For those of you who have ever been to Mozambique, you'll know that it's one of the poorest countries in Africa, which means it's one of the poorest countries in the world. Nearly 50% of the population is made of children under the age of 14. Life expectancy is at an average of 40 years mostly due to a myriad of health risks including AIDS, malaria and water borne diseases. A long civil war and recurrent drought has rendered much of the country unlivable. You get the ugly picture.
I had the privilege of spending time in the country very recently to visit my friend Barbara (the founder of ASEM) who has dedicated her life to creating a sustainable means of living for the people of Mozambique. I packed light and sensibly. Before leaving, I triple checked that I had my iPhone charger and bug repellent. They seemed like the two most important items I'd need on my trip.
The dark nights in the bushes of Vilakulos were my most difficult moments. And it was in these moments that I found solace in my iPhone and realized how much I rely on technology. When I needed to block out the incessant and often alarming sounds of the insects and animals, I would blast music from my iPhone. If ever I felt too far away from loved ones, I would look at their photos in my "album." And to stay in the know with my friends was a simple touch away through my Facebook app. Thank God for 3G technology.
Feeling rather embarrassed by my unhealthy attachment to my phone, I wrestled with abandoning it as much as possible. But that didn't last for very long. I soon realized that many Mozambicans are mobile savvy and just as glued to their devices.
Nieto is an ex-street kid who now works for and lives with Barbara. At Barbara's house, we all live with no hot water, no electricity (a generator turns on at night for a few hours and then it's lights off) and poor plumbing. And juxtaposed with this is Nieto with his new Blackberry. My first glance at it was when he used it as a flashlight to walk me into the darkness where he would later play djembe music to scare off the evil spirits responsible for spreading malaria.
Further evidence could be found throughout the entire village. When passing through the village center, kids often burst towards the car window selling pre-paid mobile phone cards. I recall doing a double take doubting that I had just seen a kid listening to music on his mobile phone while a woman lay nearby on the street side selling a handful of peanuts . And, as if styled for a print ad, was an array of brightly painted blue buildings covered with "Todobom Vodacom" - the nation's most popular mobile phone provider (notably backed by the federal government). I later found out that the splatter of advertising all over the village was a clever "media buy" of "we paint your house brand new free of charge...but with our branding."
I'd always wanted to go to Africa in hopes of experiencing something completely foreign. I had misguided thoughts that it would be untainted by the steroid like growth of technology and advertising we experience in the Western world. The sad truth is that young people in even the poorest of circumstances are being lured to "connect" through modern technology, while their country continues to struggle with rising up from its knees.Jamie Kim is a digital producer at Wieden + Kennedy, Amsterdam.