Broadcast: February 2, 2004
This is Robert Cohen with the VOA Special English Development Report.
A program in Uganda aims to provide telephone service to villages away from cities. Nineteen million people live in these communities. The goal is to provide service to a large part of them within five years.
The Grameen Foundation USA organized the program with MTN Uganda. That is the largest provider of telecommunications service in the country. The program is called "MTN villagePhone."
Organizers have already given cellular telephones to more than one-hundred people throughout Uganda. The people are called micro-entrepreneurs. They will charge other people to use the mobile phones. The organizers say they hope to train as many as three-thousand village telephone operators over the next three years.
Five Ugandan groups provided small loans to pay for the equipment. The operators are expected to repay the loans over a period of up to twelve months. Such loans are known as micro-finance. Most micro-finance groups charge interest. But they often use their earnings to reach more people.
The Grameen Foundation says operating the pay phone service will permit thousands of women to earn extra money for their families. It will also save business people and villagers money and time. The organizers estimate that a call that costs ten cents could save a person about one dollar in lost wages or business.
This is how much it would cost the person to take a day to travel to the nearest city to place the call. The phones could also help save lives. Villagers will be able to call for help in case of an emergency.
The project in Uganda is based on a program that the Grameen Foundation established in Bangladesh. The Grameen Telecom program began six years ago. Officials say it has permitted forty-thousand village operators to sell phone time to local citizens. Operators are said to earn about seven-hundred dollars a year. This is about two times the national average for wages in Bangladesh.
Ugandan officials say the village phone program will help connect farming villages to the world’s information economy. They see the program as a step toward building support for private investment in developing countries. They say it is another way to reduce poverty and improve the lives of people.
This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. This is Bob Cohen.