What are the challenges that children and young people, and particularly girls, face in terms of accessing information communication technology (ICT) in Zimbabwe?
For young people to be able to make the most of digital technology, they need to have access to it, be able to afford it and know that they can actually make use of it. The biggest challenge that we are facing in Zimbabwe is that we do not have the infrastructure that makes internet accessible and affordable. In terms of accessibility, there are many remote areas that do not have connectivity and if they do, they only rely on Mobile Network Operators for internet which is more expensive. Electricity is a major challenge both in rural and urban areas. Most public schools in rural and socio-economic disadvantaged communities are either not connected or have poor connectivity. Consequently, a large number of young people are excluded from the digital world and any related opportunities.
Internet is generally very expensive in Zimbabwe. The economic situation does not help either as the majority of the population face financial problems. In a family, the priority is to provide for basic education and access to the internet is a luxury for them.
What challenges did you face in entering the ICT field?
In my career, I have always had to do more in order to prove that as a woman, I can thrive and excel in the digital world. Ever since I began my journey in IT, in high school, we had always been a few girls compared to boys and I knew that it was going to be like that for a long time in this career path.
The challenges that I faced in my high school and college times was the inability to access the computer lab after hours as the girls were supposed to be in their rooms and hostels at night but the boys had the freedom to have late nights in the labs practicing. The boys were always ahead and would perfect their skills while we just read theory. This actually demotivated a number of young girls and they resorted to focusing on other fields such as Accounting, Marketing and Economics.
As one of the few ICT managers at national level on the African continent, you are a referent for young women. Could you tell us a bit more on how SOS Children’s Villages in Zimbabwe is committed to bridging the digital divide through Digital Villages or any other ICT4D project?
I remember that one of the projects that attracted me to SOS Children’s Villages was the Digital Village project. I was so inspired by the possibility of making a difference in the lives of children and young people, providing them with access to technology and help in shaping their future.
When I then joined the organization, it was during the Covid-19 time where schools were closed and e-learning was the only way for continued education. In that time, only more privileged young people were able to access education and there was an urgent need to bridge the gap between rural and urban learners. Our national director was concerned about the lack of ICT infrastructure that would enable the children and young people to access technology and carry out their lessons. SOS Children’s Villages in Zimbabwe set up the necessary infrastructure in all our locations. We saw the impact that this had for children, young people and caregivers in the villages and knew that the same needs to be done in our family strengthening communities. Basically, that was how the Digital Village Project began in SOS Children’s Villages in Zimbabwe.
We managed to solarize some schools in the rural area Shamva and provided the families in our programmes with computers in order for them to be able to do their computer lessons and continuous assessment learning activities. It’s such a wonderful and inspiring thing when young person explore new areas. In these cases, some of them used computers for the first time. You see their faces light up showing that now they can at least see themselves achieve a lot more than they had ever dreamt of.
We have also managed to setup digital community hubs in Bulawayo and Shamva. This was mainly to provide access to technology to young people in the communities and to empower them by improving their employability skills and provide a platform where they can develop their innovative skills. As I mentioned before internet is expensive, the digital community hubs are enabling young people to access internet as they do their academic research and online courses. SOS Children’s Villages also managed to recruit IT Coaches that have been taking children, young people and caregivers through basic digital literacy skills training and cyber safeguarding awareness.
In 2022, approximately 900 young people in the community managed to access technology through the Digital Village Project and about 1800 children benefited from the digital hubs in the villages.
What are your plans to expand the ICT programme going forward?
We took a further step in the Digital Village project through a partnership with Bosch & Learnio. Learnio will be providing skills training in web development, digital marketing, graphic design and freelancing skills to empower young people and prepare them for self-reliance. Young women are really showing interest in being a part of these trainings, especially in digital marketing and web designing. They have seen the opportunities that technology creates and are very eager to make use of it.
All these activities that SOS Children’s Villages in Zimbabwe is implementing are efforts to bridge the digital divide and there is a lot more that still needs to be done. For us in Zimbabwe, the Digital Villages project is one of the major projects that we agreed needs to be implemented in every community that we work with. As we continue to implement these digital technology projects, more young people, especially young girls, will be inspired and have the platform to come up with digital innovations.
If you could give any advice to girls and young women interested in digital technologies, what would it be?
My advice would be, don’t be afraid to be who you want to be. The tech world is not scary but it’s a world of possibilities and young girls are the future leaders therefore they should not be left behind in terms of digital access and skills.