HINTERLAND RESIDENTS MAKING GOOD USE OF FIRST-TIME INTERNET CONNECTIONS

The Ministry of Public Telecommunications (MOPT) is not letting up on its mandate to close the gaps in quality-of-life and access to public services between the coastland and interior regions.  MOPT’s responsibilities center on ensuring that every single citizen has easy access to information and public services, to technology, to computers and training for computer literacy, with the ultimate objective of creating a technology-savvy population.

In addition to the broad scope of work being executed by the eGovernment arm of the National Data Management Authority (NDMA), the agency has to date equipped 72 hinterland/inland communities with satellite dishes, computers and, in some areas, solar energy panels.  Residents in most of these remote villages have never before had such easy access to information from around the world, nor to other means of communication beside letter writing and word of mouth.

This embrace of our hinterland is part of that wide-ranging MOPT Project which is being overseen by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and funded through the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF).  The programme, titled: “ICT Access and e-Services for Hinterland, Poor and Remote Communities” (HPRC), was signed into being late 2017 but it got off to a slow start.

In the interim, the NDMA which is executing all of the project’s deliverables, started procuring Satellite (VSAT) dishes, solar panels, equipment and fittings since 2018 utilizing Government of Guyana (GOG) funds while they waited for disbursements from the UNDP.  The NDMA’s engineers also started the groundwork in the remote and hinterland villages since 2018, installing satellite dishes and Wi-Fi connection equipment.

According to HPRC Project Co-ordinator, Phillip Walcott, that 2018 decision to start the groundwork immediately utilizing Government’s funds is now allowing them to catch up with the benchmark/delivery schedule.  The schedule indicates that the 5-year project which began officially with the signing of the Agreements in late 2017, is expected to be concluded in 2022.  Mr. Walcott added that so far, the GoG has covered over 75 percent of the project costs.

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**This week of 15 October 2019, the HPRC received the first three (3) project vehicles, i.e. two (2) thirteen-seater 4WD Land Cruisers and one Hiace 15-seater mini bus.  These have been added to the fleet of NDMA’s vehicles that had been put on the project to transport personnel and equipment to project sites.

Villages connected to the Web

The project identifies 200 hinterland locations for Internet connections over 5 years.  Of that number, 72 villages are already online including Port Kaituma, Kabakaburi, Aishalton, Surama and Yupukari.

Before the end of 2019, another 24 communities will be connected via satellite dishes.  Included in these communities are Parabara, Shiriri, Rupunau, Shea, Monkey Mountain, Ituni, Old England, Kumaka, Ebini and Mabura.

Whereas in the city and towns, preparations for new Community ICT Hubs require volunteer work from residents who choose their space, usually a room in a Community Centre, construct cubicles and install electrical fittings, and the NDMA then supplies Wi-Fi connections and donate computers for residents to access the Internet free of cost, the project takes a broader approach in these remote areas.

Wi-fi equipment are being installed in hospitals and health centres to enable health professionals there to practice telemedicine; as well as in village meeting places, multi-purpose centers, and schools.

At the same time, computer training programmes at Basic and Intermediate levels have begun for Hinterland residents.  In Region 8, the MOPT’s Innovation Department has already completed an intensive Train-the-Trainers programme for 27 persons drawn from communities surrounding the Iwokrama River Lodge & Research Center – Wowetta, Fairview, Surama, Rupertee, Kwatamang and Annai.

The Impact

Today, residents in the identified hinterland communities no longer have to wait until newspapers arrive for news, as they have been doing for generations.  They can now access the web free of charge, at any time, on their computers, cellphones and tablets.  They are now able to call and text with their children who live far away from home in school dormitories, e.g. at St. Ignatius Secondary in Lethem.

The women manufacturers of peanut butter in Aranaputa now stay in close contact by email, WhatsApp and telephone with the New Guyana Marketing Corporation and the Agriculture Ministry in Georgetown.  More recently, a young entrepreneur at Rupertee used his cellphone to fill out and submit his application online to the Small Business Bureau in Georgetown for micro financing, without leaving his village.

“Our aim is to ensure that our people in as many populated areas as possible have free access to the Internet.  The people living in interior regions must have access to the same information, the same resources as our citizens on the coast, and everything we do at the Ministry is to ensure that this becomes Guyana’s reality – real equity”.

Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes