Mary, a Send a Cow project participant from Uganda, listens to the radio

Bridging the digital divide during a pandemic

Gender and Social Inclusion Coordinator, Amanda Crookes, shares the steps Send a Cow are taking to bridge the digital divide during the Coronavirus outbreak.

As our project participants are based in rural Africa, contacting them during lockdown can be a challenge.

Not everyone has access to radios, TVs and mobile phones, let alone the internet. In addition, people don’t always have the money to buy phone credit, especially during this global crisis.

This ‘digital divide’ in rural Africa is less about a gap in digital skills and more of an issue with the means to access all forms of communications technology; technology that is proving so vital in public health measures around the world.

Although more people on the continent have a mobile phone than a flushing toilet, the people that we work with, (at the start of their journey) are living off the land, hand-to-mouth.

The digital divide means that some people in Africa are receiving life-saving health messages while others are left behind. With so many people without access to running water to wash their hands, working around this barrier to information is an urgent necessity.

There are a range of methods in place across Africa to help overcome the digital divide.

In Rwanda for example, we have reports that the government is sending drones with loudspeakers into rural communities to broadcast hand-washing and social distancing messages to reach people en masse.

In contrast, at Send a Cow, we are utilising our extensive network of self-help groups to maintain communications with rural communities remotely. Our in-country staff are in touch with champions in the community otherwise known as ‘peer farmers’, who receive up to date messages via WhatsApp, text and mentoring and coaching phone calls. They can then pass on the information, and because they are already trusted members of the community – we’re seeing quick changes in behaviour that can save lives.

Our key messages include information on how people can protect themselves from the virus when they don’t have running water.

Handwashing is a key part of our work in rural Africa and is of course the first line of defence against Coronavirus. To overcome water access issues, we’ve been scaling up our WASH work, to make sure as many families as possible can make their own tip tap – a simple, effective and affordable solution.

Advice on what food crops to plant and when is also vital at this time.

We have been providing people with high-quality seeds and food aid where necessary, to respond to this crisis. In sub-saharan Africa 80% of people in the last two weeks have reportedly felt worried that they won’t have enough to eat*. For millions of people, the impending food crisis is equally as worrying as the current coronavirus outbreak.

The digital divide still very much exists, but through our existing networks in rural communities we are working hard to make sure that nobody gets left behind.

You too can help, by supporting our Together Appeal and sharing this blog.

For more information on how we are utilising mobile phone technology, radio broadcasts and community networks to reach the most vulnerable during COVID-19, please email info@sendacow.org.

Get further information about our response to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

*taken from geo-poll report, end of April.