Vaca Perdida: Digital skills development in indigenous communities

ITU News

The ITU Americas Regional Office visited a digital community centre in rural Argentina to learn more about the role of digital skills, technology, and connectivity in indigenous communities, and the ITU project on the promotion of digital skills training to benefit youth capacity development and economic integration.

After 50 kilometres of dirt road, a sign reads Los Caminos de las Artesanías: “The Paths of the Crafts.”

The turnoff lies in Argentina’s north-eastern Formosa Province, an hour’s drive from the closest town. An adjacent national park is called “The Impenetrable.”

The noon sun bakes the white sandy pathway to Vaca Perdida (“Lost Cow”), a remote village in the heart of the Gran Chaco region.

The Onanagaelpi women’s community centre has operated here since 2005, managed by the women artisans from the indigenous Qomle’ec community.

Initially organized to produce handicrafts using sheep’s wool, the group turned to digital technologies in 2015 as a way to improve and commercialize these distinctive local products.

Women at the entrance of the Onanagaelpi women’s community centre, operated by the indigenous Qomle’ec community in Argentina. Image credit: ITU Regional Office of the Americas
Women at the entrance of the Onanagaelpi women’s community centre, operated by the indigenous Qomle’ec community in Argentina. Image credit: ITU Regional Office of the Americas
Tech in indigenous communities

At the entrance to a house of red brick and concrete, two women stand at the door to welcome visitors. Inside, the tables are draped in handwoven textiles with eye-catching patterns and designs. Atop the vibrant fabrics lie a laptop computer, a tablet, chargers, and an extension cord.

Several of the women in the room hold mobile phones, each connected to the community centre’s Wi-Fi network.

These indigenous women leaders explain how digital connectivity has helped them sell their handicrafts, especially during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing more resources to their homes and community.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have helped the community stay informed and ensured ongoing access to education. Women with digital skills helped young people from their communities create e-mail addresses.

Opportunities for the future

The future of these youth remains a pressing concern for the community. Few families have the means to send their young people to study at big city universities.

Vaca Perdida’s indigenous leaders quickly recognised how digital technologies could enable young people to study from their villages, minimizing displacement challenges. They expressed hopes that with the capacity to meaningfully engage with digital technologies, the youth from these remote communities could eventually become doctors, lawyers, and other kinds of professionals who serve the community.

Enabling development through ICTs

The experience of Vaca Perdida highlights how ICTs can reach and benefit people even in the most impenetrable territories. It also underlines the crucial need for the digital knowledge – including the skills to use technology in a meaningful way – as indigenous peoples strive to achieve key development goals.

As the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is committed to empowering indigenous peoples through ICT skills, access, and knowledge.

ITU has focused on supporting indigenous peoples’ personal development, as well as self-sustainability and socio-economic growth in their communities.

For example, the Youth Digital Inclusion project led by ITU, in partnership with the local Gran Chaco Foundation, aims to promote capacity development and economic integration by training youth from communities like Vaca Perdida. The goal is to promote ICT capacity development activities to benefit youth from local communities in line with the needs of the ICT labour market and ecosystem.

Additionally, the project aims to support countries in the development of national strategies to develop young people’s digital skills and build an enabling environment for innovation and entrepreneurship.

The project will also develop recommendations for the creation of innovation centers and educational projects that contribute to the ICT labour market and ecosystem as well as young entrepreneurship.

The Youth Digital Inclusion project will be piloted in Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay starting in September 2022.

Learn more about the digital inclusion of indigenous peoples.

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