Using the mobile instant messaging platform MXit, Marlon Parker, an information technology lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, has over the past seven months initiated a rehabilitation programme for drug addicts in the Cape Flats region that has spread out as far as the Eastern Cape. His aim is to use technology to empower underprivileged communities in an area that is rife with poverty, unemployment, drugs and gangsterism.
Marlon Parker, who runs a drug rehabilitation programme using mobile instand messaging platform MXit. Pic powered by Nokia.
Parker's success is evident in that, over this short period of time, more than 500 people have subscribed for MXit substance abuse counselling without any sort of advertising or PR campaign. His only means of spreading the word is through word-of-mouth. Parker is hoping for schools to come on board and has even driven to certain areas to hand out posters.
The project, according to Parker, was formed due to a need within the community for voluntary work: "The key thing was [that young people] don't know where to go to; even though there [are] numbers of people [to contact], they feel that people judge them. They don't feel they have the security of remaining anonymous. And the thought came about, seeing that we have 9 - 10 million people using MXit, [with] most of them being young people, why can't we use that tool to see if we can't reach an audience where people can actually get guidance... with associatives of drugs and gang activities?" Online counselling in a safe environment
By adding "Impact" as a contact to one's MXit profile, one is able to receive online counselling at a next-to-nothing cost in a safe environment where your identity may be kept secret. Addicts are then invited to visit the Impact Direct Ministries Centre, a local NGO in Bridgetown, Athlone, for more intimate one-on-one counselling. Counselling takes place every Tuesday and Thursday for two hours. The project serves as a gateway to reach those who believed they had no other avenue in getting help.
From drug counselling the project has branched out into other areas and different problems. Parker also has a project involving mothers called Mom 2.0, which addresses problems such as abortion, single-parenting, HIV/AIDS and works on the same concept. Parker even participates in counselling MXit addicts.
One of the biggest challenges Parker is facing in hosting this community service is the lack of resources.
"Currently we don't have computers; we're using three computers at the NGO,” he says. “ Sometimes when it's really flooded with people's requests, we have to [borrow] laptops from people we know just so we can get online. We don't have any funding, we don't have any facilities.All voluntary work
“All the people… doing the work are doing it voluntary; the guys are doing counselling offline as well, and [they] have all been ex-drug addicts or ex-gang members... We trained them up in technology and they're using technology to empower others basically. Many of them have been off drugs for more than a year... They've not got any form of income...so they basically have their families supporting them.
“The biggest challenge is how do we keep them, because they are at a stage where they could go out and find work, but they are just so passionate, their hearts are in it."
The project at this stage has been formally endorsed by MXit.•
Marlon Parker is an information technology lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Faculty of Informatics and Design. He is also a social entrepreneur and web and mobile enthusiast, who uses technology to empower communities. For more on Parker and his projects, go to his personal blog
, the Reconstructed Blog
or follow him on microblogging platform Twitter.