According to Professor Sachs, from Columbia University, “extreme poverty is almost synonymous with extreme isolation. Mobile phones and wireless Internet end isolation and will therefore prove to be the most transformative technology of economic development of our time”. The Catholic Relief Services projects in India and Niger have taken full advantage of this through use of the cell phone. The Sure Start Project in India uses cell phones to report on child health and maternal health in the Gorakhpur district. In this poor rural area of India maternal and neonatal mortality rates are very high. The trained CRS workers work in the area to help council women and bring them to clinics in emergency situations. In addition, they collect a lot of information on things such as births and maternal health. Before the use of cellphones, they would have to travel an average of 30 kilometers to report this information to their supervisors. However, now with the use of cellphones, they can send in their data which is much more efficient. They also hope that the cellphones will help them in other ways. They hope to start getting telephone alerts about things such as disease outbreaks so that they can respond faster and in better ways. They also want to receive data via their cell phones on how they are doing in comparison to other districts.
CRS also has initiated Project ABC in Niger. This project uses cell phones to teach adults in rural areas how to read and write, and helps households use information on the market to sell and buy their crops. This project works by using smartphones with interactive lessons to teach literacy in their languages. Data proves that this has helped improve literacy rates 28% in villages that use cell phones to teach literacy as opposed to villages that teach literacy in traditional ways. Furthermore, the continued use of these cell phones after people have learned to read has helped them to continue practicing through texting and the digital textbooks on the phones. The cell phones have also helped families do better in the market because it also has digital textbooks that teach about agriculture, health, and natural resource management. The phones also provide information on market trends, which has proven to be extremely helpful as well.
While both of these projects seem to be extremely beneficial in theory, after the readings we have done for class and our class discussions this week, I can’t help but wonder how well these projects have actually worked. The post never mentions complications these people must face with these phones such as battery life. Seeing as they are in extremely remote and poor villages they most likely don’t have much access to reliable electricity to charge their phones frequently enough to spend hours every day working with them. Furthermore, in a video we watched a few weeks ago in class, a man brought up the issue that knowing market prices is great and all but when your crops are about to go bad if you don’t get them to market, how is knowing the market price supposed to help you since you have to sell them right then no matter what. Furthermore, I can’t help but wonder how expensive these phones are with these extra programs on them and whether they are really all that affordable to the people in Niger that need them most. However, I do believe that if these people using the cell phones have solved the problem of battery life, and are not too costly, then these two projects indeed can be very beneficial.