the region. During this time we have worked jointly with various organizations such as the Technological University of Chocó, Digital Chocó, Quibdo Chamber of Commerce , Chocolate Foundation and Chocó regional Sena.
Realities of ICTs in Choco
Many municipalities or places where ICT Access Centers are installed, do not have electricity, in many cases, energy is collected from solar panels in an area known for being inside the rainiest in the world. Internet connection in the most remote territories has been via satellite, which sometimes does not allow for quickly developing some Internet activities. All of these situations force the established methodologies for digital literacy to be modified and adapted to the circumstance such as looking to develop skills so that Afro men and women from Chocó have basic knowledge in the use of computers to perform activities of their daily life.
However, in the past 3 years the Colombian State through its public policy “Vive Digital” (“Live Digital”) has made great efforts to make improvements in these areas installing points to access ICT Centers in Libraries , Educational Institutions, kiosks and telecenters. In many areas these are the only places to access ICTs, which makes it necessary to develop the skills and abilities of the people who work there in order to offer their community greater opportunities and take advantage of the endowment and technological tools to provide development options to the people.
According to the Ministry of ICT data, there are 189 Educational Institutions connected in Chocó (2). In the coming months there are plans to connect 19 municipalities with fiber optics and install 294 ICT access points in population centers. (3) In Chocó the first spaces to access ICT installed over 10 years ago, were the Compartel Telecenters , which began in a response to the need for communication of very distant populations, by using telephone booths and later computers. In recent years, the concept has evolved and Vive Digital Kiosks are being installed. These are spaces for remote rural areas and urban areas, which have connection and computers for community access.
Despite the difficulty of access and geographical conditions one must recognize the great efforts that have been made to ensure the connectivity of these communities. This also has been done seeking the support of literacy projects and digital ownership, an essential element to ensure the sustainability of these spaces, which is to say they should be places with added value and not become only access spaces ,but spaces to generate development through the use of ICTs.
Experiences and lessons
During this time of implementation of technology projects in the Chocó region with mainly Afro and Indigenous populations, there are some aspects that we consider fundamental to point out such as the success factors for the development of the communities, starting with recognizing their realities and essence. This area of the country, has a multiculturalism, fill with great tradition and oral history, ancestral knowledge and artistic elements that make it special and different from other territories
- Cultural and religious elements are points of interest to a large percentage of the population with which one can develop ICT training programs. Also, one can engage the community through the different churches and religions.
- To achieve the development of literacy programs and digital ownership one should be very flexible with the training hours, because the majority of the population has informal jobs for short periods of times which the individuals should seize when they present themselves, because they are the only source of economic livelihood.
- The process of certification and graduation ceremonies is very important and has great value to those who receive it, since many have not done or completed basic studies, so to get a diploma or certificate gives them a sense great achievement which affects self-esteem and interest in the training processes.
- Join forces and know the reality of the territories and organizations that are performing some social intervention in these territories, in order to articulate the processes that are being developed in relation to the technology component to enable the people to acquire greater skills and abilities in areas specific to their interest.
- Respect, understand and recognize as very important aspects of Afro culture, festivals, celebrations and social activities that take place. The ICT Center can be an ally, a promoter or a facilitator of these so that the community sees this space as their own and not as a space donated by the national government.
ICTs are a means, not an end, through them; important and strategic issues for the development of those who participate in the process must be accomplished since through these trainings new competencies and skills can be generated so that the people know their duties and rights, in the case of Colombia there are special laws for Afro collectives. Through this, leaderships and values can be generated witch can be seen reflected in areas of personal, family and community development.
The following are highlights of some elements that demonstrate that when the reality of the region is known , respecting and valuing cultural wealth , having access and connectivity in community spaces and ownership processes are carried out , the people that benefit can grow in some aspects of their life . We were able to prove this through an early impact study of this process, conducted in 2010, the f0llowing are some important figures and testimonials:
- 100 % of people who participated in the focus groups ( 123 people) , believe that they were able to learn computer basics tools in the 20 hours of the course and thanks to this they are able to carry out activities through the computer that allow them to better their work and improve their studies.
- In the exit survey, individuals who completed the 20 hours of training were asked: What areas of your life do you believe have improved? They indicated 3 answers. The areas that people consider to have changed after completing the course are:
- Education 60.9%, people feel they have tools to meet new educational challenges , they are even interested in taking courses or technologies virtually through virtual learning settings such as those offered by SENA (4)
- Self-realization, 34.94%, because people feel satisfied, useful, they set new goals for themselves. With the digital literacy processes, people can envision a broader world and opportunities than they used to have. They realize that access to information and opportunities for different activities through ICTs , is much easier than they thought and most of all that the options available to them by using the different tools that the computer and internet offer are numerous.
- Culture, 34.71%, because they now have access to mass media and/or cultural media, and can interact with them, this point becomes more relevant in the Department of Chocó where access to the national press is scarce or even impossible as in the case of districts and municipalities as remote as Pizarro and Jurado.
- “Learning has been wonderful, for example I am very surprised that one can do a document without spelling errors , because the computer helps you correct those things, in addition to been able to insert an image, you see that amazes me as I was so used to using a typewriter, or better said that Word is the best ” Wilber Guillermo Valoyes, Municipality of Quibdo.
- “I can only say thank you, I never thought that at my age and in the poverty in which I live, I would have the opportunity to touch a computer, more than that to learn to handle it and be the pride of my family and even of people in my path because I know how a computer functions ” Hector Ibarguen Rivas, Municipality of Pizarro.
In conclusion it can be said that for Afro communities that are characterized by living in remote areas and under economic and social pressures, ICTs becomes a tool that can generate personal, family and community development, fostering educational and information opportunities of great importance,of recognition of their rights and duties, and the production of content allowing digitization of the cultural and ancestral memory that these Afro collectives have.
(2) 90 previously connected and 99 in the period of this government
(4) The National Learning Service (SENA) is responsible for carrying out the States function to invest in the social and technical development of the Colombian workers, offering and implementing the free Integrated Professional Training, for the incorporation and development of individuals into productive activities that contribute to the social, economic and technical development of the country. www.sena.edu.co
Author is Executive Director and Co-Founder of Makaia. She holds a degree in Engineering Mechanics from EAFIT University in Medellín, Colombia, an MBA (Master of Business Administration) from George Washington University, a major in International Development Cooperation from the Spain CYES Foundation, a Certificate from Georgetown University in Management of Non-Profit Organizations. She has six years of experience at the World Bank and IDB as a consultant and over ten years of experience in the areas of ICT for development, collaboration and dissemination of knowledge and international cooperation.