Internet bikes changing Bangladesh

2012-11-01 22:10
Bangladeshi Info Lady Mehedi Akthar Misty, helps Amina Begum, 45, to talk to her husband via Skype at Jharabarsha, in a remote impoverished farming village in Gaibandha Bangladesh. (AM Ahad, AP)

Bangladeshi Info Lady Mehedi Akthar Misty, helps Amina Begum, 45, to talk to her husband via Skype at Jharabarsha, in a remote impoverished farming village in Gaibandha Bangladesh. (AM Ahad, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Jharabarsha - Amina Begum had never seen a computer until a few years ago, but now she's on Skype regularly with her husband. A woman on a bicycle brings the internet to her.

Dozens of "Info Ladies" bike into remote Bangladeshi villages with laptops and internet connections, helping tens of thousands of people - especially women - get everything from government services to chats with distant loved ones.

It's a vital service in a country where only 5 million of 152 million people have internet access.

The Info Ladies project, created in 2008 by local development group D.Net and other community organizations, is modelled after a programme that helped make cellphones widespread in Bangladesh. It intends to enlist thousands more workers in the next few years with start-up funds from the South Asian country's central bank and expatriates working around the world.

D.Net recruits the women and trains them for three months to use a computer, the internet, a printer and a camera. It arranges bank loans for the women to buy bicycles and equipment.

"This way we are providing jobs to jobless women and at the same time empowering villagers with critical information," said Ananya Raihan, D.Net's executive director.

The women - usually undergraduates from middle-class rural families - aren't doling out charity. Begum pays $2.40 for an hour of Skype time with her husband, who works in Saudi Arabia.

Begum smiles shyly when her husband's cheerful face pops up. With earphones in place, she excitedly tells him she received the money he sent last month. He asks her to buy farm land.

Even Begum's elderly mother-in-law now uses Skype to talk with her son.

Social services

"We prefer using Skype to mobile phones because this way we can see him on the screen," Begum said, beaming happily from her tiny farming village in Gaibandha district, 192km north of the capital, Dhaka.

In the neighbouring village of Saghata, an Info Lady is 16-year-old Tamanna Islam Dipa's connection to social media.

"I don't have any computer, but when the Info Lady comes I use her laptop to chat with my Facebook friends," she said. "We exchange our class notes and sometimes discuss social issues, such as bad effects of child marriage, dowry and sexual abuse of girls."

The Info Ladies also provide a slew of social services - some for a fee and others for free.

They sit with teenage girls where they talk about primary health care and taboo subjects like menstrual hygiene, contraception and HIV. They help villagers seeking government services write complaints to authorities under the country's newly-enacted Right to Information Act.

They talk to farmers about the correct use of fertilizer and insecticides. For 12 cents they help students fill college application forms online. They're even trained to test blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

"The Info Ladies are both entrepreneurs and public service providers," Raihan said.

Raihan borrowed the idea from Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, who in 2004 introduced mobile phones to rural women who had no access to telephones of any kind, by training and sending out scores of "Mobile Ladies" into the countryside.

That hugely successful experiment drew in commercial mobile phone operators. Now more than 92 million people in Bangladesh have cellphone access.

15 000 women

Nearly 60 Info Ladies are working in 19 of Bangladesh's 64 districts. By 2016, Raihan hopes to train 15 000 women.

In July, Bangladesh's central bank agreed to offer interest-free loans to Info Ladies. Distribution of the first phase of loans, totalling $1.23m, will begin in December. Raihan said D.Net is also encouraging the large population of Bangladeshi expatriates to send money home to help Info Ladies get started.

"It's very innovative," says Jamilur Reza Chaudhury, a pioneer of information technology education in Bangladesh. "The project is really having an impact on the people at grass-root level."

Info Lady Sathi Akhtar, who works in Begum's and Dipa's villages, said she makes more at the job than she would as a school teacher. She said that after making payments on her $1 480 loan and covering other costs, she takes home an average of $123 a month.

"We are not only earning money, we are also contributing in empowering our women with information."

''That makes us happy."

- AP
Read more on:    bangladesh  |  computing  |  mobile
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Africa
 

Hottie of the day: Charlotte

Meet our hottie of the day, Charlotte. She feels sexiest after a good workout at the gym!

 
 

Men24.com

This is why guys shouldn’t be in photos
BMW drift battle: M235i vs. speedway bike
Want to start talking dirty?
And this year's Miss Bumbum title goes to...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 35% off books

Save up to 35% on the latest page-turners. While stocks last. Shop now!

Good Morning, Mr Mandela by Zelda la Grange

Good Morning, Mr Mandela tells the extraordinary story of how a young woman had her life, beliefs, prejudices and everything she once believed in utterly transformed by the greatest man of her time. Now R221. Pre-order now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Enjoy the view because as from tomorrow you are going to need to come back down to earth and join the party. In the meantime use...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.