The GDRL in Ethiopia
BY Ellis Ballard, USICD Program Development Manager
Ellis is traveling across East Africa in May and June to provide technical support and guidance for installations of USICD’s Global Disability Rights Library in the countries of Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Below is an account of his travels and work abroad.
The morning after landing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I jetted off to a conference room near the center of Addis to meet with IT and librarian representatives from the four Ethiopian Deployment Sites for the Global Disability Rights Library Project. The GDRL is a collaboration between USICD and the University of Iowa’s WiderNet Project, with USAID funding, that uses off-line technology to help strengthen disabled people’s organizations (DPO) and University capacity to be advocates for disability rights and inclusion around the world. I am about two-thirds of the way through a whirlwind trip through Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania in which I will facilitate the installation of some 18 new GDRLs at NGOs in these four countries, but more importantly work with the NGO leadership and staff to think about ways to approach their information resource role creatively and innovatively.
From its inception the GDRL project has intended to be collaborative. The library that NGOs and universities receive is a starting point; the real exciting work comes when organizations take the information contained within the library and put it to work. Even more exciting is when librarians add new, local content to the library, expanding the reach of their own trainings and manuals, while also building on the vitality of the library as a community resource. And fundamental to the project is its presentation as a dynamic resource. The U.S.–based GDRL team intends to function in a content and technology development role, rather than as a facilitator. In-country Regional Representatives, such as Mulugeta Assefa in Addis Ababa, work with host organizations to share best practices, provide technical and content support, and facilitate greater dialogue among hosting DPOs.
This early morning, jet-lagged workshop was a refreshing illustration of the concept of the GDRL as a seed. Representatives from the Ethiopian Center on Disability and Development, the Adaptive Technology Centre for the Blind, Sebeta Special Needs College, and Kotebe Teachers College all came to the workshop with clear questions, challenges and examples of what they are doing in their work.
- ATCB is planning finalizing its work to open a new internet café in the center of Piazza in Addis that will be at its heart accessible to blind users. They intend to leverage the resources in the GDRL to make more information available to community members more cheaply and quickly than purely through the internet.
- At ECDD, trainers are adapting resources from the library to enhance their own work providing training workshops for local construction firms that are struggling with requirements for infrastructure accessibility in their new projects. Additionally, they are reaching out to the International Rescue Committee to provide training for staff on disability perspectives in water and sanitation development initiatives
At Sebeta Special Needs CollegeSebeta is using the GDRL as a core piece of their soon-to-be-finalized campus-wide network, which will allow more students to access information resources without having to use the expensive internet connection. And Kotebe has just now received their server, which will be connected to a network of over 600 computers across campus that will significantly enhance the resources available to students and faculty.
After a brief presentation on the assistive technology contained within the GDRL and the Community Information Platform, a tool that allows librarians to upload and host content on their local GDRL network, I was able to sit back and listen to the effusive discussion between these four once-unfamiliar organizations as they learned from eachothers’ work, challenged eachother on technical challenges, and posed requests for how the library could be improved or expanded in future editions.
It is this dialogue between sites, this collaborative impulse and vision of the eGranary as a local tool, rather than an imported project from the States, that motivates me in my installations and discussions across East Africa. And as these organizations continue to explore and learn, I fully expect new ideas and innovations to emerge, both here in Ethiopia and beyond.