My wife and I recently spent a week in Eritrea for a combination of holiday and humanitarian project. As some of you know, we try to escape once a year to sub-saharan Africa for one of our few hobbies that genuinely impacts in a deeply transformational way human lives.
Our project, AfriqueConnect, began with a simple idea that still even today remains quite unsophisticated : we carry along on our trip a suitcase full of used mobile phones that we’ve collected from friends and colleagues, and we distribute them freely to African families we encounter.
Our fundamental conviction is that a mobile phone has the power to permanently transform a family’s life in Africa. Take the case of Andwele, a 22 year-old vendor of cattle and livestock in the Kariakoo market in Des es Salaam, Tanzania. Three years ago he managed to afford to buy a mobile phone (price roughly equivalent to the cost of a sheep). Thanks to his phone’s sms capability, Andwele can now determine the going market rates for his product on a given day before beginning the long and treacherous journey on foot from his village into town.
Numerous other game-changing examples abound : fishermen checking prices at each port before they dock so as to maximize profits; entrepreneurial types that set up a small business for themselves based on renting out the phone to others.
Throughout most African countries, telecom operators have rolled out mobile networks conforming to the GSM network standard, and have subsequently shrewdly offered SIM cards on sale at prices commensurate with local income levels (a SIM card starter kit with a dedicated mobile number, free incoming calls, and a modest initial credit can usually be found for under 5 €). However, the handset itself is sold at full price, lacking the operator subsidies we often enjoy in Europe in exchange for long-term contracts. At 200 € and up, the handsets far exceed affordability of the mass population in most countries. Accordingly, a mobile phone represents an esoteric luxury.
Contrast this with Western Europe, where mobile phones have become fashion accessories. I know many people that replace their mobile every 6~12 months, casually discarding the old as dismissively as last season’s fashions.
Well, our trash is another person’s treasure. So do me a favor : take a look under the bed and in your closet. Do you have any old mobile phones ? I maintain a year-round donation drive and can confirm first-hand that there are people in this world who can benefit from your generosity. So why not transform a life ?