Solar-powered computer lab brings internet to Northern Kenya

by Nithya 2010-11-02 10:08:04

From the grazing fields to the mobile cyber cafe - this seems to be the new thing awaiting the youth in Northern Kenya who want to communicate with the "outside world".

Beginning this month, residents of the region will have access to a mobile computer laboratory, where they can use the internet, get computer services and acquire training on information technology.

Last Friday, Computer Aid International (CAI), a UK-based firm, partnered with Computers for Schools Kenya (CFSK), a local organisation, and launched the mobile laboratory that will rely on solar energy instead of electricity.

The laboratory is in the form of a shipping container that is powered by solar panels.

"It is self-contained. It has a battery back-up that can run the computers for seven days," said Miss Gladys Muhunyo, the director of Africa Programmes at CAI.

The total value of the laboratory is Sh3 million, according to Miss Muhunyo.

It has 22 workstations with flat screen monitors and Pentium 4 computers.

No power grid systems

NComputing, a desktop virtualisation firm, has installed hardware that keeps the computer systems’ power requirement at a low 35 watts.

"The target areas have no power grid systems and therefore electricity is out of question. Apparently, the areas receive reliable sunshine throughout the year and that is what we shall use," said Dr Thomas Musili, the executive director at CFSK.

There are also mobile phone charge sockets that are set to address the perennial problem of unreliable phone use in the region.

During the launch of the facility, the minister for Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Areas, Mr Mohamed Elmi, praised the move.

"We are taking this technology to the marginalised people.

"The geographical and infrastructural characteristics make locals travel for many kilometres to get a cyber cafe.

"It is absolutely a very viable initiative," he said as he was taken through the laboratory.

This is yet another major leap by CFSK, reputed to be one of the most grassroots-oriented computer technology organisations.

It has distributed 30,000 computers to various institutions and 250 million access hours for the last seven years, according to official data at the organisation.

But the services will not be free. "We shall charge Sh 1 per minute. The problem for our target group may not be the money but a reliable and accessible service," said Dr Musili.

Kenya becomes the second country in Africa after Zambia to receive such a solar-powered laboratory.

The solar panels have a lifespan of about 20 years and can recharge in a day’s sunlight.

Said Mr Elmi: "We are already looking at a possibility of injecting more resources from Treasury to boost this initiative. ICT (information and communication technology) is no longer a time passing affair but an integral part of Vision 2030."

By June next year, CFSK plans to have at least 10 such laboratories in the northern frontier counties.

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