Three years ago, I enjoyed being taught by Stefan Oltsch und Miriam Riechers about development co-operation and conflict resolution. Apart from having had really good and fruitful seminars and experiences, some examples we discussed I will probably never forget. If I remember right it was one part of the Do No Harm approach, that in development co-operation the needs of the people might differ from what we perceive is necessary. The example went like this:
There is a remote rural African village which is very far from the next river/ well. As a consequence the girls and women from this very village have to walk six or more hours each day to get fresh water to the village. However, it would be possible to construct a well in the middle of the village, not only enabling this village but also the neighbor villages to have easier access to fresh water. So the project was started… but why weren’t the children of these villages excited not having to walk each day for hours anymore? The reason is simple but astonishing: They would have favored still going to the other river/ well but having the money of the non-governmental organizations invested in a soccer field, because they enjoy playing soccer more than everything else.
That might sound odd, especially if you take Maslow into account. His theoretical construct of a pyramid (hierarchy of needs) is based on a simple assumption: In order to reach the next level, the needs of the lower level have to be satisfied first. Literally it means: If the basement is not properly constructed, you will not be able to build a ground floor on it. However, his approach was that basic needs such as stated by the international labour organization (shelter, food, water) have to be full filed first before thinking about issues such as security or even self-fulfillment. Of course he has a point there, but for some reason it does not apply in the above stated example.
Why do I write about these issues and how do I connect it to information and communication technologies? That is easy. My stay here in the Philippines is very fruitful when it comes down to development co-operation/ policy / society and information and communication technologies. Some weeks ago, there has been a report where the reporters tried to find out what happens with the money people give to begging children. The assumption was that they have to give to groups which pressure them to beg or to their family (that is why probably the best solution is to give them something healthy to eat or to drink instead of money). What did they find out?
The begging children spent some of this money, going to internet shops to play games or use the internet in order to enjoy themselves.
Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Yab, I give you that – but at the same time it is an interesting point while discussing the usefulness of the One-Laptop-Per-Child program for example. Their critics say that the children need food and water and not laptops, that they do not know what to do with laptops or use them to step on it to reach a shelve which they could not reach otherwise because they are to small. As stated in one of my other articles and cannot support these views. Code is important for development.
If you give a man a fish he is nourished for one day. If you teach him fishing instead, he will always be able to nourish himself.
Somehow, the desire for escaping their current world is higher than one more portion of rice. However, I do not think that these children go to the internet shops in order to educate themselves and escape their current vicious circle forever (even though this would be highly desirable).
My point is: free computer access for the poor. Sounds crazy, I know but it might have a lot of positive implications apart from playing games to escape your life for a couple of minutes. Plus, an educational project might be put up later, when they are familiar with computers and the Internet.
Drawback? Perhaps. Computers in internet shops are always switched on and connected to the internet. So if they are not in use, why not allocate this time to the people who simply cannot afford it? If the government has money for it, even better: set up internet shops (especially in remote and rural areas) and apart from generating revenue from the people who can pay for it: do something good.
With that remark I would like to close today’s article and hope that all of us can allocate some of our time to think out of the box sometimes. Our perception might sometimes be wrong and in order to know what a person wants you should sometimes ask him or her.