When we inaugurated the awarenet Open Lab in May we thought it would be popular but we did not dream about it having more than 400 members just three months ahead!
The concept of the awarenet Open Lab is that all community members in the township of Joza can use the computers at the Joza Youth Hub computer lab for free if they register as users. The lab is mostly used by younger members of the Joza community, with ages ranging between 10 and 18 years. However, we also have older community members as Open Lab users, our oldest member is 67 years old!
The Lab allows its members to explore the world of ICT on their own and its computers are put to different uses; some do homework and school projects, others play games and the older members often check their emails or do online banking.
The success beyond expectations of the lab has resulted in problems in accommodating all users in the lab. We are therefore planning to expand our computer Lab with another room in the Joza Youth Hub where we will install a second full set of desktop PCs with monitors, keyboards, mouses and headphones. In addition we also plan to establish computer clubs where learners can be taught about programming, designing, video editing and even gaming. These clubs will be organised by older learners and the duties will be distributed among all club members. Hopefully this will help them learn organisational skills that can be utilised in the future.
We also intend to convince schools and libraries in the wider Grahamstown community that our awarenet Open lab model is one which they could emulate. Our system consisting of paid lab supervisors, a membership database and membership cards as well as offline content installed on the computers could easily be replicated in other computer labs. Currently there are many functioning computer labs in schools and libraries which are hardly being used, neither during nor after school time. If we are able to implement our system in nearby schools and libraries some of the user pressure on our awarenet Open Lab will also be reduced.
All in all, we are greatly encouraged by the success of the Open Lab; it shows us that the need and demand for ICT in disadvantaged communities is real.