Kithoka Digital Village
The Kithoka Digital Village project is an ambitious and longstanding partnership to provide affordable high speed internet access to the residents of Kithoka. While most people in Kithoka have cell phones, they are mainly used for voice calls and text messages. Internet connectivity is still very expensive and inaccessible. In the belief that internet connectivity will be essential for schools, students, and businesses in the 21st century, this is a primary effort of MichiKen.
The project started in 2009 when current directors at MichiKen designed and implemented a thirteen computer workstation laboratory at Bishop Lawi Imathiu Secondary School (BLISS), as part of a Kenya Urithi Education Fund project. Since then MichiKen has maintained and expanded this lab to ensure that BLISS students and teachers learn computer technology skills and have access to 21st century educational resources. With BLISS's rapid expansion to over 500 students, MichiKen has increased bandwidth and added WIFI support beyond the computer lab into the other BLISS classrooms. BLISS has gained Kenya-wide recognition for its innovative use of computer technology for education.
In 2012, the Digital Village project extended high quality internet to Thiiri Cultural Center and International Peace Initiatives. A central hub allows three BLISS, Thiiri, and IPI to share bandwidth, and negotiate favorable terms with Orange, the internet provider. Further expansion is planned for other primary and secondary schools as well as some local businesses. A longer term goal is to establish community kiosks for affordable internet access via WIFI to all Kithoka residents.
In 2015, the Digital Village was further extended to the Kithoka Polytechnic School, and to two additional classroom buildings that have been built at BLISS.
In 2010, Julius Mwangi, a BLISS graduate, was hired as our local MichiKen System Administrator. Initially Julius managed the BLISS computer lab where, with guidance from US-based Michiken staff, he became expert in maintenance and repair of all of the equipment. While working at BLISS, Julius also completed a certificate (associate) diploma in Information Technology from Jomo Kenyatta University and he is currently studying to receive his Bachelor degree in Computer Information Systems at Kenya Methodist University. Now Julius has the additional responsibility of managing the Kithoka Digital Village network. This model of hiring, training, and mentoring local Kenyans for our projects is viewed as a key success factor for Michiken.
For engineers reading this posting, it is worth noting that this has been a very interesting project technically. High speed internet service is still far from ubiquitous in the area of Kenya where we work. Over the past five years, in our effort to make use of the latest technology as it becomes available, we have already gone through four major iterations, making use along the way of microwave relay transmitters, 80 meter signal reception towers, and antenna amplifiers. A government sponsored fiber line has recently been laid within 10 kilometers of our location, so we are researching access options. The University of Michigan E-Magine team has worked closely with us during this entire time, as well as several senior Kenyan telecommunications engineers and companies.
Another current effort at BLISS is to explore the use of tablet computers for storing educational and study materials for students.