Modernize through training

From the mosquito net to the internet

Tech entrepreneur Tom Snyder joined Professor Susan to write a mobile app to help detect and treat malaria. During his visit to Uganda to implement the app, he witnessed many of Professor Susan's rural women's concerns. He was also amazed at how fascinated the community was with the mobile app. He thought, "What if rural women could learn how to use computers or even learn how to program a mobile app?"

Tom and Professor Susan brainstormed opportunities for a technology-driven empowerment program; thus, Smartstainable was born.

March, 2013

Community leaders' support

On November 18, 2013, Dr. Lule, District Health Officer of Butambala District, Professor Susan, and Tom Snyder met to discuss the feasibility of offering a computer training program blended within an empowerment program. Then they held a meeting with the women leaders of the community. Only a few women were invited, but 18 women attended to provide support for this initiative!

When they asked how much the program would cost, Tom said, "No charge: all I ask is that if you start it, you complete it."

November, 2013

Humble beginnings

While huddled around one desk and using two laptops, four women began their journey toward empowerment. These rural women had never touched a computer before.

  • TechSmith donated Camtasia product licenses for us to create videos so the students could listen to and understand Tom's New York accent - even if they had to watch and listen to the videos four or five times!
  • Dropbox, Skype, and email provided continual engagement with Tom and other volunteers.

We look back and wonder how we even survived. A memory board fried within the first few months. The program continued, limping along with just one computer. In December, one of the four women left the program to enter nursing school; she was ready because she now possessed computer knowledge. Our facilities lost power for over a month. We also lost internet access from December 2014 - March 2015. Yet, our students kept at it. They worked together, shared notes, watched videos, and learned desktop applications together.

March, 2014

Smartstainable's genesis

The original mission of Smartstainable was to provide computer training programs to help empower women globally.

Our objectives are to...
  1. provide training programs that teach computer skills to women in rural villages in Africa;
  2. provide training programs that teach computer skills to women who are affected by unemployment, financial poverty, disease, and/or stigma due to HIV/AIDS, the Ebola virus, and more;
  3. provide opportunities for participants to engage in computer-related projects so they may use their newly-acquired skills;
  4. provide coaching and mentoring to participants as they engage in these computer-related projects;
  5. sponsor, host, and/or participate in events and activities that promote the global training of women.
April, 2015

Create mobile app

The participants learned basic computer skills: Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SQL, JavaScript, and jQuery. They used this foundation to create a mobile app.

The first program concluded in July, 2015 and four women participated. Each student received a certificate of accomplishment and they celebrated with family and friends. Their hands-on project was to write a mobile app that gathered data on Ebola survivors and orphans.

One woman explained, "Learning programming is a great opportunity for a rural woman in Uganda. Imagine that Tom and Susan had not been there for me! Where was the chance? I'm now in the modern world, surrounded by computers and the internet."

Another commented "Great things happen when someone upgrades his- and her knowledge. Since I joined this program, almost everything in my life changed. I can now even talk to people in different countries via Skype."

July, 2015

Students become tech evangelists

These students then shared something special with other women in the community: the feeling of change and self-determination through computer knowledge and knowhow.

When asked what was their favorite part of the program, one woman responded, "...learning Java Interfaces, it taught me critical thinking."

They all participated in global Skype calls with computer professionals which stirred an amazingly positive reaction from all involved. They formed a global community of empowerment.

They also opened their hearts to empower survivors and caretakers of the Ebola virus in Liberia. "I never thought I could learn computer skills or other capacity-building based on the stigmatization of Ebola. Today, I am one of the beneficiaries of this program."

August, 2105 - October, 2016

Bring technology to hospital staff

Hospitals and medical facilities throughout Uganda were feeling the strain of the lack of automation. Nurses and administrators from the Gombe hospital had no prior computer skills. At the request of the medical superintendent, the team of rural women began sharing their skills and knowledge with the staff, adapting their schedules to match the demanding schedules of the staff. So, they passed the torch from woman-to-woman…

October, 2016

Recalibrate and look ahead

In November 2017, final certificates were issued and Programs 2 and 3 ended. Several women remained in the village and are mentors to our current programs.

We faced many challenges and technical setbacks in the first few years. The biggest challenges, however, were not technical but they were financial and cultural.

Our governing rules do not allow Smartstainable to pay participants while they are learning. This impacted acceptance and attendance.

For example, approximately 50% of the women left the program because their husbands pressured them to.

Although we could find paying computer-related projects to learn from, it was not within our objectives to find and manage paid work; our charter was to train-the-trainers and make them tech mentors and evangelists.

November, 2017

Teenage empowerment program

In June 2018, we piloted the Teenage Empowerment Program. As the rural teenage girls completed the program, they had more confidence, more discipline, and a stronger desire for equal rights.

Networking with other participants provided a feeling of empowerment as they shaped their own lives and collectively shared their transformation with each other.

June, 2018

Community Empowerment and Leadership

Community women leaders now build a sensitized and engaged community to define the needs for community empowerment. We empower these community leaders to implement detailed technical programs that will fulfill those needs.

There is no cost to the individual, family or the community; however, the community has certain responsibilities:

  • They must define how program benefits are measured.
  • They must provide status reports on the progress of the participants in the program.

November, 2023