Telecentres in Brazil: training builds strength

Telecentres are a model for a community's ownership of information and communication technologies. They are a model which works and which is gaining strength, according to various successful experiences in Latin America.

Telecentres place ICT in the Community

RITS (Rede de informaçãoes para o terceiro setor), is a civil society organisation based in Brazil, committed to the new philosophy that telecentres enable communities to gain control over ICTs.

The windows of opportunity which make computers and internet connections available to vulnerable communities are no novelty in Brazil. Telecentres slowly appeared in San Paulo in 2001 as the result of a municipal programme. Although there is currently no official data, at least 3,200 public access points are now in existence. President Lula da Silva's government has defined telecentres as an "intensive information technology project to fight poverty that intends to guarantee the citizens' digital privacy and security, their insertion into the information society and the strengthening of local development."

Partnership

Civil society and some of the state institutions work together to set the conditions. Results already show that RITS is now coordinating a project in which the National Information Technology Institute (ITI) and Petrobrás, the national petroleum firm are participating. Fifty telecentres with internet access have been installed since mid-2005 in vulnerable communities throughout Brazilian territory. According to a statistic system specifically developed for the project (which keeps a count on the number of times users access the system) more than 30,000 people from Amazonia, Northeast Sertão and the outskirts of big cities have participated in this internet solidarity initiative.

In addition to being in charge of the general coordination of the project, RITS provides administrative and financial support for the project and for configuring the technical systems and free software applications. The Sao Paulo-based group also ensures the training of the telecentre coordinators and trainers - individuals committed to and belonging to the community and who ensure proper administration of the premises.

Optimizing Operations

What is the secret to ensure the optimal operation of the telecentres? Precisely the participation of members of the community. There are no formulas for the proper use of the internet: every group has characteristics that make it unique and it is up to its members to define priorities and produce content that caters to its needs and reality. In addition to the aforementioned facilitators, each telecentre relies on a local management council which assumes the directorship.

Training builds strength: "the least important thing is the equipment, That is relatively easy to get. But its use depends on training. A hundred young people have already been trained," comments Luiz Antonio Carvalho, coordinator of special projects at RITS, and the individual responsible for monitoring the initiative.

Young people are the ones most drawn to the telecentres. There, they can seek employment, become programmers, or simply play on the net. In terms of the gender of the attendees, little over 55% are women. That is not all, since approximately 1,500 people a day communicate, learn, become informed, advocate for their rights and enjoy themselves in the telecentres that have already been inaugurated. 

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