The Power of a Cellphone: Spotlight on Five Changed Lives
Senegalese cellphone subscribers 2000: Senegalese cellphone subscribers 2011:
Approximately 250,000 Approximately 9.3 million
The numbers are jarring, and the widespread presence of cellphones is palpable.
Before coming to Senegal, a friend encouraged me to keep an eye out for the radical, drastic, and constant changes cellphones are having on the lives of those around me. She was right in advising me not to blink: the pace of change and developments is so rapid it’s simply exhausting to try to keep up with.
What follows is a spotlight on five individual’s stories (their lives pre-cellphone and at present) which I feel best reflect the greater population. I’m of course grateful to each individual for allowing me to share their photo and their story; per their request, however, aliases have been given.
Past: When Hedy or her son were ill, she would commute 45 minutes to the nearest hospital for a check-up. This was time consuming and expensive (both commute and appointment, as well as lost income from taking time off), and oftentimes a consultation proved futile after revealing no trace of a worrisome diagnosis. If a malady was spotted, medicine was prescribed, and Hedy would frequently forget to take it on time if at all.
Present: Hedy now uses her cellphone to call her brother-in-law, a doctor, in a town 80 miles away. Through their conversation she is able to ascertain if a hospital visit is necessary. If either she or her son is prescribed medecine, Hedy now uses her phone as an alarm clock of sorts to remind her to take the medication as advised.
Past: If Diegnane owed money or was owed money, he was forced to travel to the location of his debtor or debtee. This trip could take hours or days.
Present: Diegnane uses Wari, a service provided by his branch of UIMCEC to transfer or recieve funds via his cellphone. There is always a nominal fee associated with the transfer, but: “Well worth it! Every cent!” exclaimed Diegnane.
Agriculture and Farming
Past: Awa has a vegetable stand near her home, and also sells her products in larger cities 40 miles from her town. Awa would make trips to Dakar (40 miles away, often a 1/2 day-long journey) to check market prices. Awa would also try to sell her vegetables while in Dakar; sometimes these efforts were successful, more often than not it would leave her returning home with a full supply of produce not capable of surviving the commute’s wear and tear.
Present: Awa now uses her cell phone to send text messages to family, friends, and business partners living in Dakar. Through communication with her contacts, Awa learns within minutes the market price of her vegetables, as well as if there’s a demand for her product in Dakar. If there is, she carries the appropriate requested amount of produce with her leaving the rest to be sold in her home town.
Past: Ndeye makes and sells leather shoes. His client base spans a 10-15 mile radius of his shop. Especially around Holiday seasons, when demand is high, it is hard for Ndeye to predict when his products would be ready. He would give clients an arbitary date, at which point they would make the trek into town to visit his shop. Time and again clients would leave empty-handed forced to return days later.
Present: Ndeye is now able to receive orders over the phone, as well as follow-up with clients once an order is ready. “I’m able to much more effectively meet my clients’ needs,” Ndeye explains. And it certainly is a time-saver for every party.
Past: Amadou sells hair extensions and other beauty products in a suburb of Dakar. In the past, when his supply was low, he would close down his shop for one or two days in order to replenish his inventory. This was required bi-monthly at minimum. He also explained to me his ritual of eating lunch every day with his family. His wife is not exactly “punctual” (he tactfully commented), and many a time he would wait for lunch at his home – with his shop closed — for north of two hours.
Present: Amadou now calls in an order for products every third day, for which he pays a small delivery fee. As such, he is able to keep his shop open every day of the week. Additionally, his wife now calls once lunch is ready!
Anna Forsberg (KF19) is a Kiva Fellow, working with UIMCEC in Dakar, Senegal.