- Associated Press - Saturday, January 25, 2014

MIDDLETOWN, Md. (AP) - In many parts of Africa, a cellphone is much more than a phone; it’s a flashlight, a watch, a calculator, a camera and a radio.

In Tanzania, where mobile banking is common, phones provide women with a way to make secure banking transactions, monitor market prices for their crops, receive doctors’ prescriptions and health care reminders, and stay abreast of changing weather.

Two Middletown sisters, Kim and Kristen Waeber, started a company in November - Kidogo Kidogo, which translates to “little by little” in Swahili - with the aim of helping lift the financial barrier that prevents women in Tanzania from having access to mobile technology.

Kim Waeber works full-time with a U.S. government contractor in Richmond, Va. Kristen Waeber spent some time in Cameroon and Kenya, and works for a telecommunications company in Tanzania, which exposed her to the women’s predicament.

Kidogo Kidogo sells iPhone cases here in the U.S. that do a lot more than look good and protect phones, Kim Waeber said.

“They are putting life-changing mobile technology into the hands of women across Tanzania,” she said.

“When you buy a case, we buy a phone, or phone credits, to give to a woman who could not otherwise afford it. Think of it as Tom’s Shoes, but with cellphones.” For every purchase of footwear, Tom’s Shoes gives a pair of shoes to a needy person.

The cases cost $30. Designed by Tanzanian artist Sarah Markes, they feature illustrations of the country’s wildlife.

Telephones costing between $15 and $20 are distributed through established nonprofit partners already working in Tanzania, where only 36 percent of women own mobile phones.

The initial cost of a mobile handset is the main roadblock to phone ownership, the sisters said. Mobile phones in Tanzania are prepaid, and owners can buy credits, similar to prepaid phones in the U.S.

The phones provide a lot more than just a way to communicate with family and friends. Women with mobile phones report a much higher feeling of personal safety than those without, Kim Waeber said.

Eddie Main of Middletown is proud of his two business-minded nieces, who also are former star Middletown High School athletes.

“Both of their parents died at a very young age, and what these girls have done is amazing,” Main said. “They have both traveled the world extensively and really have taken an interest in Africa.”

The Waebers are in talks with several other nonprofits, one of which is involved in mobile health, and have partnered with Sea Sense, a nongovernmental environmental organization in Tanzania. A portion of proceeds from sales of the sea turtle design case will be distributed to Sea Sense, which works closely with coastal communities in Tanzania to conserve and protect endangered marine species, Kim Waeber said.

The sisters have also partnered with FINCA, a global charitable microfinance organization, whose mission is to provide financial services to the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs so they can create jobs, build assets, and improve their standard of living. They already have a first drop with FINCA scheduled and are excited to get mobile technology into the hands of deserving women.

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Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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