In a mud building in the Sahara Village in Côte d'Ivoire, a group of engineers were working intently to usher in a magical connectivity.
They were young Chinese engineers. Some of them were assembling the components of the equipment while some were drilling into a wall. Finally they finished setting up the equipment that looked like an orange pot. It was actually a satellite receiver for relaying signals.
On the terrace outside the room, the villagers had put a table on which stood a brand new flat-screen TV. The engineers connected the receiver to the TV. Curious children flocked in to watch what they were doing, asking the village chief what the orange thing was.
"This is the satellite receiver that will receive digital television signals so that we can watch TV programs from around the world," the chief explained. The youngsters were awestruck. "From around the world?" they exclaimed. "From faraway places? Wow, that's awesome!"
The engineers began to test the "orange pot". A ticking sound could be heard, and soon a clear picture appeared on the TV screen.
The aroma of braised rice and stewed meat soup cooked by the women in the village wafted out of the building, making it seem like a festival.
Students watch TV spellbound.
Côte d'Ivoire is one of the African countries to benefit from the Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages Project. The Sahara Village is one of the 500 villages in the West African country where the project was implemented.
The genesis of the project went back to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa on December 4, 2015, when China announced 10 cooperation plans with Africa to be implemented in the next three years. They included a satellite TV project that would provide satellite TV connection to 10,000 African villages to enrich their cultural life and promote China-Africa cultural exchanges and people-to-people connectivity. This was the vision behind the Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages Project.
However, due to the remote location and harsh natural conditions in many of the villages, the project faced many unimaginable difficulties during implementation.
In Burundi and Kenya, for example, during the rainy season floods often cut off roads and led to bridge collapses while the vehicles got stuck in mud. In the mountainous areas in Madagascar and Malawi, transporting materials for the project was difficult due to lack of roads and transport in many villages, and there was no other way but for the men to carry them on their shoulders and do the work by hand. In some countries neighboring chaotic Somalia such as Kenya, the poor security conditions there posed a grave security threat for the construction personnel. In addition, in many villages they came across a language barrier and had to mime to communicate.
Fortunately, the local people's support gave the project team confidence and courage to overcome the difficulties they faced.
Every time the installation engineers arrived in a village, they would be followed by welcoming kids everywhere they went and served delicious meals by the women. When a village began to receive the signals, there would be rallies and celebrations. Every completion ceremony was a joyous festival where the delighted villagers would perform local dances and sing songs praising the China-Africa friendship.
"Many villagers told me that watching TV for the first time was a wonderful and unforgettable experience," Zhang Ning, one of the Chinese engineers, said. "When I see the kids jumping in joy and waving to say their thanks, I realize the significance of the work."
The project team overcame many difficulties to open a window of information for the local people so that they could glimpse the outside world and dare to dream in their hearts.
In Botero, another village in Cote d'Ivoire, the villagers sit in front of their newly installed TV in the evening to watch the programs. Coulibaly, a doctor in the village, said his hospital now has a TV. It helps take patients' minds off their problems while their families have something to keep them absorbed while waiting.
"Ours is a very remote village. It takes us several days to go to town," the village head said. "Even mobile phone signals are not stable. Only a few people have radios and can hear voices from the outside world." Most villagers have little formal education, having spent just a few years in school. Most of them earn a meager income by grazing cattle, collecting firewood and farming. Girls often get married while they are still minors. Against this backdrop, satellite TV is a precious gift. "China has helped us by installing digital TV," the chief said. "When the day's work is over, the villagers like to watch TV together after dinner. A wonderful world comes into view, adding life to our village."
At the launch ceremony of the Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages Project in Zambia, Zambian President Edgar Lungu asked a lot of questions.
"Will our people be able to watch the World Cup if we've access to satellite TV?" he asked.
"Yes," replied the Chinese side.
"It is incredible news!" President Lungu said. "Satellite TV can provide access to external information for rural people. This is exactly what the government wants. Access to information is not the privilege of a minority. It is a fundamental human right, as important as personal safety, clean drinking water and affordable healthcare."
Two kids curious about the change in the village
According to UN statistics, 62 percent of Africans lived in rural areas in 2015. The Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages Project focuses precisely on this group – people living in economically underdeveloped areas, lacking information and communication. With its implementation, changes have taken place, improving the social backwardness caused by lack of access to information.
Before the launch of the project, an ordinary family in Zambia had to pay at least 115 kwacha (USD6.14) a month to watch TV. Digital TV was an unimaginable luxury for them. But with the project implemented, it costs just 30 kwacha (USD1.60) per month to watch TV, dramatically slashing the cost.
The project has also installed projectors and TV sets in more than 400 remote schools and over 500 clinics in Zambia and provided set-top boxes to more than 10,000 households, covering over 300,000 people.
In Garber, a village on the outskirts of Bouake, one of the largest cities in Cote d'Ivoire, few families could afford to watch TV in the past due to the high cost of the imported satellite receivers and high installation and subscription costs. But the project changed all that.
While the TV signals, transmitted through air, are invisible, the Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages Project has brought visible and tangible changes in rural areas in Africa. It has brought the wonderful outside world to them, improved African rural life in terms of knowledge and entertainment, and given local people motivation as well as confidence to create a better life for themselves.
"I had never thought I'd be able to watch TV," Earl, a nine-yearold Nigerian boy, said shyly. "It's like having another pair of eyes, letting me see the outside world. I found the world is so big with so much fun!"
Cathan, a 12-year-old Zambian schoolboy, hadn't realized before how big Zambia is and what the outside world is like. Now he has learnt a lot of interesting things from TV. "When I grow up, I will go to capital city Lusaka, make money to buy a house in the city, and take my parents there to give them a better life," he said. To achieve that dream, he has started doing some carpentry in his spare time to save money.
A satellite dish installed on the stump of a dead tree
The Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages Project has also promoted the development of local radio and television and created jobs.
It has trained more than 20,000 African technical personnel. The top performers among them had the opportunity to receive training in China annually to upgrade their professional skills and raise their level of technical knowledge. They now have a steady income working in professions like engineering, marketing, financial management and after-sales services. The trained personnel not only ensure the sustainable operation of the project, but also contribute to the promotion and popularization of digital technologies in rural areas.
Socorro is a farmer in the Southern Province of Zambia. Successive years of drought and a sharp drop in his crop yield compelled him to become a migrant laborer to scrape a living. Without any technical knowledge or skills, he struggled to get a job.
By chance, he became one of the after-sales staff of the project. It took him only a month to learn to debug and take care of the maintenance of satellite TV devices in 30 villages. Subsequently, he was entrusted with after-sales service and maintenance work in the village closest to his home. Now, besides a steady income, he also enjoys a standing among the villagers.
There are more than 500 after-sales staff like Socorro in Zambia, all of whom are grateful to the project and the Chinese government. As Socorro said, "The satellite TV project has not only given me a job, but also helped me acquire skills. This is what I wanted most."
President Lungu called the Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages Project a "milestone in the development of Zambia's information society, helping enhance our people's ideological quality and civic consciousness, and build an intelligent Zambia with no one left behind".
All the countries in Africa covered by the project share the same feeling.
In January 2019, when the project was completed in Uganda, a completion ceremony was held, the first of its kind in Africa. At the event, Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, thanked the Chinese government for the long-term friendly help. She said the Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages Project would "greatly advance the development of digital TV services in Uganda and effectively improve the local conditions of information and communication, and make a positive contribution to the wellbeing of Ugandans and the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development."
Assumpta Ingabire, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government of Rwanda, said the project has helped Rwandans "get a better understanding of the world, have a richer cultural life and increase their knowledge and skills through ensuring access to satellite TV services."
"The government and people thank China for the valuable assistance," the official added.
The Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages Project is of far-reaching significance as it can improve local educational conditions and lead to a better future.
Umbi is one of the 500 villages in Zambia benefiting from the project. It is far from the city center. The nearest town is 100 km away and to go to Umbi from there, one has to travel across marshland and scrubland.
Early one morning, Warm, a 56-year-old schoolteacher in the village, was standing on a hill near the school, scanning the distance. Not even a single bird could be seen flying over the horizon.
A tense Warm dialed a number on his mobile phone. He had been dialing it for dozens of times. He had been awaiting this day for a long time, when the village would get access to satellite TV.
"Where are you now? I'm waiting for you," he said to the person he had called.
"Don't worry. We are only a few kilometers away," came the answer.
Hearing that, Warm couldn't wait any longer. He started running down the hill toward the village entrance.
Members of a family watching satellite TV together
Then a child screamed out. "Ah! Ah! Look, the TV installation car is coming!"
Following the scream, 30 to 40 barefoot children of the same age ran toward the approaching sports utility vehicle.
Warm also reached the spot. His forehead bathed in sweat glistened in the strong sunlight. But he had no time to pause to mop his brow. He ran to the vehicle, saying "Welcome" and "Thanks" though his throat felt parched due to the exertion.
The visitors skillfully installed their device in a classroom in the village school and it started receiving the digital signals. Curious children swarmed around the projector, moving their hands in front of the camera. Seeing the images reflected on their hands, they seemed to have found a new continent and their eyes lit up with curiosity and excitement.
When the project team left, the excited children ran after them, waving, beaming and saying: "Thank you, China!" It was a moving sight.
In Kenya, the project team installed a solar projection system in a big public classroom at the Milimani Primary School where hundreds of students can be accommodated. Kent, the principal of the school, was very excited. "The projector and the free TV programs will bring digital learning to the children and broaden their horizon," he said.
The projector has also augmented the number of qualified teachers in the school. At that time, Kenyan schools were taking part in a music festival but the Milimani Primary School found it difficult to get a dance teacher for its students. However, with the projector, it became possible. They could watch the teachers in the other schools and learn the steps.
Leka, a Kenyan student, described his experience of learning with the projector: "The first time we used it was during a math lesson to teach graphs. Before this, I really hated the math class because I didn't understand a single word of what the teacher said. But it was much easier to understand graphs with the projector. Earlier, I would score only 50 in the math exam but now I am getting 80."
Access to satellite TV has enriched the lives of Bella, a 67-yearold retired teacher in Kenya, and her family. Bella said: "Watching international news is very important since you know what's going on in the world and it motivates you to make progress." Bella's granddaughter is now getting ready to go to university. Influenced by her grandma, she wants to be a software programmer to help Kenya grow by using high technology.
A group photo of students
On learning that a TV set has been installed in the school, many villagers brought back their children who had dropped out.
Since it was launched in August 2017, the Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages Project has helped nearly 10,000 villages in more than 20 African countries receive digital TV signals.
It took the project only six months in 2019 to end the history of 2,400 remote villages in Zambia in southeastern Africa, Rwanda in the mid-east, Kenya in the east, and Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon in the west living without digital TV. They started the work in May and finished it in November.
On May 10, 2019, the project was completed in Ghana, enabling 300 remote villages to watch satellite TV.
On May 24, Rwanda was covered. It meant free satellite TV access for 900 public places and 6,000 households in 300 villages.
On June 14, the Zambia leg of the project was completed, benefiting 1,500 public places and 10,000 households in 500 villages.
On October 29, the project was completed in Nigeria, enabling people in 1,000 villages to view satellite TV programs.
On November 14, the project was completed in Cameroon, providing access to digital satellite TV signals to 300 villages.
The Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages Project has enabled people living in remote and impoverished rural areas in Africa to watch, know about and explore the world. It has planted seeds of hope in the hearts of the children and as time goes by, the seeds will take root and they will be motivated to go out into the wider world and make a better life for themselves.
At the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa in December 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China would implement 10 cooperation plans with Africa in the next three years, including a cultural and people-to-people connectivity plan to provide satellite TV connection to 10,000 African villages.
StarTimes, a Chinese digital TV operator, was given the contract to implement the project across Africa. It launched the satellite TV project in 2017. At present, the project has been implemented in Rwanda, the Republic of the Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Burundi, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Zambia etc. The Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages project has enriched the daily lives of Africans, broken the information barrier, and played an important role in supporting educational development in Africa.