Amina Begum is regularly on Skype (News - Alert) with her husband, however, until a few years ago, had never seen a computer. The Internet is brought to her by a woman on a bicycle. With laptops and Internet connections, dozens of “Info Ladies” bike into remote Bangladeshi villages.
To provide access to everything from government services to chats with distant loved ones, they help tens of thousands of people, majority of who are women. Where only five million of 152 million people have Internet access, this is a vital service in a country.
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Created in 2008 by local development group D.Net and other community organizations in Bangladesh, The Info Ladies project is modeled after a program that helped make cell phones widespread.
With startup funds from the South Asian country’s central bank and expatriates working around the world, in the next few years, it intends to enlist thousands of workers. Women are recruited by D.Net and are trained to use a computer, the Internet, a printer and a camera, in three months. To buy bicycles and equipment, it arranges bank loans for the women.
“This way we are providing jobs to jobless women and at the same time empowering villagers with critical information,” said Ananya Raihan, Executive Director for D.Net.
Usually undergraduates, the women belong to middle-class rural families and aren’t doling out charity. For an hour of Skype time with her husband, who works in Saudi Arabia, Begum pays 200 takas ($2.40). When her husband’s cheerful face pops up, Begum smiles shyly. With earphones in place, she excitedly tells him she received the money he sent last month. He asks her to buy farm land.
Now, in order to talk with her son, even Begum’s elderly mother-in-law uses Skype. Beaming happily from her tiny farming village in Gaibandha district, 120 miles (192 kilometers) north of the capital, Dhaka, Begum concluded that they prefer using Skype to mobile phones because this way they can see him on the screen.
Edited by Brooke Neuman