On A Journey To See Remote Kenya With World Vision
It has been approximately 5 months since I joined the BRCK team, and among some of the things I enjoy most is getting a chance to travel. I get to see what others think of our products and interact with them, listening to what features people would want among, see what works and what doesn’t in their world. About three weeks ago, I got a call from the team that works at World Vision. They were looking for a solution to give internet connectivity to communities which would allow them to get connected to the rest of the world. With internet connectivity, the community will be able to access government services, access educational content and sell some of beautiful art work abroad. At first I thought it would be pretty simple, get into a car and drive down. Now if you have been to Africa on safari, you know that you are going quite far if you are taking off in a land cruiser with two 90 Litre tanks. This did not discourage me as I love seeing what the country has to offer. So on Thursday March 12, we set off in the morning. Our first site visit was off to Kisapuk near Namanga. By “near” please note I mean that it is approx 40 KM from the Total petrol (gas) station in Namanga. Kisapuk is a very beautiful place. I assure you pictures would not do it any justice. The community runs a school, greenhouse and a small market to sell their produce. Besides being a beautiful location, the people in the community are warm and welcoming, and they showed us a great deal of hospitality in our short time there. After pushing the car to the wall on the all weather road, I quickly set up and got to work. The area is in a valley with a cell tower that is a repeater about 30 KM away. If you grew up here, you have probably have heard stories from your parents or grandparents about walking long distances to get to school. I always thought these were amazing fables to make them look like super heroes. I must admit that reality dawned on me when there. School is a couple of kilometres from home, exams are done under the trees if you are lucky to get one. Worst of all you are detached from what is happening all over the world. In Kenya, we have come to realise that most places with sparse population have either repeaters or cell towers that only offer EDGE. So I knew what to expect. For those of you who do not know, a repeater mostly carries voice technology. In some regions you would get some that carry data. Sadly in this region you would mostly get those carrying EDGE. Luckily we understand our environment very well and I had carried just the right set of tools for the job. In this region only one cell carrier worked on this and after sometime I was able to get connectivity. There is nothing in this world that can relate to getting connectivity when out there. The ability to see something inspiring, share an idea with others, and get research material as and when you need it is mind blowing. However, to serve a whole community on such a connection is close to insanity. Simply put I think this is not good enough. Time was now running out, we had to go to Mtito Andei and it was now 5 in the evening. I however left promising to get something a much better for them. Back to our geography basics. Mtito is about 270 KM from where we are. At this point, the question was how would we make it there in good time. The only thing on my mind was a decent meal and a shower because we would be off to an early start the next morning. If you know anything about our team, one fact is clear, we will always try new things. So I had been told there is a route that goes through the bush with basically trees or communities to mark where we were and thus where to turn. Off we go into the bush We somehow manage to make it through a whole tank of fuel in the bush. We made it to the town of Sultan Hamud. Which was impressive as we only got lost twice, taking tracks in the dusk, but somehow still finding our way to town. We then proceeded to Mtito Andei . Upon arrival, we called it a night. Day two was easier on us. The school we were going to was only about 10 KM from the road. It was much easier getting a signal here. You’ll remember we are still talking about EDGE (2g connectivity) so it’s not very fast, but it does allow for a trickle of internet content. If you are going to have a classroom of about 30 to 40 students connected to the internet, this is not the best option. "Students in class working hard in class. I think the young fellow is being punished." If there is one thing that is clear, we can not take a sit back and wait for the mobile operators to realise that they need to provide country-wide 3G if we hope to get the rest of the country truly connected to the internet. We will need to come up with a solution that can work for us here and now. There are some ideas we have been working on in the office and I think it would be nice to get them into the last stage of testing and release them into the field. I can say at the most basic level, content caching is involved. The cost of fetching content from the cloud every time is too high especially timewise. The sad reality is there is a whole generation not being exposed to what is happening all over the world in terms of content. My biggest concern is educational content. This is not fair in terms of having a level playing field. It would be a dream come true to see them at the same competitive level with at least the rest of the country. Thank you to the World Vision team!