Empagi-za Bunyoro KitaraDespite all the challenges faced by the Kingdom, there are abundant existing opportunities and endowments that will be tapped and developed by the University in order to develop the region.

The rich culture of Bunyoro
… … In history, Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom boasts of its rich cultural endowments in form of tradition, music, dance, drama, and folklore. Prof. Mbabi Katana, a renowned professor of music in Africa once rightly said, “There is no history of Uganda without the history of Bunyoro”. The University will thus act as a reservoir of knowledge, research and scholarship into this culture.. It will aim at industrialisation of the valuable cultural assets in order to promote the Bunyoro Cultural Heritage. The University will all in all research into, preserve, develop and transmit cultural values and heritage as the springboard for development.

Fertile soils
Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom is endowed with fertile soils containing adequate organic matter suitable for agricultural productivity. In the exemption of the low lands that are covered by alluvial and lake deposits, the soils of the region are of formalistic type. The soils are of adequate depth and with rich humid topsoil. The granites soils such as clay deep loams, shallow loams, red clay loams and brown gravely clay loams support a variety of crops to be grown. The University’s backbone thus will be its agricultural component.

Favourable Climate
The Kingdom has a favourable climate. It enjoys a bi-modal rainfall type, which varies between 800mm-1500mm per annum. Rainfall comes in March-May and August –November. Throughout the Kingdom, there are high rainfall zones (1000mm-1500mm) medium rainfall zones that receive between 800mm-1000mm and lower rainfall zones that receive less than 800mm especially those that boarder with the rift valley. This bi-modal type of rainfall coupled with favourable weather conditions results into a conducive rain fed agricultural production throughout the year and crops mainly grown are bananas, cassava, tobacco, coffee, maize, beans, tea, upland rice, vanilla, cocoa, vegetables, millet, groundnuts, sweet and Irish potatoes, and soybeans.

Wonderful Vegetation
The Kingdom has got three broad categories of vegetation namely; the modified equatorial type which used to be equatorial vegetation in nature but has been modified as a result of human activity. There is also the wooded savannah mosaic that forms a transitional zone from the modified equatorial vegetation to Savannah grassland. The Savannah grassland is typical in areas where human activity has modified the wooded Savannah mosaic. Lastly, there are thick forests such as Bugoma and Budongo. These together with the elephant grass in the region provide a diverse habitat for a Variety of birds and animals.

Water Bodies
The Kingdom is endowed with adequate surface and subsurface water reserves. There are many rivers both seasonal and all weather water bodies. Currently these are not optimally conserved, developed and tapped. They include Lake Albert, Victoria Nile, Lake Maiha and Kiyanja (These are small lakes in Masindi District); Rivers Kafu, Waki, Muziizi, Nkusi, Mbaya, Ruzaire, Rwigo, Mpongo, Mpamba, Mutunguru, Wambabya, Bigajuka and others. There are also undeveloped power generation points that include Siipi falls, Karuma falls, Muziizi, Murchision and Wambabya.

Wet Lands
Wet lands form boundaries for most administrative units of the region.. They are also a good source of raw materials for the handcraft industry, which mainly employs women in the Kingdom. There are a number of such wetlands some of which are permanent and others seasonal. Rudimental fishing is also done in these wetlands by the adjacent communities especially mud fish which is a delicacy and nutrition boost. Wet lands are a good source of clay and sand evidenced by various brick making and sand excavation points that employ the male youth. Permanent wetlands ease development of safe water sources especially deep and shallow wells since they act as water reservoirs. However, all these have not been adequately tapped and utilised by the local communities to improve on their household incomes.

Natural forest reserves
A variety of trees and shrubs do exist in Budongo and Bugoma forests, which are an untapped treasure for the Kingdom. More still there are potentials of forest vegetation, which can be used to develop medicinal herbs that can be used to control and combat some diseases. A deep study is needed, who knows, possibly the drug or vaccine to prevent and cure HIV/AIDS lies in the beautiful vegetation of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom!

Tourism industry potential
The Kingdom is endowed with tourism industry potential which include Murchision Falls National Park, Busingiro eco-tourism site in Budongo forest, Butiaba, Kibiro, Ndaiga and Kaiso Tonya escarpments, Mparo Royal Tombs and other Historical and Cultural sites, Hills and Rocks, Landing sites and many others. These potentials have not been fully developed and utilised optimally to attract sizeable tourists to the Kingdom.

Mineral resources
The Kingdom has got a number of un-exploited mineral resources which include Oil around Lake Albert in the Western Rift valley, Salt in Kibiro, Iron ore, gold, titanium and copper. However, given a thorough geological survey of the area, there is a possibility of finding other mineral resources lying unexploited in the region.

Private sector and NGO support
The region enjoys a great contribution from civil society organisations, faith based organisations and non-governmental organisations. These have made a tremendous contribution in areas of primary education, health, nutrition, environment, road infrastructure, production, community development, capacity building, water supply and rural finance credit. There is however a remarkable lack of higher education facilities in the region.

Large and small-scale business enterprises
The Kingdom is further endowed with large scale and small-scale business enterprises. There is British American Tobacco (BAT) Company; Muziizi, Bugambe and Kisaaru tea Estates and Kinyara sugar works. The private business community has also invested in micro-finance institutions, hotels and restaurants, salons, maize mills, shops, oil stations, FM radio stations, transport facilities, construction companies, driving schools, carpentry workshops and in agricultural produce and marketing. However, all these are not optimally used nor effectively managed.

Improved Road Networks and Communication
Communication has greatly improved through the installation of more masts by MTN, CELTEL, UTL (Mobile telephone companies) thereby increasing telephone network coverage in the Kingdom. Eight FM radio stations (two more are in offing) have been established. There is also a wide coverage of Uganda Television in the region. Road networks have greatly improved. The upgrading of Hoima-Kampala road into an all weather tarmac presents a great potential for development.

Training Institutions/schools
There are a number of training institutions in the Kingdom with a remarkable lack of tertiary institutions. The available data in the development plans of the three districts shows that there are 712 primary schools with an enrolment of 361,614 pupils and 6,554 teachers. Of these teachers over 60% are grade III (The Lowest grade in Uganda) and 21% are untrained. There are 126 secondary schools with an enrolment of 25,249 and 2,016 teachers. Of these teachers 69.2% are diploma holders (the lowest grade for a secondary school teacher in Uganda) and 19.7% are untrained (license teachers).
Post Secondary Institutions include Kamurasi and Bulera Primary Teachers Colleges, Nyabyeya Forestry College; Uganda Co-operatives College, Kigumba; Kiryandongo, Kibwona, St Simon Peters (Rwenkobe), St Joseph, Munteme; and Birembo Technical Institutes, URDT Institute, Kagadi; Balma, Kitara, Millennium and Nile Vocational Institutes. The only (Masindi) National Teachers College in the Kingdom is on the verge of being closed by the Ministry of Education and Sports. There is no University in the Kingdom. University education therefore has to be sought from Makerere University and other Universities that are very far and expensive. Students from poor families have had to drop out of schools and get married because they have no hope of ever attaining University education. It is not a surprise therefore that Hoima District has been ranked by the Ministry of Health, the highest in Uganda in cases of high incidences of early marriages. Bunyoro University for development thus is going to be the only institution of its kind in the Kingdom.

The Empire of Kitara (also known as Bachwezi, Bacwezi, or Chwezi empire) is a strong part of oral tradition in the area of the Great Lakes of Africa, including the modern countries of Uganda, northern Tanzania, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi

In the oral tradition, Kitara was a kingdom which, at the height of its power in the fourteenth and fifteenth ……centuries, included much of Uganda, northern Tanzania and eastern Congo (DRC), ruled by a dynasty known as the Bachwezi (or Chwezi) who were the successors of the Batembuzi Dynasty.

According to the story, the Kitara Empire lasted until the 16th century, when it was invaded by Luo people, who came from the South of the present-day Sudan and established the kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara. Evidence suggests that the clans of Buganda, for instance, have their own history (based on oral tradition) that is exclusive of the history of the Kingdom of Buganda

Batembuzi and Bachwezi dynasties
The Empire of Kitara was founded by the Batembuzi Dynasty, who were succeeded by Bachwezi Dynasty. Little is known about the Batembuzi and Bachwezi, or when they established Kitara. Much of what is known is based on mythology and oral tradition.A number of current Great Lakes kingdoms claim inheritance from the ancient Kitara empire, ruled by a dynasty known as the Bachwezi.The reign of the Bachwezi is shrouded in mystery and legend, so much so that many traditional gods in Toro, Bunyoro and Buganda have names associated with the Bachwezi kings. The Bachwezi are often associated with great earthwork sites found in western Uganda. Archaeological discoveries made at Bigo bya Mugenyi, the capital of the empire, and Ntusi located in present day Mubende District of Uganda, reveal rich deposits of an urban centre which represented a highly organized society.

Babiito dynasty
The Kitara Empire finally broke up during the 16th century with the advent of the invading Luo people from the north. A Luo clan known as the Biito, led by a Chief called Labongo, invaded Bunyoro, the northernmost province of Kitara, from where the empire was ruled. The Luo had migrated from present-day Sudan, and would later settle large areas of northern Uganda, and around the north-eastern shores of Lake Victoria. Labongo established his rule in what was now Bunyoro-Kitara, becoming Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi, the first in line of the Babiito kings which provided the dynasties that also ruled in the kingdoms of Toro, Kooki, and some chiefdoms of Busoga.
To the south of Bunyoro, the rest of the Kitara was superseded by the development of several kingdoms located within, or across, the span of several present-day national boundaries, including Ankole mainly in Uganda, Karagwe and Kyamutwara in Tanzania, and the kingdoms of Burundi and Rwanda.

Introduction to the Kingdom Bunyoro Kitara

The Kingdom Bunyoro Kitara was a very extensive, prestigious and famous at the height of its power.

Socially, people were organised in strong clans with the royal clan of the Kings, princes and princesses. The King held executive, judiciary and legislative powers. His word was highly respected and almost equated to the word from God. The King’s subjects ensured that their King lacked nothing economically. Clans would bring food stuffs (Ebihotole) in turn and each clan had a specific duty to perform for the King. For example, Abaliisa clan were the shepherds of the Kings cattle (Enkorogi), the Abahamba clan were the hunters and body guards (Abakumirizi) for the King, the Abasiita clan being the artisans and craftsmen and the Bayaga clan were the chief entertainers of the King.

Politically, the King had absolute authority over his subjects. He appointed the county chiefs (Abamasaza) to administer each county. Bellow them were sub county chiefs (Abagomborozi) who were sub-county administrators. These received reports from parish chiefs (Abemiruka) and Sub-parish chiefs (Abatongole). At the very grass root were the village chiefs (Bakuru b’emigongo). With this hierarchical arrangement the king’s messages used to reach at the grass root very fast. Later on the office of the Prime Minister (Omuhikirwa/Katiikiro) was established to head the civil service of the entire Kingdom. All county chiefs report to him and he in turn reports to the King.

Economically, the Kingdom of Bunyoro was the supplier of food stuffs to other neighbouring kingdoms. The fertile soils of the kingdom enabled people to grow plenty of food for home consumption and the surplus was sold to the neighbouring communities. People’s economy thus was greatly hinged on Agriculture carried on using traditionally made hoes. Barter trade was also common.

The people along Lake Mwitanzige (Albert) known as the Bagungu were fishermen. Some communities were hunters using nets, knives and spears as their locally made tools for killing small animals while the big ones were killed using well dug deep pits (Obuhya). People thus exchanged fish or dried meat (Omukaro) with food stuffs. The coming of the Bachwezi introduced the culture of cattle keeping on a larger scale with their long-horned cattle which yielded more milk.

Salt processing in Kibiro is still going on up to today. The Abanyakibiro got their living through the exchange of this salt and fish. The Banyoro also produced a number of wooden items, hides and skins items, palm and sisal items, iron and stone items, pottery and mud items, and many others on economic basis. These were either sold or exchanged for other items that they needed.


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Computer literacy program for mentors

Computer literacy program for mentors

September 14, 2011, 3:18pm

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Some 1,400 public elementary school teachers and administrators in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Regions 9 and 12 are now computer-literate, according to the Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS2) Project of the Department of Education (DepED) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The project, which is aimed at helping the DepED improve basic education in high-poverty conflict-affected areas in Mindanao, partnered with Microsoft Philippines to train the teachers on MS Office software and the use of the MS Encarta electronic encyclopedia.

It also provided the teachers’ schools with 224 desktop computers, 50 notebook computers, 116 printers, 14 small projectors, and MS Office and Encarta software for the teachers’ use.

During the recent EQuALLS2 ICT forum, Mindanao teachers said they are now using their new information technology (IT) skills for faster preparation of lesson plans and reports, cross-referencing and enrichment of lessons, preparation of attention-getting and learning-enhancing visual aids, electronic presentations and activity materials, and computation and recording of student grades.

DepED-ARMM Secretary Baratucal Caudang said he hopes the ICT for education will be implemented in more areas in his region.

DepEd Assistant Secretary Ray Laguda disclosed that the department is now re-assessing its information and communications technology (ICT) program for education strategy and will include the project findings and the Mindanao leaders’ and educators’ inputs in its deliberation.

DepEd Director for Technical Services Paul Soriano added that they are now looking at the most cost-effective scheme for providing computers to all schools nationwide.

Also at the forum were representatives from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JAICA), and the Korean International Cooperation Agency.

Sulu lawmaker bares dev’t projects

September 16, 2011, 3:20pm

JOLO, Sulu, Philippines – Rep. Habib Tupay Loong (1st District, Sulu) has briefed local chief executives of the eight municipalities in the province, national government departments and attached agencies, and other major stakeholders in his district regarding his legislative accomplishments at the House of Representatives.

Loong said that it is important that all the mayors under his district, and other major stakeholders should know his accomplishments as representative of the people of Sulu.

“Transparency is the best policy. That’s why I called this meeting among the chief executives of the eight towns and other major stakeholders in order for me to know what legislative measures they wanted me to pass in Congress to rescue our people here from poverty,” Loong.

It was learned that the 1st District of Sulu has an estimated population of about 550,000.

At the opening of the forum, Loong reminded the municipal mayors of Hadji Panglima Tahil, Indanan, Jolo, Maimbung, Pangutaran, Parang, Patikul, and Talipao that livelihood programs remain his main thrust.

He informed the mayors that he was able to source out funds from the Department of Agriculture (DA) for the establishment of payao (fish shelter), purchase of 50 units of pump boats for the fishermen, seaweed farming materials and seeds, re-planting of coconut trees, and goat and duck raising.

Adding that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) also shared funds for the improvement of the Jolo drainage system, and for the purchase of 300,000 various fruit trees to help augment the National Greening Program of the national government.

Loong also said he filed bills in Congress to upgrade the bed capacity of the Sulu Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO), Parang District Hospital, Maimbung District Hospital, Siasi District Hospital, Pangutaran District Hospital, Luuk District Hospital, Panamao District Hospital, Tongkil District Hospital, and Tapul District Hospital.

Loong said he also allotted funds for the provision of mobile clinics for the towns of Jolo, Indanan, Parang, Maimbung, Talipao, and Patikul.

The Sulu IPHO was also allocated with P1.5 million, Parang District Hospital – P1 million, and another P500,000 for the Pangutaran District Hospital.

The amount, he said, will be used to purchase medicines, and will be distributed for free to indigent patients of the hospitals.

He also assured the people here through their respective mayors that his scholarship program will continue for as long he is the legislator of the district.

He added that the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and DA also allotted 15 and 10 slots, respectively, of scholarship grants to students who wanted to pursue an agriculture course in college.

The grant, he said, also covers a monthly stipend and book allowance.

He said the Department of Transportation and Communication, through his initiative, will repair, rehabilitate, expand, and modernize the Jolo Port.

The mayors and other concerned agencies of the government, including major stakeholders here vowed to support the livelihood and development programs of Loong.

They believe that with their concerted and joint efforts, very soon the people of the 1st Congressional District of Sulu will be liberated from rebellion and poverty.


(STAR) FILIPINO WORLD VIEW By Roberto R. Romulo – Do the poor need Internet access? Should providing them Internet access (also known as universal Internet access) be a priority of government?”

In a speech in October 1999 at TELCOM 99 in Geneva, then UN Secretary General Kofi Anan warned of the danger of excluding the poor from the information revolution. He said, “People lack many things: jobs, shelter, food, education, health care and drinkable water. Today, being cut off from basic telecommunications services is a hardship almost as acute as these other deprivations, and may indeed reduce the chances of finding remedies to them.”

So the answer is an unqualified “yes”. For instance, take education. It is impossible for our public school system to cope with the demands of educating the millions of children with enough classrooms and qualified teachers. If one argues that the most effective manner of providing them this education is the Internet, then the urgency is definitely established. It becomes all the more imperative with our population now at 88 million. Internet is the only solution which can address such massive delivery of education to all our remote barangays.

Far from a luxury, access to information has become increasingly essential for the effective delivery of services by professionals like teachers and health care professionals, as well as for small businesses seeking to expand their markets worldwide.

The close relationship between development and information as well as with economic productivity and good governance, led APEC to target providing Internet to all communities in the Asia Pacific by 2010.

With less than two years to the deadline, how close are we in terms of achieving the target Internet access for all Filipinos? Studies indicate that there are two imperatives to achieving these goals.

Redirection of government focus

The first is for government to redirect its focus from the infrastructure that delivers the information to the information itself. Current policies and programs are focused on building broadband networks and the deployment of public Internet centers much like public telephone booths. Experience around the globe indicates that the take up and utilization of all these are extremely low — too low that it has resulted in the centers becoming unsustainable. This policy is based on a “build it and they will come” philosophy. But studies abroad indicate that even if access is available, people still do not use these centers unless there are relevant and meaningful reasons for them to use the Internet.

One big reason why people will use these centers is if public services – from education to agricultural extension to health care to transactions like licenses and permits — can be accessed or delivered to them via the Internet. When the government focuses on putting public services and information online, it will be creating a demand among citizens for more Internet access centers around the country. The delivery of government services using the Internet can be the most significant source of demand for broadband capacities and can be likened to text messaging which has grown the user base of cell phones to almost half our population.

Focusing on computerizing delivery of government services could also be one of the long term solutions to addressing corruption in government, where one root cause is the lack of transparency in government transactions – whether selling to government agencies or applying for licenses and permits. If government and its services can be accessed through the internet in people’s homes or internet cafes, as is mandated by the E-Commerce Act, the opportunity to mulct money from citizens to get service from government would be lessened.

Need for a coherent ICT policy

The second important issue is coherence in ICT development policy making and implementation, and more specifically the issue of which government agency is in charge of ensuring universal Internet access. As I have also pointed out in previous columns, we have moved from a situation where one agency (CICT) is in charge of all ICT initiatives to a situation where it is unclear who is in charge (CICT or DOTC?). The lack of a clear leader becomes a bigger problem when a significant number of government agencies are implementing information systems without any coordination leading to a situation where systems cannot even connect to each other. There now exists several government telecommunications networks such as DOST’s Preginet, Office of the Press Secretary’s French Protocol network and TELOF’s NTP-2 and NTP-3. The aborted NBN/ZTE Network would have added to this mix but would have probably not seen the light of day had there been centralized coordination.

The creation of a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) was a clear policy set by this administration. The 2001 State of the Nation Address of President Arroyo stated very clearly the need for focus and coordination. We are now in year 2008 and the bill creating it is still gathering cobwebs in both houses. In session after session of our legislature, the Executive Branch has never certified the bill as urgent. Even the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam) countries in ASEAN have stepped up to this, recognizing the urgency of using ICT for national development. Much to the disappointment of the private sector, our government (including the legislature) has yet to deliver.

This lack of coherence in policymaking – in contrast with other countries – has become so glaring in our representation to intergovernmental organizations like ASEAN. The ASEAN Telecommunications and IT Ministers (ASEAN TELMIN) meeting are represented by Ministers of ICT from our ASEAN neighbors, underscoring the importance they place on a coordinated approach to ICT development. The Philippines was previously represented by the Chairman of CICT which while not quite at ministerial level and did not have teeth at least insured that he knew what he was talking about. This was until the President reversed strategies in midstream for unexplained reasons (industry sources even claim that this was due to the reluctance of CICT “to play ball” with the NBM/ZTE project) and transferred Telecommunications back to DOTC through an Executive Order. During the last ministerial meeting, the Philippines was represented by a mere assistant secretary from the DOTC, an indication of the level of interest and priority the Secretary of the DOTC gives to ICT development. On the other hand, Singapore and Malaysia both recognized as leaders in ICT development not only in ASEAN but globally, were represented by their Ministers solely responsible for ICT. For goodness sakes, transportation is so big and important it also requires a separate Ministry or Department!

We have temporized too long on this issue. We need to turn things around. It begins with changing our policy orientation and requires strengthening the government agency that will lead the charge. The stakes are high. Achieving universal Internet access is not only good social policy but also good economic policy.

UN Works with the Philippines to Close the Digital Divide

UN Works with the Philippines to Close the Digital Divide

Bangkok (UN/ESCAP Information Services) – The Philippines, renown as the “SMS capital of the world,” is set to receive a boost this week in its use of information and communication technology (ICT) to promote development, as forty chief information officers from the country’s central government agencies undertake a special UN training programme.

The United Nations Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (APCICT) – part of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the UN’s regional arm – has teamed up with the Career Executive Service Board (CESB) and the Development Academy of the Philippines to hold an inaugural national training of trainers workshop, in Tagaytay City, from 17-19 February. The training is part of APCICT’s Academy of ICT Essentials for Government Leaders Programme, a specially designed course which provides a comprehensive ICT for development curriculum.

While telecommunications infrastructure is one of the success stories in the Philippines, much more needs to be done in terms of ICT access, opportunity and utilization, according to Hyeun-Suk Rhee, APCICT’s director. “Bringing technologies to the people goes beyond the provision of infrastructure and hardware. The greatest need is for initiatives that encourage learning in different local contexts and facilitate exchanges of experiences and knowledge,” Rhee said.

An official ceremony to sign an agreement between APCICT and CESB to roll-out the Academy throughout the Philippines will be held during the workshop’s opening session.

In preparation for the workshop in the Philippines, a pilot national Academy workshop was held during October 2008 with 30 senior government officials from the Philippines to solicit feedback on the course content and delivery methodology. Subsequently, authors of the Academy training modules and local resource people from CESB have customized the Academy modules and added local case studies to meet training needs and increase the relevancy of the course.

Similar initiatives are already underway in Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and the Pacific island countries. APCICT has been working closely with over a dozen regional and national training institutions across Asia and the Pacific to customize, translate and deliver the Academy that take national needs and priorities into account.


About UN-APCICT: A subsidiary body of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and located in Incheon, Republic of Korea, APCICT aims to strengthen the efforts of the member countries of ESCAP to use ICT in their socio-economic development through building human and institutional capacity for ICT.

For more information about the Academy, please visit http://www.unapcict.org/academy.

For further information, please contact:

Ms. Hyeun-Suk Rhee, Director
Incheon, Republic of Korea
Tel: (82) 032 245 1700
Email: rhee@unapcict.org

* *** *
Headquartered in Bangkok, United Nations ESCAP is the largest of the UN’s five Regional Commissions in terms of its membership, population served and area covered. The only inter-governmental forum covering the entire Asia-Pacific region, ESCAP works to promote sustainable and inclusive economic and social progress. More information on ESCAP is available at www.unescap.org

Addressing the Digital Divide in Rural Areas of the Philippines

Manuel Ramos, Jr.

The phrase “bridging the digital divide” usually appears in articles and press releases in reference to the need to address the disparity between people and communities with or without access to digital information. There is a wealth of information available in digital form, and gaining access to it is more important now than ever. The problem of bridging the digital divide is especially relevant to rural communities here in the Philippines, where access to the Internet is either not available or very costly. Information access is critical to economic and social activities that comprise the development process of communities. Simply put, information access is needed for development.

In the Philippines, government agencies and NGOs are all too familiar with the need for information access.  They have different programs to bridge the digital divide. Although there is still much to be done in local urban areas when it comes to information access, rural areas present a greater challenge. In urban areas, communication infrastructure is at least accessible.  Providing information access in this case basically involves activities such as deploying kiosks or personal computers to schools and other centers.  However, in rural areas, the communication infrastructure may be absent or very expensive for large volume access.  Connection solutions in the form of mobiles (such as GPRS and 3G) and satellites would definitely be too expensive for a small rural school or a small fishing town to afford, let alone sustain.

Connecting rural schools
Getting rural schools connected to the Internet may have a large impact on not only the students of the schools but also the teachers. One report on Philippine public education by Kaakbay CDI (Citizens Development Initiative), a non-government cause-oriented organization, mentions that rural areas and the countryside are the worst hit by the deteriorating quality of public education in the Philippines. Education is a powerful instrument in poverty alleviation and economic advancement; access to additional information through the Internet can improve the competencies of the teachers, and in turn, impact the students.

There are already different groups in the country trying to address the information access problem in rural areas. One such group is called Gearing Up Internet Literacy and Access for Students (GILAS), an Ayala Foundation group which aims to provide computers along with Internet connectivity to all public high schools in the Philippines. GILAS typically supplies a school with a package of about ten or twenty sets of computers. It also arranges for Internet con-nectivity with local ISPs for one year. Depending on the location of the school, Internet connectivity may be provided through the basic dial-up connection, DSL, or wireless broadband. With Globe Telecom, PLDT, or Digitel providing DSL, and Smart Telecom providing wireless broadband, GILAS can keep most of the public high schools in the country connected.

Another organization trying to address the matter of Internet connectivity is HotCity Wireless. According to their website (www.hotcitywireless.org), HotCity Wireless is a non-profit organization that promotes the use of low-cost wireless technology as a tool for the economic, social, and educational advancement of underprivileged citizens in the Philippines.  Its mission is to establish a low-cost wireless infrastructure to be utilized for global collaborative learning, knowledge sharing, and community participation.

From digital divide to Digital Provide
The academe is also doing its share to address the digital divide in the country. UP Diliman professors Joel Marciano, Josephine Dionisio, and Manuel Ramos have embarked on a project called “The Digital Provide: Bridging Rural Communities Through Emerging, Disruptive and Sustaining Information Technologies and Social Infrastructure.” Its goal is two-fold: it seeks to address the technology aspect of interconnecting schools; and it also intends to deal with the social dimension that comes with giving schools access to the Internet. The technology part of the project centers on using novel wireless connection technology to provide last-mile connectivity to the selected rural schools. The social part, on the other hand, involves conducting a baseline study and a post-implementation impact study on the selected schools. Some of the schools included in the project are public high schools in Oriental Mindoro, as well as an elementary school in Tuguegarao.

Even before the Digital Provide project was approved by the University, there were various efforts by a group from the UP Electrical and Electronics Engineering (UP EEE) Department to introduce and deploy wireless connectivity solutions in the service of education in the rural areas.

TACTIC (Technology affecting communities, technology improving communities) is a group from the UP EEE Department which addresses socially relevant issues in rural communities with the use of technology. The group’s current focus is using wireless connectivity as a last-mile option for connecting rural schools to the Internet. On a bigger scale, it studies different aspects of technology use for rural communities.

The group started out as an ad hoc team primarily concerned with setting up and testing wireless router equipment to be deployed later in Batanes. It is composed primarily of UPEEE-YICAL (Yamatake Industrial Control and Automation Lab) students. Its main goal back in mid-2007 was to get all of the wireless router equipment assembled, configured, and fully tested before the Batanes deployment. The testing consisted of mock setups within and outside the University to check if wireless connections could be established between the configured units at distances similar to those to be encountered in Batanes.

Prior to this some members of the group helped GILAS in establishing Internet connectivity in Malakimpook High School in San Pascual, Batangas. Because the school is located in a remote area where even landlines are not available, they turned to wireless connectivity, the most cost-effective option. As the source of the Internet connection, they used Alalum High School, located two kilometers away from Malakimpook, where landlines which support DSL were available. By installing 802.11b-based wireless router equipment customized by the UP EEE group for the site, the full bandwidth of the DSL connection at Alalum High School is now available for use in Malakimpook.

Wireless routers
The reliability of technology plays a crucial role in ensuring the success of the deployment.  The wireless routers need to be configured optimally so that the wireless link is available whenever the faculty and students need to use the Internet. The group achieved this by configuring wireless routers to operate not at their highest speed capability, but only above the bandwidth that can be supplied by the DSL provider. This has been proven as offering the best reliability while providing as much bandwidth as possible to the school. The routers were also configured to monitor, among other things, traffic passing through the link and the status of the routers, and to report this information to TACTIC group. The status report helps the group to monitor the performance of the routers remotely and do additional changes in configuration if necessary without traveling to the actual site.  The report logs may also be used in evaluating the impact of the technology.

Another site connected to the Internet with the help of the TACTIC  group and UP EEE faculty is Guisguis National High School in Zambales. Like Malakimpook, the school needed a wireless link to the source of its Internet connection some eight kilometers away, Lipay National High School. Although eight kilometers is still very much within the range of the wireless equipment installed, due to the contour and vegetation of the region between the two schools, antenna masts about ten meters high had to be built. Constructing antenna masts higher than five meters, of course, meant additional expenses. The masts needed to be inexpensive but at the same time able to support the wireless equipment and the persons who would climb up to install them.

The Batanes challenge
The projects in Batangas and Zambales not only underscored fruitful outcomes resulting from collaborations of academe and other institutions, but also provided various practical lessons for TACTIC in setting up connectivity solutions in rural areas. This allowed the group to pursue more difficult deployments, the most challenging of which, to date, is the deployment in Batanes. With initiatives from the local government of Batanes and DepEd, as well as the coordination of GILAS and technical help from UPEEE, plans for interconnecting a total of six schools scattered across the three Batanes islands were started in mid-2006, using the only available(Internet source located at Basco National Science High School in Basco, Batanes.

The deployment posed several new challenges such as longer link distances, multihop configurations, solar-powered relays, and very tall antennae masts.  A twenty-meter mast needed to be constructed in order to provide links to the islands of Sabtang and Itbayat. The locals, armed with their experience with harsh Batanes storms, did their part in constructing a stable and tall mast in Vayang, about 1.5 kilometers northeast of Basco.  Due to the remote location of Vayang, the wireless equipment needed to be solar-powered. Using lessons learned from a solar testbed for wireless routers in the University, the group designed and deployed a reliable solar power system to power some of the wireless routers.

In conjunction with an energy-aware wireless router configuration, the solar power system deployed can provide two days of power even with minimal sunlight. This is especially useful in a place like Batanes, where  good sunlight may not be available for several days during stormy periods. The wireless router in Vayang links Itbayat Agricultural National High School to the Internet. The link from Vayang to Itbayat is forty kilometers long, and is the farthest single link deployed by the group outside of the University testbed. The Vayang link also provides Internet connection to the Sabtang island, where Sabtang National School of Fisheries is located.

From Sabtang, the wireless connection is distributed to three other schools located in the southern part of the main island. Two of the schools are Ivana National High School and Batanes General Comprehensive High School, which are about six kilometers from Sabtang across the Sabtang channel. The third school linked from Sabtang is Itbud Integrated School. Connecting Itbud is challenging due to its location in a valley region and the surrounding mountainous areas. Two solar-powered remote wireless relay sites needed to be established to get the link from Sabtang to Itbud. This part of the deployment provided valuable data on the performance of the multihop configuration as well as solar power. The sixth school connected in Batanes is Mahatao National High School. It was necessary to install another solar-powered remote relay to get the Internet connection to Mahatao.

Testbeds in Antipolo and Tagaytay
As proven by the success of these deployments, careful planning goes a long way.  The deployments  would have been unsuccessful without extensive studies of the sites and the testing of a mock setup in the University. To aid in performing different tests on multihop links and long distance links, the group has a testbed consisting of a site in the University and areas in Antipolo and Tagaytay.  This allows single links of up to sixty kilometers and multihop links of up to four hops to be tested. Deployment to the actual site is attempted only after the wireless equipment is properly configured and thoroughly tested. Careful planning and testing minimize problems that may be encountered in the site deployment. They also help in simplifying the actual setup, allowing the members of the community who are employed to do the deployment themselves.

Currently, the TACTIC group is preparing for another major deployment(on Tablas Island in Romblon. This effort is in conjunction with the UP EEE Alumni “EEEnternet” project which similarly aims to connect rural schools to the Internet. The project will provide funding for the wireless equipment while using existing computing resources at the local schools. Two schools, Alcantara National High School and Looc National High School, are the first to be connected using wireless links, with the provision for links in other schools in the future.

Finally, another realization from these deployments is how community members from the school or from the area are more than willing to help with the effort, especially when education is concerned. It seems clear that improving the current state of education is regarded as a worthy cause by most people. Their support moves the cause even further along.

One feels with certainty, after seeing the excitement of the students and teachers in sending their first email and browsing the web from their school, that the hard work of trekking up mountains with wireless equipment, a 10-kg battery, and an 80 W solar panel on one’s back, has more than paid off.
The author is associate professor and chairman of the UP College of Engineering Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering.