Establishing Internet Technology Clubs (ITC’s) in areas untouched by the advent of globalization, the ministry has given both the young and old the chance to explore, expand, and dream.
To any stranger it is a seemingly modern and bustling street, suffocated by buildings, billboards, and an endless stream of traffic. A likely place for an internet café or city cyber hub.
For years, though, Al-Galaa Street in Cairo’s downtown area has been no such place. Catering mainly to the residents of the older, poorer, neighborhood of Boulac, an Internet center would have been a badly calculated business choice.
Until earlier this year, that is, when MCIT came in and transformed the hopes of many, both young and old, into a reality. Introducing Internet access and training for just LE1 (USD 0.25) per hour – ten times less than average city rates - the ministry opened a gateway for neighborhood residents through local Internet Technology Clubs (ITC’s).
Part of its effort to raise IT awareness and create a national information society, ITC training ranges from learning basic keyboarding skills, to web design, and software training in applications such as Photoshop, Front Page, and Excel. Users can also study independently by taking advantage of each club’s English and Arabic software library.
“It has changed the area,” says Ustaz Beheiry, the center’s manager. “It’s a very good thing for the community. It’s giving the youth a chance to learn something new, to advance themselves. It’s creating opportunities.”
It is opening their lives up to the world, and the change is felt.
On a typical Monday morning, the center is buzzing; with chatter, enthusiasm, and the steady background drone of 15 computers.
One young boy gasps.
“This is great,” he says, pointing enthusiastically to arabia.com’s Arabic domain name registration option.
Ahmed Iskandar is fifteen. He started coming to the center several months ago, and now he wants to start his own business, he says. On-line, of course.
“Well, I still don’t know exactly what kind of business it will be,” he says, tilting his head thoughtfully in consideration. “Probably something to do with Arabic music,” he continues, “or football.”
He still isn’t sure. He does know, however, that it definitely has to be on-line. The Internet, he says seriously through his deep brown eyes, has changed his life.
He is not the only one who now looks at the world in a different light. And he is certainly not the only one who is acquiring skills and information, knowledge and ideas.
The Red Crescent Society Center at Galaa Street is one of 220 established, and 300 planned, ITC’s, representing partnerships between MCIT and the private sector.
ITC’s are hosted on premises of already-existing clubs and centers, many of which play educational roles in themselves. MCIT requirements stipulate at least 50sq. meters of space, complete with restrooms, air conditioning, lighting, and a safe, modern, electrical foundation [which MCIT inspects.] The ministry provides the necessary hardware, software, leased internet lines, a network (LAN), and server, drawing on local business and ISP’s for their goods and services.
Youngsters like Ahmed, and his friend, Shahir - who works with his father at his Boulac car-repair workshop – are being given the opportunity to dream.
“We always wanted to learn how to use computers and the Internet,” Iskandar says, while Shahir nods eagerly beside him. “There are so many things on the Internet. We’re going to be trainers here one day.”
Being a trainer is separate, of course, from his e-business plans.
Ahmed, in short, plans to be busy and successful. Quite a change in attitude, he hesitates.
“I really like it here,” he says. “It’s much more interesting than working in the shop.”His father’s fresh juice store, he elaborates.
“I still go there, but I’m going to make enough money so that he won’t have to work anymore. And then I’m going to travel around the world,” he adds.
To many, his words represent the youthful dreams of a teenager; the type that one looks back at ten, fifteen, years down the line and smiles at. In nostalgia for the naivety and hope. In the case of these youngsters, however, it is very different. For them, it is the reflection of their first tangible taste of opportunity. It is literally, the realization of a dream and desire which they never thought would be theirs.