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Northern Uganda students show their best app skills

Death is one painful fact of life that everyone eventually experiences, especially if the cause is preventable.

In 2015, an HIV-positive senior two student of Lira Town College named Ronald Opiyo reportedly died, because he refused to take his ARVs for fear of facing stigma from his peers.

CAROLINE AYUGI has been talking to three teenage girls in Lira Town College who developed an Android app, for HIV-positive persons to help resolve the problem.

Tabitha Adongo, Norah Acan and Sarah Ejang are senior-six students who call themselves the Cool Stars. They showcased their app at Lira Town College last week, during the school’s first-ever "Technovation Challenge in northern Uganda.

The challenge" attracted five teams from secondary schools in Lira and Gulu, and three teams from Gulu University and All Saints University in Lira. Not surprisingly, the app attracted a lot of attention.

Adongo, one of the brains behind the app development, explained that it was, “convenient for those who fear to be seen lining up to get ARVs at the health units. It is good for patients who are weak and cannot stand for long in queues at the hospital”.

The app allows HIV-positive persons to order for anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), without having to endure the stigma. Anyone who chooses to use the app is required to register their personal details and health status, and the name of the facility where they can get their medication.

After submitting their prescription, the administrators (the app developers) deliver the medication to a client’s home, through their partner organizations. The app also allows the client to set an alarm to remind them when to take the medication.

Norah Acan, who also participated in the development of the mobile phone app, said the innovation is suitable for HIV-positive persons in urban areas, “because they have access to the internet, computers and can afford smart phones”.

Sarah Ejang, the third member of the group, said their group intends to start selling the app by January next year.

APP COMPETITION

The Technovation Challenge is a worldwide programme for girls and women designed to spark interest in coding and learning entrepreneurial skills in a practical way. The programme takes students through four stages of launching a mobile app startup, inspired by the principles of design thinking: ideation, technology, entrepreneurship and pitch.

Last week, the competition attracted innovations from students from Mentor SS in Lira, developing several apps. The students developed a Teachers’ Monitoring App (TMA), which they hope will reduce unnecessary absenteeism by teachers.

The ‘Star Angels’ of Gulu High School also presented their app, Environment Care, which will promote prompt garbage collection and cleanliness of the environment.

Lira ‘Cyber Girls’ from Lira Town college, also staged their Breast Mobile app, which they said will enable women to do self-examination for signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

Each of the teams pitched their app to a panel of judges, who evaluated their work according to the design, business plan, execution and how well it aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Emmanuel Angoda, the Technovation ambassador, advised the app developers not to relent on their innovation.

“If you learn to develop an app at 16 years, imagine what you can do when you are 25 years. Stick to what you have started, so that you help transform the community. Do not rely too much on government for every solution to your problems because government is very slow,” he said.

The competitors were asked to choose issues related to peace, poverty, equality, education, health or environments which are broader themes to support the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In northern Uganda, the initiative was sponsored by Oysters and Pearls, an NGO based in Gulu. The NGO has been working with visually impaired persons in northern Uganda since 2010.

Jacob Odur works at the technology department at Oysters and Pearls. He said different groups of students under their sponsorship have developed 16 Android apps since last year. Odur said he would continue helping the students, to modify their prototype apps into sellable products.

“Next year, we will start connecting the students to organizations that can buy their apps. The challenge is that all these students have to balance between books and their innovations; that is why none of the apps is yet in the market,” Odur revealed.

Rachel Benge, the programs manager at Oysters and Pearls, said they hope to assist more girls develop interest in technological development, electronic tinkering, that will in turn widen their career scope.

Dr Benedict Oyo, the head of department for Computer Science at Gulu University, was one of the judges of the event. He urged the girls to drop the perception that technology is a field for men only.

“Gulu University registers only about five per cent of girls doing Bachelor of Computer Science, but from what I saw today, it means the negative thinking that science courses are only for men is being demystified,” Dr Oyo said.

“Technology is for anyone willing to take it. Don’t define yourself by what people say about you, as long as you know you have the potential. Mark you, those who have no smart ideas are always the loudest,” he said.

Phyllis Nassuna, a technology educator at Young Engineers Uganda, advised the students to go back on the drawing table and perfect their innovation, “to prove to the buyer that your app is the only solution to their problem.”

Teams from this year’s Technovation event are scheduled to compete in the Uganda National Pitch Event in July 2017 in Kampala. The winners from the Kampala event will be eligible to participate in the international finals in San Francisco, California in August 2017.

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