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Fatma Ibrahim; from an illiteracy eradication student to a successful business women

Fatma Ibrahim, a poor, mother of six children living in Siwa Oasis in Egypt has been illiterate for all her life. As a child, her striving parents made simple handicrafts and sold them to Siwan Bazaars to make ends meet.

Like many girls growing up in Siwa, she was deprived of education due to her family's poverty and the community's traditions biased against girls' education. These factors, in addition to harsh living conditions in the oasis, such as the availability of electricity only during night time, resulted in an illiteracy rate reaching 40% among the women, who constitute half of Siwa's population of 23,000.

In 2008, UNDP joined forces with the Egypt Information and Communications Technology Trust Fund, the World Health Organization, Vodafone Foundation and the Siwa Community Development and Environment Conservation Association to launch the "Integrated Programme to Develop Siwa Oasis Using ICT".

This initiative aimed to improve the quality of life in Siwa, especially for women, with a focus on eradicating female illiteracy and enhancing women's opportunities for employment.The approach of the programme to illiteracy eradication was not restricted to teaching disadvantaged individuals to read and write. It involved acquiring skills that help them to effectively take control of their lives and surroundings, including equipping them with computer, problem-solving, and business development skills.

Women who enrolled in the programme learned to read and write, enhanced their agricultural and handicraft production abilities and acquired e-marketing skills to enable them to promote their products through a custom-made Siwa Small and Medium Enterprise portal (

Cognizant of prevailing social norms and traditions in the oasis that prevent women from going outside of their homes to attend illiteracy classes, the programme had to innovate to bring the classes into women's homes.

It transformed the traditional tableya - a low, round, dining table around which rural Egyptian sit cross-legged and feast on their humble staples- into a "Tabluter". This customized ergonomic computer embedded in a tableya hosts a single computer central processing unit that runs for four independent users and is foldable for ease of mobility.

Fatma was among the first group of women to complete their literacy programme on the tabluter. Today, for the first time in her life, she fulfilled her dream to be able to read the Holy Quran on her own and could finally help her children with their studies.

Fatma did not stop at reading writing. She joined the programme's business development training course and eventually managed to open her own successful tailoring business, which not only benefited her but also created employment opportunities for her neighbours who have themselves become tailors working in her small business.

"When I first joined the literacy classes I was told that learning to work on computers can make our lives easier and help reduce inequality between men and women," Fatma recalls. "I found in computers life itself. Now I can read and write, I can earn my living and give my children a better life. And as a mother, I am a better role model for them to follow."
Fatma now devotes her life to help other women in her village overcome literacy. She says, "Who knows, maybe one day I might go beyond."