As technological advancements rapidly increase, the digital divide is widening leaving the most remote
areas in technological obscurity. In line with Kenyan Government Digital Masterplan (2022-2032), the
government in collaboration with other sector players plans to establish 25,000 public internet hotspots
to close the digital gap and democratize access to internet connectivity.
To not only contribute to this vision but also empower the community in Sipili, Laikipia County, the Arid
Lands Information Network (ALIN), a non-profit organization supporting communities in East Africa to
achieve food security and manage the effects of climate by providing practical and usable information
using ICTs, is collaborating with AHERINET to roll out a community network, ALINET. The building block
to this network was made possible through support the Association for Progressive Communication
(APC).
ALINET aims at providing high quality, safe and affordable broadband services in Sipili and its environs.
The community network, using licensed spectrum frequencies, has connected vital community centers
and business including the Ngarua Maarifa (knowledge) center, local administration headquarters, and
computer services and training providers.
The local administrator in charge of the Sipili Location, Chief Jane Njoki, successfully utilizes the ALINET
community network to electronically maintain essential documents and facilitate online government
services. With the technology infrastructure in place, ALIN, in collaboration with Humanitarian Open
Street Mapping, conducted a hybrid training for local youths on open street mapping. The resulting
open street map will not only enhance the community’s spatial awareness but also serve as a valuable
resource for future development initiatives. “As I entered this room I never knew how maps were
generated let alone generating an open street map but now I am in a position to map and gather
accurate data for my community” remarked Mr. Francis Mburu one of the young mappers from Sipili.

The project implementation started with an interactive community meeting involving representatives
drawn from different community groups and villages around Sipili the aim of this engagement being to
obtain an idea of the communities social and economic environments and also gathered their interests
and preferences. This is essential as this grassroots effort is sustained by locals who actively participate
in the maintenance and monitoring of the network, ensuring its relevance and reliability. ALINET has
since set up antennas, servers, and Wi-Fi infrastructure and connected various hotspots.
Mr. Simon Munyeki, ALIN`s Field Officer in Sipili emphasizes the community-centric approach, stating
“ALIN has structured the ownership of ALINET to rest with community members, encouraging them to
be responsible for its infrastructure and management while optimizing its meaningful utilization.” From
online communication for bodaboda (motorbike) riders to facilitating virtual meetings and virtual
learning, the network has become an essential tool for daily activities. Mrs. Susan Kigano a local
business owner, highlights how the network has enabled her to handle financial transactions seamlessly,
demonstrating its practical impact on economic activities.
While digital communication technologies were initially hailed as saviors, they have also played a role in
activities detrimental to communities. The telecom and internet industry, driven by profit motives, often
prioritizes speed and scale, contributing to a significant digital gap. The resulting digital divide leaves half
of the world’s population not connected.

In the face of these challenges, community networks like ALINET spark hope, demonstrating that
technology can empower rather than exploit. By focusing on local needs and fostering community
engagement, ALINET is creating a more just and sustainable world. The story of Sipili serves as an
inspiration, reminding us that true progress is measured not only in technological advancements but
also in the positive impact on the lives of the marginalized.

Sipili is a lively town located in Olmoran Ward and surrounded by the stunning landscape of Laikipia
County. This tight-knit rural community, with support of the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), is
undertaking a transformative project of mapping their community. The development of OpenStreetMap
involves the active participation of the community in the mapping process, which is a crucial element
that enables a comprehensive understanding of the town’s needs, topology, demographics, and the
location of significant resources. The OpenStreetMap (OSM) will be a free, open geographic database,
updated and maintained by a community of volunteers through open cooperation.

Facilitated by ALIN and supported by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, the Sipili community held
a two-day community mapathon at ALIN’s (Knowledge) Centre. A “Maarifa Centre” is a community
space equipped with appropriate ICT equipment and tools to bridge the digital divide by enhancing
knowledge creation, access, dissemination, and skills development. The Community Mapathon drew
participation from youth within the Ng’arua Maarifa Centre in Sipili and its environment, marking a
collective effort in the mapping of the area. During the mapping sessions, community members received
training on how to use the mapping tools, fostering an environment where they interacted excitedly
with the mapping soft wares. Beyond the mere exploration of technology, these sessions have evolved
into platforms for community members to share their insights and knowledge about the geography of
the Sipili community.

Mr. Allan Wafula expressed excitement about the opportunity he had to explore mapping. “I am
thankful to ALIN for giving me this opportunity to explore mapping. I had never done mapping before. It
was my first time doing it and I found it so impressive and interesting,” Allan said excitedly.
Mr. Joseph Kanyi, a local Cybercafé owner, shared his experience during the first mapathon in Sipili. “I
got the opportunity to learn a new skill. Most of the time, we see maps on Google Maps and wonder
who and when they were generated. I am thankful that we have been given the opportunity to know
how the maps, specifically OpenStreetMap are generated and to be involved in the mapping.” said
Kanyi.

This collaborative effort not only utilizes horning-mapping skills but also holds special significance,
serving as a crucial step in identifying optimal locations for the telecommunication equipment for the
proposed ALINet Community Network. The community network establishment is timely as it supports
the Kenya government’s efforts in establishing 25,000 community hotspots in line with its Digital
Strategy. Beyond the Map project highlights community collaboration, demonstrating how technology
can empower communities and bridge the digital divide. As Sipili Community members navigate the
OpenStreetMap, it will not only be spatial awareness but also have a sense that they played a significant
role in shaping the OpenStreetMap.

By Leila Nachawati

"Lack of connectivity does not just limit young people’s ability to connect online; it isolates them from the work and prevents them from competing in the modern economy. That’s why this is such a key area to focus on." The internet is a cross-cutting enabler for education. However, internet access is not distributed equitably around the world, and the African region is among the ones lagging behind in bringing internet connectivity to schools, colleges and out-of-school learners, as research by the Internet Society reveals.

In the case of East Africa, this continues to have a major impact on education, especially among the most vulnerable. Addressing this is the goal of Kenya-based organisation Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), whose latest project provided teachers and schools with open educational resources. “Lack of connectivity limits young learners,” ALIN founder James Nguo stressed in an interview with APC. “It does not just limit children's and young people’s ability to connect online, it isolates them from the work and prevents them from competing in the modern economy. That’s why this is such a key area to focus on,” he added.

With the support of an APC subgrant, between 2021 and 2022 ALIN deployed and trained 86 teachers, facilitators and Ministry of Education and Teachers Service Commission representatives from the villages of Laikipia West (Kenya) and Kirima Sub County (Uganda). A gender perspective was embedded in the project, ensuring that at least 40% of the educators benefiting from it were women. The project, "Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning", is known within the community by its acronym: RACHEL.

Why open resources?

“Open educational resources are more affordable for underserved communities, which may not be able to afford other proprietary software licences. Also, this allows local communities to customise and adapt software to their specific needs, to localise it and align with their cultural context,” ALIN's programme manager Bob Aston explained. He also highlighted the collaboration and networking element of this technology: “The open nature of free/libre and open source technology encourages collaboration among educators, learners and developers, which is key to our communities. They would not be able to connect with both local and global networks to share experiences, resources and best practices otherwise,” he said. “Any device with a web browser can connect to RACHEL, which is specifically designed to teach and study offline. Teachers, students and self-guided learners of all ages can use it without depending on internet access, which is scarce due to remote location,” Aston shared on how the system works. “Servers have a five-hour battery life and are pre-installed with educational content from KA Lite, Wikipedia for Schools, Moodle, GCF LearnFree.org, PhET, Blockly Games and other educational materials developed by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.”

To enable teachers, facilitators and learners to fully harness the qualities of open educational resources for teaching and learning, capacity building has been at the core of the project. “Autonomy is key, so it was very important that teachers and facilitators learned how to incorporate RACHEL technology and content into their classrooms and further create, access, repurpose, adapt or redistribute digital content to learners,” Aston said. “Feedback by teachers has been very positive. We’ve run several evaluations on the process and most teachers gave a good score to their knowledge and skills on open educational resources after the training, which is our most important indicator,” he noted.

Contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals

As an open educational resource, RACHEL has a central role to play towards Education 2030, particularly on Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for the international community to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” with its key pillars of access, equity and inclusion. “We are also contributing to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all people have basic inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms that include the right to receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers (Article 19) and the right to education (Article 26),” Nguo stressed, “and to the promotion of key principles of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, particularly internet access and affordability, right to information, right to development and access to knowledge, marginalised groups and groups at risk, and
gender equality.”

Awareness among policy makers and education leaders

ALIN’s work also includes building awareness of the relevance of these skills and resources among policy makers and education leaders, as well as teachers and learners. “This project has strengthened our Ministry of Education by equipping learners with digital literacy, which is one of the core competencies in the new Competency Based Curriculum (CBC),” Ministry representatives Ol-Moran and Sipili Zone said, in an appreciation letter sent to the organisation. “This is actually one of the pillars of ALIN’s Strategic Plan 2022-2027,” Nguo said. “We aim for digital transformation of the region, school by school, through ICTs for education, which is why we are currently exploring new funding options to support more schools.” Original Publication by Association for Progressive Communications- the link which you will put for the article Seeding change: Promoting open educational resources in East Africa, one school at a time | Association for Progressive Communications (apc.org)

With access to financial services, Kairiri Forest Users and Conservation Community Based organization (CBO) in the Timau area of Meru County can deal with crop success after many failures.

In the aftermath of this year’s crop failure, most of the members had considered quitting farming. CBO member productivity and profitability have been increased thanks to Sokopepe support. Sokopepe arranged credit for them through a microfinance institution this season. Sometimes, lack of financial services can be a major issue to many and this has been the story for Kairiri Forest Users and the Conservation Community Based Organization (CBO) in Timau. Sokopepe has been working with the CBO to increase the productivity and profitability of its members and during this season, Sokopepe linked them to a microfinance institution, Times U Sacco Society which enables them to receive credit. This has given its members the opportunity to become part of a few-banked farming society. The Sacco provides loans that are affordable and easy to understand because not forgetting the low-interest rates.

For the past five weeks, the Sacco has been building its members’ financial literacy and understanding, by showing them how to save as much as Kes 200 every week. Already 30 members of this group have paid Kes 200 for registration. Soon these farmers will be eligible for a Kilimo Bora Loan from their Sacco (which is up to 5 times the amount saved). The Kilimo Bora loan attracts a 7.5% interest rate and is paid back after four months. The 74-member CBO is now planning to cultivate a 30-acre farm together. Mr Bernard Mureithi, a Production Information Agent (PIA) at Sokopepe said that FARMIS helps financial institutions know whether farmers are capable of managing risks. He added that farmers would now be able to track all their agribusiness enterprises and expenses for effective use of the Kilimo Bora Loans.

Mr. David Kabuari, a Kairiri Forest user and the Chairman of the Conservation CBO, says that access to credit has always been a challenge. Financial institutions refuse their loans because they lack proper farm records. “Most financial institutions are unwilling to lend to us,” he said. “We’re glad that Sokopepe linked us to a microfinance institution. Now we can access and manage credit.” Sokopepe has been training the CBO on record keeping, best agricultural practices, market information and linkages and conservation agriculture. The training has allowed members to track their agribusiness enterprises and expenses. This will help them when they are able to use Kilimo Bora Loan funds soon.

Mr Mureithi has been visiting the group every week to check on the progress of their crops. He has also been assisting individual members in filling out their farm books. He said that the Sokopepe has helped the CBO members plan their farm enterprises. They are able to know the enterprises that decrease profits. The CBO has been taking care of Timau Forest for 9 years and through this, they are working with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). They were granted 1.5 acres of land for farming and through this, have helped restore healthy land-use systems. Moreover, the CBO integrated apiculture with other farming activities with their 19 beehives helping to pollinate all the local plants, trees, and crops. This has led to improved yields and environmental conservation.

When Mr Kabuari discussed apiculture, he noted that it also enables them to earn an income from honey and beeswax, pollen, propolis, bee colonies, queen bees, bee brood, and packages of bees. The CBO also owns a tree nursery that produces at least 4,000 indigenous tree seedlings and about 3,000 exotic species. The CBO has not only been planting trees all over Timau Forest, individual farms, educational facilities and government properties but has donated around 3,000 seedlings to Water Resource Users Association (WRUA), schools and hospitals alike. Not forgetting to mention, they are also selling seedlings to individuals whereby exotic trees retail for Kes 10-15 while the more practical indigenous trees sell for Kes 25-50. Difficulty with credit facilities has hampered the productivity of most smallholder farmers. Sokopepe is committed to financial inclusion since that would result in more income for farmers.

The integration of ICT in teaching, learning, assessment and management is on the rise in Kenya. To support this, ALIN in collaboration with the Association for Progressive Communication (APC), deployed and trained 20 teachers, facilitators and Ministry of Education and Teachers Service Commission (TSC) representatives on Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning (RACHEL) at the Lariak Day Secondary School in Ol-Moran Ward, Laikipia County on December 2, 2021.

RACHEL is a portable plug-and-play server that stores educational websites and makes content available over any local (offline) wireless connection. Any device with a web browser can connect to RACHEL and it is specifically designed for offline teachers, students, and self-guided learners of all ages and those with no internet access due to remote location. During the training, ALIN deployed RACHEL in Lariak Day Secondary School, Mithuri Secondary School, Lariak Primary School, Sipili School for the Deaf and Ng’arua Maarifa Centre. The server is a combination of freely available software and content modules that make it easy to bring online education materials into places with limited or no internet access (virtual library). It has 500 GB of storage and allows up to 50 simultaneous users. The 4 schools and Ng’arua Maarifa Centre will each run on a RACHEL- Plus server which has an 8-hour + battery life and is pre-installed with educational content from KA Lite, Wikipedia for Schools, Moodle, GCF LearnFree.org, PhET, Blockly Games and other educational materials developed by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD). The training also included a session on incorporating RACHEL technology and content into classrooms and how to create, access, reuse and redistribute offline digital content to learners through RACHEL.

Some of the challenges that ALIN is addressing through the project include low connectivity in rural areas which limits young learners’ ability to digitally connect offline; Insufficient awareness among teachers and learners on the importance of Open Educational Resources (OER); Low availability and accessibility of high-quality and openly licensed online educational content; and Underutilization of computer labs and schools’ laptops. ALIN is keen on supporting Open Educational Resources (OER) as this supports the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 which is on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.  Similarly, the promotion of OER supports the implementation of the Ministry of Education Session Paper no 1 of 2019, which among others advocates for the integration of ICT in Education, Training and Research.

In addition, one of the core competencies under the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) is digital literacy which calls for the use of digital devices to create and access information while the National Education Sector Strategic Plan 2018-2022 has called for capacity building of ICT champion teachers in the integration of ICT in teaching, learning, assessment and management. Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under the copyright that have been released under an open license, that allows users to legally and freely use, copy, adapt, and re-share.  According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), OER can support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory as well as enhance academic freedom and professional autonomy of teachers by widening the scope of materials available for teaching and learning.  OER represent a crucial means to support the continuation of learning in both formal and informal settings. They can help meet the needs of individual learners and effectively promote gender equality and incentivize innovative pedagogical, didactical and methodological approaches.

ALIN with support from the Hivos Green and Inclusive Energy Programme implemented a Project dubbed “Increasing awareness of renewable energy technologies and their applications in Kajiado County.” The Project developed the Kajiado County Renewable Energy Atlas, which provides the Kajiado County Government and others stakeholders with high quality, publicly available data on renewable energy resources and also acts as a catalyst to trigger planning and policy development and help attract investors in the renewable energy markets in Kajiado County. The Atlas data is essential for the transition to a clean energy economy that prioritizes local resources, improves resilience and promotes energy independence.

Furthermore, the Atlas also supports the implementation of the Energy Act, 2019 which requires both the National and County Government to collect and maintain energy data, to undertake feasibility studies, and to avail data to developers of energy resources and infrastructure. The Atlas contains maps of borehole distribution in the county, existing and potential solar energy sites in the county, existing and potential wind energy sites (with data about the wind speeds in different parts of the county), existing and potential geothermal energy sites (with data about the geological makeup of different parts of the county), existing and potential hydropower sites, as well as existing and potential biomass sites.

The Atlas is designed as a resource for use by those interested in furthering the production of electricity, heat and fuels from solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and biomass in the county. These include the public, policymakers, advocates, landowners, developers, utility companies and prospectors. Understanding the location and potential of renewable energy resources is, therefore, a crucial pre-requisite to their utilization, and the scale-up of clean and secure sources of electricity generation. A resource map is thus important to help county governments to better coordinate the development of different renewable energy resources. ALIN also organized 7 monthly Non-State Actors Learning and Consultative Forums in Kajiado County.

The monthly forums usually brought together 30 NSAs working on energy access and advocacy on renewable energy to share opportunities, best practices, and experiences and to identify opportunities for collaborative work.  The forums helped to strengthen coordination, learning and experience sharing amongst NSAs working on energy access and advocacy on renewable energy.  They also facilitated institutional learning, common problem solving, capacity building and networking in the NSA space to promote the adoption of renewable energy in Kajiado County.

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