by Ha Nguyen
|Cyber-savvy: Rural residents take part in a computer-training programme sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. File Photo
Farmer Le Thi Cham, 52, was very happy to find her daughter who was adopted by a French family 12 years ago.
A resident of Van Tho Village in the northern province of Thai Nguyen's Dai Tu District, Cham had only words of praise for a pilot project designed to improve computer use and internet access in the provinces of Thai Nguyen, Nghe An and Tra Vinh. Thanks to the project, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, her family has been reunited.
Cham said she put her five-year-old daughter up for adoption because she needed money to help treat her father-in-law's lung cancer.
"My heart nearly broke when I had to give my daughter up for adoption but I had no choice because we were very poor at that time and had no money to pay for my father's treatments. I've suffered miserably since then because I didn't think I would ever see my daughter again. Then, in 2009 I was selected to participate in a project to learn how to use a computer and access the internet.
"One of the staff members at the post office helped me send the French couple an email. I was so surprised when I learned they had replied and planned to bring their adopted daughter (my daughter) to Viet Nam in the very near future.
"Thanks to the internet, I can contact my daughter frequently. She is currently a pretty university student in France.
"My poor village is also happy because my daughter's adopted parents recently sent us 12,000 euros (US$ 15,756) to build a road in our village," she said.
Through the project, Hoang Thi Sam, in the central province of Nghe An's Dien Chau District, has learned how to use computers and access the internet to find information about raising chickens to sell for extra income.
Sam said her six-member family would remain very poor and possible face two or three months of hunger if they limited their livelihoods to cultivation of their 700sq m of land.
"As a participant of the project, I now know how to access the internet to search for techniques on how to raise chickens to sell. I contacted a successful chicken farmer in Ha Noi's Tu Liem District to seek information on how to protect them from bird flu and other illness, and what I should feed them to ensure they produce tasty meat. Last year, we earned nearly VND80 million ($3,809) in profit from selling chickens. We have escaped poverty and hunger.
"But more importantly, my son, who is very interested in studying maths, also went with me to the village post office. Now he knows how to use a computer and access the internet to get maths lessons. As a result, he has become an excellent maths student at school, said Sam, adding that her family and relatives are very proud of him.
Ho Quang Thanh, director of the Nghe An Department of Information and Communications, told Viet Nam News that the project has benefited more than 1,320 learners in his province's 11 mountainous districts whichhave more than 450,000 ethnic people.
Nghe An's infrastructure for information and technology is still limited. The project has brought computers and wideband internet to remote and isolated areas to benefit disadvantaged ethnic people, said Thanh, adding that if the project didn't come, these people could have to wait for years to access IT.
"More importantly, the training courses, and computer and internet awareness have been lucrative for the local administration and people have been improving their lives as shown by the fact that more locals come to the commune library and post office to access the internet for their businesses and services," said Thanh.
He added that many beneficiaries have purchased home computers to do business and contact their relatives and friends inside and outside the country.
Cham and Sam are among hundreds of beneficiaries of the three-year pilot project which started in 2009.
More than 200 courses have been opened for more than 4,000 learners in the three provinces.
In light of the project's success, last year the BMGF and Microsoft agreed to extend the project with an additional $50 million, which includes more than $29.9 million in grant aid, $3.6 million from Microsoft and more than $16 million from the Vietnamese Government, said Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai, head of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's Library Department.
The extended project will be implemented at 400 libraries and include the installation of more than 12,000 computers connected to the internet at 1,900 commune post offices in disadvantaged areas in 40 provinces and cities nationwide from now until 2016, giving residents access to 100 per cent free services, she said.
"More than 1,500 staff from commune post offices will be selected to join courses to improve their computer usage to better serve people while 760,000 rural people are expected to know how to use a computer and access the internet when the project ends in five years," said Am.
Director of BMGF's Global Libraries Initiative Deborah Jacobs said that co-operation and discussions about visions of the project would play important roles in ensuring long-term financial and technological sustainability.
Dr Phan Huu Phong, director of the project management board, said the project has benefited many poor people in severely disadvantaged areas.
"It aimed to improve service capacity of commune libraries and post offices so that they could focus on helping the poor use computers and the internet to improve their living standards," Phong said.
The pilot project was awarded first prize among rural management projects from India's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology last June. — VNS