Monday, September 17, 2012

Cameroon Link Organizes Freedom Fone & GRINS Information Workshop

Ojong Helen Ayamba, Cameroon Link Email:
Ten ICT technicians from various business institutions including the customs, telecommunications, environmental protection, computer maintenance, sales companies and communication houses took part in a one day information sharing and exchange workshop at Cameroon Link last Saturday, September 15, 2012 on the use and applications of Freedom Fone and GRINS soft wares. The key facilitator was Mike Achanyi trained by Farm Radio International in Arusha, Tanzania during a capacity building workshop as the Freedom Fone and GRINS ICT Consultant for Cameroon. Opening the workshop, the Executive Director of Cameroon Link, James Achanyi-Fontem, expressed thanks and gratitude to Farm Radio International and its partners, who made the training possible for Cameroon and acknowledged the excellent partnership relations that have existed for over 30 years today.
The CEO added that it is difficult to quantify the knowledge and benefits gained throughout the number of years Cameroon Link has been in partnership with Farm Radio and that it is through the same non-profit making international organization based in Ottawa, Canada that the Commonwealth of Learning identified Cameroon as an emerging developing country for expanding its policy of “Learning for Development”. He lauded the Cameroon ICT technicians for taking time off their busy schedules to participate in the one-day training, which he described as innovative for the work they are accomplishing in their different organizations. He called on them to be attentive and ask questions on all identified issues related to the Freedom Fone and GRINS, which are new soft ware applications in Cameroon. Cameroon is one out of ten African countries already deploying the soft wares and that the only source to get them in Cameroon remains Cameroon Link for now. He concluded by informing them that they were privileged to be the first batch of Cameroon ICT technicians receiving first-hand information on the communication tools adapted to situations in developing countries, where resources are limited. During the training which was delivered in two parts, theoretical and practical, Mike Achanyi started by express thanks to the facilitators who trained them in Arusha, Tanzania with open hearts. He said, it was with the same spirit that he wanted to share new ICT communication development skills he learnt with them. Mike acknowledged that from the beginning, he felt everything was going to be difficult because the new knowledge looked strange. But as time went on, he learnt that it was just another innovative way of doing things, with more simplified tools for reaching many at the same time, if applied in community radio stations in Cameroon.
He introduced the Freedom Fone Project by saying Freedom Fone was conceived by Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe in 2001, Their aim was to seek alternative ways to inform and engage civil society in development issues to inspire positive social change by sharing information and ideas via Internet, email, mobile phones and print publications. Like in Zimbabwe, Mike Achanyi went on to say freedoms of association and expression are regularly repressed, in the years political and economic struggles have created a need to engage with audiences situated on the margins of the information society. By taking advantage of both text and voice functions, Freedom Fone provides a means to reach communities that do not have access to other media and remain under-heard because of literacy and language barriers. While internet in Cameroon is becoming more accessible, it is still available only to a minority urban-based audience. Mobile phone usage on the other hand is growing exponentially with over 50% of the population - including many who live out in remote rural areas – currently subscribed to mobile networks. It is for this reason that Freedom Fone has proved to be a practical communications tool for small to medium sized organisations working in a number of different sectors from community radio, agricultural development, education or health programmes, to elections monitoring or emergency relief operations. Freedom Fone makes it easy to interact on an information-on-demand basis with offline audiences that speak multiple languages and may struggle to read or write.
During the practical session after installing Freedom Fone at the Cameroon Link Multi-media Centre in Bonaberi-Douala, the ICT Consultant said, Freedom Fone allows anyone with a phone to access or contribute information on a specific issue 24 hours a day and seven days a week. It takes advantage of audio and text to address language and literacy barriers when reaching out to marginalised audiences that don't have access to other media. Most important he added, compared to GRINS, no internet access is required by either you or your audience during communication. It uses interactive voice menus to deliver information to and record information from a caller. Each of ICT technicians was given the opportunity to become familiar with the menu already installed at Cameroon Link when they called the following telephone number 00237 71890376: This number takes you to a healh campaign and as you press different buttons, instructions for accessing information changed. "press 1 to access your account, press 2 to speak to a representative,… press 5 to leave a message...". You will realize that we all sometimes have to deal with this kind of system when we dial a number to top up the credit on our mobile phone account, or to talk to a support person in a communication system, etc. Freedom Fone enables you to design your own interactive menus to: Share audio information with your audience; Organise a poll to enable your audience to vote on an issue using their phone; Collect SMSs from your audience - these might be updates about specific news events, alerts or similar time critical information; and Get your audience to leave audio messages to share their opinion on a particular topic or make reports in their own language. Again, there are no geographical limitations to Freedom Fone. In fact it can be used and deployed in all countries where there is mobile network coverage, and content can be recorded in any language - even multiple languages, simultaneously. In addition to ordinary mobile phones, your callers can use landlines and internet-based phones to access the service. This means that Freedom Fone can receive and deliver crucial information via mobile phones or landlines in situations facing power constraints or where the Internet access is limited or interrupted. It provides an installer that automates much of the setup, empowering a nontechnical user to independently set up a sophisticated telephony server in an organisation under 30 minutes. The Cameroon Link ICT Officer explained the role of Farm Radio International during the training processing in Arusha, Tanzania. Farm Radio International ( is a Canadian-based, non-profit organisation that assists small scale farmers in Africa with food security. Farm Radio works with over 290 partner radio stations across Africa to train broadcasters, create radio scripts and conduct educational radio campaigns on agricultural topics that can improve the livelihoods of farmers. Since January 2010, Farm Radio has been using Freedom Fone to increase the impact of their educational radio programmes and involve more farmers' voices. Farm Radio is organizing a three month long e-Course on scripting for programming from this month. A face-to-face training on the use of barza network has been planned in Arusha, Tanzania also this month. The Commonwealth of Learning and Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation are supporting these outreach activities in Africa through Farm Radio. Examples of other usage of the Freedom Fone in other countries like Ghana, Zimbabwe, Malawi and so on were presented during the training. Closing the ICT workshop, the executive director of Cameroon Link told the ICT technicians to take advantage of the existence of Freedom Fone in Cameroon and introduce the system in their work places. The Mobigater is a unique tool to enhance workability of the Freedom Fone. Cameroon Link search are organizations involved in community radio, health campaigns, supporting women’s rights, enhancing business opportunities, election monitoring and so on. Freedom Fone would help us and you know our audiences, since it works with a voice menu, sends and collects SMS, while advertising our services. More training has been planned for ICT technicians in other parts of Cameroon in the next few months.

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