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Hear 'Our Cries': new app helps Tanzanian students fight abuse on buses

by Kizito Makoye | @kizmakoye | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 12 February 2016 14:00 GMT

In this 2007 file photo, Muslim children attend a Koranic school in the village of Bwejuu on Zanzibar island, Tanzania. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

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1.4 million school students in Dar es Salaam are reportedly beaten or in some cases sexually assaulted on public transport

DAR ES SALAAM, Feb 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It's 7:45 in the morning and Zulfa Khalid, a student at Mugabe Secondary School in Dar es Salaam, is stuck at Tegeta bus terminal, sweating in the rising heat having waited more than two hours to get on a bus.

"I woke up very early today, imagine I am still here and nobody wants to let me on," she complained.

Fifteen-year-old Khalid is among hundreds of thousands of students in Tanzania's largest city who suffer taunts and abuse at the hands of conductors on crowded buses, popularly known as dala dala, because they pay a reduced fare.

"I have to be very tough to get in otherwise I will stay here forever," she said. "I sometimes miss important lessons and teachers won't go over it again because they don't understand why I'm late," she said.

In an effort to help fellow students, Modesta Joseph, another 15-year-old high school student, has created an app that gives pupils a platform to vent their frustrations.

Named "Our Cries", the mobile app allows students to report abuse to the police and the transportation authority.

"When we are humiliated and adults see it, authorities can do something but because they are busy doing other things, we end up suffering," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

There are about 1.4 million primary and secondary school students in Dar es Salaam, who are often punched, beaten or in some cases sexually assaulted when using public transport, Joseph said.

Students can report their "cries" anonymously to the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA) through a secure system.

Those without access to internet can send text messages or write down their complaints and post them in special wooden boxes placed around secondary schools, she said.

"When we receive such reports and evidence, we forward them to SUMATRA for action," she said.

Ziada Mwakilusa, also 15, suffered a fractured ankle when a bus conductor pushed her last year.

"I used my mobile phone to report the incident and within days the suspect was traced, fined and made to pay for my treatment," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Since it was created in 2014, "Our Cries" has received and filed hundreds of reports to the authorities and now has a popular website, www.ourcries.com.

"I haven't tried that app myself but I am happy something is being done to end this mess," said Khalid, still waiting at the bus stop. "I can't wait to see those nasty guys severely punished."

"Our Cries", which is supported by SUMATRA, grew out of a coding club aimed at empowering women and girls and attended by Modesta Joseph.

The young campaigner is now the winner of several awards.

"My future plan is to expand this service to other regions, she said. "We want to change society's attitude from 'seats are only reserved for adults' to 'seats are for everyone'"

(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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