In the quaint town of Sikreyali near Narowal blossoms the ambition of one Computer Science student who has opened up new modes of communication and education in his community by introducing the locals to the internet and its related technologies.
Describing his initial motivation, Waseem says, “When I came to university for my Bachelors in Sargodha, I realised there was so much going on the world, stuff that I, and others were missing out on.”After he graduated, Waseem made his way back home, determined to help his community.
However, there were numerous hurdles in his path, with rampant illiteracy, lack of access to information, and a general suspiciousness of technology topping the list.
For most inhabitants of the town, the primary source of income is agriculture; a profession in Pakistan that has historically relied on cheap, labor-intensive methods of farming instead of embracing technological advancements. This has spelled out generations of illiteracy, and an evasive attitude towards formal education within the farming community. As a result, places like Sikreyali suffer from an absence of basic amenities, such as educational institutesand quality healthcare.
The key then, for Waseem, was to find someone influential to jump on the bandwagon, and he found a most willing, and unlikely partner, at his neighborhood mosque.
Maulvi Abdul Majeed, the imam of the mosque, had long been complaining about his inability to raise sufficient funds for the upkeep of the mosque. As much, the mosque ran on donations from the locals, and revenue streams had dried out. Waseem saw this as an opportunity and approached the imam, explaining how the internet and smartphones could help him reach out to an untapped pool of possible donors: members of the community who had left for greener pastures, to major cities of Pakistan and abroad.
The imam was interested. Together, the two set up a local bank account for the mosque, and soon some funds trickled in. To the tune of 400 Saudi Riyals. This money was immediately used to host a milaad. Later funds were used for paying electricity bills and making small repairs around the premises.
Word spread quickly; the involvement of an influential community elder such as Maulvi Abdul Majid in using the internet to reach out for donations was the green signal the villagers needed.
Slowly, but surely, people started approaching Waseem. Some wanted to get in touch with their relatives abroad. Others wanted to search for jobs. Some were just curious. The plan had worked.
All this went down in 2015. He has since, taught the usage of smartphones to his friends who have gone on to use Facebook, and other social media applications to socialize, entertain, and educate themselves. This seemingly small step to modernize the mosque has had implications on the lifestyles of the farmers of Sikreyali, with the acceptance and usage of smart phones now significantly higher than it was before. The villagers are currently reliant on 3G, and Edge technology, owing to the lack of wired telecommunication infrastructure resulting in the absence of broadband.
Ashraf Iqbal, Dean at the Department of Computer Sciences at the University Central Punjab, believes that what Waseem is actually doing is bridging the gap between socio-economic classes via technology, and empowering rural communities via ICTs.
Waseem plans on further connecting Sikreyali to the world via an improved communication infrastructure in the area, and an internet portal dedicated particularly to serving the matters of the village.