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When the mast came

In 2014 Safaricom put up a telecommunications mast in Barsaloi, a remote village in Northern Kenya. From a health and socioeconomic standpoint, the introduction of the mast was expected to yield tremendous gains.

  • Cees Hesp
  • Sep 15, 2016

In this age of digital globalization, it is hard, almost impossible, to imagine a world without mobile phones, a world without constant access to the internet. Without these technologies, many of the routine communication tasks we take for granted would become difficult to execute. Imagine not being able to call a friend or business partner across town or in another city to inquire about their availability. How would you deal with not being able to call the hospital to report a medical emergency as soon as it occurred? Could you go back to not being able to use your phone to complete financial transactions and keep track of your finances online? Would you maintain the same level of productivity if you could not look up pertinent information to successfully complete an assignment? What measures would you adopt to avoid the feeling of isolation that sets in when you cannot quickly contact loved ones or keep up with the happenings in your community?

While these scenarios may prove difficult to imagine, this is exactly the situation that prevailed in Barsaloi, a remote village in Northern Kenya. That is before the mast came!

In 2014 Safaricom put up a telecommunications mast there. PharmAccess Foundation, in partnership with AMREF and the M-PESA Foundation, initiated a maternal and child healthcare program providing residents of Barsaloi access to quality healthcare. From a health and socioeconomic standpoint, the introduction of the mast was expected to yield tremendous gains. To document these gains, a short documentary was commissioned to interview local residents and hear from them how the coming of the mast had impacted their lives. The stories that we received exceeded our wildest expectations.

Because the technology was now available, one resident who was not present when his wife went into labor was able to call the hospital to arrange for her admission and safe delivery and later on get information on the clinic’s location to pick her up and bring her and their new baby home. Another resident who had a deep-rooted love for the local Samburu dialect that was in danger of becoming extinct, used his phone in his quest for words in a project to create a dictionary to immortalize the language for the benefit future generations. A business man who had dreams of expanding his business and securing enough capital to establish himself in the community as the first M-PESA agent was able to use his mobile phone to order goods from the nearby town thereby cutting down on costs and time. A school teacher reported being able to use the internet to access educational materials for his students and also to communicate with parents of boarding pupils when needed. In the community, elders and their assistants were able to receive and resolve conflicts quickly via their mobile phones where they once had to travel long distances to meet with the complainants and warring parties in person. This created a more safe and secure environment for all Barsaloi residents. And lastly, the phones became a source of entertainment. By keeping people busy, connected and happy, having mobile phones and access to the internet not only improved their livelihoods, it greatly improved their personal well-being as well.

Happy citizens are productive citizens and what the Barsaloi community experienced as a result of the introduction of the mast was a tremendous appreciation in the socioeconomic status of the entire community, both on an individual and collective level.

Things that changed since the mast came

  1. Ease of communication
  2. Access to educational opportunities
  3. Ease of doing business
  4. Ability to pay for goods and services via digital platforms
  5. Improved access to quality healthcare
  6. Quicker conflict resolution time/ increased security
  7. More enjoyable leisure time/new source of entertainment
  8. Nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit/initiative
  9. Allowing existing businesses, schools, hospitals, NGOs and churches to function more efficiently
  10. Businesses, workers and volunteers who once were reluctant to relocate to such a remote and isolated location are now willing to be stationed there