As an American company, Dimagi has access to resources and technical expertise that can help effect change. However, we aren’t the real change-makers; our goal is to empower people to make their own change. I was lucky enough to see this in action on World AIDS Day in Dodoma.

Since February, Dimagi and its partners, ITIDO and the University of Washington, have been working with a growing group of Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) in Dodoma, Tanzania. These women live in the communities they serve, and their only required skill is literacy. We arm them with Nokia phones, applications developed on Dimagi’s CommCare platform, and some basic training. Every month they pay a visit to each of the 100 households in their area, using CommCare applications to collect data and dispense education. In return, we give them 5,000 Tanzanian Shillings (or $3.41) per week, which doesn’t go very far even in Tanzania.

Given this little bit of investment, these women quickly started to realize their potential. On August 2nd, they formed their own association, Miyuji Ipagala Chamwino (MIC), named for the three regions they serve. MIC, now a registered Tanzanian association, has a strong organizational structure and highly motivated sub-committees. Members give 1/5 of their weekly earnings to the MIC treasurer, who puts it in the association’s bank account. They use this account to give each other small loans; many women have started their own small businesses this way. The development committee is now looking into starting a MIC business.

December 1 was World AIDS Day. None of the CommCare applications in Dodoma are specific to AIDS, though it’s clearly an issue that affects the CHVs and their communities. MIC took this opportunity to head up its own project. After some debate, members voted to use MIC funds to buy some small gifts, which they planned to give out during a visit to the Dodoma hospital.

But they didn’t stop there. They organized regional government officials, a representative from the Red Cross Chamwino office, and a reporter from the Tanzania Broadcasting Company (TBC) to join the event. The head official from Miyuji, who also happens to be a UNICEF regional coordinator, was so impressed with the CHVs that he pledged transportation to take them to the hospital, as well as 100 blankets to give out as gifts. Everyone wanted to be part of the event.

At the hospital, the CHVs talked with patients and gave out the gifts. The TBC reporter interviewed patients, the head of the hospital, and local politicians alongside representatives from MIC. It was a publicity bonanza, raising awareness for World AIDS Day and increasing the CHVs credibility in the community. These women proved to their community, to Dimagi, and to themselves that they are change-makers.

The weekly CHV meeting opens with a prayer. It’s usually about the same every time, but a couple months ago, the MIC Chair, Salma, did something different. She got down on her knees and thanked God for her work. Before, she said, she was a typical Tanzanian woman, a housewife. She earned no respect from her community or her husband. Now, she has her own phone that she uses to do important work. People in her community know and respect her, and her husband sees she has value. She sees she has value. This was a blessing she never expected.