Uganda

VNI Service Award Finalist Jimmie Ssena uses FrontlineSMS to Empower Rural Farmers in Uganda

VNI Service Award Finalist Jimmie Ssena uses FrontlineSMS to Empower Rural Farmers in Uganda

Congratulations to Jimmie Ssena for being recognized as a finalist of the VNI Service Awards for his work with rural farmers using FrontlineSMS! Since its founding in 1997, the Nakaseke Telecentre has served as a knowledge portal for poor rural farmers in their district, working to use ICTs “for rural development, reduction of poverty and... a better livelihood of the rural poor.”

FrontlineSMS at 7: Al Jazeera gives a voice to the people of Uganda via SMS

In the third of our seven blog posts celebrating the month that FrontlineSMS turns 7, Trevor Knoblich, our Media Project Manager reflects on how Al Jazeera, the media house, gave the people of Uganda a voice, via SMS, in response to the controversial Kony 2012 video which went viral a few months ago. 

"As the media project manager at FrontlineSMS, I've heard many inspiring stories of journalists and media organizations deploying the software in creative ways. One of my favorites is relatively recent: the FrontlineSMS component of Al Jazeera's Uganda Speaks program. Members of Al Jazeera's New Media team felt Ugandan voices were lacking from the global debate around the controversial Kony 2012 viral video. To help connect Ugandan voices to the debate, Al Jazeera established an awareness-raising campaign, which consisted of showing the video and then inviting Ugandans to post their reactions to the debate via Twitter, e-mail and SMS. They even connected the responses to a map, allowing people from around the world to see where respondents were located.

"I had the pleasure of meeting one of Al Jazeera's New Media team, Soud Hyder, pictured here, and asked him about the project. Specifically, I was curious about the value of SMS in such a campaign. He told me that SMS allowed Al Jazeera to reach people who had no other option for participating in the debate - a voiceless population. 'Text is an equalizer that allows us to elevate more voices, which amplifies the conversation,' Hyder said.

"I've heard similar reactions about our software globally. Many people worldwide have an increasing ability to share and participate in news, but millions more are left out of this conversation. FrontlineSMS, combined with the proliferation of mobile phones around the globe, opens new possibilities for citizen engagement."

We’re collecting photos of our users telling the world how they use FrontlineSMS. If you want to get in on the act, take a photo of yourself or your team holding a piece of paper or a whiteboard telling the world what you do with FrontlineSMS. For example: ‘I monitor elections’, ‘I safeguard children’ or ‘I make art’. You can see a slideshow of the photos we’ve had so far on our Flickr page.

It doesn’t matter what language it’s in as long as it’s legible and if possible you should be able to see from the photo where it was taken, so, if you can, get out of the office!

You can: - post to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #FrontlineSMSat7 - email the picture and we’ll post them - post the picture on our Ning network and we’ll post them - post them on Flickr or any other web service and let us know where they are

Interview with European Journalism Centre Magazine: Is FrontlineSMS:Radio Advancing Social Change in Africa?

Amy O’Donnell, Radio Project Manager at FrontlineSMS:Radio recently spoke to Alessandra Bajec from the European Journalism Centre Magazine about the way FrontlineSMS is used to facilitate dynamic conversations between radio stations and their listeners in Africa and beyond. By enabling the powerful combination of radio broadcasting with SMS, FrontlineSMS:Radio is empowering and engaging communities across the globe. Republished here with permission or you can read the original post here. By Alessandra Bajec

Q. How has FrontlineSMS technology influenced African media?

Exponential growth in use of mobile technology has meant that many African media outlets are interested in using this technology effectively. By downloading FrontlineSMS and plugging in a mobile phone or GSM modem to a computer, people can use SMS in more sophisticated and professional ways.

We are moving from having contributions fed via SMS into an individual’s phone to a more open way of integrating SMS into content. We’re also supporting citizen journalists with tools for digital news gathering.

In Zambia, for example, Breeze FM radio uses FrontlineSMS to communicate with journalists. After gathering news tips received from the general public, the radio station organizes the evidence, sends SMS to journalists who may be out in the field, encouraging them to verify the facts and report.

Q. What is innovative about the FrontlineSMS software plugin?

With Version 2 recently released, FrontlineSMS has a user-friendly interface making it easier to manage larger volumes of messages, and to customize the software to better meet user needs. Pending messages can be sorted in a more timely fashion.

Read more on the FrontlineSMS:Radio blog.

Stop Stockouts: Accountability of Health Services Improved by FrontlineSMS

By Kavita Rajah, FrontlineSMS Community Support Assistant Stop Stockouts is currently using FrontlineSMS in their campaign to increase access to medicines in public health institutions in Uganda and Kenya. Recently we’ve spoken with Denis Kibira, National Coordinator for the Stop Stockouts Campaign in Uganda, about how FrontlineSMS software has helped to achieve campaign objectives.

When a pharmacy or health center runs out of a medicine, this is referred to as a ‘stock-out’. Stock-outs often include medicines that are used to treat common but serious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, HIV, TB, diabetes and hypertension – all of which are among the highest causes of death in Africa. In African countries such as Uganda and Kenya, stock-outs can frequently occur and it can be weeks or months before the stock is replenished. Patients needing these medicines are then forced to travel long distances in search of alternate sources, pay high prices for medicines from the private sector or they are forced to do without – ultimately facing life or death circumstances.

The Stop Stockouts campaign lobbies African governments to meet their obligations to provide essential medicines by increasing the national budgetary allocation for the purchase of these medicines and by ensuring efficiency and transparency in the procurement, supply, and distribution of medicines. The campaign is an initiative of Health Action International (HAI) Africa, Oxfam, and a number of African partners – with the support of the Open Society Institute (OSI).

Stop Stockouts was introduced to FrontlineSMS by OSI, who promoted FrontlineSMS as a very useful tool for advocacy and quick monitoring of medicine availability. Since then, Stop Stockouts has been using FrontlineSMS to aid in campaign communications. They use FrontlineSMS to send information to members, to remind partners about meetings and to update stakeholders on advocacy events.

Stop Stockouts also use FrontlineSMS in their monitoring activities such as ‘Pill Checks’; where researchers visit public health institutions to check on the availability of essential medicines. Researchers send an SMS containing the results to a common server, and the incoming data is managed via FrontlineSMS. These results are then reflected in an online map of the country, produced using mapping tool Ushahidi, and showing areas where medication is out of stock. This map provides real time evidence about the stock-out situation on a national level and serves as a compelling lobbying tool to the relevant authorities. The visual mapping of these ‘pill checks’ have increased visibility of the Stop Stockouts campaign which has contributed to the success of the campaign.

Stop Stockouts state that FrontlineSMS has greatly improved their communications. Denis explains “it has reduced the turnaround time in which we get and respond to issues in the communities where we work, and the "pill check" map has added impact to our advocacy and technical reports.” Denis says that the online mapping system using FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi is especially powerful because it comes from the people. He asserts that using FrontlineSMS as part of their campaign communications has helped to reach at least 1,000 people every year. The results have been very impactful that governments are also currently using SMS to collect its own data and monitor facilities. Additionally, there has also been an increased demand for use of technology for monitoring government activities as well as new relationships for information sharing with other NGOs in different countries.

Stop Stockouts are also currently exploring using FrontlineSMS in their complaints and compliments desk which is a feedback mechanism for communities in which health service delivery, in particular human rights violations, can be reported.

We look forward to staying in touch with Denis and the rest of the Stop Stockouts team as they continue to make powerful use of FrontlineSMS software. o/

'Know your leaders': Better FM, Uganda offers forum for listeners to interact with MPs

The team at Better FM, a radio station in Fort Portal, Uganda, were the most recent testers to install FrontlineSMS:Radio as part of the ongoing trial. Florence Brisset-Foucault, a researcher for the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR) at Cambridge University in the UK, is currently in Uganda, and helped with the installation, saying “I'm excited to report that it is running perfectly!” Here, Florence shares some updates from the station and the way they engage MPs in dialogues with listeners about public service delivery. By Dr Florence Brisset-Foucault

Better FM was created in 2008. Despite the fact it's a relatively new station here at Fort Portal, it seems very successful in terms of audience and reach. It has a high degree of response from local politicians, who are keen to engage with local citizens and hear their feedback. Honourable Alex Ruhunda, Member of Parliament for Fort Portal Municipality, District councillors and Tooro Kingdom officials regularly frequent the studios. Better FM has several programmes which focus on ensuring more transparency and accountability on public service delivery, especially concerning procurements and the building of infrastructure, particularly road, electricity and water.

One programme is called 'Know your leaders' which offers an opportunity for listeners to interact with their community’s decision makers. Another is called the ‘Listeners’ Forum’ and is sponsored by a local organisation called Tooro Development Network who specialize in empowering grass root organizations with ICTs and promoting transparency. Both shows are hosted by Better FM presenter Wilfred Mukonyezi, and have a heavy emphasis on being interactive with the community. Wilfred takes around 10 calls during each show and usually receives around 50 SMS, some of which are read on air.

For the past two weeks the station had a technical problem with their internet provider meaning they were not able to receive text messages. On 19th April, we installed FrontlineSMS:Radio – which does not rely on internet connection - on the studio's computer, and Wilfred was really excited.

We played with the software for an hour in order to get more familiar with it; sending text messages and testing functionality by creating imaginary polls. Wilfred immediately created "shows" for all his colleagues, a functionality in FrontlineSMS:Radio which allowed him to set up a space for each presenter to manage SMS relevant to them within the same system. After two weeks without SMS, Wilfred is glad he won't have to depend on the internet to receive messages any more. He said "All my workmates will enjoy this software! It's cheaper, it's easier, and [unlike relying on an internet connection] it doesn't give me a headache!"

To find out more about FrontlineSMS:Radio click here

To find out more about the research of Cambridge Centre for Governance and Human Rights  click here. Find out about the Africa's Voices project as part of CGHR research on their website or join the conversation on Facebook

To read a recent update on the trial and research in Uganda and Zambia click here

ON AIR: Cambridge Researchers visit FrontlineSMS:Radio trials in Zambia and Uganda

Earlier this month, Amy and Peter from the FrontlineSMS:Radio team based in London, UK made the short trip north to Cambridge to meet the University’s researchers at the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR). In this post, we share an update on the trial of FrontlineSMS:Radio and research being carried out with Breeze FM, Zambia and Radio Buddu, Uganda.

In 2012, the Cambridge Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), as part of its project on 'New communications technologies and citizen-led governance in Africa’ (2010-12), is piloting Africa’s Voices, a collaborative platform aimed at enhancing debate, discussion and knowledge on contemporary issues of public interest in Africa. Designed as an African-wide research initiative, Africa's Voices is aimed at analysing citizens' opinions on a wide range of issues as radio stations all over the continent ask a monthly question and audiences are invited to reply via SMS. Stations are then provided with comparative analysis and can create innovative broadcasts that put their communities’ views in an pan-African perspective. Researchers have recently visited Uganda and Zambia working with local radio stations who are getting ready to ask audience questions. This research will lead to comparative findings on how SMS is used by listeners to discuss issues which affect their community.

Sharath Srinivasan who has been working with presenters in the studio at Breeze FM, Zambia reported that one 45 minute show - based on the role of the police and community in arresting criminal suspects - attracted 60 incoming SMS's and generated a very lively debate. The DJs have been testing FrontlineSMS:Radio’s "shows" function for the first time. Shows are designed to be a space where different presenters can organize their own area within the FrontlineSMS:Radio system. By clicking an “on-air” button, all SMS received from that moment on are fed into the current show, making it easier for DJs to organize messages relevant to them. DJs can click "off-air" when they finish so messages are filtered to the main inbox or another DJ's show. With the awareness that many stations have volunteer staff coming and going, this FrontlineSMS:Radio function is designed to be simple and not restricted to user names or passwords.

Meanwhile, Florence Brisset-Foucault has been at Radio Buddu in Masaka, Uganda, where they receive around 30 text messages per day and are trying to develop their use of SMS. The most popular topics for interaction from the audience seems to be shows on domestic and personal problems. Presenters are enthusiastic about the future for FrontlineSMS:Radio software especially since they previously relied on a premium rate number. A shift to using FrontlineSMS means they can use a local number, reducing the cost for listeners to text the station  by 50% or more. Previously people would pay 220 or 250 sh to text the station but now it will be 110 sh or 50 sh if on same network. (1 £ = 3900 sh).

"FrontlineSMS:Radio makes it much cheaper for audiences to interact with us and we hope it will increase access to our debates," Pascal, Radio Buddu's head of news told Florence. Pascal is confident this will enlarge the number of people able to contact the station and share their views.

Another new FrontlineSMS:Radio function is polls, which allows stations to ask listeners to respond to a question using a keyword followed by a letter denominating their answer. When messages are received, FrontlineSMS generates a visual representation in a graph and introduces a system to cope with misspelt keywords through a manual override function. Umar, the programme manager is very excited about the polling activity which he thinks will have great potential particularly in Radio Buddu’s development and health programmes. With a smile, Umar observed that "the polling function will definitely help those of us who are bad at maths, as it displays the results automatically! It will make things easier to announce the results live on air".

To find out more about Africa's Voices see their website or check them out on Facebook.

You can also hear Hassan Korona of Radio Gbath, Sierra Leone's promotion audio for Africa's Voices here.

For more photos from Radio Buddu see the online album.

FrontlineSMS User Community Connecting Across the World: Next User Meet-Up in Cambodia

Here at FrontlineSMS we are often inspired by the power of our user community. It is amazing to see the diverse ways people and organizations make use of our software, and we are always happy to support users in sharing their experiences with the wider community.

Over the past few months we have been excited to see the growing trend of FrontlineSMS user meet-ups; users meetings in different parts of the world, keen to discuss the use of FrontlineSMS software for positive social change. Thus far there have been user meet-ups in Haiti, Uganda and Cambodia, and just yesterday there was a successful user meet-up in Nairobi, too. If you would like to find out more about these user meet-ups, and perhaps even organize one yourself, visit our community forum today!

In the below post Sophie Baron, new FrontlineSMS user, reports on the first FrontlineSMS user meet-up in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

When you start out using a new software, it is great to have the support of a wider community. When I first started using FrontlineSMS I was keen to learn as much as possible, and meet others using FrontlineSMS too. This is how I got involved with the first user meet-up in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which brought together a diverse range of social change organizations including PACT, Equal Access, BBC Media Action, CIRAD (Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement) and Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC).

The goal of this first meeting was for FrontlineSMS users in Cambodia to gather in order to talk about their use of FrontlineSMS, discuss any common successes and challenges encountered whilst using the software, and generally share experiences. The meeting was made up of nine participants and was held at the Cambodian office of PACT, an NGO working on capacity building of local populations.

The meet-up kicked off with people introducing themselves and their projects. Everyone was using FrontlineSMS for different purposes, some for wider media campaigning (Equal access and BBC Media Action), and others for more focused monitoring projects (PACT, CIRAD, IPC). There were different levels of experience within the group.  Equal Access had been using FrontlineSMS since 2008 and PACT since 2011, whereas BBC Media Action had only been using FrontlineSMS in Cambodia for one month and at the time of the meeting CIRAD and IPC had not started using the software yet.

During the discussions we were able to share potential solutions to challenges faced when using FrontlineSMS in Cambodia. Common interests were explored, such as the potential of improved collaboration with local mobile service providers. In addition, PACT shared how they have used Khmer script, explaining the opportunities provided as well as the challenges faced.

Personally, this meeting was very helpful for me because I had many questions answered regarding the use of FrontlineSMS. I was also able to email the group to ask for follow up advice when I started actively using FrontlineSMS. It’s so useful to have a local support network to help out with the software.

We hope to welcome new participants to the next meeting in Phnom Penh, which will be held on 30th April at 2pm and will take place at the PACT Office (Address: 3rd Floor, Building A, Phnom Penh Center, Corner of Sothearos and Sihanouk Boulevards, Phnom Penh). If you are interested please join this discussion on the community forum to connect with others in the group.

o/ Here at FrontlineSMS we look forward to hearing how the next meet-up in Phnom Penh goes! o/

About the author of this post:

Sophie Baron is a veterinarian doing a Master in Public Health specializing on epidemiologic surveillance of human and animal diseases. Thanks to a Foundation Pierre Ledoux scholarship Sophie is doing a 6 month internship as part of her studies at Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, under the supervision of Dr Flavie Goutard (CIRAD) and Dr Arnaud Tarantola (Head of Epidemiology and Public Health unit at IPC).

Uganda Speaks: Al Jazeera use FrontlineSMS to hear from Ugandans on Kony 2012

FrontlineSMS has been featured in an article from Fast Company's co.Exist blog, which covers how Al Jazeera's "Uganda Speaks" campaign is making innovative use of communications technologies, including FrontlineSMS. You can find a short extract of the article below, and the full article can be found here.

The groundswell of focus on Uganda and Joseph Kony continues today with the launch of Uganda Speaks, an ambitious project from Al Jazeera that will allow ordinary Ugandans to post text messages - via local SMS numbers - to let the world know what their country is really like (instead of just the #kony2012 version).

Hundreds of users, most of them Ugandans with Internet access, have already posted tweets with the #ugandaspeaks hashtag. Most of these criticize the worldwide response to the Kony 2012 video, which many of the Ugandans (and worldwide observers) claim grossly simplifies a complicated war. Al Jazeera’s Riyaad Minty told Co.Exist that “we launched Uganda Speaks to get responses from people across Uganda via text message, email, Twitter, and Facebook. The idea is to have ordinary Ugandans talk about the [Kony 2012] video in their own voice, as this has largely been missing from the conversation.”

Al Jazeera began working on Uganda Speaks on March 5--two days after the Kony 2012 video first went online. The project is using two pieces of technology for the backend: FrontlineSMS for the SMS-to-Twitter conversion, and Ushahidi to visualize and map data. The station’s The Stream program solicited a video Kony 2012 response from Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire of Channel 16 as well.

To read the full article, please visit Fast Company's co.Exist blog.

At the Forefront of Development: A Look at the Potential of FrontlineSMS in India

FrontlineSMS featured in an Indian newspaper named The Financial Chronicle this week, in an article entitled At the Forefront of Development. You can read the article below, or view the print version of this article here [pdf]. By Brij Kothari, The Financial Chronicle

The hardware is rudimentary. An ordinary mobile phone connected to a laptop with a cable. But who would have thought that this simple set up could actually be turned into a central communication hub, and in the hands of civil society, become a powerful communication tool for people’s empowerment? Ken Banks’ FrontlineSMS, a free and open-source software, is allowing groups at the frontline of development to do some extraordinary things. And yet, all that FrontlineSMS does, is that it “enables users to send and receive text messages with groups of people through mobile phones”. Perhaps, the power of FrontlineSMS can be grasped best by the stories of its use in the hands of others.

A woman in rural India gets an SMS on her mobile Asurakshit din or “Unprotected day”. She is, thus, informed that she is likely to be fertile that day. The information is specifically intended to empower her to make a reproductive choice. Similar reminder SMSs ping through days eight-19 of her reproductive cycle, fertile days as per the Standard Days Method (SDM) of family planning, based on awareness of the menstrual cycle. How does CycleTel, an SMS-based system put in place by Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH), keep track of her cycle? The woman herself keeps CycleTel regularly informed of the onset of her cycle, simply by sending an SMS from her mobile to a dedicated number. FrontlineSMS provided the basic architecture upon which a more customised system is being developed through field trials.

HarassMap is a group in Egypt, started by two women who themselves faced harassment quite routinely on their way to and from work, that uses FrontlineSMS to capture the location and gravity of incidents of sexual harassment. The key idea is to get women to report harassment episodes in real time by sending an SMS to a dedicated number. Place and time information is then mapped with another amazing software, Ushahidi, to draw patterns from what would otherwise have been left as isolated data points. Hot spots are then targeted with community activism, awareness campaigns and tools to empower and support women individually and collectively.

In Nigeria, voters who also registered themselves as volunteers for the Network of Mobile Election Monitors (NMEM), took it upon themselves to SMS instantaneously into a FrontlineSMS central hub, any untoward incident of tampering or rigging they might observe. Human Em­ancipation Lead Project (H­ELP), a Nigerian NGO helped set up this citizen monitoring system, independent of the official monitoring groups and European Union observers. Observations by two or more volunteers in an area were verified, and if necessary, shared with the official monitoring agencies. Banks ter­med the Nigerian case a “breakthrough deployment” of FrontlineSMS.

FrontlineSMS was made available online as recently as 2005, and made open source two years later. In 2009, Banks hired his first employee. The spread of FrontlineSMS to more than 80 countries is, thus, nothing if not astonishing. A variety of uses by country popup on a world map at www.frontlinesms.com/frontlinesms-in-action/user-map/. With a strong presence in Africa, the top countries of deployment are Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Banks offered three reasons, the last using a popular acronym of the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) community: “This is likely down to: a) Me having historically focused my blog and attention on Africa; b) FrontlineSMS being closely associated with the continent (the concept came out of field work in South Africa); and finally, c) There being a growing developer and ICT4D community on the continent (through innovation hubs, among others) keen to build on top of tools like ours.”

India, it would seem, is an ideal adoption ground for solutions like FrontlineSMS. Of the 1.2 billion population, only around 100 million have access to the internet, although, this is projected to grow to 300 million over the next three years. The mobile growth story is far ahead. The total subscriber base at the beginning of 2012 was 894 million, with an active subscriber base of 647 million. Wireless teledensity, the number of subscriptions per 100 people, was 161 in urban and 37 in rural areas. Several estimates put the number of smartphones in India at no more than 30 million, and one could safely assume, mostly in urban areas. The majority of active mobile handsets are, therefore, very basic but well-suited for voice and SMS. For civil society organisations working with low-income groups, in rural and urban areas alike, a platform like FrontlineSMS presents exciting communication possibilities.

As compared with African countries, the uptake of FrontlineSMS in India is still nascent. Lack of awareness may be the key issue. What would Banks like to see happen? “We’ve recently had user-organised meet ups in Haiti and Uganda, with others springing up around the world. It would be great to see this happening in India — our ethos and focus is that users should drive deployment of FrontlineSMS, and user-organised meetups are a large part of this.”

If you are using, or interested in using FrontlineSMS in India, then we'd love to hear from you! Please contact us to share your own questions and experiences.

Talking with Texts: How Cellphones Empower Deaf Children in Uganda

FrontlineSMS Founder, Ken Banks, produces a blog series with National Geographic called Mobile Message. This series is about how mobile phones and appropriate technologies are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives. This week, Mobile Message featured a post from an inspiring FrontlineSMS use case, as you can read in the re-post below. Kids text all the time – at school, on the bus, even when you’re trying to talk to them. It can be annoying. But imagine if a child couldn’t communicate at all – that’s when a mobile can become a lifeline. In some developing countries, children who are deaf don’t have access to special education, technology or even sign language teaching.

In this edition of “Mobile Message”, Cambridge to Africa’s Sacha DeVelle, explains how her organisation has been using mobile phones in specially designed education programmes to help deaf children in Uganda communicate. By getting everyone in their schools to help out, the projects also happen to be making them the coolest kids in school.

By Sacha DeVelle

Kato and Kakuru are deaf twins. They have just arrived at the Child Africa International School in Kabale, Uganda. I am running a teacher training course at the school, and spend my lunch hours in the playground with all the children. But I am perplexed by the twins. They have fallen asleep in a far corner of the grounds, lying uncomfortably on some old wheat pallets, joined at the hip but completely isolated from the other children. This is a self-imposed exile, one they have lived in for years. For a week I watch them. They do not move from the pallets. Their clothes are dirty and ripped. They have no shoes and have not washed for a long time. Kakuru cries a lot, however the look on her face says she’s not someone who cries for attention, but out of frustration.

The girls are very different heights. It’s hard to believe they are twins. I ask the other teachers why they are so difficult to reach psychologically, why they are crying. “They have lice, they can’t sign, have no language skills, they have come down from the mountains and don’t understand this environment. They only have each other” explains one teacher.

There are nine other deaf children at the school, although they have had time to adapt and integrate. Dodi is a real character – he has a mother, loves to dance and has some sign language skills. The one deaf teacher working at the school provides a lifeline to these children. By the time I leave, the twins have joined the class, they are starry eyed and excited about their new uniforms.

Back in the UK I think a lot about Kato and Kakuru. What it’s like to be deaf in East Africa. Without a voice deaf females face a triple stigma: gender, poverty and disability. Many girls are violated because they cannot speak out. They may learn to use a pidgin signing system from the village, but are not fluent in any language (tribal, signed or English). Deaf girls are often abandoned. Their disability is seen as a curse on the family. Others are locked up in back rooms to hide the family shame. Those that make it to a school setting are the lucky ones.

One of our trustees tells me about a presentation she has just seen, using FrontlineSMS in developing contexts. It was this conversation that gave me the idea to run a mobile phone social inclusion project in Kabale: integrating deaf children into the mainstream environment.

We launched our pilot study in 2010. The wider challenges of carrying out such a scheme are complex. The management of existing prejudice and communication barriers must be factored into the design.

We have a methodology. Six deaf children have a hearing buddy, with a total of 12 students contributing to the study. We provide separate training to both groups for three days. Then they are brought together, with the hearing children playing a buddy role. We learn that the hearing children’s sign language skills and patience are far superior than we realised. We also learn that deaf children do not have much patience with their deaf counterparts! Our six pairs are given written instructions on scraps of paper. They must text messages to another pair somewhere in the playground, and wait for a response. They love this game. The deaf children are very vocal, a lot of frantic signing and suggestions for written responses.

Kakuru is one of the deaf participants. She is in awe of her new mobile phone, how messages fly in from nowhere. She likes to receive them, but is not too keen on writing – it’s hard for her. We learn that their written skills are very low – they are used to rote learning, straight from the blackboard. Now they must produce authentic, instantaneous text on a range of different topics.

Our preliminary findings are very exciting. The SMS social inclusion project has united the school, developed the children’s confidence, and highlighted the need for more communicative literacy skills in the classroom. Most importantly, it has raised the status of the deaf children as Caroline explains:

I can now visualise a bright future because I am far better than what I was when I was still shabby in the village four years ago. Those who used to laugh at me in the village now see me as a star because most of the rural community members do not know how to use sign language or mobile phone SMS facility

Phase 3 of our SMS social inclusion project will be launched in 2012. We will work with new schools in Kampala that integrate deaf children into the Ugandan primary school curriculum. Self empowerment, social cohesion and improved literacy skills were all key outcomes from our previous phases. However, there is still much work to be done to further integrate deaf girls into the community. As Docus clearly states: “All my village mates used to laugh at me because I could not hear what they could say and also I did not have any way to speak to them. Can you imagine an orphan like me using a mobile phone SMS facility at the age of ten to communicate to educated people like you? God is great”.

Sacha DeVelle is the founder and managing director of Cambridge to Africa, a UK registered charity that provides funding and educational expertise for projects in East Africa. Sacha has a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Queensland, Australia and currently lives in London where she works as an international education consultant.

This post was originally published as part of the Mobile Message series on the National Geographic blog. You can view the original post here.

Mapping medicine availability via SMS

Medicine stock-outs are a potentially lethal problem in a number of African countries, yet governments insist they don't occur. What could be more powerful than a map which contradicts this claim? Last week activists in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia started surveying clinics in their respective countries, checking stock levels of essential medicines, including:

  • First-line anti-malarials
  • Zinc 20mg tablet
  • Penicilin
  • First-line ARVs
  • Metronidazole 200mg tablet
  • Ciproflaxicin
  • Amoxicillin suspension
  • Ceftriaxone
  • Cotrimoxazole suspension
  • ORS - Diarrhea

Each of these are seen as essential in varying degrees to fighting disease and illness, and are widely used when available.

Armed with the data, activists report their results via structured, coded SMS - "x,y,z" - where the first number represents their country code (Kenya, Malawi, Uganda or Zambia), the second their district or city, and the third the medicine which they found to be out of stock.  These messages are received by a phone connected to a computer running FrontlineSMS, which then runs an automatic script which validates the data before it is sent over the internet to a Ushahidi-powered website.

From there the results are automatically displayed on a map, below (click to visit the live site).

Stockouts map

As of today, there have been over 250 stock-outs of these essential medicines.

Since the data is automatically populated, the map represents an almost real-time picture of stock-outs in the four target countries. After a successful launch and a week piloting the service, the "stock-out hub number" will now be distributed to medicine users throughout each country so that anyone with a mobile phone can send in a stock-out report. Unlike reports from official, known data collectors, these messages will firstly be checked by staff at Health Action International (HAI Africa) before being posted up on the map.

Stockouts Team

The technological portion of the campaign was implemented by Michael Ballard and Claudio Midolo, both Open Society Fellows from the Department of Design + Technology at Parsons the New School for Design in New York.  Ndesanjo Macha also helped in getting FrontlineSMS up and running in Uganda and Malawi.

For further background information and up-to-date news, visit the "Stop Stock-Outs" website.