In university I took a class on African politics, and one of the readings we did was on how cell phones are changing the social landscape of Africa. People in rural areas who have never had the opportunity to communicate through a regular phone (due to the lack of land lines and other factors), now can use cell phones for a low cost to stay connected. Me being the kind of person who does not own a cell phone and never want to, I initially shrugged off this phenomenon as another Western trend that is invading the developing world. But as I read the article and discussed it in class, I began to see that maybe, just maybe, cell phones can do some serious good.
An article I recently found online says that in Tanzania 97% of people said they can access a mobile phone while only 28% could access a land line. In high conflict areas, people are using cell phones to warn communities about riots and rebels roaming through the countryside. Farmers now have cheap access to information on things like crop prices and legal protocol for land ownership, and the ability to call or text can save huge amounts of time and travel costs for those living in rural areas. Corrupt officials can be bypassed when people can contact the people they need to directly.
So, what does this have to do with eradicating sex trafficking? In Africa and other parts of the developing world, it is often difficult to get crucial information and resources to at-risk communities. Survivors Connect has launched a campaign called Phones4Freedom, which takes your old cell phones and recycles them through The Wireless Source. Phones4Freedom will receive credits or points for every cell phone you send in, which then allows them to purchase appropriate phones for their anti-trafficking advocates and networks around the world.
Survivors Connect uses text messaging (Frontline SMS – Short Messaging Service) to help those who need it. It is a guaranteed way to reach all mobile phone users and is cheap to send and receive information. It makes it possible to have two-way communication, send information to several people at once, provide a discrete and safe way to interact, reduce the time and money wasted on travel, and enable communication without requiring internet connections.
In addition to responding to texts from people who need immediate help, Frontline SMS will use mobile phone communication to:
- Change attitudes and perceptions about women’s issues, child rights, human rights, and labour standards of community members and police
- Empower community watch groups with a technological tool to enhance existing awareness efforts
- Empower citizens to report human rights violations as they occur, which counters a common attitude that standing up for justice is pointless
- Provide police with data on hotspots that can increase their presence in a given area and reduce trafficking
Survivors Connect is literally preventing trafficking one text at a time! Phones4Freedom is currently accepting phone donations from the U.S. and Canada. If you have an old cell phone you would like to donate to the cause and you live in the U.S., click here to print out a pre-paid shipping label and mailing instructions. For those of you in Canada wishing to donate a phone, Phones4Freedom has requested that you email firstname.lastname@example.org for specific instructions.
What an innovative way to fight sex trafficking and exploitation while getting rid of ‘junk’ at the same time!