Using Technology to Change Lives


While innovators say we haven’t yet grasped all the ways pairing technology and communication can change lives for the better around the world, participants in the 2015 Game Changers Summit got a glimpse of the possibilities. Among them were six leaders from Western Pennsylvania.

Not only is technology enabling people around the world to get to know each other, it provides an immediate way to let the world know what is happening in words, pictures or video if a disaster strikes or there is a crisis.

Neely Hicks of UMCOM, left, and Chenayi Kumuterera of Zimbabwe are shown with Tom Kennedy, Sandra Matoushaya, Sara Dickey and Greg Cox.

Participants in the Summit, hosted by UM Communications (UMCOM) in Nashville, saw how recent technological advances could provide ways to help improve lives in developing nations.

“I appreciate the balanced perspective that the conference offered on technology use in mission work,” said Rev. Stephanie Gottschalk, WPAUMC Volunteers in Mission coordinator.  “The presenters stressed that doing what works -- what offers a solution to a real problem -- is what makes technology worthwhile.  It is not using technology for technology's sake or offering what the latest 'cool' development is.

“What is important is looking at the multiple ways that a problem can be addressed and not assuming that technology or current information is out of the question. Sometimes it can be the simplest and most effective solution to a problem,” she explained.

United Methodist Communications has been on the cutting edge of technology and information throughout the world, said Rev. Greg Cox, Conference Director of Connectional Ministries and UMCOM board member.

"While those of us in the developed  world use technology for our entertainment, the developing world uses information and technology in times of disaster, conflict, and global health. When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, UMCOM was there to provide  resources so that accurate and timely information could be accessed and distributed to those who needed it most.  During the Ebola Crisis in West African, accurate and trusted information was shared.  

UMCom sent text messages from the area bishop with prayers, information, and medical updates to pastors and lay leaders in Liberia to keep people connected, encouraged, and knowledgeable about resources, Gottschalk explained. “SMS texting is not the most high tech, but a simple prayer received by every pastor or a message about which clinic was open or closed was incredibly important to people working in the midst of the epidemic,” she said.

A new text-based technology for data collection and patient monitoring called Frontline SMS is a way for a central communication point to use and transmit by simple text message information necessary for life to be sustained, Cox explained.  "In Zimbabwe, our partners are using Frontline to get messages out to pastors, District Superintendents and to members of churches.  Accurate information can also be relayed back through SMS about outbreaks of diseases such as malaria, and what supplies are necessary to combat the diseases," he said.

One speaker, animator Firdaus Kharas has partnered with UMCOM to provide animation videos to educate people around the world about prevention of disease and abuse. One of his videos was used to help stem the spread of Ebola. 

The summit offered access to real products, including drones that might be used in hard-to-reach disaster areas and 3D printers to make medical equipment, tools  or building tools that are in short supply. Practitioners were there to demonstrate uses and offer guidelines that fit in with how the church is already working.

“Knowing that there guidelines for incorporating technology in a ministry setting and that UMCom offers experts willing to advise us in that process makes this a practical and exciting conversation,” Gottschalk said. “Including UMCom in discussions between partners helps both broaden the conversation about what is possible and ground the conversation about what is reasonable.”

Chenayi Kumuterera, a communicator for the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area,  has worked on several projects using communications technology to change lives.

UMCom’s Foundation for Communication selected Kumuterera for a grant to work with hospitals and clinics in Zimbabwe to incorporate appropriate technology. She has been working with community health workers and the Nyadire UM Mission Hospital to pilot the next phase of incorporating Frontline SMS.

“By sitting down as partners in conversation, we are able to discuss how the UMCom grant, the ongoing work of the Western PA-Zimbabwe Partnership and The Nyadire Connection could work together to help make Ms. Kumuterera's vision possible,” said Gottschalk.

As a result, she explained, the Conference and The Nyadire Connection purchased a climate-appropriate computer for Nyadire Hospital to receive health data and maintain a phone number database. This then enables a training to be scheduled by UMCom which will likely include representatives from Medic Mobile and the DR Congo (where Frontline SMS has already been incorporated.) 

"This technology will help the Nyadire hospital's network of rural clinics support life and health in the farthest reaches of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area," Cox said. 

Zimbabwe Partnership Coordinator Sandra Matoushaya said the summit emphasized the importance of working together for the greater good of the people of God. "For me, it brought back the chabadza concept and looking at Eccleciastes 4, where two are better than one, and how a three-stranded cord is not easily broken.".

Matoushaya said the use of information and communications technology for development (ICT4D) increases empowerment among people. "We should strive to bring technology barriers down and at the same time not erect price barriers," she said.  

"Providing  technology for women will benefit all," she added. "Speakers pointed out that women have mostly been left out, where the men are the ones that usually get communication tools.  But where women are given ICT4D tools, they see the benefit and are able to pass that on to their children. Efforts are also being made to provide these tools in a way that can protect women from abuse."

 Attending the Game Changers Summit in addition to Gottschalk and Cox were: Sandra Matoushaya, Zimbabwe Partnership coordinator; Revs. Mark Hecht, chair,  and Tom Kennedy of the Conference Board of Global Ministries, and Sara Dickey of The Nyadire Connection, who also serves on the Zimbabwe Partnership committee.

Watch this video to see more about the life-changing possibilities of technology

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Watch this video to see the possibilities.