Kenya’s Silicon Valley in the making right inside Ugenya

Wednesday March 10 2010

Students learn computer skills at a centre in Sega village, Ugenya District. The centre is run by the Sega Silicon Valley initiative. Left: Mr James Ofwona, who founded Sega Silicon Valley. Photos/TOM OTIENO

Students learn computer skills at a centre in Sega village, Ugenya District. The centre is run by the Sega Silicon Valley initiative. Left: Mr James Ofwona, who founded Sega Silicon Valley. Photos/TOM OTIENO 

By JACOB NG’ETICH

Sega in Ugenya District is a typical dusty village with a reputation for tidit, a potent local brew. But that is changing fast and it is now transforming itself into a hub of information technology.

This is all thanks to an initiative of local boys who have watched it happen overseas and now want to see it replicated at home.

“My mother told me, ‘in all you do in your life, never forget where you came from’, ” says Mr James Ofwona, a Kenyan businessman based in Warsaw, Poland, who is among the brains behind the initiative.

The Sega Silicon Valley is an initiative of Simba Friends Foundation, a charitable organisation Mr Ofwona founded a year ago. It is now changing lives in Sega as it imparts IT knowledge through institutions, including primary schools.

Sega Silicon Valley is an ambitious initiative that aims to transform Sega village, consisting of 10,000 inhabitants, into a “Silicon Valley”, an African ICT hub comparable to the Silicon Valley in the US.

With the initiative, youths have moved beyond viewing the computer as an alien machine that their eyes accidentally come across to a machine they can use in the course of their day-to-day learning activities.

Demystify computers

Mr Ofwona said his intention was to demystify computers and the use of IT in the village and make them part of daily activities.

“My intention is to make computer knowledge and IT like an infectious disease; every youth gets to learn and once they have learned, they can then pass the knowledge to someone else,” said Mr Ofwona.

He said in Europe, almost everyone, including teenagers, can go into a shop, buy computer accessories, and fix their machines.
Mr Ofwona said the African society with its closely knit family and friendship ties could easily pass on knowledge.

He said the initiative seeks to support skills development and enhancement of job opportunities for young people in developing countries.

“We appreciate the present digital world in which we live where one cannot ignore technological advances and how they have shaped leading economies to what they are today,” Mr Ofwona added.

Under the initiative, computer laboratories have been established in seven institutions that include Kogere Primary, Sega Girls Primary and secondary school, Sega Township primary and secondary school, Sega youth polytechnic, and a community learning centre that also acts as the headquarters of the Sega Silicon Valley.

Some 140 solar-powered desk top computers have been installed. Each institution has 20 computers. Mr Ofwona believes the young generation should and must be equipped with knowledge and skills for problem solving and information gathering and interpretation so as to be able to compete well globally.

“Teachers also need computer skills and curriculum integration techniques in order to enhance instructional materials, access inexhaustible sources of references and materials from the internet and other electronic repositories, and to collaborate with other teachers from around the world to enhance teaching and learning,” he said.

Since 2008, Sega Silicon Valley has established a CISCO networking academy and provided IT training to youths. So far, more than 100 youths have been trained in integration of IT in business. The initiative has gone further to set up a youth entrepreneurship ICT centre at Sega market with a local partner.

The centre is currently installing a multimedia curriculum in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology and a wide area wireless network that will connect all the institutions in its programme.

Mr Ofwona, 44, said he believes that local people must take the lead in designing and implementing programmes so that the community can have strong local partnerships at the grassroots.

“We at Sega Silicon Valley strive to ensure that the results of the work we support produce tangible benefits that have a direct bearing on the lives of the people,” he said.

There are plans to put up a business process outsourcing in the centre, through recommendations by CISCO. A company in the US has already declared an interest in entering into business with the centre.

Village dwellers

“If all goes as planned, then we shall have the village youths we have trained getting employment at the BPO centre. This will positively impact on the village dwellers,” explained Mr Ofwona, who is married to Ada. The couple have a daughter, Claudia.

The businessman in 2006 helped renovate old buildings at Kogere Primary School, construct new buildings, and bought facilities. This was all worth Sh16 million.

According to the Kogere Primary School deputy headmaster, Mr Thomas Omondi, the input has improved the status of the school. Kogere is now among the best performing schools in the new Ugenya District.

“When the school was revamped there was an influx of students, increasing the number from around 200 to the current 500. The quality of education has also gone up,” said Mr Omondi.

He said pupils in the upper classes can now learn how to use computers, something children in other areas can only dream of.

A mobile service provider is to instal internet connection to the centre after a base station currently being put up in the village is completed.