The first phase of Mission Mobile Education's Uganda Connectivity Project got rolling when in the autumn of 1996 three 4x4 trucks with a London taxi and two trailers loaded with computing equipment were driven to the Port of Antwerp, where they were shipped, together with a container, FOC courtesy of MSC, to Mombasa. Our team of volunteers met the ship in Mombasa and after spending a month sorting out the paperwork, they drove across Kenya, camping in the famous Kenya Wildlife Service national parks on their way to Uganda.
2. Memorandum of Understanding with Government of Uganda (Republic of)
Following preparations made by Lisa Stern in 1995 with the government, on 14 December 1996 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Government of the Republic of Uganda and Mission Mobile Education (MME) for a three-year programme for the establishment of thelecontres and the training of Ugandan partners in the use of telecommunications technologies, including the Internet, electronic mail and the World Wide Web. Included in the MoU was a provision for tax concessions on computer equipment brought into Uganda for the project.
Offices were provided by the Ministry of Education in Kampala's Crested Towers Buildings for the use by MME Uganda Connectivity Project volunteers for workshops and to provide a base of operations and a means of co-ordinating between the mobile resource telecentre and other telecentres, and related ministries in Kampala.
The Government of Uganda secured work permits for MME expatriate volunteer workers and dependant's passes for the children of the MME team that were coming to live in Uganda for the duration of the Project.
3. Computer Training Programme
Distant Learning on Recycled PCs
In their offices in Crested Towers Mission Mobile Education show teachers and parents, community workers, policy makers and students how newer technologies can enable them to acquire knowledge and skills - INFORMATION - from computer based resources as interactive CD ROM, and ever-improving distant learning materials on the Internet.
Uganda Connect, as the project became known, has been working with Ugandan partners, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sensitise key sectors, including government, news media, aid agencies, and health, education, agriculture and business, to the opportunities afforded by Internet access: electronic mail (e-mail) to enhance communication, and the World Wide Web for information retrieval and indigenous publishing and broadcasting.
Loan of Internet-ready PCs, together with demonstrations of Internet-related technologies to Members of Parliament by Uganda Connect may have contributed to propositions from MPs for connecting MPs to telecentres in their constituencies, which would, in turn, enable them to e-mail each other and Ministers.
Train the Trainers
Uganda Connect volunteers set about training a core team of suitably untrained young Ugandan volunteers, who would have a vision for training others. All but one of the seven new volunteers had no computer experience. After only six months of hands-on experience at Uganda Connect's Crested Towers workshop, each of the Ugandan team had acquired the ability to teach basic computing skills.
The popular Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, for example, which is what everyone was started with, is a good example of 'over-the-shoulder', personalised interactive programs. Though most of the workshop's computers were older 386 PCs, we found that students learned more quickly using the latest Windows 95 versions of Lotus SmartSuite and Microsoft Office, that with their built-in tutorials and intuitive help menus they were auto didactic. In addition to the basic computing skills, typing, and word processing, Internet skills, as e-mail and Web browsing, as well as spreadsheet and database were learned. Higher specification equipment with Multimedia, interactive CD-ROMs, was shared on a rotation basis owing to limited hardware.
Installing PCs in Strategic Locations
Uganda Connect began distributing Internet-ready PCs on a free-loan basis in early 1997, installing a secondhand 386 PC, modems and printer at key locations, the home of an MP, who later championed the cause of connectivity in government, at Besanyia's Children Home in Mukono, out of which came three of our volunteers, and one in Jinja with a wheelchair-bound handicapped girl quite gifted with intelligence, and one in a primary and secondary school in Fort Portal.
Uganda Connect's Communications Truck for Rural Connectivity
Team mechanic, Emmanuel Stern, converted the Saurer 2DM twelve ton 4x4 into a proper expeditionary vehicle-cum communications truck with deep-cycle batteries and inverter to supply mains electricity in for rural areas. The team demonstrated wireless Internet connectivity, with GSM cellular, and HF radio for upcountry e-mail at Uganda's annual AITEC Computer and Communications show, and at the Uganda National Farmers Association agricultural show in Jinja, as well as to students and teachers at Bishop Tucker Theological College.
4. Uganda Internet Society Launched
Uganda Connect team leaders, Daniel Stern and Caroline Wieland helped to found the Uganda Chapter of the Internet Society, launched the 22nd of May 1997 by Uganda's State Minister for Works, Transport and Telecommunications, with keynote speakers Hon. Dr. Johnson Nkuuhe, MP, and Dr. Edmund Katiti, Head of Computer Science, Makerere University. Uganda Connect's offices in Crested Towers double as Internet Society offices, the volunteer staff organising successive meetings, using their newly acquired skills to do mail merges from the database they've compiled.
5. Uganda Connect Collaborates with World Food Programme for Upcountry Connectivity
Uganda Connect, in collaboration with the World Food Programme, installed its first HF radio e-mail sub hub in August 1997, modelled on the WFP's HF network. It was at WFP's headquarters in Kampala that engineers discovered an innovative solution to the need for an unprecedented scaling up of logistical support coordination for food distribution to refugees during East Africa's Great Lakes crisis of 1994 - that ordinary HF SSB radios, widely used for upcountry voice communications, coupled with a radio modem, be linked to the Internet to transmit and receive data around the world, send attached spreadsheet or database files, etc.
Uganda Connect's sub hub in Arua provides e-mail communications to eight projects in Northwest Uganda, near the borders of Sudan and Congo. Until the Kuluva mission hospital was connected to the Arua sub hub (by VHF radio modem), printouts of lab reports sent by e-mail from the UK were brought from Kampala by single-engine aircraft!
The HF radio e-mail network has given impetus and focus to Uganda Connect's efforts towards improving connectivity in Uganda; the implications for upcountry connectivity as an early component of a rural communications infrastructure, not to mention its utility as part of a civil defence strategy, to have in place for 'instant' communications for disaster relief management, have yet to be fully appreciated.
6. International Conferences: Uganda Connect Director Consulted on Rural Connectivity, Speaks on Recycling at UNCTAD Experts Meeting for Trade and Development, Geneva, September 1997 and ITU's Interactive '97 at Geneva's Palexpo
A founding principle was that the project should be reproducible, a model that other developing countries might copy. The project was given prominence through exposure at international conferences: