INTERNET ACCESS ON MFANGANO

OHR Executive Director, Richard Magerenge (right), discusses the radio and Internet tower with Mzee Okello (left) during land negotiations at his home atop Soklo mountain on Mfangano Island.

OHR Executive Director, Richard Magerenge (right), discusses the radio and Internet tower with Mzee Okello (left) during land negotiations at his home atop Soklo mountain on Mfangano Island.

Free Internet access has taken a step closer to 20,000 rural Kenyans living on a remote island in the middle of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya. The Organic Health Response, with the help of San Francisco-based partners, Inveneo and Equal Access, is preparing to install a wireless Internet link and community radio tower on the top Soklo mountain on Mfangano Island. Based on a comprehensive topographical survey by Inveneo’s connectivity engineers, Equal Access is developing a radio broadcast map using open access satellite software to assess the reach for Mfangano’s first community radio station. On the ground, OHR is moving forward with site preparations and the tower’s challenging construction 1600m above the Lake shore. Thanks to land generously donated by the Okello family, a 12th generation Mfangano family living atop Soklo mountain, the tower site will serve as both the point of reception for OHR’s 70km long-range Internet link, and the point of transmission for the Ekialo Kiona Youth Radio Station.  Actual construction of this unique tower will be carried out by the Ekialo Kiona Sustainable Design Guild, a team of local Mfangano carpenters, welders, and masons who successfully completed construction on the Ekialo Kiona Center in May 2011.

The view from Mzee Okello’s land atop Mfangano Island, where OHR’s new Internet tower will direct a wireless Internet link from Kisumu, 70km to the northwest, to the Ekialo Kiona Center along the shores of Lake Victoria on the southern side of the Island.

The view from Mzee Okello’s land atop Mfangano Island, where OHR’s new Internet tower will direct a wireless Internet link from Kisumu, 70km to the northwest, to the Ekialo Kiona Center along the shores of Lake Victoria on the southern side of the Island.

Born in 1925, Joseph Okello Misiara is a native of the Soklo clan that has lived on Mfangano Island for over 12 generations. He is now the Elder responsible for taking care of the sacred Kwitutu forest, an old growth forest and ancestral burial site that remains atop the highest point on Mfangano Island. Inspired by the land donation made by Joel Oguta for the Ekialo Kiona Center itself, Mzee Okello and his eldest son have generously donated their family’s land near the Kwitutu forest, to bring free Internet to 20,000 of their fellow residents on Mfangano Island. During a visit this June, Mzee Okello explained that although he has never used the Internet or touched a computer himself, he knows his land will be used to build a tower that will “connect the world together.” Mzee Okello sees this donation as a landmark for his children and grandchildren and his final legacy to the community of Mfangano.