The more the better, the stronger they are made, the more effective they will be. It is a chain, intertwined together, complementing each other’s role at different levels; regional, District, County, Sub County, and Parish levels. This chain of Information Centers and points at the different society levels has curbed the traditional challenge of limited access to information by the community since the main business of these points is information sourcing and sharing/dissemination. Located in Kabarole, RIC-NET is complimented by eight County Information Centers and several Information Points across the Rwenzori region that she routinely supports in their information sharing work.
On a very cold Tuesday Morning of 24.01.12 at 7:30am, RIC-NET staff (Information Officer, ICT Officer, Finance Officer, Videographer and the Program Manager) set off for Kasese to visit their information Centers and Points and to also conduct an evaluation exercise of their work. It was a new day, and duty was calling unfortunately the team although present and ready for duty still looked sleepy. On and on the driver, drove, while members remained silent and yawned one after another till they reached their first destination; Bwera Information Center (BIC). At BIC,
the RIC-NET team met a hospitable and vibrant team of six members (Zaverio-BIC Information Officer, Muhesi and Happy from KALI, Abdu from RWECO among others). Key among the things discussed was the social accountability program that BIC is implementing. The team shared that since August last year BIC together with KALI embarked on monitoring “Amaizi Marungi” Gravity Flow Scheme in Mpondwe-Lhubiriha Town Council as a response to several complaints from the community about the continued lack of water despite the Scheme’s said completion. Several findings ranging from lack of water, non functional water scheme, lack of source attendants and nonpayment of the acting source attendants for around two years to use of small sizes of water pipes as opposed to the project design were discovered and are being compiled into a report to be shared during a Stakeholders meeting on 15.02.12. This sharing was supplemented by a mountain climbing field visit to the water source in question at Isango- Kitholhu Sub County to verify the previous monitoring findings and to also establish the current status of the scheme.
Following this, the team then hit the hot and dusty road to one of BIC’s Information Points; Kayanza Information Point. Despite the Information Point’s location at the Lakeside, it was so hot and the place looked long deserted. The air smelt of dust, fish and the sweat of the ever busy fishermen and women. With the presence of largely small and congested semi-permanent old buildings it is almost impossible for one to believe that the population of people at this landing site is of over 1500 people. Nevertheless, this atmosphere did not seem to deter the visiting team, it rather interested them to learn more about the impact of the information services offered by BIC in such a setting. In a meeting with the Information Point’s members who included the Information Point’s Chairman Mr. Bwambale Kasuki, his Executive, some members of the Point and the area LCI, the team learnt that the presence of BIC coupled with the support she gives to this Information Point together with the different information services she offers have transformed the lives, minds, thoughts and actions of the community in Kayanza. Being the only Information Point in the community everyone looks up to it for information on what is going on in their Constituency and beyond. Explaining BIC’s contribution, the Chairman asserted thus “I am now computer literate because of BIC, I thank her for all the computer trainings members of my Information Point have been taken through. I additionally thank BIC for the TV and other related equipments that she has supported us with; from these my community has been kept abreast with what is going on in the country and beyond. It is interesting how lots of people, young and old, female and male throng the TV room at the news hours especially “NTV Akawungezi” at 7:00pm to listen to the news”. According to the Chairman, this has facilitated civic empowerment now being witnessed in the community’s active participation in development programs like planning meetings and the monitoring of the services offered at the primary school, and the HCII especially the use of PHC funds. However, the members noted a few challenges like the lack of funds to buy daily newspapers for the community and the lack of adequate, translated and relevant information. He appealed to RIC-NET and BIC to source for, translate and share with them information on HIV/AIDs prevention and management, fish farming, agriculture, and education among others. Besides Kayanzi Information Point, BIC in total has 16 Information points spread across Bukonzo West and East Constituencies. This marked the end of a long, interesting and educative day one as members retired to their homes and Hotel rooms.
Come 25.01.112, it was day two. The sun shone so hot and brightly that one would think it was 2:00pm when actually it was just 8:30am. So much to expect ahead; dust, heat, thirst and lots of interesting people as well. Without wasting time, the RIC-NET team drove to Busongora Information Center (BRIC) in Base Camp-Kasese Municipality where it met the Center’s Chairperson Mr. Isingoma Patrick and a few other members. Patrick informed the team that the Center was managing although with several challenges. He noted that the Center under the Social Accountability program last year (2011) monitored service delivery in Kyabarungira and Bugoye Sub Counties with particular focus on Rwesande HCIV, and Kabatunda HCIII. Monitoring findings about these institutions have been compiled and are yet to be shared with the different stakeholders.
The visit did not stop at the main Center; Patrick later led the team to some of BRIC’s Information Points located within the Community. Katooke Rural, Kabagaga and Kyabarungira Information points in Bugoye and Kyabarungira Sub Counties were among those visited during this exercise. At Katooke Rural Information Point the
Chairperson one Ms. Biira Evacate revealed that the quickest and most effective way that the members use to pass Information to the Community is through Music, Dance and Drama. She noted that, “at the inception of this point there was a lot of reluctance and lack of interest in the Information Point’s services, this forced us to change our strategy and we formed the Katooke Actors Group for Entertainment that we now use to reach out to the community. We stage shows on key development concerns in the community like how to curb corruption in the health sector. We do this monthly from one parish to another, and we usually stage on Sunday afternoon when most people are known to be free. This strategy has pushed us from the initially 20% population of people we were serving to around 60% now”. Just like Kayanza Information Point, Katooke Information Point appealed for more translated information on Youth activities/programs, education, farming and health among others.
Interestingly at Kyabarungira Information Point, RIC-NET met a team of around 25 members, out which only one member was female. Besides this, 80% of the members were elderly. Sounds boring, huh? Wait a minute, this was a very vibrant and empowered team which had, for your information, actively monitored service delivery at their HC- Kyabarungira HC III and even compiled a report which they are planning to share with their leaders to indicate their dissatisfaction in the quality of services offered at the Center. I learnt one thing, that, no matter how old you are, it takes just the right information to spur the energy in you to demand for your entitlements. It is evident that the various information received and shared at this Point amongst the members and the community has left many informed, empowered and ready to be instruments of change within their own Communities.
General Observations and Recommendations.
I observed that there is a lot of hunger and need for information by the community than the Information Centers and Points are providing; and that the little information that the Centers have provided has most often remained unutilized by the largely semi-illiterate population because it is most often in English. I suggest that more efforts should be devoted to understanding the information needs of the community and translating the required information by the community to familiar languages if greater impact must be registered.
Lastly I also observed that the use of multimedia pulls more people and appeals to many as opposed to the literature that we most often congest our libraries with.