CAPE TOWN – Two UCT computer science honours students found opportunities during the Covid-19 pandemic to develop apps to benefit the Ocean View community in Cape Town.
While the lockdown may have introduced many unforeseen challenges, Mapule Madzena and Ndinelao Iitumba found ways to rise above the difficulties and used their skills online to make a difference in the lives of others.
Madzena is developing a mobile app to link domestic workers with potential employers while Iitumba is using technology to connect community members with customers who
are keen to buy face masks.
Madzena, who hails from rural Limpopo, is also committed to using her talents to drive change. “I love working and interacting with people. I want to use my skills to engage and help the community.”
Madzena identified Ocean View as a community in desperate need during the pandemic with high levels of unemployment and found a solution with her mobile app assisting domestic workers who are looking for jobs with the platform connecting them with employers.
“I grew up in a community where there is very little technology. Domestic workers go from door to door looking for work. People often slam the door in front of them. It can be very discouraging. I wanted to find a better way of doing things.”
The app allows domestic workers to register, sign in and add further information and preferences with contact details and areas where they would like to work. Their profiles can also display their references, skillset and choose whether they are looking for a company or individual. With their profiles set up, job opportunities will be displayed filtered by their preferences set.
Iitumba had been at UCT for barely a month when the coronavirus hit Cape Town, where she had just arrived after moving from her home country of Namibia. Instead of sitting back, Iitumba plunged into a research project that dovetails with a very real need of COVID-19 – making face masks to protect people from infection – while helping to create employment in Ocean View.
“Many people from bandwidth-constrained communities can make suitable face masks, but they do not have access to face mask seekers,” explained Iitumba.
Recognising a need and an opportunity, her app brings the two together. Iitumba said she hopes to help seamstresses from the community make an income and at the same time get face masks to as many community members as possible to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
For Iitumba, it’s a win-win initiative. “I love this project. It goes beyond just earning marks. It’s about helping the community.”
The app is being co-designed with community members provides many useful features like guidelines on how to make easily washable and comfortable face masks and apart from linking sellers and buyers can also be used as a platform to donate face masks and materials to a community in-need.
Both apps are part of the iNethi organisation, which translates to ‘network’ in isiXhosa, which was initiated by UCT’s Department of Computer Science that aims to work with partners and communities to help locals to tap into their creativity, innovation and other resources and has set up local servers connected to Wi-Fi access points in Ocean View near the southern tip of Cape Town.
Both students follow up with the community remotely through online meetings and messaging but are looking forward to getting back to Ocean View when the lockdown restrictions ease.
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