World beats a path to Rankin school’s website

What do Canada’s foreign affairs minister, the head of the World Bank and the Canadian International Development Agency have in common? They’re all fans of theIgalaaq computer access centre.



Most visits to theLeo Ussak Schooloccur on the internet, while some encounters with the world are plainly better in person.

Just ask a group of pupils who travelled to Toronto to showcase their computer centre and Internet website.

The students discovered that their computer centre, dubbed Igalaaq, is attracting more than a little interest among architects of the world’s information highway.

“It may sound like hyperbole from me, but these kids were the hit of the conference,” teacher William Belsey, the school’s computer program co-ordinator, said.

Belsey accompanied four 11-year-old students to the Global Knowldege ’97 conference in mid-June at the invitation of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). To the delight of the Nunavut contingent, theIgalaaq Centreis being loudly touted as a model for the world’s developing countries to follow.

“The story of our Iqalaq Centre went to the heart of what the whole confernce was about,” said Belsey. “And that is, bridging the gap between the information haves and have-nots, globally.”

Not only did the young conference goers earn the praise of Industry Minister John Manley, they managed to impress policy makers and political leaders from around the globe, including the secretary general of the United Nations and the chairman of the World Bank.

Belsey said the school has since received tentative offers to participate in an information technology fair in Lisbon, Portugal, and one in Hanover, Germany.

What CIDA and the international community find most intriguing about Igalaaq, said Belsey, is that the access centre draws on the support of the entire community.

If a remote community such asRankin Inletcan gain access to the Internet through volunteer efforts and a broad base of communty partnerships, then it is a model that is sustainable and achievable in many parts of the world, he said.

“They all talk about what might be possible, but we’re doing it here in Rankin. And after this conference, the world has taken notice.”

Igalaaq was started on a modest scale two years ago with a grant from Industry Canada. The centre has since raised more than $100,000 from local sponsors, Belsey said.

One in five Rankin Inlet residents now have an e-mail account and the computer access centre, located in a classroom at the Leo Ussak School, is equipped with 20 computers.

“It was clear that this is a model that they can learn from and has relevancy for the Third World,” Besley said.

The financial support ofSakku Investments Corp., the birthright corporation of the Kivalliq Inuit Association, prompted particular interest among representatives from countries with aboriginal populations.

“It has a lot of parallels for tribal groups in Africa, and other parts of the world,” he said.

Belsey hope the international interest in Igalaaq will be noticed closer to home when Nunavut leaders begin to refine plans for a network ofcommunity teleservice centres.

“If the whole world at this conference said to us that the model we’re developing is the model that they could learn from, I’m really hoping that thepolicy makers from NICand others will not overlook us just because we’re in their backyard,” Belsey said.

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