The Digital Agency for International Development

Ubuntu in Zambia

By Mark Skipper on 07 May 2010

Ubuntu in Zambia was the title of my talk at OggCamp10: I described  our recent work using Ubuntu based low-power computers for training in rural Zambia.Telling this story to the geeks at OggCamp reminded me of the role the Open Source desktop operating system played in this successful project. Hundreds of young Zambian women leaving school are learning practical entrepreneurship through a training programme run by Camfed. Working in groups, these young women create and run real short-term enterprise schemes with mentoring and training from successful social entrepreneurs from around the world.

training the trainers

The trainers are proud to be associated with the open source operating system on their computersInformation and Communication Technology (ICT) is a central part of the programme: the trainees email their mentors using Internet-enabled mobile phones and computers. Getting them all up to speed with a few hours training was a great challenge: Aptivate worked with six of the young women who have become the ICT trainers. They deliver all the training, though they were new to computers themselves when the programme started.

The trainers are proud to be associated with the Ubuntu logo, which you see when the computers start up.

thin client networking

The LTSP workstations in useFor the training we chose a network of sixteen Aleutia thin-client workstations running LTSP, and two Ubuntu servers. We chose net-tops with full-size keyboards and screens because we wanted the two ladies to be able to work together at one workstation in the classroom. The whole network draws only a kilowatt and could easily be run from solar panels.

The tiny thin-client computer is attached to the back of the screen.


A Linux desktop system is less likely to be affected by viruses and other unwanted software than a Windows based system. The school where the training would be held had been disconnected from the Internet by their Internet service provider (ISP) because their Windows-based computers were infected with software that was generating undesirable network traffic. The ISP were happy to connect our Ubuntu network to the Internet while we cleaned the school's Windows PCs using anti-virus software so they could remain connected after we left.

The command-line projected onto the wall of the training room.

local email

Tracing the Zambian map projected onto the blackboardFor the email training we installed an open-source web-mail system on one of our servers giving lighting-fast email for our classroom practical sessions.  The trainees enjoyed competing to send emails to the instructor's inbox which we projected onto the wall. Seeing their messages arrive in real-time was very rewarding.

Projecting onto a blackboard created new learning opportunities: trace the outline of Zambia...

Stick a note on the map where you're from... get everyone to put a sticky note on the map where they come from.

May 10, 2010, 4:12 p.m. - Tweets that mention Ubuntu in Zambia « Aptivate...

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Josef Scarantino, African Tech Network and Mark Skipper, Aptivate. Aptivate said: Blog post: Ubuntu in Zambia [...]