Featured Storyteller

KENYA: Navigating the Digital Divide in Pandemic Times

Leonida Odongo
Posted April 21, 2021 from Kenya
"Technology should not be what divides us but what unites us."

Leonida Odongo shares her vision for expanding global access to technology and how virtual events offer a powerful social change catalyst.

“My ideal world is where there is access to technology for everyone—where we can connect regardless of where we live.

COVID-19 has turned the world upside down and awoken us to embrace technology. It has also highlighted the barriers many people face in accessing technology. In Kenya, 17 million learners were out of school for six months due to the pandemic.

I’ve organized online trainings for university students and grassroots leaders, focusing on fundraising and resource mobilization. Sadly, many students could not participate due to a range of constraints such as the cost of data bundles, internet connectivity, absence of a network, and lack of electricity.

As virtual learning has become the new normal, more students are interested in these online dialogues and trainings: They can interact with people from different parts of the world, which may not have been possible with physical meetings because of travel barriers. Still, technology access continues to be a challenge.

Implementing e-learning at the University of Nairobi proved difficult. Students reported that they’d returned to their rural homes where there was no electricity, no access to laptops or desktop computers, and no ability to buy data bundles to undertake a two or three hour learning session. For the majority who couldn’t afford home laptops or electricity, any form of continued learning during the pandemic had to wait until Kenya re-opened and learning institutions returned to normal.

For some students, digitalization is a mirage except within their classes or university compound. Many use libraries with access to university WiFi or cyber cafes, which are expensive and
unsustainable. For those who have laptops but no internet connection, tethering the phone to the laptop for a connection is too expensive.

This digital divide among university students prompted students at the University of Nairobi to speak out using the hashtag #UONBoycottOnlineClasses.

One of the students shared these words: “Online classes are for the privileged. As for me, an ordinary student, I can’t handle Corona panic, network problems upcountry, and the struggle to afford the internet.”

Outside of schools, the digital divide places a burden on rural communities and older people. Most smallholder farmers I work with live in rural areas. Some don’t have smartphones. Others don’t have
computers or electricity in their households. Holding virtual meetings on Zoom or Skype is out of the question.

My ideal world is where there is access to technology for everyone—where we can connect regardless of where we live. Nobody is left behind because they don’t have a smartphone or lack electricity to charge their phones. Nobody is left behind because they don’t have data bundles or have to climb a tree or a hill to get an internet connection.

Making electricity cheaper would go a long way in enabling access to technology. Computers and laptops should be treated as necessities—not as luxuries. The government should also make internet access free. In rural areas, there should be designated hotspot areas where the internet is free or accessible.

The Kenyan government could make real its promise of laptops to school pupils.  Many children from low-income families missed out on their education during the onset of COVID-19 because they did not have laptops. Once we have addressed digital access, technology can help expose people in Kenya and worldwide to new ideas and solutions.

During COVID-19, I’ve helped Haki Nawiri Afrika organize weekly virtual dialogues. In one dialogue, we talked about how online, women can connect globally, make their voices heard, and create change in different parts of the world. The dialogues are eye-opening to the students and have broadened their world views. When the dialogues involve activists from different continents, we learn from each other and adopt different strategies.

We have to be flexible to adjust to this new normal. To bring tech to the  people, governments worldwide need to invest in tech and make it affordable and accessible to the ordinary citizenry. Technology should not be what divides us but what unites us.


SheTransformsTech

This story was published as part of World Pulse's SheTransformsTech Campaign and is included in the #SheTransformsTech final report. Download the report to find out what grassroots women and gender-diverse individuals from 60+ countries say individuals, policymakers, and tech companies must do to make tech equitable for all.

Comments 35

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Leonida Odongo
Apr 21
Apr 21

Wow!

Nini Mappo
Apr 22
Apr 22

Congratulations, Leonida!

Leonida Odongo
Apr 22
Apr 22

Thank you very much Sister Nini

Best

Leonida

Olutosin
Apr 22
Apr 22

Technology investment is genuine development. It removes barriers to both educational and information
technology, especially during the pandemic. Every country owes the citizens that duty.
Thank you for sharing.

Leonida Odongo
Apr 29
Apr 29

Dear Olutosin,

Very true .

Best

Leonida

Jill Langhus
Apr 23
Apr 23

Great job, Dear Leonida! I'm glad to see your hard work has been acknowledged, and that you're a Featured Storyteller. Where's your badge, though:-( XX

Leonida Odongo
Apr 29
Apr 29

Dear Jill ,

Thank you for the comments , exciting to be featured .Will follow it up.

Best

Leonida

Jill Langhus
Apr 30
Apr 30

You're welcome, dear. Yes!!

Hope you have a good one.

emarxen
Apr 26
Apr 26

This is incredible!!! Thank you for sharing and for all you are doing.

Leonida Odongo
Apr 29
Apr 29

Dear Emarxen,

Thank you for reading and the comments .

Best

Leonida

Tanushree Rohera
Apr 26
Apr 26

That’s really powerful. I guess we don’t realise how privileged our connectivity is! Thank you for sharing this.

Leonida Odongo
Apr 29
Apr 29

Dear Tanushree,

Thank you for reading , the digital divide is wide indeed.

Best

Leonida

Luana Gimenez
Apr 28
Apr 28

Leonida, thank you for sharing the situation in Kenya. It resonates a lot with what's happening in a lot of communities in Brazil.

Leonida Odongo
Apr 29
Apr 29

Dear Laura ,

Thank you for reading, the struggles are interconnected , the difference may be the location of the globe.

Best

Leonida

mjuricic
Apr 28
Apr 28

Lovely initiative, thank you for sharing, technology with people like you can undoubtedly help many communities

Leonida Odongo
Apr 29
Apr 29

Dear Mjuricic,

Thank you for the comments .

Best

Leonida

TonyaH
Apr 29
Apr 29

Access for all is need. Thanks Leonida for your leadership in bringing more awareness to this need for all.

Leonida Odongo
Apr 29
Apr 29

Dear Tonya,

Yes indeed , we need access.

Best

Leonida

Fabiola Lisiero
Apr 29
Apr 29

Thanks Leonilda! People like you make a difference in our communities. In Brazil we also have the same challenges and we always try to understand what we can do differently to change this situation, especially when we talk about technology that should be for everyone.

Leonida Odongo
Apr 29
Apr 29

Dear Fabiola,

I agree with you.We need to strive and find alternatives in the midst of a bleak situation.

Best

Leonida

hcampuzano
Apr 29
Apr 29

great reading all of us should have empathy

Leonida Odongo
Apr 29
Apr 29

Dear Campuzano,

Thank you for reading.I concur with you.

Best

Leonida

Tamarack Verrall
Apr 29
Apr 29

Such important words dear Sister. The internet needs to be accessible to everyone, and the world we are working for has governments taking responsibility for all people. I love your idea of an ideal world. I believe that what the world needs is leaders like you.

Leonida Odongo
May 01
May 01

Dear Tam,

Thank you for the comments .More energy.

Best

Leonida

Ilemmens
Apr 29
Apr 29

What a great story and I love your courage and fighting spirit! Thank you for sharing and all you do!

Leonida Odongo
May 01
May 01

Dear Illemens,

Thank you for reading and your comments .We have to keep fighting.

Best

Leonida

Vasanth Ayothiraman
Apr 30
Apr 30

Great work & Amazing Leonida . Your efforts are very much appreciated.

Want your wish to become true, My ideal world is where there is access to technology for everyone.

Agree with you on this, Technology should not be what divides us but what unites us.

Leonida Odongo
May 01
May 01

Dear Vasanth,

Thank you for the comments .

Best

Leonida

jpalapuz
Apr 30
Apr 30

Thank you for sharing!

Leonida Odongo
May 01
May 01

Dear Jpalapuz ,

Thank you for reading.

Best

Leonida

karina lima
May 01
May 01

Super inspiring story!!! This for sure makes us reflect on how we can change the tech companies actions. Not only mindset

Leonida Odongo
May 01
May 01

Dear Karina,

Thank you for the comments .I concur with you , tech has become an integral part of global engagement and tech companies need to make it more accessible.

Best

Leonida

Nari
May 01
May 01

Thank you for sharing your story, it was truly inspiring.

Leonida Odongo
May 01
May 01

Dear Nari,

Thank you for the comments .

Best

Leonida

charlenegailtaruwona

Dear Leonidas,

Congratulations. Keep up the wonderful work.