DEF in the land of clouds Stories of digital migration from Tura in Meghalaya

Tura, Meghalaya

Located in a densely forested area of Meghalaya is Tura, the headquarter town of the West Garo Hills district.

Here, about 75,000 people live (according to the 2011 Census); 73 per cent of them are Garo. Tura is a cultural and administrative centre of the Garo tribes, one of the very few societies of the world that are matrilineal and matrilocal.

Community Information Resrouce Centres

Community Information Resource Centres (CIRCs) are community-oriented infrastructure and information hubs built to create digitally literate, information-empowered and equitable communities across the country. The CIRCs primarily offer digital literacy, digital services, information services, citizen services and business development services to create information-rich society under a sustainable model.


Since it was first opened in September 2011, CIRC Tura has empowered thousands of lives through a range of services that they offer in the community. Like most other CIRCs across India, CIRC Tura not only provides digital literacy but also offers digital services (photocopying, printing, scanning, eTicketing, etc), Information Services (information about government schemes and entitlements) and skill building workshops (entrepreneurship development, wireless network engineering, spoken English, etc). The CIRC, which is known by various names in Tura — such as DEF Centre, Computer Centre, IT Centre, CIRC Centre — has made tremendous impact in the lives of students. In the last two years alone, they have mobilised hundreds of students to apply for government scholarship schemes. For long, only two or three people won education scholarships from Tura. However, with CIRC Tura's diligent efforts, 178 students won scholarship in 2015 alone. In the last one year alone, CIRC Tura has trained 1,000 persons in digital literacy.

With efforts of CIRC Tura's motivated staff, it has been able to build ties with the Government of Meghalaya and the central government to work on projects related to skill development, tourism, BPO training, micro and small enterprises and entrepreneurship. Last year, Tura centre won the CIRC Award for Uniqueness and Innovation.

Banangkhu G. Momin is a CIRC member who has played a pivotal role in mobilising children in Tura region for government scholarship programmes

Learning beyond boundaries

A. Sengjan is a 40-year-old teacher at the Montfort Centre for Education in Tura, Meghalaya. In the last one year, Sengjan has learnt to use the computers and has even begun to teach the same to his students, besides his usual subjects.

A. Sengjan learnt to use computers last year
"Everywhere you go today, in the private or the public sector, the work is dependent on computers. People are posting about jobs online and people are applying for jobs online. computers have become an extremely important part of our daily lives today, and that is the reason I encourage my students to learn computers," says Sengjan.

Sengjan teaches Nursery, Kindergarden and Class I kids. He teaches them communication skills and tells them about animals of India.

"But not all animals and birds can be found in garo hills. For example, zebra, giraffe and peacock are only names they've heard in classrooms. They don't know what they sound like. So i download animal sounds on my laptop in class and play it for the children to hear. that's how they learn to recognise these animals," he adds.

Meanwhile, for students of Classes II to XI, he takes computer classes to teach them to navigate between folders or options on a computer, type on Word and run spell checks.

Sengjan is blind by birth. So are his students. Montfort Centre for Education in Tura, Meghalaya, is a school for visually and sensorially challenged persons.

Last year, under a programme of the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, Sengjan was given a laptop. He had never used a laptop before, so he had to take the help of some friends who had. However, he soon realised that he needed more focused training. Luckily for him, and several others who have often been excluded from the digital umbrella, CIRC Tura decided to reach out to students at the Montfort Centre for Education. Segnjan was keen to learn and enrolled for a three-month basic digital literacy course.

A team of two extremely motivated people from CIRC would spend a few hours every week at the special education school, and teach Segjan and 11 other blind students, besides seven deaf and mute students, to navigate on a laptop. Though these two had trained hundreds of students in digital literacy, teaching the visually impaired was a challenge for them too. For those who have the luxury of sight, operating the mouse/trackpad is a natural extension of using a computer/laptop. However, for those who can't see, a mouse or trackpad has little value. Not using the mouse while trying to teach visually impaired students of digital literacy, did not come naturally for the trainers but they worked hard. The trainers watched videos on YouTube and used the pedagogy to train their students at Montfort Centre for Education. They might have not been the perfect trainers but Sengjan has learnt enough to operate a computer on his own now. He uses shortcuts to navigate through different folders of his laptop to play animal sounds for his students or play music in his leisure. Since then, he has also been able to advice the trainers on certain methods of teaching they can adopt.

He, however, wishes that the government websites are more accessible for disabled persons. There are no provisions or audio assistance for blind persons. This thought is seconded by the school principal, who has been encouraging his students to grab every opportunity they get to learn computers.

Montfort school principal

A shy leaner

Nazia R. Mark can't talk or listen either. She speaks in sign language, in which she has been trained at Montfort. She, too, was enrolled for the special digital literacy classes. Though she's a quick learner, she's extremely shy. She also refutes her computer trainer's claims of being a brilliant student.

nazia r. marak is sixteen years old

Building a support network

Etherson G. Momin and Sengdo S. Marak are 19-year-old young men who are deaf and mute but that hasn’t stopped them from communicating with their friends who live in other parts of the world.

Etherson and Sengdo talk to their friend from vietnam over a whatsapp call

With functional mobile literacy, coupled with an affordable Jio data plan, Momin makes videos calls to his friends and talks to them in sign language. He is also a member of various Facebook self-help-groups, from different parts of the world, for deaf and mute. On these platforms, they share video-driven posts in which people talk in sign languages. Some recite poetry, some give fashion tips, some other talk about the news of the day, many just share self-help tips and seek community support and interaction.

The two friends are pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Tura Government College. Now in their Second Year, they recently completed a six-month digital literacy course with DEF where they learnt to operate a computer, type on Word, do calculations on Excel, create presentations on Powerpoint and make friends of Facebook.

"i can't type as fast yet but I like typing more than i like writing on paper," etherson says.

While communication via video calls is one of the major benefits of mobile technology for them, there are a lot of other opportunities that have opened up for them. For example, they no longer need to go to the bank to transfer money or utilise any other banking service after lengthy, often incomprehensive, discussions though sign language with the banking correspondent. Etherson and Sengdo have their respective banks' apps downloaded on their phones to carry out financial and banking services. On an online friend's advice, Sengjan recently even bought a pair of sneakers from Flipkart.

"I have a lot of friends on Facebook," Sengjan says. "He's very popular," Etherson adds.
The two friends are members of various facebook community groups

What disappoints them online often is the lack of inclusiveness often visible in audio visual content. Not all videos on YouTube carry subtitles, this often restricts them from watching a video of their choice, especially news videos. But their daily dose of news comes from the Shillong Times website.

Baby steps to exploration

At the Dakopgre Lower Primary and Upper Primary School, 20 students from a batch of 40 Class VIII students recently completed their basic digital literacy close at CIRC Tura. Located half a kilometre from the school, every afternoon after school, these students walked to the CIRC, took their seats and started learning the basics of computers.

Students enrolled at this school come from poor families. Most of their parents are domestic helps, some students, too, have part-time jobs after school. Their first exposure to technology was when they visited CIRC. Neither at home nor at school do they have computers to practice their skills.

students of dakopgre

At CIRC Tura, they take turns to use the computer to look up ideas about school projects or listen to songs online. Two of the 40 students in class are on Facebook. When they get a chance, they sneakily log onto Facebook at the CIRC, sceptic that their classmates might judge them for being active on a social media platform, and check their feed to see updates from their online friends.

"Can I show you Garo songs on your phone?" one students asks.

Soon, children were asking for the phone. Everyone wanted to show something or the other on Google.

Occasional access to computers and smartphones — a few of their older friends own smartphones — gives them the chance to look up things that interest them most. They may still be new to truly understand the many opportunities that the Internet holds for them, but they're finding their way. One step at a time. One Google search at a time.

Strengthening Tura's matriarchal society

Helen K. Sangma is a 39-year-old woman who wears two hats. She's a Class Nursery teacher at the Hills View Primary School in Tura. She is also a volunteer at the Seventh Day Adventis Church Organisation, which is located on the same ground as the school. In her latter role, she is a women's counsellor and motivator. She uses verses from the Bible and other religious and non-religious books to speak to women about empowerment and opportunities. At the monthly community meetings, she would always take the lead and share inspirational stories and messages with women by taking the mic. Today, she makes Powerpoint presentations to create awareness about leadership among women. She also organises monthly children's adventure camps. At these camps, children learn about sustainable life skills, natural environment, medicinal plants and science. Ahead of these camps, Helen creates slides with text, songs and nursery rhymes to ensure children have not one minute to get bored.

"I know how to download videos from youtube. So i use them in my presentations. the videos grab children's attention and also leave a lesson for them to learn," Helen says, playing Jack 'and jill' on her laptop.
Helen k. Marak is a school teacher and a volunteer at a local church

A little more than two years ago, Helen was recognised by DEF for a special programme called Wireless Women for Entrepreneurship & Empowerment (W2E2) programme. Under this programme, select women were identified from different parts of the country and given a laptop, a printer-scanner and a digital camera. They were engaged in discussions about simple digital entrepreneurial ideas, and asked to use the digital equipment in a sustainable fashion. At her small two-bedroom house located on the school campus, she offers students, teachers and church go-ers digital services such as printing, scanning and ticketing for a nominal charge.

"Last month, I looked up some decoration ideas for my classroom. my husband, herbinter, helped me put it up," she says with a smile on her face, pointing towards little origami birds hanging from the windows bars and paper mache ladybugs pasted on to the walls.

I think in today's time, it's very important for children to use computers. This generation has the advantage of starting early. The women who come to the church didn't have this advantage when they were growing up but we can't use that as an excuse. In the fast-changing modern times that we're living in, women need to know computers and operate computers to cope with advanced learning and opportunities.

To each her own

Helen's friend Letina W. Sangma sees value in technology because it allows her to video chat with her daughter who's pursuing a college degree in Maharashtra. Letina is community worker at the church too. She often sits with Helen to make presentation or handbooks on women's leadership opportunities.

Letina w. Sangma translates books from english to garo

She's translates verses from the Bible and other books from English to Garo. Letina has also graduated from writing reports on paper to filing reports on Microsoft Word, taking print out or emailing them to relevant stakeholders.

"These days, reports are incomplete unless you click pictures and embed them into your text," she says, but not with the happiest of expressions on her face.

Centres for integrated learning

Until recently, DEF was present across four locations in Tura region. Besides a CIRC in Tura town, DEF was running three Integrated approach to Technology in Education (ITE) centres in Rongram, Jengjal and Asanang blocks.

The three ITE centres, an initiative of Tata Trusts and implemented by DEF in Meghalaya, was catering to over 250 students from four schools. ITE is a pedagogical framework to improve teaching and learning processes and foster authentic and project-based learning for adolescents in some of the most underprivileged geographies of India. Students, mostly first time computer users, create learning artefacts on topics relevant to their region to deepen their learning, understanding and contextualisation of content.

While the ITE project in Meghalaya is now closed, its scope impact can be measured from stories from Assam where its still operational.

Created By
Digital Empowerment Foundation


Udita Chaturvedi for DEF

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