Cell phone drive connects volunteers to central medical clinics

by Laura Nash

The International Students of Lewis & Clark and the Pamplin Society of Fellows are currently working together to collect cell phones for an organization called Frontline SMS: Medic.

Frontline SMS: Medic takes “retired cell phones,” said Dieterich Lawson (’12) who is taking time off from school to work as a software developer for the organization. “It doesn’t matter if they are broken, if they have been dunked in water, or if they have been stepped on,” said Lawson.

After the cell phones have been collected they are sent to the Wireless Source, which is a cell phone refurbishing company. Wireless Source fixes the phones and sells them again. They give Medic either a check or new cell phones in return. Each cell phone is worth approximately $18. Then, Medic sends the phones to medical clinics in Africa.

“In Africa, and in developing countries overall, there is a huge deficit of doctors. There are two doctors at a central clinic that serves 250,000 people,” said Lawson.

To make up for this deficit, the clinics train volunteers, known as Community Health Workers, to perform basic medical procedures and treat common ailments and afflictions. Lawson said, ”The outlying villages can be fifty, sixty, one hundred miles away and the only way to get there is to walk or bike or motorbike.”

Thus, the cell phones are used for communication between the clinics and the Community Health Workers. With the donated cell phones and the software developed by Frontline SMS: Medic, the Community Health Workers can text medical forms to the central clinic, request more supplies, and generally stay connected.

The cell phone drive was supposed to end on Wednesday, but ISLC and the Pamplin Society have decided to continue the drive for at least another week. The drive was combined with an event in the hopes that this would increase donations, but only eleven phones were collected on the night that a raffle was held in Fields Dining Room for those donating.

Shelley Zhao (’10), co-president of ISLC and a Pamplin Fellow, said, “So far this event has not been successful to me. This is largely due to the organizers’ own fault. This is the first time we did it and the people responsible were not experienced with it.”

The drive was meant to be run around Thanksgiving last year, but was moved to February to coincide with an African culture-themed celebration ISLC was planning to hold. Organizers believe that it is important to raise on-campus awareness of the need for such resources.

Zhao recalled the battery recycling drive that was held by ISLC a couple of years ago. She said, “People need to utilize resources [like cell phones or batteries] to give to someone who needs them. People need to have more awareness of how important that is.”

Lawson said, “This is super easy. It is no cost to you and it goes to a super good cause.”

There are boxes in Fields Dining Room, Maggie’s, and Watzek Library. Pamplin Fellow Warren Kluber (’12) is also willing to take phones.

After the drive, students can print pre-paid mailing labels online from hopephones.org and ship the phones to the company.

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