Namibian youth NGO wins WSIS award

A Namibian NGO producing comic strips to promote use of information and communications technology (ICT) has won an award in the community-engagement category at the just-ended World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, Tunisia.

The NGO, Schoolnet Namibia, exhibited at the WSIS its comic-strip project, which comprises two volumes of comic books. The comics are distributed to schools for use by teachers and students.

Schoolnet Namibia came third in this category for the comic book HaiTi!. In this category, it was the only project awarded from an African country.
The other two category winners were Vibe Wire from Australia and Hyperstaffs from the United Kingdom, which had community-interactive projects.

The HaiTi! comic strip is a new and innovative way to address the problem of promoting the use of ICT in this Southern African country, said Ebben Esser Hatuikulipi, the chief webmaster at Schoolnet Namibia.

“We have taken this bold new step to entice teachers and students to use ICT,” said Hatuikulipi. “We feel very excited because we now have international recognition for our efforts.”

Schoolnet Namibia attracted a big audience at its rather small pavilion in Tunis, and Hatuikulipi said she was very happy with the feedback the NGO received from summit participants.

After it had distributed the comic books on Monday, many people visited its stand to see the people involved.

The NGO’s aim is to spread the word on how the internet and computers can transform the lives of students and teachers.

The HaiTi! comic strip appears in The Namibian newspaper every Tuesday; after 40 appearances, the strips are collected in a single volume, which is then distributed.

“The response from Namibians is very encouraging; we get people calling to enquire on when the next issue comes,” Hatuikulipi said.

She added that Schoolnet Namibia has spoken to organisations from different countries that wish to carry out similar projects in their countries.

The NGO’s executive director, Joris Komen, said: “Our numerous letters, manuals and trainers have not been very effective in bringing teachers into the computer lab.”

This is what motivated it to develop a character-based comic-strip drama around the Schoolnet team, with the help of teachers and students at a remote rural school in Namibia.

Besides producing the comic strip, which has been around since April this year, the organisation also provides open-source software called Openlab4 with basic systems administration for Linux to schools.

Since 2000, at least 450 schools have received free hardware, free training on Openlab4 operating systems and a subsidised telephone service, according to Hatuikulipi.

The WSIS awards process selects and promotes the best projects that focus on providing rich e-content with representatives from different countries on each continent.

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