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Online opportunities offer young people in remote African communities the chance to make much more of their lives
Being orphaned or abandoned can damage a child’s lifelong emotional and physical wellbeing. The trauma’s worse still for those living in deprived and isolated regions of the world.
Meryl Davies is passionate about protecting those at risk. That’s why her organisation, SOS Children’s Villages, creates communities to nurture youngsters in a secure, healthy and happy family-style environment.
Now, as part of BT’s Connecting Africa project, broadband satellite technology is helping young people fulfil their potential in 20 SOS Children’s Villages across Africa by bringing the internet to their fingertips.
Connecting Africa: transforming classrooms, clinics and communities.
BT’s Connecting Africa project uses BT satellite services to bring free broadband to remote villages in thirteen African countries, helping protect children from social isolation.
We see the real difference that the internet makes to our children’s lives, opening their eyes to a wonderful world of information and education opportunities.”
- Meryl Davies, Director of Fundraising, SOS Children’s Villages
Every child deserves to grow up and be cared for in a stable and loving home. But in many parts of the world the death of a parent or the break-up of a family can leave young people at risk, with little chance of a better life.
SOS Children’s Villages wants to change all that. It’s a charity at work in 125 countries to give vulnerable children a safe, secure family life. Where it can, it works with parents and carers to keep families together. And where that isn’t possible, it offers long-term residential care and education in an SOS Children’s Villages centre. Built at the heart of the community, these unique facilities also provide people throughout the area with healthcare and vocational training.
Access to the internet opens up a world of information, helping the children to learn and gain the education that we take for granted in the western world.
The Connecting Africa project is part of BT’s Better Future programme, which uses the power of digital connections to improve society globally by creating access to information, education and employment opportunities.
Meryl Davies, Director of Fundraising at SOS Children’s Villages, says: “The value of this partnership is the way that BT is helping us as an organisation. BT has the vision to understand that, with improved systems and structures, we will be better able to bring long term value to incredibly vulnerable children and families.”
BT plans to bring free broadband internet access to twenty SOS Children’s Villages in twelve African countries via a global satellite network using some recycled equipment. The company has introduced a production line approach to test and pre-configure equipment before deployment. It means BT can set up VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) satellite connections in areas where the terrain and distances between locations make terrestrial broadband physically impossible or prohibitively expensive.
Once online, children will have a gateway to the world and access to the charity’s e-learning and mentoring courses. SOS Children’s Villages will gain operationally too, as Jackie Pyne, its Regional HR/OD Advisor, explains: “In this region, connections between countries are difficult to establish. It’s too expensive and time consuming to be constantly travelling to see the children. Having good web connectivity means we can conduct virtual meetings and I can run online training events and communicate with the people I work with. And they can do that with each other too.”
With the help of BT, two SOS Children’s Villages in The Gambia are already online. Another 10 are due for connection by October 2013, with the remaining eight to follow. And network support, run by a BT team in the UK, will continue for three years. But BT people are also on the ground in Africa to make the project sustainable.
For example, BT engineers are training local SOS Children’s Villages technical support teams to operate and maintain the network. Graham Hancock, a satellite engineer with BT Technology, Service and Operations, is one of them. He says: “The guys I trained were smashing students. It was great to see the proud looks on their faces when they were able to install the second link themselves.”
BT and SOS Children’s Villages estimate that Connecting Africa could directly benefit 100,000 people with a further 600,000 people in surrounding communities benefiting indirectly from improved connections. It will help boost the charity’s fundraising too. People who sponsor the children will be able to follow their progress through online photos and videos. And in times of emergency, such as the recent Mali crisis, SOS Children’s Villages will be able to make appeals fast to support relief work.
Anna Easton, BT Connected Society Programme Director, concludes: “We’ve seen the real impact that broadband internet can have through our projects in Africa and around the world. This latest initiative builds on our experience and longstanding commitments to communities in Africa, India and all across the world. In all those places, through technology, we help children and whole communities reach for a better future.”
- BT Connect Satellite access