Like many teenagers around the world, Mary Bakare sits in a cyber café using the internet for homework research. Yet this is no ordinary cyber café. This café is in the remote village of Ikaram in south western Nigeria, where poverty is common and life is tough. Just two seats away, university student Blessing Adeoye surfs the web. Thanks to the Millennium Villages Project, their cyber café has opened a door to a world of learning, global networking and social media.
Until recently the internet was something that Mary had only heard about and never dreamed of using. Now she is a regular at the cyber café in Ikaram. Blessing, an undergraduate English student, is impressed by the changes the cyber café has brought to his life since the project went live. He simply calls it "a wonder."
"The cyber café in my village has been tremendous," Blessing says. "It not only helps me search for materials online, but I am also able to network with my friends via Facebook. Who would have thought that such a wonder would be possible in a rural community such as Ikaram?"
Mary is equally impressed that she now has the World Wide Web at her fingertips.
"I'd heard about the internet but never used it before," she says. vIf someone had told me that I would be learning from the internet in my own village, I would have thought they were lying."
The cyber café is just one high-speed wireless outlet in a project involving 21 schools, four health centers and five community centers in seven communities in Ondo State that make up the Ikaram/Ibaram Millennium Village cluster.
The internet access in the schools element of the project is not only helping with literacy and learning, but is also teaching children computer skills that can enhance their future employment prospects.
Adults are also benefiting from the new telecommunications opportunities thanks to the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Youth Friendly Centers, and through the project's healthcare system.
The Millennium Villages Project – a partnership between the United Nations Development Program, Millennium Promise, the Earth Institute and the host state government – is based on the concept that injecting basic social services, such as improved health and educational facilities, and the training of community members in basic life skills, will help to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
There are 12 Millennium Village clusters in 10 countries in the sub-Saharan region, including more than half a million people. Ericsson and its partners will deliver telecom connectivity to all Millennium Villages. Ericsson's partner in the Ikaram/Ibaram Millennium Village is African operator MTN.
Wale Goodluck, Corporate Services Executive at MTN, says: "MTN is privileged to be part of the Millennium Villages Project which seeks to promote the provision of accelerated world-class communication services in a rural village community setting. We hope that the access to the ICT provided will significantly facilitate the provision of improved healthcare delivery to the village cluster, enhance the quality of education in the schools in the region, improve the standard of agriculture practices and productivity and, overall, greatly facilitate private enterprise and commerce in the community."
While MTN provided the telecom platform and 3G broadcast internet services, Ericsson provided the network infrastructure and enabled internet access in the schools and health clinics. Sony Ericsson provided phones for community health workers involved in the project.
Jane Egerton-Idehen, an Account Manager with Ericsson Nigeria, says: "People in these villages are experiencing new business and learning opportunities for the first time. For a lot of these children it's the first time they have seen a computer. They are now using things that they have previously only heard about. These new opportunities present tangible, hands-on education possibilities and improve basic healthcare by providing health workers with internet and mobile phone connectivity."