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Africa Calling: Victorians' old phones provide lifeline for isolated villagers

Camosun professor Francis Adu-Febiri squats beside student Kevin Davis in front of fellow students John Ho, back left, Amanda Kaluza, Brandie Reimer and Elena Geneau. Each person is holding a cell phone that will be donated to remote villages in Ghana. Approximately 400 phones have been collected and will be taken to Africa by Professor Adu-Febiri at the end of May. - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
Camosun professor Francis Adu-Febiri squats beside student Kevin Davis in front of fellow students John Ho, back left, Amanda Kaluza, Brandie Reimer and Elena Geneau. Each person is holding a cell phone that will be donated to remote villages in Ghana. Approximately 400 phones have been collected and will be taken to Africa by Professor Adu-Febiri at the end of May.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

When Camosun College's Lansdowne campus replaced 80 computers last year, Francis Adu-Febiri and his students raised $4,000 to ship the old machines to Berekum District, Ghana.

Six of the Camosun College sociology professor's students are continuing his work this year, collecting old cell phones to send with Adu-Febiri on his next visit to Africa later this spring.

"It seems to be quite a contagious little project," said Kevin Davis, current organizer of the Africa Calling project. "I really think we can do better; we can do more."

Davis and his classmates are collecting phones at the Interurban or Lansdowne campus bookstores until April 15, when they'll hand them over to Adu-Febiri. He, in turn, will distribute them in remote villages where families and communities pool funds to purchase phone cards and share the devices, which would otherwise have been recycled or tossed in the garbage.

The phones are a vital, and often sole means of communication for families spread across remote villages. The technology plays a key role in helping organize gatherings such as weddings, funerals and medical appointments.

Adu-Febiri has also identified an interesting side benefit of the technology.

"People that I know who could not read or write are now able to use cell phones, able to recognize numbers, which is amazing to me," he said.

Adu-Febiri, founder of the African Heritage Association of Vancouver Island, plans to return in 2012 to villages where the phones were donated in order to gauge the project's success. The professor is also the co-chair of the African awareness committee of Camosun College and president of the Canadian chapter of the International Institute for Human Factor Development.

Africa Calling can’t export phones that don’t have removable Subscriber Identity Module, or SIM, cards (the portable, exchangeable memory chips). However, such phones function in Canada and will still go to good use. The group plans to donate them to sex trade workers through the PEERS Victoria Resource Society.

"If you've got an old phone hanging around, just take it to the school and drop it off," Davis said.

Adu-Febiri will take as many phones as possible on his April trip and ship any remaining phones to Ghana in the early fall.

"I wish for everyone in the district to have a phone," he said of his ultimate project goal, "but I know that is not possible."

nnorth@saanichnews.com

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