RURAL TELECENTRES NOT BURIED YET
OR ARE THEY?
It's now several years since the governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador eliminated the innovative rural telecentre project. The staff have been fired and the buildings closed. The rumor is that the cuts to our access to information technology were made by one person in St. John's. Who do you think made the decision? Why was the decision made? Was it really only a personal vendetta against the people who originally set up the telecentres? Or is it the "slash and burn" philosophy of the type of managers we allow to control our lives?
No surprise, the telecentres closed Sept. 30, 1997, as people had been predicting all along. But do you remember a few months before when a government minister was saying the cuts would never happen? There was no consultation. You can also click on this photo to talk on our WEB BOARD about the
decision to get rid of our rural telecentres. Let us hear your voice. These pages are sponsored by
Communication for Survival because we believe that cuts to services in rural Newfoundland must
be stopped now. The purpose of these pages is
not only to give you information but also an opportunity to speak out and discuss this government
policy decision with other concerned people.
But the story of the telecentres was not buried on Sept. 30. Today we feature two voices; Tom O'Keefe brings us critical memory and a vision while Richard Fuchs brings us global awareness of our unique experience.
By Thomas V. O'Keefe
P. O. Box 809, Clarenville, NF,
I have recently returned to Clarenville to set up a community/economic
development consulting business that will focus on community,
organizational and personal development. One disappointment I have in
doing this is to see that the Clarenville Telecentre is about to close.
Some of those commenting on this closure say the services will be
available through other agencies, but I doubt that very much. Remember
when the Extension Service of Memorial University was closed. They then
told us the same services would be provided by, community colleges,
development associations, and government departments. We now know that
was not true and it looks like the same will happen to the telecentres
across the province.
It is not that other agencies do not provide some information and
resources that one can get at a telecentre. The difference is in how
they provide it. At the telecentre, you do not have to make an
appointment to see someone in their office. Instead the resources are
all around you in a drop- in centre and there are also resource people
there that can assist you when needed. You can of course arrange a
private meeting with a qualified staff person if required. One of the
valuable things is that business people or those interested in
technology, using the centre, can also develop relationships and help
each other. Learning from your peers is often one of the best ways of
doing it and it is especially helpful to people just starting out
because it helps to build confidence and a community or team approach to
One of the arguments for closing the telecentres is that new information
technology officers will be appointed to travel over larger areas. That
is also needed and would be especially good if we were not losing a
valuable service provided by the telecentres. Ideally these traveling
people should have been attached to the telecentres. Then we would have
the best of both with the telecentre a place were resources are held and
new concepts developed and people to spread these out to a larger
It has been suggested that one of the reasons for the telecentre breakup
is that economic development and technology are the responsibilities of
two different departments of governments and everyone wants to build
their separate empires. (Like the churches in education?).
The Clarenville Area could overcome the negative aspects of this closure
of the telecentre if local agencies wanted to work as a team. This
would mainly require the co-operation of the Department of Development
and Rural Renewal , the Community College, the Discovery Regional
Development Board and the Bonavista Peninsula & Surrounding Area
Community Futures Development Corporation. All they would have to do is
put the services they provide, that relate to the services of a
telecentre, in one location and to accept the culture that guided the
telecentre. If some of the telecentre staff could be hired for this
cooperative venture it would help speed the process. This way we would
have the best of both worlds, a drop-in resource centre with support
people and traveling staff to move the resources and knowledge out to a
Who should lead this unique approach? How about the Chamber of Commerce
and the Clarenville Telematics Strategy? The Community College could do
it to live up to its commitment to community development. It is
certainly within the role of the Department of Development and Rural
Renewal to provide such leadership. What would be more appropriate as
part of the strategy of the Discovery Regional Development Board? If the
Bonavista Peninsula and Surrounding Area Community Futures Development
Corporation is to live up to its role it would also be supportive. The
Town of Clarenville and nearby development associations should also give
their support. All these agencies talk about partnerships - now is a
time to demonstrate it. It would be a great example to other parts of
Following this approach would see the Clarenville Area directing its own
future instead of following the dictates of some civil servants in St.
John's. If I can be of any assistance to those who want to provide such
leadership, I can be reached by telephoning 466-2190 or by email:
Act Globally, Think Locally
by Richard Fuchs
1,300 skulls in neat stacks and rows looked up at me from their
cistern-like, basement, resting- place. The 12 Ugandans standing,
waiting for my reaction, said not a word. Although my camera was in
hand, I could not defile the sanctity of the place with a photograph.
Some things are private and sacred. The brutality of the past peril
that led to this was beyond my imagination. The small brick building
we're in is a memorial testament to the rural town of Nakeseke,
Uganda. First they resisted Idi Amin Dada and, then, Milton Obote and they
paid the price.
Nakeseke is a small rural town about 45 km by rutted pavement and
another 16 km over narrow country dirt path from Uganda's capital,
Kampala. Nakeseke had been the scene of, what many say, was the most
brutal episode in Uganda's turbulent years of sequential dictatorships
and liberation struggles from 1971 - 1986.
The people of Nakeseke supported the current President while he was
leader of the People's Liberation Army. After 10 years of vigorous
democracy and a rancorous free press (there are 4 daily newspapers in
Kampala), Ugandans are beginning to look from behind the "plantain"
patch and hope again. Even in Nakaseke, Uganda's fusion of
Cambodia's killing fields and Vietnam's My Lai rolled into one
unspeakable horror, people are beginning to think about a future beyond
tonight and even tomorrow.
The Ugandans there wait for my reaction. "You can never forget this."
I say. John Muuonge, a telecommunications engineer from Uganda Post and
Telecommunications Corporation responds "Forgive, yes, but we may never
forget!" I'm not even sure about forgiving!
We also visit one of the outlying, deep-country, rural, primary
schools. The smiling students are lined in neat rows to greet us,
most of them in green and red uniforms. Their smiles belie the recent
history and current circumstances of the place. The school had been
devastated during the war. 11 years later there are still no roofs on
the classrooms, making the rainy season an interesting educational
challenge. The Headmaster's thatched roof, mud-clay office building is
the only place that is partially protected from the rain.
The 357 students can't fit into the Headmaster's hut. They come there
every day at 8 in the morning and depart again at 5 in the evening and
eat not a morsel of food (we might call it lunch). The teachers, whose
annual salary is in the range of $800 a year (almost 4 times the $224
per capita annual income for the country), could probably afford lunch
themselves, but they refrain. They're waiting for another month to
pass when the bumper maize crop adjacent to the school grounds can be
harvested. Then everyone can have gruel for lunch. A new set of
classrooms is being built with materials provided through Uganda's new
"Universal Primary Education" policy and the volunteer labour of local
squatters and peasant farmers.
The regional hospital was also devastated by the civil wars that ended
10 years ago. Very little has changed since then. The Medical
Superintendent at the Hospital, Dr. Frank Musaka, gives our rather large
group the guided tour. In a hospital with 70 professional and 53
support staff, a large pot boiling over a wood fire provides
sterilization services. There is, of course, no computer in the
hospital or the community and the manually operated switchboard in the
town hasn't worked for 10 years. There is no phone in this hospital.
In fact, there isn't a telephone within 16 kms of Nakaseke, Uganda.
That's why we're there. Along with a colleague from UNESCO, I am
representing Canada's International Development Research Centre and the
UN's International Telecommunications Union. Our presence there isn't
to help them grow food, build roofs or renovate the hospital. We're
there for something the national government and the local people see as
an immediate and urgent priority. They want to develop a rural
telecentre like the ones that are in Newfoundland, Canada.
And it's not just our telecentres that they emulate. The Medical
Superintendent completed medical school at Makerere University in the
mid-80's. He learned about telemedicine through a series of pilot
projects undertaken with Memorial University's distance education
agency, TETRA. His face lights up when I tell him about the telewriters
that have been in use for years and how this should be possible to do at
the telecentre they are building as well. While his position of
leadership doesn't allow too much enthusiasm, you can tell he's already
thinking differently about his hospital and its patients.
I'm not certain that Christopher Senono knows where Canada is, much
less Newfoundland. My stories to the school kids we visit about
snowmen and ice-skating draw a blank on his face. Christopher is a
young businessman. He has two businesses, one in timber and the other
in food. Eight of Christopher's brothers and sisters died in the
Every day he walks a return trip of 32 km so he can make a phone
call. He wants a telecentre too and he wants it very badly. He knows
about telephones and has heard about fax. I try to tell him about the
Internet. He smiles politely.
This one story in Nakaseke, Uganda is being repeated throughout
Africa. Not the story about the recovery from genocide, although that
is happening too, but the development of new forms of communications and
information technology. Private capital is also getting into the game.
A Norwegian company, Starcom, is just deploying "wireless" trailers
(they looked like telecentres to me) with telephones, fax and low speed
data (9600 bps) services in small towns in Uganda based on high
frequency radio transmission.
Jay Naidoo, South Africa's Minister of Post and Telecommunications
announces that his country will build 100 rural telecentres a year for
the next 10 years. In partnership with Canada's International
Development Research Centre, the Government of Mozambique is also
building rural telecentres. Malawai, Tanzania and Benin will also be
build telecentres to bring the "Information Society" to rural people.
In Africa , where only 2 in 1,000 people have access to a telephone,
telecommunications is going to have a very different look than it does
in downtown Toronto. The "darkest continent" is about to get a lot
Newfoundland has models for distance education, rural telecentres,
telemedicine and school internet access that relate more directly to
Africa and the Third World's needs than anything else that has yet to be
developed in the Western world.
We've shot ourselves in the foot before chasing urban-industrial
models and markets that don't relate to what we are really good at. As
the Third World transforms itself through wireless telephony and
information, we should make sure that we don't miss this next great
wave of economic change and opportunity.
Rich Fuchs is the President of his own firm, Futureworks Inc and a
Director of Fast Forward Technologies Inc. He has worked in rural
development in Newfoundland for many years. While in Africa his firm
was under contract to the International Development Research Centre. You
can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Click on the logo above to read about the announcement in an article and editorial from The Georgian. There is also information sent out by government for "review" purposes after it had announced its decision.
Click on the photo to hear why Cindy O'Neill, a telecentre client, feels it is wrong to close the telecentres. First you will have to click on the VivoActive logo below to get your free VivoActive player. The download takes about three minutes on a 28.8 modem.
Click here if you want to send a message of support or request more information.
Jim Carroll, co-author of the
Canadian Internet Handbook
and author of Surviving the
"Efforts to replace information
-age initiatives - while they
might be fiscally sound - are
probably short-sighted. After
all, it is critical that the
common folk throughout
Newfoundland be equipped
with the skills to survive and
prosper in the new emerging
wired economy. Shutting
down the telecenter initiatives
might cause Newfoundland to
lose some valuable and critical
hi tech skills, in the interest of
saving just a few bucks."
"You can talk about being competitive in the information based global marketplace. But that
doesn't mean anything unless people are given the skills and opportunity to do something in that
marketplace. You can talk about grassroots-up decision making. But it's a lie if you're going to
continue to impose decisions on the regions from St. John's with apparently little understanding of
the regions you are affecting."
These pages are sponsored by Communication for Survival. We would like to thank Kevin Brake of the Western Regional Telecentre for his help at our recent conference. Check it out.