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How I use cell phones to bridge the gap for the voiceless

Simplifying digital inclusion: a cellphone with a camera can help a woman find her own voice, make heard others' and start a movement of empowerment

Recently, I met Jyoti Bairagi - a 20 year old woman living in a remote village in India’s Madhya Pradesh state.

The village, perched on a rocky hill, had no motorable road and no running water. Everyone there wanted a boy and, when a woman gave birth to more than one girl child, it was killed. A girl’s education stopped at 5th standard, because the high school was 5 hours away, and after school, a girl would return home in pitch dark, thus running the risk of being molested. In few years, she was married off, as parents felt, she sat idle for way too long. This often resulted in early motherhood, post-natal sickness and infant mortality. The state had the highest rate of infant mortality and the worst sex ratio (888 girls to every 1000 boys) in India.

Jyoti didn’t want to get married early. She had heard that outside her village girls went to college and worked in offices. She wanted to be one of them. But first, she wanted her village to be connected with the world, and learn of those changes.

But how?

The concept of media didn’t exist; no reporter ever visited the village – over 2 hours’ walk from the nearest bus station. Nobody had a TV or bought newspapers.

But we had technology!

I was heading a program where underprivileged communities were trained to produce their own news. I spoke to a few mobile phone service providers. Jyoti’s village had a network!

‘A cell phone is all you need’ I told her.

Jyoti traveled to my office in Goa. There I helped her buy a mobile handset. In the next 2 weeks, besides basic Internet use, Facebook and Twitter, Jyoti learnt to subscribe to a free SMS service. She learned to type a Hindi text message in Roman script and write a micro-report using no more than 140 characters. Next, Jyoti learned to send the SMS to a group of people. Each time, she could reach 145 people. I showed her how to add in that group, people who mattered: journalists, activists, Government officials and police officers. Most of them were active users of social media and could, through re-twits and re-posting, help take Jyoti’s hyper local reports to a pan-global audience.

Four days after she left Goa, Jyoti sent us her first news report:

‘I am in village. With me, my village has got its own media.'

To me, this is what technology is all about: empowering one woman to help empower another, bridging the gap between the urban and the rural and, the vocal and the voiceless.

Waiting out there are millions of Jyoti. I strive to reach them all with technology, so, no injustice against them ever goes untold.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Women Weave the Web Digital Action Campaign. Learn more »


Osai's picture

Wow! This is both useful and inspiring

Dear Stella,

This is both useful and inspiring. I believe mobile phones can change the way rural dwellers access information and share it. The major issue is cost effectiveness. It was great that you found a free SMS service she could use. What is the name? Is it only available in India?

Thinking about your story makes me more and more to pursue getting a sms/mobile program for the women we work with in South-East Nigeria. Also, about connecting the people to government officials, influencers, media and other people that can amplify their voices.

Thanks for sharing and hope to learn more about what change is happening as a result of Jyoti (and her village)'s empowerment.

Best wishes for the New Year and always,

Twitter: @livingtruely

Stella Paul's picture

Thanks to you too!

My dear Osai

I must have become lazy, or else how did I not read this comment any earlier? Forgive me! And, happy new year girl!

Now, I think cell phone manufacturers have a strategy or a customized plan for each market in including free apps. I suggest that you take a tour of the websites of nokia and other most popular handset firms in Africa. Maybe you will find something. If not, maybe you can tweet/email them asking for a free sms app? What you need to know is which models have them (if they do, which I believe is affirmative).

The biggest challenge before us (I mean, you ,me, Loice {who's commented below} is that we are dealing with a community of customers with little purchasing power. So, it has to be a cheap handset and the apps should not require an internet data package. In my case, the handset is basic and the user has to register her number with a website just this once. After that, she can keep using the apps without paying anything. The registration requires renewal once in a while - like every 3 months which is quite doable.

Please stay in touch, so we can talk more. It is already wonderful that we are discussing solutions that are globally applicable :) Much love!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Osai's picture

Happy New Year to you too

Happy New Year to you too Stella!
Thanks for the advice. I have not found any free apps as suggested. I have asked a friend that works with IT and communications for help. The major challenge is cost and whether the phone accesses the app using data or sms, a little bit of cost would be involved.
It would be great to swap notes and discuss further what is possible and in your case, any challenges and outcomes you have experienced.

Warmest regards,

Twitter: @livingtruely

Stella Paul's picture


Dear Osai

Thanks for coming back dear. I am loving this talk so much! In India, what the apps offer you is simply a lot: you type it once, pay the cost of one sms (about 1.50 rupees) and you get to reach out dozens of receivers. Meaning, you save the cost of 50 sms!

Now, I recently was in Bangkok for UNESCO's global forum on media and gender. One of my co-panelists was a woman from Uganda called Barbara Birungi (you can see her in this pic: Unlike most speakers in such forums, Barbara is a program developer and she is creating a forum of IT developers in Africa. She spoke of an apps which is built for delivering healthcare in rural communities. If you want, I could share her contact details with you and also introduce you. Its always good for do-gooders to connect !


Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Osai's picture

Re: Absolutely

Dear Stella,

Sounds like a plan. Please do link me with Barbara. It would be good to know what solutions are being done/planned especially within Africa.

Thanks a lot dear.

Best always,

Twitter: @livingtruely

loyce's picture

Yes, technology liberates

Dear Stella,
You are a super star. If we had 1000 stellas in the world today, the situation and status of women would be completely different. I love your creatively and energy. Thank you for sharing this exciting news and indeed there is alot to learn. I also initiated a similar project with grassroots women in Eastern Uganda and opene for the a blog and it was exciting working with rural and semi-educated and non educated women and the excitement of getting connected. Stella I need to get in touch with you for more ideas. Please shere with me your email and skype. You may not remember me, but I was one of the applicants of VOF2011 with you

Thanks, Loyce

Follow me on twitter:@livelyloyce

Stella Paul's picture


Dear Loyce

My memory did become a bit rusty, I admit, but hey sister, thank you so much for helping me reconnect! Its always inspiring to be in touch with people who work to bring positive changes and I consider myself extremely privileged to know yet another one in you here! My email id is and skype is stellasglobe Please feel free to write and share anything. I look forward to hear from you! Meanwhile, very thankful for this comment and very inspired to know of your project. Wish you greater heights and success each day! Love!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

shamee's picture


Stella Paul's picture

Thank you!

Thanks Shamee! Glad to share!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Shilpa Balakrishnan's picture


That's very nice of you. Everyone doesn't have a mind and heart as yours. I had a bad impression about this new new technology mobile phones,now understood that it can also be very useful,it can also be used to transform a village...

Stella Paul's picture

I am sorry

I am sorry to hear that you had a bad deal with mobile phones Shilpa. But you are not alone, a lot of us have had one ow two nightmares you know. That's the thing about technology - it has its own rough sides, but we just have to leave them aside and try to see good. I wish you well!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Y's picture

Your post and the connections

Your post and the connections made with it are proof of the power of World pulse. thank you for posting.


noreez's picture

Well Done!

We applaud you for your effort in helping other women be

connected as well as get access to information through technology like mobile phones.

It's good that you gave her the chance to learn more about the ways she can use that information to improve her life.

Continue your great effort and help out as many as you can!!

Well Done Stella!!

Dr.Noriah Ismail
APB Senior Lecturer
Universiti Teknologi MARA
Segamat, Johor

Karly N's picture

Empowering and Inspirational!

Dear Stella,

Thank you so much for sharing this amazing story. Your words are inspirational and so empowering. It is so important to share how one seemingly small act can create such enormous and important change! The ripples of the connection that you helped facilitate will help transform an entire village, and to know that Jyoti now has the tools to help continue this transformation is amazing.

Thank you for believing in the women of this village, and for helping to give voice to all of the women out there who just need that one connection. For you to foster that change is so impactful.



AlexandraF's picture


What a fascinating story. Thank you so much, Stella, for showing us how technology such as a simple mobile phone with a camera can be used to connect. I always wondered how people can access sms or the internet, but I was not thinking of the many free services that are available and can be used to send messages and reports.

Thanks for passing on your technology skills to other women and helping them have a voice. That is so powerful!


ccontreras's picture

Very Inspiring!

I really enjoyed reading Jyoti's story through you Stella. I think that it is very powerful to see how a something as small as a smartphone helped her connect with many others!!! It is very inspiring!!!

"I embrace emerging experience. I am a butterfly. Not a butterfly collector." - Stafford

Jumi's picture

Such depth

Dear Stella:

That was such a lovely report of your interaction with Jyoti. You're absolutely right; there are many more Jyoti out there in the world. We will keep working to reach them all, one Jyoti at a time. Well done to you and Jyoti

Fiona J McKenzie's picture

Feedback from Listener Programme

Dear Stella,

I'm one of the volunteer Listeners in the Women Weave the Web campaign. My apologies but you should have had this feedback by yesterday as part of the Listener Feedback!

I'm really impressed by the simplicity of your scheme for bringing the tools for basic journalism to remote areas and I think it's an idea that could be used in many places. Congratulations on having the idea and following it through!

I have a few questions and it would be great if you have the time to answer as it would help in writing up my report on the project.

How are the basic costs of the cell phone and the ongoing monthly costs met?
Would it help Jyoti to have contact with other women in similar situations who are also using this technology so they could share tactics/ideas?
Is there any form of follow-up from you to either monitor how Jyoti is getting on or to respond/advise on editorial issues/ideas?
How did you select your key list of contacts and are you aware of how they're resonding to the information she provides?
How does Jyoti feel about the project at this stage?

Would love to discuss this project more with you,

Very best wishes,


Fiona McKenzie

Tam's picture

May Strong and Gentle Breezes Carry You

Dear Stella,

Your report makes me want to cry in joy. That you have been able to assist Jyoty in such a profound way gives such hope for her life and for the lives you will both touch from here on. You have also educated me in how such a small and vital piece of equipment can empower women in very dangerous situations. Your information on how extremely controlled women continue to be, is information that by sending it out as you have, brightens the spotlight. Your work is truly the groundwork that is saving women's lives. I can only hope that your example expands all of our ideas in how to bring safety and equality to all.

With Love in Sisterhood,


Leigh Cuen's picture

Thank you for sharing!

Sharp, informative writing combined with eloquent storytelling. What a lovely piece of useful inspiration.
Thank you for sharing. :)

Leigh Cuen, @La__Cuen
Like Leigh on Facebook

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