Interview: Tantine continues to educate Rwandan teens

Tantine Founders
Tantine continues to educate Rwandan youth. (image source: The New Times | Rwanda)
Tantine Founders
Tantine continues to educate Rwandan youth. (image source: The New Times | Rwanda)

A lack of awareness of reproductive health knowledge by many young people in Rwanda has prompted the creation of Tantine, which is an online platform that aims to inform and advise individuals about reproductive health knowledge. The platform was created by two medical students from the University of Rwanda.

Muzungu Hirwa Sylvania and Uhirwa Sylvie began by creating a Facebook group which consisted of mentors who were medical students, as well as various refugee teens, who accessed the group via the refugee camp administration’s smartphones and laptops.

Tantine offers mentorship and counselling services to Rwandan teenagers, which is provided by a team of professional medical doctors and psychologists to deliver reproductive health education. The app has helped many young people in Rwanda and continues to make an impact. Tantine was developed through an innovation accelerator programme that supports young entrepreneurs, an initiative of the United Nations Population Fund. IT News Africa interviewed the founders of Tantine to find out about the inspiration behind the platform, challenges and future plans.

What inspired you to start Tantine?
It all started in 2015 when medical students of the University of Rwanda went on a trip to the Mahama refugee camp. Upon seeing the youth living in the hard conditions of the camp; on top of that, struggling with the burden of unwanted pregnancies, HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and girls running into prostitution at a young age, we decided not to remain silent, but rather find a way to tackle the reproductive health issue.

Being born and bred in a country that is home to major ICT based solutions, the distance difference from the refugee camp to our university was no longer a problem because the internet was to be the bridge between us and the teens of the refugee camp and the whole of the Rwandan community.

By then, we started by creating a Facebook group and then won a competition organised by the Makerere University of Public Health together with the Resilient Africa Network called “Youth Spark Innovation Grant”. We then used the grant to build the Tantine website. Later, we won the Innovation Accelerator competition (iAccelerator), which helped us build the Android App.

What were some of the challenges you faced when you first started the project?
Young people in the camp don’t have access to the internet. We used to the funds from Makerere University to buy tablets for them and internet bundles. We did, however, miss some details as they don’t always have access to electricity. And so we looked for ways to bring in solar panels. These were some of the tough challenges we faced.

Also, in the beginning, people doubted the information we provided for they thought that if it is from the internet it was not trustworthy. We held many meetings with the Rwanda Biomedical Center and with the support of our stakeholders; UNFPA and Imbuto Foundation, we convinced them to give us a chance to show them how Tantine works.

What role do you think technology plays in shaping society?
Technology makes the accessibility and delivery of services easier and faster. Another fact is that technology makes life easier and enjoyable by simplifying the work; all for the betterment of our society, a tangible example is that to someone having the Tantine App on her phone may no longer have to struggle on how to count her menstrual cycle as the app has a tracker for that, which makes it a whole lot easier.

Do you have partners that you work with, if yes who and if no who do you wish to partner with?
Yes. We are thankful for Resilient Africa Network (RAN) and Makerere University who gave the initial funds through the “Youth Spark competition Grant” to build the website and provide internet access to the refugee camp.

We are also thankful to the Imbuto Foundation, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and DFID who helped in the advancement and development of the Tantine App.

We are also now working to develop partnerships with government institutions related to health, Youth, ICT and gender. We are also interested in the private sector like hospitals and private clinics; telecom companies. We would also like to partner with anyone who would join and help the cause of the services we provide about sexual and reproductive health.

The App/site can be used to help teens in Rwanda, are you looking to expand into the rest of East Africa or possibly the continent?
Reproductive health is needed everywhere and still is a big issue to tackle especially on our continent. This is a pilot project to test whether our innovation can work within the country of Rwanda. We are sure it can, but we don’t know as yet the best way to use the internet to teach individuals about healthcare. Rwanda is our home and gives better options and opportunities for startups and testing.

What has the reception from the government and the public been like?
Rwanda is a country of ICT and innovations. Besides Rwandans like new things. In the community, the project was well received. On the part of the government, especially our University, the feedback was just amazing. We hope the impact will match their expectations.

Have you seen any improvements in terms of reproductive health knowledge of teenagers?
It is too early to say that there’s an improvement in terms of reproductive health knowledge for teenagers. There are many programs out there providing information on the subject… so it is hard to confidently say that the improvement is because of Tantine. Before launching the project, we did a survey entitled “Assessment of reproductive health knowledge in young people and their attitude toward the use of ICT in SRH Learning”. We will continue to monitor and evaluate to see the improvement.

By Fundisiwe Maseko
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