The sweet smell of success

Garland maker shows that it's never too late to learn how to use a computer

Story by Jittima Charuwan

Garland maker Raya Taengnagm had never in her life thought of entering computer classes, as the technology seemed out of her reach. Today, she not only knows her way around a computer, she's using it to run her business.

The 38-year-old mother of two generates the family income from the garland business, with regular customer the Banyan Tree Hotel ordering 50 garlands at 10 baht per piece daily as well as some special orders.

"I had never been interested in a computer. It was too complicated to operate and I could not see how the technology could benefit my business or improve my life," she said.

However, when an officer from the Duang Prateep Foundation invited her and other residents in the Klong Toey community to attend a computer class at the Community Technology Learning Centre as part of Microsoft's Unlimited Potential project in early 2004, she decided to give it a try.

When the course started she admitted that she had no idea even how to turn on and shutdown the computer. However, by the time the first 30-hour course covering Microsoft Word was through, she could help her children with their homework and school projects. That gave her a big boost.

"Although my brother gave a second-hand computer to my family in 2002, no one in our family except my children knew how to operate it. We always asked each other how to shut down the computer,"she noted.

So when the foundation officer asked her to take a second course - Microsoft Excel - she did not hesitate. Today the training has proved to be a helpful tool for her business.

"With Excel, I can clearly see my actual expenses and income and I can predict the entire year's expenses. The flower's prices fluctuate all year long but now I can better manage my budget spending," she said.

"By using Excel I can keep track of actual expenses and it helps a lot to do monthly and yearly budget planning."

Besides using a PC in her personal life and for business, Mrs Raya also puts it to use in her role on the community's fund committee. Her skills come in handy for making loan contracts for people in the community, who now just print-out and sign the form when 
they want to apply for a loan, while their information can be stored on the computer.

When she ran for a community committee election in January, she used Microsoft Excel to do a campaign poster. "It's not a fancy poster but it works for me," she noted.

She said she would like to further her computer studies and next wants to learn Microsoft Powerpoint so that she can create a presentation for her business and propose it to potential clients. She also has a plan to create a web site that shows all types of 
garlands with pricing, with the aim that it will be another channel to gain new customers.

Mrs Raya is just one of the people that have benefitted from the Unlimited Potential project, and Microsoft says it has been rewarded because she was able to show how computer skills could help in her business as well as her personal life.

The project
Microsoft's Unlimited Potential project is held at the Community Technology Learning Centre of the Duang Prateep Foundation. The project began in 2003 with the objective to offer computer skills to people in the community, and so far more than 200 have been 

Andrew McBean, managing director of Microsoft Thailand, said the idea was to work with leading NGOs to encourage lifelong learning through ICT. "We aim to promote job opportunities and provide skills training. We believe that computer skills and 
technology are key drivers of a knowledge economy and through access to technology and ICT skills, the standard of living
improves for all."

The training programme is aimed at introducing basic computer skills to community people at every age and who have not had an opportunity to access the technology. The idea is to encourage participants so that they are not intimidated by computers and to help them to understand the potential of what they can achieve.

Participants can see how many daily tasks at home and work can be accomplished more easily and efficiently with the use of computers, and they leave with a greater potential for improving job opportunities and their standard of living.

Besides the Duang Prateep Foundation, which focusses on the Klong Toey community in Bangkok, the project has broadened its scope to reach people upcountry. For example, Microsoft works with Kenan Asia on projects in Mae Hong Son, Sa Kaeo, Ranong
and Phangnga. It also now supports Pitak's community learning centre in Phangnga, while a new partnership with the Population and Community Development Association will start this year.

Paul Wedel, executive director of Kenan Asia, said that the organisation has worked with local communities across the country for years and found that many people have no opportunity to access technology that could open doors in their careers and lives.

"Since we partnered with Microsoft to run the Unlimited Potential project, we have managed to train 672 people in Mae Hong Son and Sa Kaeo," he said.

"With Microsoft's help we were able to start a new grant last year in the Ranong and Phangnga centers, focusing on helping tsunami victims to use technology and ICT skills to develop their career opportunities," Wedel explained.

Information: The Duang Prateep Foundation's Community Technology Learning Centre offers courses such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint on Monday to Friday from 17.00-20.00 and on Saturday-Sunday at 9.00am-12.00 and 13.00-16.00.

Information: 0-2671-4045-8, email and web

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