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Mobile school trains slum youths on ICT skills

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Up to 9500 youths, especially girls from Nairobi sharpen their ICT skills through this revolutionary programme

By Ben Oduor

In this fast-paced digital era, every parent would love to get their children equipped with the much needed ICT skills. But not all parents can afford it.

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Financially endowed parents are better placed to finance such courses for their children at a tender age, contrary to those from poor families who take time to learn such skills due to financial constraints.

But there’s now hope. Craft Silicon Foundation offers a program that trains youth in slum areas of Nairobi computer skills. Priya Budhabatti, the Chief Executive of the Foundation took a similar path growing up, which eventually inspired her compassion towards the poor.

“I grew up from a humble background hence very familiar with the challenges faced by the less privileged in society. The challenges I faced in quest for education inspired me to target this group,” she says.

Contrary to the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by most Indian children in Nairobi, Priya led a humble life. She went to Kongoni Primary School, where she was the only Indian among Kenyan pupils.

She then proceeded to Ngara Girls Secondary in Nairobi, before joining Equity Bank as a cashier. The Bank, she says, was then a microfinance institution where work was manually done. She would save part of her salary to pay for evening classes as she pursued a diploma course in ICT.

And it was while working for the bank that she met the love of her life, Kamal Budhabatti, who had been contracted to offer IT services to her employer. The coincidental union gave birth to Craft Silicon Limited in 1998 and later Craft Silicon Foundation in 2009.

Craft Silicon Limited is a software solutions provider to banks, microfinance institutions, among other several sectors globally, while the firm’s Foundation trains the less privileged in society on new technology skills and computer knowledge.

Priya, the brainchild to this initiative, says she was not going to sit back and watch youths residing in slums idle and lose hope in education due to financial challenges.

“It was incumbent on us to use our ICT skills to positively impact lives of these youths, some of who drop out of school, indulge in drugs, criminal activities or risky behaviors due to poverty,” she says.

The mobile computer lab

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To facilitate the program, the Foundation transformed a 72-seater bus into a computer lab, where all the passenger seats were removed and the interior fitted with 64 chairs and 32 reading tables. On each table, were placed a computer desktop, as well as adequate courseware.

The customized computer lab was then fitted with special servers, internet connection, printers and scanners, gadgets that are powered by photovoltaic cells on the rooftop of the bus. To ensure continuous flow of power during training, solar panels were fitted on the rooftop of the bus to trap energy, which is stored in four car batteries.

Then, the Foundation partnered with Alpine water bottling company to supply its staff and the trainees with water when out training in the slums, Microsoft, to provide software licenses to the computers and courseware for trainees, and little cabs, an online-taxi hailing company founded by Craft Silicon Limited, to facilitate the program.

The bus, the CEO says, was their choice over other options for it was more convenient when traversing the slums while providing such skills to the youth, whom they intended to target directly from their residences in a bid to attract huge turnouts into the free program.

From a low turnout of less than 50 youths at inception, the initiative has so far graduated 9500 recruits, an increase by 3500 from the number that graduated early 2016.

“It surprises how big the turnout has been over the years. We didn’t expect to enlist such huge numbers when we started with just a handful,” Priya says.

The curriculum

On the other hand, Alex Chege, Craft Silicon Foundation Project Manager says the program trains on computer packages which are offered for three months in three stages annually. There are three sessions available daily, with each lasting two hours.

“Upon recruitment, the students are taught basic computer operations. They then graduate to the Craft Silicon Foundation centre (at the Westlands campus) for advanced ICT skills in the second stage, they then learn communication, business and entrepreneurial skills in the third and last stage,” explains Chege.

He also says they conduct three intakes each year targeting girls between the age of 9 and 13 years, as well as youths between 18-24 (both male and female).

However, to bring the students on board, Chege says they conduct a thorough street vetting programme that targets youths from poor backgrounds and those that graduate are either offered the necessary networks with potential employers or connected to the firm’s partners to offer them platform for advancing their ICT skills.

“About 60 per cent of the students we’ve trained have either been absorbed in various companies or operate their own ventures such as cyber cafes, initiatives that have since transformed their lives,” he says.

Admitting facing challenges in transforming some social traits of the youths recruited, Priya says the counseling sessions they’ve been offering has been instrumental in sharpening their focus on education, and they are hoping to target more into this program.

“We hope to impact lives of youth in all the 47 counties of Kenya. This would call for support so that we upgrade from the single bus we’re currently using to more sustainable numbers,” the CEO concludes.

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