The rise of open source, and the skyrocketing popularity of Drupal as a CMS, has made for many very happy developers working in the open source world. But for some people, it isn’t just a hobby or a way to bring home a paycheck: it’s a ticket out of crushing poverty.
For some youth living in informal settlements in Kampala, Uganda, the Kampabits organization has made an incredible difference in their lives. The program takes impoverished young individuals who are unable to access funding or build the necessary skills to find gainful employment, and helps them become web designers and web developers. Drupal is one of the open source platforms they use.
With the number of alumni of the program employed or entrepreneurs in their own rights, the program is clearly making a difference in its students’ lives. "In spite of the challenges, Kampabits has registered a 75% success rate of program alumni finding jobs or starting their own business,” said Kampabits Coordinator and Manager Alex Okwaput.
Providing Durable Solutions to Social Problems
According to Okwaput, Kampabits partners with Community Based Organizations (CBO)s that operate in the informal settlements, which are very poor, slum-like communities. The CBOs refer at-risk youth to the Kampabits team, who then visit with the candidates to determine whether they are eligible or able to participate in the one year training program.
“The selection process is really rigorous,” said Hanja Holm, the Operational Director of Butterfly Works, the organization that founded the Bits programs. “It’s important to find those youth that come from informal settlements, but have good motivation to finish this course, gain the creativity to succeed, and are willing to give back to the community and the concept behind the Bits programs."
The program is one of several programs that derived from Nairobits, a program that was implemented in 2000 by three women who would go on to become co-founders of Butterfly Works. The self-described “social innovation studio” was founded in 2003 to find and implement durable solutions for social problems.
Originally started as an art project to show the world the lives and the neighborhoods of poor youths in Kenya, the program quickly morphed into a way of collaborating with young people in poor settlements so that they could gain the creativity and skills to lift themselves out of poverty. Well over a decade after Nairobits opened its doors, there are several “Bits” programs spread across Africa, and more opening up elsewhere.
As the name implies, the Nairobits program serves Nairobi, Kenya. The Zanzabits Center for Film & Multimedia serves Zanzibar, Tanzania; Kampabits serves Kampala, Uganda; and Aruabits, the most recent program, was opened in October of 2013, serves the city of Arua in northern Uganda. The first bits program to be implemented outside of East Africa will be Indusbits, located in Pakistan.
Doing Good, Being Great
To make sure instructors have access to the resources they need, the Butterfly Works team has created a digital learning environment called Bits Academy, where instructors can access teaching materials, showcase student work, upload tutorials, and modify the existing curriculum to fit local needs.
The team takes a practical approach to the curriculum: wherever possible, students are taught cost-saving, open source platforms like Drupal, though they’re also given instruction in widely used paid software such as Microsoft Office, said Holm.
Of the popular content management systems that the team researched and uses for the program, "Drupal features among the three powerful ones,” Okwaput told the Association. "Drupal is open source, so there are almost no costs, which is a plus. It is good for customizing web solutions, and there is always a module that can help.”
"The Kampabits training consists of information communication technology and multimedia, web design and development (where Drupal is introduced as one of the CMSs), basic entrepreneurship (conducted by Digital Opportunity Trust -DOT (http://uganda.dotrust.org) and life skills in general. After the one year training the students are linked to IT initiatives for internships,” wrote Okwaput.
After completing the internship, students are able to seek out employment, go freelance, or even become entrepreneurs in their own right.
"Through the program, the youth are learning skills that make them more employable,” said Holm. “Almost all of youth that finish the year-long program find jobs, which aren’t only in web design and development. Our alumni find that they’re eligible for many different jobs because they learn creative thinking and concept development, and some of them even start their own businesses.”
And are those new workers successful? According to Holm, “When it comes to the Nairobits programs, employers really like working with the graduates, and we’ve seen the same thing in Kampala. Students in the program learn web design by doing, whereas in the universities, students only learn theory. The companies really like that our graduates actually have the experience to do the work."
In spite of the challenges, such as lack of donor funding, limited facilities for training, erratic power supply, and difficulties dealing with business partners, the programs are making a huge difference in the lives of at-risk youth, and those benefits are trickling into the surrounding communities. One alumna of the Kampabits program, Best Aiyorwoth, won a prize of $25,000 for starting up her own business— creating much needed, valuable jobs in her community.
“[The entrepreneurship aspect] is really important in the current economy because everywhere in the world there’s lots of youth unemployed-- so they have to make their own jobs,” Holm said.
To get involved, or to make a donation, please visit the Kampabits website, the Bits Academy, or contact Butterfly Works for more information on the programs.
From: Assoc.drupal.org. Click to see the full content.