In 2008, UNDP’s ICT Trust Fund —established with the Egyptian Ministry of Communication and Information Technology—joined forces with the World Health Organization, Vodafone Foundation and the Siwa Community Development and Environment Conservation Association to launch an initiative aimed at both eradicating female illiteracy and helping women to find new or better employment.
In addition to teaching 8,800 women how to read and write, the initiative is providing women skills and materials needed to take control of their lives. For example, the programme put a special emphasis on computer skills, so in addition to providing training in business development and problem solving, it equipped the participants with their own personal computers.
As a result, women enrolled in the programme learned to read and write, improved their agricultural and handicraft production abilities and acquired online marketing skills. Siwa women now promote their products through an online store.
Aware of prevailing social norms in the oasis, programme instructors brought the classes into women’s homes. They transformed the traditional tableya—a low, round, dining table around which rural Egyptians sit cross-legged and eat—into a so-called tabluter. A tabluter is a customized, ergonomic computer embedded in the tableya; the computer hosts a single central processing unit that can run up to four independent computers. The newly tailored tableya is foldable, making it easy to carry around from home to home.
In 2012 alone, the initiative trained 120 women on the device, in addition to 10 more who were taught how to be literacy instructors, ensuring the ongoing life of the project. Fatma Ibrahim was among the first group of women to complete their literacy programme on a tabluter.
The project team is currently training non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the Siwa governorate to use the tabluter to teach reading and writing. UNDP is also creating a business model for these NGOs so they can offer free literacy classes. UNDP and its partners are preparing to bring the entire initiative to five more oases in Egypt.