SafePal is a true testimony to young people’s ability to find solutions to their challenges – as long as they can access the required resources. A group of innovators, Emmanuel Kateregga, Joshua Okello, Racheal Monica Achen Gitta Brian, Jingo Kisakye and Nurah Shariff Nantume looked critically at the fact that young people are the most tech savvy Ugandans, but also the ones most exposed to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) challenges.
Their creative young minds were quick to pose a problem-solving question: what if this tech awareness was employed to solve the challenges? Today they are being commended nationwide for an invention that could quickly and easily address the issue of sexual violence reporting among young people in Uganda.
In a situation where a person has fallen victim to sexual violence, they often need a friend to act as a safe haven for them, and that is exactly what SafePal is designed to be. It’s that friend you can talk to without any fear of being judged or misunderstood, and with certainty that they would help you. SafePal has a mobile and a web portal, and works as a reporting and referral platform for young survivors of sexual violence.
Racheal, Nurah and Emmanuel are products of Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU)’s Peer Educators Academy. Racheal was a member of the 2014 class while Nurah and Emmanuel graduated a year later. They all took part in the #Hack4Youth Hackathon, organised by UNFPA Uganda and Reach A Hand Uganda In Collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MiT) and Sana Mobile in 2015.
“At the Hackathon, we were tasked to identify an SRHR challenge and come up with a technology solution to address it. We zeroed down on problem of sexual violence against young people and initially thought of a game, but we wound up with a reporting app,” Nurah said.
The SafePal app boasts of a database of health centres and other service providers able to provide immediate medical aid for victims of sexual violence, as well as psychosocial and legal support through a range of civil society organizations (CSOs). Once opened, the app sends the user messages about why and how they should report sexual violence against themselves or a friend.
“We also figured that some people may not be able to report cases themselves but their friends could. So we provided an option for reporting for someone else,” Nurah noted.
As such, anyone with the app can report a sexual violence situation as soon as they hear of one. After following the prompts, the reporter gets a code that works as a reference when they reach a civil society organization.
“The code helps us promote confidentiality. We wouldn’t want names of the victims or numbers of reporters to appear,” said Joshua Okello, the Technical Development Lead of the team.
With the app, the reporter can be found through a GPS location reference that is sent to the most appropriate CSO. It further eases the reporting process by providing the reporter with contacts for all the CSOs they can call if they have phone credit, and a toll-free number in case they don’t have credit at the time they need to report the incident.
The challenge is ensuring access to SafePal in hard to reach areas; for young people with no mobile phones or in places of low internet connectivity. To this issue, Emmanuel refers to their prospective partnership with UNICEF:
“UNICEF has Digital Drums, which are solar charged computers that are deployed in community settings and used to distribute information in low connectivity areas to young users. We want to integrate our web portal into those drums so the young people can report from those computers.”
The SafePal Portal was launched on Friday 7th July 2017 at Makerere University, Kampala. The team is now looking at how the app can be marketed, and are focusing on working with selected schools and churches.
SafePal is the first of its kind. The team looks forward to spreading its wings to other parts of the country in the near future, and eventually the rest of the world. For now, the focus is on making it work in Kampala.
According to the Uganda Police Crime Report of 2014, an approximated 32,000 cases of sexual violence happen in Uganda each year. Of these, about 7,000 are reported and yet the victims are not referred – for two main reasons: fear of speaking out and fear of discrimination. With an app like SafePal, these numbers could soon be a thing of the past.