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10 April 2012
Kerala: Mahila Mandiram

The primary objective of HiWEL is to bridge the digital divide of the underprivileged children in the age range 8-14 years. Recently, the Social Welfare Department, Government of Kerala collaborated with HiWEL to install HiWEL Learning Stations at their Observation Homes known as Mahila Mandiram. The project implementation began in May 2011 and the last of the Learning Stations were commissioned by November of last year. This collaboration has created a unique scenario of reaching out to widows, divorced, deserted and destitute women with turbulent pasts residing in these homes. This initiative is visibly different from the usual audience that HiWEL has been catering to up till now. These women are between 17 to 60 years with minimal literacy levels. While, some are sent from juvenile homes others, voluntarily join these homes after having experienced difficult situations like: rape, abuse by family or abandonment by families. The common thread, however, is their chaotic and turbulent lives which makes them helpless and emotionally vulnerable.

An inmate using the HiWEL Learning Station
The Social Welfare Department has done a tremendous job of carrying out social welfare activities for this section of the population. They have initiated and implemented various welfare programmes and services which caters not only to the basic needs but also provides opportunities to engage these ladies in constructive and meaningful utilization of time. Through, vocational activities such as jewelry making, carpet weaving etc, they are able to earn income to sustain themselves. And, most importantly get a sense of pride and self-confidence, which they seem to be lacking. This partnership with HiWEL has been a step towards integrating the women in the larger societal schemes of development by exposing them to IT literacy and giving them a platform wherein they can express themselves.

Interviews with women residing in these homes and with matrons in-charge of these homes, has helped us understand how these women are slowly yet steadily accustoming themselves to the HiWEL Learning Stations. According to Chitra, Matron, Mahila Mandiram Vellimadukunnu, Calicut: "It is good to provide the women with computers as it is yet another way of 'passing time' in a fun way".

At Mahila Mandiram Chirackara, Thalassery, it was observed that even young girls and women who are not familiar with computers or Malayalam as a language continue to use the learning station(s). They seem to like playing interactive games, watch videos which they find engaging and fun, browse content that provides information regarding vocational skills and some even use Wikipedia which aids in expanding their knowledge.

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