Young refugees embrace smart phones to improve their lives

21 February 2018
A group of young people learn how to use the SafePal App to report cases of GBV. Similar applications can be rolled out further to increase access to sexual and reproductive health and GBV prevention services among young people in refugee settlements.

BARATUKU SETTLEMENT, Adjumani: In a world where technology is ever evolving, owning a smart phone has become a fashionable essential and this is not unique to the South Sudanese refugees living in settlements in the West Nile district of Adjumani, northern Uganda. The smart phone is increasingly becoming a way of life.

Twenty year-old Elizabeth is one such young person. Together with five of her peers in the settlement gathered in a circle, with heads close together and chuckling away, these young people are visibly engrossed in a video clip on a smart phone.  Getting their attention is no easy task as they kept engrossed on their screen phones every couple of minutes.

But they are not alone. Many young refugees in Baratuku settlement –most of them between 19-25 years - have seemingly taken to the smart phone as a favourite pastime: “I spend a lot of free time on my smart phone.  I am always looking for spots with good internet connection,” said Mecca, a young refugee who has lived in the settlement for the past three years.

Philip, another young refugee agrees: “Most of the young men in the settlement spend their free time on their phones. But, owning a smart phone is like being a father, one has to ensure they buy talk time and internet bundles plus having to pay a fee charging the phone,” he says.  

According to Phillip, many young people in the settlement do odd jobs to earn some income to buy data bundles and other necessities:

“We volunteer to do any work for the NGO’s and we earn some money.  Whatever, money we have, we save it until we have enough to buy a smart,” he says adding that some of their friends have family living in western countries who send them money or smart phones.

Smart phones for health

While Elizabeth and peers may consider smart phones as pastimes and entertainment, they too can be used to reduce barriers to youth access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. Indeed, innovative solutions like smart phones have proved vital ingredients in social change processes and proven to bring long-lasting benefits to communities.

For UNFPA for instance, achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and meaningfully contributing to the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development includes leveraging and developing game-changing new technologies such as mobile phones.

Such is the case of development of solutions like SafePal App that helps young people report sexual and gender-based violence in and around schools and other public places; and GetIn App that helps midwives and other Community Health Extension Workers to identify, record and follow-up on pregnant girls in rural areas.

Phillip agrees that this kind of innovation could make a difference among young people in the settlement by creating new ways of learning:

“Mobile learning (is a good thing) as long as there is access to the internet.  This could be done by providing access to a digital platform - like an application - where young people can share their views on SRH and GBV,” he says.  


- Written by Christine Kajungu