Kuyu Project team members Victor Miclovich and Deb Elzie interviewed Shikoh Gitau about her interests in tech, mentoring and her M-ganga mobile app. Shikoh recently won the 2010 Google Anita Borg Memorial Award for her work on the M-ganga mobile app. She is a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Deb: How did you get interested in tech?
Victor: When did you fall in love with computers?
Shikoh: I got Interested while I was in high school...the very first time I saw a computer I really wanted to know how it worked, it fascinated me that someone could press a few keys and there you have something on the screen‬. I‪t was a challenge that was too enticing to ignore‬.

Deb: Did you have strong mentor(s) in high school?
Shikoh: I would not call her a mentor...but if I were to write down people who contributed to my life she would be on that list. ‪Mrs Loise Koile she was my ‬m‪aths teacher, she had this motto that if you did 10 sums a day you can be good at ‬m‪aths and I believed her...I started my 10 sums per day challenged and by end of 3rd form I was really good in maths‬.

Deb: ‪So how did you learn all of what you needed to know in tech? Was it mostly self-taught?‬
Shikoh: Am your usual book worm so I read ahead of the teacher... Mhmm...I did a BSc in Computer Science.

Deb: ‪In high school did anyone help you see that as the right path for you?‬
Shikoh: I‪t was emphasized that there is importance in getting an education for a better tomorrow‬,‪ but there was nothing long lasting...you know somethin‬g‪ to keep looking to‬ forward to...other than the usual car, better job etc...‪I have to say one of the reasons I am putting myself out there as a mentor is because I never had someone to look up to‬.

Deb: ‬Y‪es. I understand‬. I too in high school had no mentors and no one thought about girls going into tech fields.
Shikoh: ‬A‪ctually the other day I was in a brainstorm session with some women in computing and the conclusion was that if we are to encourage women to join to computing we need to start at high‬ ‪school and lower because that‬'‪s when their identities are formed as to what they can or cannot do‬.

Deb: I totally agree. What type of forum are you involved with?
Shikoh: It is the Anita Borg one, ABI is involved in getting more women into computing.

Deb: And it was the 2010 Google Anita Borg Memorial Award that you won for your work on the M-ganga mobile app correct? ‬
Shikoh: Yes, Google has honoured Anita Borg for her work in getting women in computing by offering the Award‬ and ABI is the institution she founded.

Victor: What do you think students should do in order to become influential citizens and change makers?‬
Shikoh: I think it has to start with one‬'s‪ self, one has to evaluate what their passion... and for me, being a Christian this means that which breaks my heart‬. In my case it breaks my heart to see so many people in poverty and in great suffering all because they lack information so I am dedicating a big part of my life to creating links between available information and the people who need it.

Deb: I think you have hit on something there with linkages. That is one of our objectives with the Kuyu Project. We want to link teens to good models of other Africans using technology to empower communities.
Shikoh: I think that is a brilliant idea...I wish I had someone to tell me that I can make a difference using technology a long time ago, but am grateful for the experience that got me here, now I can help others.

Deb: Great, we are glad that you're involved. We did also want to ask you about your work with your M-ganga mobile app. Tell us about that project a little.
Shikoh: ‪Now the challenge is to automate this across the various levels of health care using mobile phones‬. ‪So I am working with an exciting group of people some who are working directly with traditional healers, I want to personally do a study on how they use their mobile phones on a daily basis and tailor the system to this mental model‬. I need to finish my PhD hopefully end of this year. ‪So far the proposed system has five different users...the traditional healers,‬ ‪community health workers, doctors, pharmacologist and the government‬. ‪The first two are almost exclusively on mobile phones, which they will use for diagnosis, treatment information and advisory as well as collaborative healing sessions (TH)‬. The web interface is for authentication, and learning, because based on my interviews with the medics who have worked with traditional healers, modern medicine leaves a lot to be desired when compared to traditional healing in as far as the patient's mental and spiritual comfort is concerned. As one of them put it "healing is about faith" and doctors do not have a lot of that to spread around.

Deb: The project is one that you've put much thought into. And it is fascinating your ideas to combine the tech piece with community based knowledge. Often we in the tech world design devices and applications without thinking about how our users will respond to our designs.

Shikoh: ooh well, it is something I had to learn the hard way...my initial design for masters project failed miserably, as my users rejected it, so we had to start from the ground up, creating a new interface and system...so for my PhD I spent about 8 months just hanging around my users to see how they use their mobile phones. I introduced them to mobile internet and waited some more to see how they interact with them, basically I employ participatory action research whose results are translated into a tech design...but one other thing I have learnt, not everything can be translated into technology. Some things will end up in a user manual, training course etc... this is why M4D is such a rich experience, you never know what you are going to get.

Deb: I like that, always something new to learn. So let me ask you one last question. What advice do you have for teens who want to learn more about using tech and digital media to aid their communities?
Shikoh: The first thing which is already an advantage to teens in communities is they already know their community, the second thing would be find what the community really wants and finally explore in as many ways as possible where existing technology (including mobile phones, community radio etc) can be stretched and mashed up to create a solution...no one technology is the messiah.

Deb: Shikoh, that's so true. Tech is certainly not a cure all and no one technology fits all situations. Well, we look forward to following your work and hope that you will continue to have time to share with teens at the Kuyu Project about your experiences in your field.
Shikoh: It was fun doing this, in spite the seacom woes, yes most certainly I would love to contribute where I can.