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Laptops link isolated villages to wider world

Update: April, 20/2013 - 01:00
Wired: Khoa (right) and another communal staff member work on the Internet. VNS Photo Van Chuong

As remote localities gain access to the Internet, everyone from farmers to local officials is scrambling to get their hands on a computer. Le Van Chuong reports

In the past, village officials would gather after work to drink and socialise, said Pham Van Lich, a young resident of Ba Dien Commune in the central province of Quang Ngai. But today, they spend their nights learning about computers.

Pham Van But, the commune Party secretary, said he thought he would never be able to use a computer. But when 28-year-old Nguyen Anh Khoa, the deputy commune chief, lauched a project to bring laptops and iPads into daily use for administrative work, he promised to teach him.

"I asked Khoa to buy me an up-to-date iPad to use for office work. Owning one is still a dream for many people, including those in urban areas," said But, who primarily uses the device for agricultural research. "Working online is very convenient. We save at least 100 sheets of paper a day."

But and the rest of the Ba Dien Commune People's Committee see the computer as they see the canal that leads water from the Nuoi Ba Ra Stream to the village: a useful means of procuring information from the wider world.

When Khoa was promoted to work as deputy chief last year, he set up an email account for the commune People's Committee as well as each staff member.

"I told them to make passwords that were easy to remember and send their draft documents to me for editing," Khoa said.

He spent several months training staff to use the internet as well as chat technology. He also helped them buy a laptop to share.

As a result, a dozen commune committee members ended up buying personal laptops with their own money because they were so excited to discover the internet, said Khoa.

Pham Van Duon, who is in charge of village culture, said when he arrived to work with villagers, they surrounded him to see how he managed the keyboard.

"The internet has thousands of things to teach us, such as how to apply modern technology to our agricultural methods and livestock breeding," said Lich.

He said many young people in his commune had asked Khoa to buy them laptops to use for agricultural research.

In the remote village, it's no longer unusual to see someone carrying around a laptop.

As in Ba Dien, almost all the farming households in the southern province of Dong Nai's An Vien Commune have computers.

Farmer Le Doan Tan said the internet had taught him many things, including how to prevent his herd of 2,000 chickens from succumbing to avian flu.

"In the past, villagers who raised livestock could only rely on experience. Having the internet is very useful for us," Tan said.

Before using the internet, he added, he had lost about VND150 million from chicken deaths.

Successful farmers have posted advice on the internet for their fellows to follow.

An Vien Commune People's Committee Chairman Nguyen Tan Hung said locals now visit the village's website (www.dost-dongnai.gove/AnVien) to get information about health care and prices of farm produce and fertiliser.

"Many of my employees work very hard to find new information on the internet and then forward it to farmers in the village. Since the internet was popularised in our village in 2009, villagers' knowledge has much improved," said Hung.

Pham Van Sang, director of the Dong Nai Department for Science and Technology, said all of the province's communes already had their own websites.

Currently each village post office has about 300 scientific films and thousands of books on farming and livestock breeding, said Sang, adding that they could rent a film for VND500 per day or get advice on locating a file free of charge.

In 2010, the Bill and Melinda Gates Fund and Microsoft agreed to provide US$50 million to a project to provide more computer access, including 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 includes 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, she said. Residents will be able to use them free of charge.

"When the project ends in five years, more than 1,500 staff from commune post offices have improved their computer skill through courses and 760,000 rural people will know how to use computers and access the internet," said Mai. — VNS

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