Dr Melissa Densmore, a senior lecturer and Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D) staff member at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Department of Computer Science, has been awarded the prestigious National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) Challenge grant.
Dr Densmore is one of a group of four researchers from across the globe who will be using the $500,000 grant to address maternal and child health issues through a digital communication project.
The project aims to empower previously disadvantaged women to create their own maternal health educational content, then share it among themselves through a locally available digital channel, named Digital Street Theatre (DST). DST was chosen as one of the three winning projects.
Dr Densmore said the DST project is based on the idea that “people have, historically, always communicated through stories. So, when you see a story coming from one of your peers, it’s much more convincing than, say, a story coming from a government official or a textbook.”
For the past few years, much of Dr Densmore’s work has focused on providing computer-based support for healthcare and development in previously disadvantaged communities around Cape Town. She has been specifically interested in creating mHealth solutions that can serve as a complementary resource to overstretched local clinics.
“Mothers love giving advice to other mothers about what they should and shouldn’t do with their children. Of course, this isn’t always well received in person. In many cases, women turn to online communities, or technology, to find answers to their most pressing parenting questions,” said Dr Densmore.
Dr Densmore will be kicking off her Digital Street Theatre research in Ocean View, a community on the outskirts of Kommetjie in Cape Town, where another recent ICT4D project could offer a good basis from which to start.
Residents will be able to share their music, videos, news and learning materials for free within the community. They’ll also be able to connect with each other through a chat service like WhatsApp. Access to the internet will be offered in time, at a much cheaper rate than current options.