August 25, 2008 By Indrajit Basu, International Correspondent
Photo: Ahmed Eisa, founder and chairperson of Gedaref Digital City Organization receiving the i4d 2008 award in July. The i4d (Information and Communication Technology for Development) is an annual award given by an Indian ICT event, eINDIA.
Mohamed Abdalmalik, an 18-year old Sudanese man, never imagined that one day he would be a business owner of a cyber-cafe in the downtown business district of Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. Abdalmalik was never exposed to computers, he knew very little English, and even more challenging, he is deaf.
Nevertheless, in March 2007, after he enrolled himself at the Amal School for the Deaf, and "graduated" six months back, he was able to open his cyber-cafe with financial and technical assistance from a local funding institution. Now, as Abdalmalik proudly manages his tiny business, one that not only earns him a living but also a respectful place in the society, he can't help but thank Ahmed Mahmoud Mohamed Eisa, whose efforts have made Abdalmalik the self-sufficient man he is today.
Ahmed Eisa is the founder and chairperson of Gedaref Digital City Organization (GDCO), a nongovernmental and nonprofit organization headquartered in Gedaref -- eastern Sudan -- that donated the 120 computers to the Amal School for its computer education program for the underprivileged. This organization is the only institution in Sudan -- the largest country in the African continent -- that provides organized computer education to the handicapped by running two schools in the Sudanese cities, Gedaref and Khartoum.
Abdalmalik belongs to the first batch of students to have benefited from this computer education course. Today there are now more than 200 disabled young men and women who have already received free training and free computers. "As a result, they not only have become self-dependent like Mohamed, but they are also helping their families and friends and contributing to the society," said Eisa. Eight other disabled persons from Amal School have also started their own informal training schools to train their "colleagues and friends."
"Communication for the deaf students of Amal School is no longer restricted through the face-to-face use of sign languages, but they can now talk to the world using chat messages and e-mail," said Eisa.
Established in 2005, GDCO is an outcome of Eisa's urge for "development and advancement of every citizen in the Gedaref state through ICT" and largesse from the digital city of Eindhoven, Netherlands, that donated 750 computers to Eisa to kick-start his dreams.
"Since GDCO's initial aim was to enable people to reach and cope with the electronic era," said Eisa, these computers were first used to set up primarily digitization and capacity building projects like The Digital (Electronic) Medical Record, E-Learning and Support at Gedaref University, Intelligent School and Oracle Skills, and the like.
But soon Eisa realized that his country needed much more. For one, Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world -- an average resident survives on less than a dollar a day -- was lagging terribly behind the world and needed the information and communication technology (ICT) urgently for development. But more importantly, stemming from poverty, the country was also suffering from very poor level of education, and thus "almost zero level of computer awareness."
"I knew that if I had to improve the lives of my people, I had to convince them to adopt the use of ICT," said Eisa. "The digital divide was too wide to bridge easily. I realized that we have to train the poor first and started training initiatives in poorest city and rural areas in Gedaref, imparting computer education at cost price."
While training the poor, Eisa also started wondering if was possible to provide a global language for the disabled.
"The digital divide is primarily caused by inequalities, he
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