Friday, April 15, 2011

A pretty cool use of mobile phone technology

Have you ever considered how it would feel to be unable to smile? To not be able to express joy with the simplest facial expression? To essentially become an outcast in your community because of the way you look?

Back when I was in Grade 3 my best friend had a cleft lip which she had been lucky enough to have operated on when she was little. Her scars were her main concern, but to me she was just a pretty girl wanting to fit in with all of the other 'normal' kids.

Memories of my friend immediately came to me when I saw pictures of similarly effected Tanzanians while flying back from Africa to Australia last month. The big difference for people with this condition in Africa is that much of the time they are bullied, sometimes rejected by their parents or worse can die of malnutrition because they can't eat properly.

The inspiring thing to me was that these people, many of whom are young children, are being given a second chance at being part of the community through mobile phone technology. As you may or may not know, Africa has been using mobile technology to provide access to money in lieu of bank accounts since 2008. Essentially a text through money transfer technology can be shown to a wakala (street stall agent) to receive the cash. Perfect for a country like Tanzania that lacks accessible banking infrastructure for the majority of people (who typically earn less than a dollar a day).

And to see now how the design of such a simple system which utilises cheap, accessible mobiles to help patients with fistula (a devastating and isolating childbirth injury) and cleft lips and palates is nothing short of inspiring. An organisation called CCBRT is now using the Vodafone M-PESA technology to quickly transfer money to ambassadors who have identified a patient. This helps get the patient to Dar es Salaam to have an operation and their new life can begin.

Have a look at the CCBRT website to see what else they are up to...