Kenyan blogger Sitawa Wafula has emerged one of the five winners of the Google Africa competition Africa Connected.
Ms Wafula, a rape survivor who is both epileptic and bipolar, says she had difficulty accessing information on both rape and the bipolar disorder leading her to set up a blog journal championing mental health rights across East Africa.
“Even with the blog you can see that there are not many comments, but I get a lot of emails from people who can relate to what I am a feeling, which tells you that some of these things are still considered that they need to be discussed in hushed tones,” she says.
Ms Wafula says her win is a victory for everyone who has ever suffered from a mental condition as the taboo topic has now been placed on the global map.
Ms Wafula, like all the other five winners, received $25,000 (Sh2.1 million) to invest in her ideas and have greater social impact.
At the moment she is training people who have had mental challenges to use blogs as an outlet for their frustration and as a place to share the successes they have experienced so far.
“With the money, I would like to start a resource centre for people with mental health problems so that people with problems can have a place to acquire more information. Getting from my own experience, we lack information. Creating the structure and support system will make a difference for people who come in,” she says.
The other winners include Eunice Namirembe who runs The Medical Concierge Group that helps Ugandan communities access quality healthcare and information; Nigerian Eseoghene Odiete who learned how to create handbags using Google Search and YouTube and Eric Obuh, a former dumpsite scavenger who has recorded songs and shares them on YouTube.
The other was Christopher Panford who runs a transport company and uses Google Maps to constantly monitor the location of his vehicles in Ghana.
The competition was launched last year to highlight stories of how the Internet has been able to transform the lives of people across the continent.
It sought the best stories of how the Internet has been used to either solve a problem, create opportunities for individuals and communities as well as enable people earn a living.
While the competition received 2,200 submissions from 35 countries only ten finalists were picked to attend the Africa Connected web summit at Villa Rosa Kempinsiki in Nairobi.
Among them were three Nigerians, two Kenyans, a South African, Ghanaian, Ugandan, Senegalese and Zimbabwean.
Google also awarded the other five finalists to enable them expand their ventures. Tim McGuire, Nqobizitha Mlilo, Mayowa Adegbile, Lamine Mbengue and Steve Kyenze each received $10,000 (Sh864,000) for reaching the competition finals.
Mr Kyenza runs Uweza Aid Foundation, a non-profit that fights poverty in Kibera, inspiring underprivileged children through art and enabling them to sell their works online in order to support their education.
Speaking during the web summit, Affiong Osuchukwu, the Google lead for the Africa Connected initiative said that while there were just five winners, the continent had many inspiring success stories that needed to be told.
“With Africa Connected, we wanted to celebrate how the Web is changing lives in Africa, and show how it is contributing to the socio-economic development of the continent,” said Ms Osuchukwu.
According to Google only 16 per cent of Africa’s one billion people are online, depicting the need to expand Internet access throughout the continent.
Pierre Dandjinou of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said there was need to expand Internet connections across the region and urged governments to invest in bringing the undersea cables that surround the continent inland.
“Fifteen years later we are not using the Internet as much as we should be doing mainly due to the lack of broadband facilities. Most of the data we are trafficking today is videos, which need a bigger bandwidth which some of the countries still don’t have.