“Then one day, as I sat…. Why not find out if internet technology could be used to somehow improve the life of people in the camps through better communication? (….). Maybe we could set up a computer link up in each camp that is connected to the other camps and the outside world. These could be used in the same way that phones are used. Also, they could be used to tell the whole world about life in the camps. Maybe we could have a hut in each camp in which we house the necessary computer equipment. Maybe it could use solar-powered batteries, since there is little electrical capacity in the camps. I e-mailed Father Okumo and asked if such a thing might help.”
- Gus Zuehleke, (Founder)
“If you think God is in this, then pursue it. It at least would help the diocese here in Gulu better communicate with the catechists in the camps” wrote Fr. Joseph Okumu. (The Uganda Blessing)
This conversation between Gus and Fr. Joseph in 2005 would set in motion several events that would culminate into the inception of Battery-Operated Systems for Community Outreach Uganda (BOSCO Uganda), a Faith based Organization (FBO) was conceptualized in northern Uganda in 2007. In the United States, Gus for his part would rally students, staff and other members of the Notre Dame Family and together they would seek out new ways to spread the Gospel through the creation of social justice projects.
Earlier in 2003, Gustavus Zuehleke, fondly known as Gus a catechist from the US state of Indiana having been hearing about civil strife in Uganda from his friend, Fr. Robert Binta then Chaplain of the Catholic Parliamentarians had decided to visit northern Uganda in person and at the height of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurrection witnessed the destruction to life and property that also cut off northern Uganda from the rest of the world. It was after this visit that he’d take an interest in finding a solution to the communication problems resultant of the war.
With Gus being a catechist and theologian, he needed a technical person who would help him realize his vision so he brought on board Ted Pethick, an Information Communication Technology expert who would willingly fly with him to Uganda to see the first six Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) camps where he supposed to deploy BOSCO.
The next hurdle that Gus and team would have to skip would be the financial kind since the estimated cost of the project that sat at USD $300,000 was prohibitive. But in a memorable moment of brilliance Ted got in touch with a computer company from San Francisco who built much cheaper low power PCs that could run for days on batteries of 12V and 24V and quite easy to place even on tree trunks thereby massively reducing on the cost of the project.. In Uganda, the Archbishop John Baptist Odama would delegate Fr. Joseph to sort out the paperwork with the Ministry of ICT and other necessary authorities. The first visit to the Ministry in July 2006 with minister Hon Ham Mulira would be facilitated by State Minister of ICT Hon John Alintuma Nsambu. and would climax with yet another meeting at the office of the communications regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) where Father Joseph would meet the Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi Godfrey and complete the necessary paperwork.
Towards the end of January 2007, the container with the first batch of equipment to be deployed in camps would arrive at Entebbe and It would be cleared by the Ministry of ICT thanks to the Hon Nsambu who once again came through to deliver Fr Joseph’s request for help with the taxes to the President who graciously granted the request.
This batch of equipment that included batteries, INVENEO built computers, radios, routers and other equipment were deployed in six IDP camps across northern Uganda enabling Voice over Internet Protocol telephones among the camps and the rest of the world and in so doing narrowing the digital divide. Thirteen years down the connectivity road, BOSCO-Uganda continues to grow and connect people with its 52 ICT Centers / internet points of presence that cover the whole of northern Uganda including the Acholi, Lango and West-Nile sub-regions. These centers provide internet and computer literacy education to community members including women and youth.