Written by Kate Miller, Volunteer at Aguayuda in La Guajira, Colombia.
I’ll be the first to admit that I spend a lot of time on my smart phone. I always have it with me as a way to connect me instantly to the outside world. But beyond text messaging and social media apps, my time working with Aguayuda taught me that this familiar piece of technology is currently being used in amazing ways to collect and share data, break down distance and communication barriers, and improve lives.
As part of a grant from Coca Cola, FEMSA, and the Millennium Water Alliance, Aguayuda has begun working with Akvo FLOW, a smart phone app that allows users to conduct electronic field surveys for evaluating and monitoring conditions in even the most remote regions. This means that in the 20+ communities involved with this grant, we were able to meet people in their homes and not just collect data, but hear about their lives in their own words. Who better to tell you about the water and sanitation conditions in a community than the people living there? I was fortunate enough to spend most of my days out in the communities going house to house with other members of the Aguayuda team, asking people about their access to water sources, the size of their families, whether or not they had a toilet or latrine, if they had finished school, etc. Each answer helps us create a bigger picture of what the current water situation is in each community, so that the solutions to existing problems can be tailor made, and therefore be more likely to succeed over the long term.
I was absolutely amazed at how community members reacted to the survey. No one turned us away. Instead, at every home we visited people pulled up chairs for us in the shade and sat down to tell us about themselves and their families and their day to day lives. This kind of interaction goes beyond data collection. It provides context and meaning for all of the work that Aguayuda does, and builds relationships and dialogues that can help communities overcome the obstacles they face. And, as a young American who is admittedly addicted to her phone, it was a revelation to spend so much time using a phone, not for talking, but for listening. And that’s a beautiful thing.