By Kathy Gilbert*
If you have been without clean water for three days, a text message from a United Methodist pastor that the church’s borehole has been certified as safe to drink is lifesaving.
Priscilla Muzerengwa gave that example of how she has used Frontline SMS, a free text-messaging program, in East Zimbabwe. She introduced the program’s inventor, Ken Banks, on the second day of the Game Changers Summit 2014. More than 240 people from nine countries are attending the Sept. 3-5 meeting about using technology for social good. United Methodist Communications is hosting.
Frontline SMS allows Muzerengwa and many others in Africa to send out messages to a large database in a short amount of time. Time is often the difference between life and death.
Banks wrote the code for Frontline in six weeks, on his wife’s kitchen table in Finland. The idea for the product came to him after he spent many years working in Africa.
Frontline is software that is free and works on a laptop or mobile phone in any remote area. “Even if you only have one bar,” he added. Since its invention in 2005, Frontline has been used in 180 countries to give people vital information in emergencies and in everyday life.
Muzerengwa said more people are visiting clinics because they get a message telling them when a doctor will be available.
“Imagine walking 50 kilometers (more than 30 miles) to see a doctor, only to be told the doctor is not in. Walk home another 50 kilometers and come back tomorrow, maybe the doctor will be available then.”
She also talked about how the text messages extend pastoral care. “If your mother passes away on Monday, you might have to wait until the next Sunday before anyone finds out. No one comes to stand with you; it is bringing church members together in times of need.”
Banks and other successful ICT4D innovators often have no money, no plan and no authority—they just see a problem and try to figure out a way to solve it. Key to that is doing it with knowledge of the people who will use the products. ITC4D stands for information and communications technology for development.
“Do not design solutions to problems you don’t understand,” he said, adding that good ideas are based on reality and support from the community.
TECHNOLOGY FOR SOCIAL GOOD
Information and communications technology can help those left behind by the technological revolution.
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The energy divide
The Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau, an ordained elder and health care worker in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said simply, “Power is life.”
“Can you imagine in the 21st century, doctors performing C-sections by candles?”
Musau was part of a panel discussing solutions to technologies where unstable and limited electricity is a daily problem.
“It is not a digital divide, it is an energy divide,” said Bruce Baikie, who leads Inveneo, a company that provides technical guidance and hands-on training to bring Internet access to hard-to-reach schools in places like Haiti.
A partnership between the North Katanga Conference and the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, got a boost to their work to supply solar panels to a United Methodist public health school in Kamina, after Musau’s passionate presentation.
At the end of the panel presentation, the Rev. Cayce Stapp announced the Church of the Resurrection would match a collection taken from the participants of the summit.
The Rev. N. Neelley Hicks of United Methodist Communications told the gathering an offering of $1,629 was collected. “That means the Kamina solar project will get over $3,000.”
Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact them at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.