The following message from Peace Corps Volunteer Tod Bruning was posted to
the AFRICOMM list and Tod has allowed me to post it to AFRIK-IT. He and
his Ghanaian colleagues would greatly appreciate the wise counsel of
Kelly J. Morris
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My name is Tod Bruning and I am a Peace Corps Volunteer (Small Enterprise
Development) in northern Ghana, West Africa. I am assigned to the Upper West
Commerce Association, a regional chamber of commerce located in the capital of
the Upper West Region, Wa, a town of about 40,000 (around 70,000 in the
For the past three years I have been managing a local community access
computer center, the UWCA's Business Communications Centre. The UWCA's
objectives as stated in its charter are attached to the end of this message.
The "telecenter" I am working for provides computer literacy training,
commercial computer access, electronic mail, and secretarial services. I am
basically trying to ask and answer the question, "What all is possible with
three computers and a modem."
Last year we got a grant from USAID's AfricaLink program
to provide subsidised internet access for two years. This grant paid for
upgrades on the computers so they can handle digital imaging as well as
long-distance time for dial-up access, and finally the access itself. The
purpose being to use the Internet for commercial export activity and tourism
promotion. Our web site, www.peoplink.org/uwca, focuses on 4 primary areas:
locally woven cloth and smocks, agricultural commodities produced in this
region such as cashew nut and shea butter, and tourism. This is still a work
in progress and I would welcome anyone's comments and suggestions.
There have been many challenges in the past three years in our quest for
sustainability - i.e. running the center without further assistance in the
form of aid money or a volunteer. The primary issues being: 1) acquiring and
keeping qualified personnel to run the center 2) generating enough local
demand for the services we provide to pay expenses and depreciation on the
equipment and, 3) infrastructure (power and telephone) glitches.
The personnel issue has been by far the most difficult to surmount. As it
happens, the first student to complete this training in 1996, Ms. Sauda
Mohammad, went to work for a local mining company for the two years doing
database entry and secretarial work. Three months ago she quit came to work
for us. Now she does all applications training (Word, Excel) and I teach basic
computer operation, how to use the Windows operating system, and file
management techniques. For the first time ever, I can travel and the Business
Communications Center still produces revenues.
There is a large demand for computer literacy training primarily because of
the high demand for these skills in Ghana's urban centers of Accra and Kumasi.
As a result, people with these skills must either be imported to the Wa, or a
resident must go to Accra or Kumasi for training, and expensive undertaking.
The BCC currently has a three month waiting list for its classes. We have
graduated 16 students and all have gone on to well-paying (relatively
speaking) jobs immediately. We even have employers occasionally calling asking
when the next round of students will graduate.
Training is an average of 3 months meeting one hour a day for five days a
week. Students must fulfill two of three criteria in order to be considered
1) Understand my English - no mean feat as I was raised in south Texas.
2) Know how to type.
3) Have access to a computer.
Students are mostly women, graduates from a local secretarial school. Also
private sector professionals and government workers who are looking to
increase their skills. Since most of these students will immediately be
declared the computer "expert" upon their announcement they have completed
training, we have tried to structure the course not so much as "by rote"
instruction, and instead emphasizes more of a way of thinking about computers.
By the time we complete the Excel stage of training, the students are more or
less training themselves. This method has worked out quite well.
The BCC's revenues come primarily from computer literacy training. There is
also substantial income from electronic mail access and secretarial services.
Although the majority of email subscribers are other volunteers in the area,
the number of Ghanaians using this service is steadily increasing. I have
constructed a database using Microsoft Access which details all the BCC's
transactions by account for the last two years. The zipped file is about 100k.
If anyone is interested, I'll be happy to forward that along with a background
summary of what we've done here.
Finally, in infrastructure considerations, the telephone system in Wa, while
digital and only two years old, is overloaded resulting in frequent outages.
Despite this, it is normally possible to dial to Accra for email at least
twice a day during business hours. Finally, Ghana has been under a severe
power shortage resulting in rationing since the beginning of 1998. In the last
two months rationing as eased considerably, with much less down time, but with
the advent of another hot season, rationing is likely to be in effect again.
Part of the grant from AfricaLink provided us with top of the UPS's with about
an hour and a half run-time for each of the three computers.
I am looking forward to exchanging ideas in this forum and welcome all
inquiries. Thank you for your time.
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To encourage and facilitate cooperation and communication between private
business, government, and the general public in the Upper West Region.
To promote the Upper West Region; encouraging immigration, investment, and
government support and attention.
To promote export activities in the Upper West Region for both domestic and
To increase the effectiveness of existing businesses and encourage new
business startups in the region through training programs, cooperation, and
Whenever possible and feasible, to meet the dynamic needs of members in order
to further development in the Upper West Region.
The Business Communications Center
To provide subsidized computer literacy training for twenty-five persons by
the end of 1997, and an additional 25 more by the end of 1998.
To utilize the vast potential of the Internet as tool to establish
relationships between potential foreign importers and local artisans at a
subsidized rate for two years, then commercially thereafter.
To cover all expenses incurred in operation of the Business Communications
Center through income generation activities.
To provide commercial business services such as facsimile, telephone,
international direct dial (IDD), photocopying, computer access, electronic
mail, and secretarial services at a commercial rate to all other interested
parties and use these funds to subsidize computer literacy training and public
To use the high profile of the Business Communications Center as a vehicle for
promoting the UWCA's organizational objectives as listed above.