Info Lady: A rural troubleshooter | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, August 02, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, August 02, 2009

Technology

Info Lady: A rural troubleshooter


Helped by an Info Lady, a rural woman uses a laptop, equipped with a modem, to communicate with her loved ones. Twenty-four such Info Ladies are now working in different villages of Gaibandha, Noakhali and Satkhira districts. Photo: D.Net

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Dula Miah got himself in a fix when three months ago a mad dog bit his two milch cows -- the main earning source of the poor farmer at Uzan Goshagari village in Gaibandha district.
A bicycle bell woke him up from the awful silence of uncertainty.
Luich Akhter Porag, a woman equipped with a laptop, internet modem and a mobile phone, was passing by Dula, riding the bicycle. Dula stopped Porag, a familiar face in the area, and asked her if there was any way to save the cows.
Porag sat with Dula right away and ran 'Jeeon', a Bangla livelihood software, developed mainly to provide nine services to the rural people. Porag, the 'Info Lady', found that a vaccine is required to cure the cows immediately.
Following the Info Lady's tips, Dula rushed to Sundarganj Veterinary Hospital and took the vaccines. In a repeat visit, Porag found Dula in his sheer delight.
For her, the profession is nothing but doing something for the people around her for token money, carrying a high-tech bag. Porag expressed her dedication to work in such a way to The Daily Star by phone from Velaray village at Sonarpara union in Gaibandha.
More like Porag are there in remote villages.
They receive specialised training and necessary equipment, and then travel to remote areas by bicycle to personally connect villagers to information and resources the underprivileged need.
As many as 24 such info ladies are now working in different villages of Gaibandha, Noakhali and Satkhira districts.
The info lady solution evolved from the original 'Mobile Lady' concept developed by D.Net (Development Research Network) Bangladesh, a non-profit research organisation that champions the use of ICT for the economic development of Bangladesh. Mobile ladies were providing services through cellphones.
From the key learning from the mobile lady idea, D.Net found some limitations of mobile phone-based services. The technological innovations, like laptop device, helped D.Net find that if a bundle of services are integrated with the mobile lady, she will become a “telecentre” herself.
Any one can become an info person, but women are encouraged as they enjoy more privilege than men for entering a house.
Manusher Jonno Foundation, a nongovernmental organisation, has funded the D.Net's Info Lady project. The foundation is an initiative to promote human rights and good governance in Bangladesh.
The village information workers, 'mobile ladies', were renamed 'info ladies'. An info lady possesses a laptop or classmate computer, internet modem, headphone, webcam, digital camera, photo printer and a mobile phone for giving the entire livelihood information services at a cheaper rate, and fast.
Help line service, commercial phone service, photography service, livelihood information and knowledge service, international and local voice call service, video and animation service, and internet-based information service are among the services provided by an info lady.
"Now I earn more than Tk 2,500 to Tk 3,500 per month after becoming an info lady," said Porag who started such a career in June 2007.
Porag said she has so far delivered different services to more than 6,000 villagers.
What she found amazing among the poor villagers is their interest in technology to better their livelihood.
Porag cannot forget Rupia and Kuddus' problems centring their conjugal life. Some days after their marriage, Kuddus abandoned Rupia to her father's house.
In remote villages, poor women often face such situations. But most of them do not tend to go for legal actions.
In an evening when Porag was demonstrating her services among the villagers, Rupia came to know about the legal side of her situation. She sought help from Porag.
Porag said when she briefed the two families about the legal sides of a marriage after consulting some experts in Dhaka, leaders of the village also supported Rupia. Kuddus was convinced and took her wife.
"I was proud to see their happiness," said the info lady.
Porag thus became an icon among the villagers for providing solutions to their day-to-day problems regarding farming, healthcare, information, education and agro-product marketing.
Dr Ananya Raihan, executive director for D.Net, said each info lady now earns Tk 2,500 to even more than Tk 20,000 per month. It is a good social business for rural women as well, he said."We are planning to increase the number of info ladies to 1,000 by year-end."
Two things happen here, said Raihan. Some rural women are employed and the poor villagers take the advantages of new technologies that could hardly reach their doorstep in traditional ways.
Technology comes, and after some days it becomes old. But a digital divide between the rural and urban areas remains. Of the 150 million people, 47 million people are now enjoying telecommunication services -- most of them are from urban areas.
Technology-based services are selling in many ways in both urban and rural areas. But it was once unthinkable that someone will peddle technology in the rural areas, as big companies are not willing to expand in those areas fearing bad returns.
But when Porag's bicycle bell rings, it seems technology itself is knocking at the door of the rural underprivileged.

hasan@thedailystar.net

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