Multi, multi, multi purpose

May 19, 2005 Comments Off on Multi, multi, multi purpose

Kalutara, Sri Lanka

Yesterday, I had the chance to visit one of Sarvodaya‘s district office telecentre in Kalutara, about an hour south of Colombo. As the young woman who ran the training program at the centre explain, the core services are really focused on the learning centre model. They offer computer training courses to local youth and their families on everything from basic keyboarding to office applications to digital animation.


Also, the Kalutara centre serves as a hub for eight smaller village information centres (VICs). Run by local volunteer youth, the VICs are basically village information boards. The youth come to the telecentre to clip newspaper articles, print out information from the net or make up posters to post back on their village board. It’s a low tech way to get useful, targeted info back to the village … and a high touch way to get these youth comfortable in the telecentre.

It’s worth noting that, while the telecentre still seemed to be building up steam in terms of clientle, there was a buzz of action all around us. That’s because Kalutara district office also houses about half a dozen other activities. As we walked around, we found a microcredit bank that provides a backend for village lending societies, a community kitchen … and a brick factory. Right behind the back wall of the telecentre, a small group of men were making cement bricks and wood boards for tsunami reconstruction houses. The Sarvodaya centres, it seems, are a hub for many things.


Looking around the globe, this integrated or embedded model of telecentres seems to be one of the good ones. Embedding not only means that there is a place to put the telecentre, but more importantly that the ambient buzz of other activities gradually drives clients to the telecentre. In many cases, it also means that the telecentre slowly blends into the other community services an organization is offering, becoming a part of employment counseling, microcredit, whatever.

Early on, it is tough to tell what this Sarvodaya centre – and the other 30-some centres like it – will become. Maybe it will simply stay focused on computer training and feeding the VICs, which are certainly useful. But, with the community buzz all around, it may just become something bigger.

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