By Amy Paulson (reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
Every day we take the beauty of our access to technology for granted. We don’t even think twice about the ease of posting a Facebook update to complain about the person who just tried to cut in line at the cash register seconds after it happened. Or the technological miracle of receiving real time traffic notifications on our iPhones, telling us that there’s a jam on the highway and we should take another route.
It’s after midnight. I’m sitting in my tiny room at the guesthouse run by the children’s home in Ethiopia. I've just spent the last 2.5 hours trying to talk to my husband in Switzerland. First we tried Skype. Then we tried Google chat. I couldn't even get Gmail to load. Somehow, Facebook messenger worked for about 5 minutes in total, but interspersed with long breaks of disconnection. Failure.
Meanwhile, in the past 10 days I've visited 7 different mobile and internet shops in 2 countries, bought 7 different SIM cards, tested 5 different modems, and have spent over $300 of my own cash trying to get a reliable connection to the internet.
Many parts of Africa have leapfrogged in technological advances, and people are really benefiting from the innovations in technology - some of which are more advanced than we have in Switzerland. Mobile technology on the continent is contributing to education, activism, disaster management, agriculture and health.* Everyone in Kenya uses M-Pesa, a mobile payment system, for everyday transactions at shops, restaurants, and even when sending money to a friend or loved one. But it’s also true that some rural areas still lag behind and devices haven’t yet come down in price.
The good news is that I finally resolved the issue in Kenya. And, after getting bumped off a flight in Nairobi and put up in a hotel with free hi-speed WI-FI, you can bet that I had all 32 GB of photo and video documentation from field work at Maisha home syncing up to the cloud. The sacrifice of 3 hours of sleep was well worth it!
I’m hopeful that with a bit more time and money, I’ll be able to set up a faster connection here in Ethiopia as well. Fighting slow connections sometimes feels like precious time lost. But providing updates and evidence to our amazing supporters is an important aspect of the job. And reading the supportive comments beneath the posts makes it worthwhile. I’m also looking forward to continuing innovation in Africa. And in the meantime, I feel immense gratitude for the hi-speed technology I am blessed to have in my daily life back home – making our lives easier and more comfortable while stimulating innovation and economic growth.
*CNN - Seven ways mobile phones have changed lives in Africa