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ITU partnerships on the front line of the Digital Divide

ITU has long been a strong proponent of the concept of Multipurpose Community Telecentres (MCTs) through the work of its Telecommunication Development Bureau. But our commitment to the centres, which can bring the tools of the Information Society directly to communities who need them, took on a new dimension with an agreement between ITU, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to establish a network of three multipurpose community telecentres in and around refugee camps along the north-western border of Tanzania. WorldSpace Corporation and Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA) have also agreed to participate in the project.

The centres will help to fulfil the health, education, information and communication needs of rural residents, relief workers and an estimated 135 000 refugees, the majority of them from Burundi. Besides providing — for the first time — basic voice, fax and Internet connectivity for refugees to contact relatives who may have migrated to other countries in the region or overseas, the centre is also planned as an educational centre for refugee children and for teacher training. The telecentres will also provide links to medical information, WorldSpace radio programmes and web-based multimedia content. They will also stimulate the development and growth of local businesses as well as bringing ICT skills to the local population.

ITU will coordinate the establishment of the telecentres and equip them, while UNHCR will make an in-kind contribution in the form of the physical infrastructure and electricity from generators, as well as manpower to provide technical backup to the centres. UNESCO will provide its expertise in community organization and ICT-based information and learning content for development. VITA will provide satellite support and information services through its VITA-Connect network, including the contribution of a ground station, antenna, and software for basic e-mail-based connectivity. Meanwhile, WorldSpace Corporation will provide at each site radio equipment, satellite receiver and data terminal to download web-based multimedia educational material and entertainment.The Tanzanian government will provide the land, the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology will execute the project and the Tanzania Communications Commission will monitor the performance of the telecentres.

Tanzania plays host to more than 500 000 refugees from strife-torn neighbouring countries. Providing a multipurpose community telecentre is a strategy that can help these communities improve their existence in the camps and take advantage of opportunities to build a better future after their life in the camps. The refugees, including women, will be trained to run the centres themselves.



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Updated : 2002-10-09