Archive for June 2009
iSTEP Webpage is finally UP!!
Thanks to detailed insights from everyone in the team, including our advisors, as well as TechBridgeWorld staff members Erin and Sarah, we have our own iSTEP 2009 – Tanzania website up and running. It was amazing to see how our web presence evolved, starting out as a blog with some static information and changing into a multi-featured website.
The idea of having a blog as the main feature with static information about the team and the projects(as pages) stemmed from work I have been implementing for some small organizations here in Doha. For iSTEP, we started by creating a blog hosted on the WordPress(WP) site, but soon after launching our blog, we realized plug-ins could not be installed on blogs hosted by WordPress (Shakir made a boo-boo). That’s when the idea of having our own iSTEP website, with blog and Twitter feeds as components came into play. Thanks to quick thinking and scripting by Anthony, we had a skeleton up very soon after the decision. From there, it was just making design and language edits.
It was amazing how we made use of the different time zones – changes made by me in the day in Doha (so at night in Pittsburgh) would be reviewed by Pittsburgh during their day, and then more suggestions would be made while I slept at night. Those changes would then be implemented by me the next morning (after I woke up to multiple “Website changes” emails). All in all, it was a very good web development experience (and I thought I understood CSS before this… )
Aside from the website, real development on our projects is coming our way now. All three projects are entering or have entered the development phase and now our real technical skills will be tested. I strongly believe the team can handle whatever we decide to develop.
I plan on meeting with Anthony, Brad, and Freddie in a couple hours to get started on the Braille Tutor Project. We’ve already developed a HelloWorld for the Literacy Project that works on Hatem’s phone (I’m still hard at work on it though—Nokia E71 should be able to handle a HelloWorld). For the Social Workers Applications the back-end development is already underway, and a simple prototype should be out soon.
In other news, the Doha campus is decently busy now that the Summer College Preview Program is underway. The students stay here for 4 weeks, so my lunch breaks get more interesting. Also, my Ping Pong skills are going up with the new table in the Rec Room.
PS: Haaaaaaatemmmmmmm (how could I forget?)
Our team marked the halfway point of our experience this past week. As a result, we wanted to share some of the things we have learnt over the past five weeks.
-Language barriers: Anytime you enter a country with an unfamiliar language, there will be times of misunderstandings and difficulties. Learning basic phrases in another language shows respect of a new culture.
What we’ve learned: The most important word to learn in any new language is thank you—in Swahili thank you is asante. It’s the word our team found itself using the most often, and as a result, the Swahili word they heard the most was karibu (Swahili for you’re welcome).
-Delays and plans: Delays are inevitable, and expect plans to fall apart in the field, as not much is predictable.
What we’ve learned: Don’t get unnecessarily frustrated. Always step back and put any delays in perspective, reflecting on how this will change your plan, but also how you can work around it–there’s always a way!
-Charity vs. partnership: The differences in nomenclature mean something.
What we’ve learned: Charities offer help more directly, whereas partnerships work to help build skills and then later help themselves. We have found that charity work may be more rewarding in the short term, and at times, possibly easier, but partnerships really do push communities toward growth and meeting the needs of a sustainable project, which (hopefully) have significant long-term effects.
-Paperwork—it’s an inevitable part of field work! There’s a lot, it’s tough to get the appropriate approval needed for research, and there are often unexpected requirements and signatures needed.
What we’ve learned: Luckily this is where teamwork and advance preparation come in handy. Planning accordingly for the bureaucratic delays in the beginning, as well as getting an early start on completing any paperwork can really help to save time down the road.
-Assumptions: Assumptions about the way things work are easy to make.
What we’ve learned: cultures are different, so don’t assume anything. Our team assumed that you needed an appointment to see city government officers, but really you just need to keep showing up and knocking on their door until they answer.
In summation, as our team member Bea wrote, “Field work is tough; field work involving human participants is even more challenging!” but we imagine the results are well worth it.
First of all, congratulations to Hasheem Thabeet who last night became the first Tanzanian player to be drafted into the NBA. After being born and raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the same city that our team is currently stationed, Thabeet attended the University of Connecticut before being selected with the second pick of the 2009 NBA Draft. Good luck in Memphis, Thabeet!
While last week we battled the storm to get back into the office, this week we encountered a different sort of storm. Looking back to Timi’s post last week you can see that the ground team has been meeting with a lot of the people who will eventually be using whatever we manage to develop. Through interviews with various parties involved we’re finally beginning to collect a comprehensive set of needs that we can try to address. What this means is that on Wednesday we examined these and put together an intense brainstorm session where we talked and threw around ideas about what and how we can try to solve. It was an invigorating session and when so much of our conversation has been over e-mail, to have everybody from our advisers in TechBridgeWorld to the members on the ground in one conversation produced a lot of interesting dialog that still continues to permeate e-mails days later. Every day since Wednesday I’ve been returning to my notes from the meeting and feeling a bit overwhelmed at how much came out of the meeting and trying to decide how much of it can actually be accomplished. Regardless, next week I believe we’ll be having another meeting and I hope it’ll be as fruitful as this one. If anything was clear from this week it’s that we’ve got a team with a lot of creative ideas, the next 4 weeks will show whether we can actually do something with them.
Last weekend’s trip to Zanzibar was, in a word, awesome. Even though we were only there for two nights, there’s a ton to talk about – from stumbling around in Stone Town to mysteriously running into fellow UDSM students from Georgetown at Nungwi – but I’m going to focus on Sunday.
Sunday we woke up early to a packed day: a trip to Jozani forest followed by an excursion to the north coast at Nungwi. Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, Zanzibar’s only national park, is home to plenty of wildlife, including two species of mongoose, squirrels, pythons, antelope and two species of monkeys. As I excitedly pointed at the various fauna on the board and asked our guide which we would see, I learned that they’re pretty much all nocturnal. Bummer. On the plus side, he assured me that we would see monkeys. And oh, did we ever see monkeys.
The highlight of the trip was definitely the monkeys. We saw two species: the Zanzibar red Colobus monkey, which lives only on Zanzibar (although there are other species of red Colobus monkey elsewhere), and the Sykes’ monkey. The Colobus monkeys spent most of their time jumping from tree to tree, which was not always entirely graceful. In fact, I saw one land on a branch, which promptly snapped off, dropping the monkey a good seven or eight feet to the ground. He seemed fine.
Besides the monkeys, we were treated to a few other sights, including, but not limited to, lizards, giant African land snails, mangroves, tons upon tons of crabs, and me furiously scratching my leg after I brushed up against a stinging nettle. As we left, we all agreed that Jozani forest had been a great idea.
Next up: Nungwi. Nungwi is a town on the north coast of Zanzibar, roughly and hour away from Jozani or Stone Town. Upon our arrival, the weather was a nice shade of overcast, and the resorts apparently abandoned. We went to lunch at a local joint, where a drunk man proceeded to eat some of Hatem’s food before being reprimanded by the restaurant owner. Following lunch Brad and I set out on our quest to go snorkeling.
After almost five minutes of walking on the beach, we found a place that agreed to take us out for 17,000 Tsh (or about $15). Sweet deal. They rig up a Dhow (a traditional sailing boat) with an outboard motor, invite us on board, and we slowly but surely make our way out to a local reef. Twenty minutes later, Brad and I are in the water marveling at the fish and the coral.
After thoroughly checking out the first site, we move to another, complete with an entire school of zebra fish (a good two hundred of them all by the boat). Oh, and I almost forgot, they let us dive off the top of the Dhow, which is about eight feet high. On our return journey, our fearless captain forwent the outboard motor and chose instead to rig up the sails. As such, the journey took a bit longer, but it was cool to be sailing on a real Dhow.
And that was our Sunday in Zanzibar (well, there was a little bit more about how we got lost trying to find our way home from the night market, but that’s a story from another day). The next day we went home (also a story for another day), and Tuesday back to work. This week we’re meeting with the ISW to hopefully schedule interviews for our needs assessment team, so we can figure out exactly what the challenges are and how we can best address them. Of course, I’ve been working hard (and continue to), developing a product that we think might be useful based on our current information, so that hopefully we can get some feedback on that too (that’s a little further off, hopefully next week).
PS – I’ll get some pictures up later today.
This is the red Colobus monkey, unique to Zanzibar. They are awesome to watch jumping from tree to tree and aren’t afraid to be near people.
This is a picture of delicious “street food” in Zanzibar. They call this dish “Pizza” It’s thin dough filled with tomato, onion, ground beef, peppers, egg, a little mayo and sometimes a little cheese; wrapped up and pan fried. It was amazing!
So as Emily mentioned, Pittsburgh got hit with a bit of a storm Wednesday night. I received the pleasure of finding a tree torn down and laying in the road on my way home from dinner and Thursday morning learning that the key fob for my building was malfunctioning so I had no means of entering the building should I wish to leave. Further Thursday morning we were informed as Emily mentioned that Newell-Simon was flooding, we happen to be working in the lab on A level so there was a bit of fear about the equipment we’ve left in the lab but were later informed that only the power was out.
While last week I learned how to adapt when giving a presentation, Thursday I learned how to adapt when your office is being torn apart and you have deadlines. We don’t have the luxury of being able to delay progress on the projects as we only have 10 weeks to accomplish our goals and the team in Tanzania is not restricted by such stipulations. It did limit the amount of work I was able to do however as a lot of my equipment was still in the office. I also tried to access CMU’s library so that I could attempt to research ICTD projects to get some sort of perspective on other projects that have been tried in these areas but the VPN was also down. Needless to say, Thursday was a little bit frustrating as the papers accessible by Google are much smaller than the papers accessible by CMU.
Friday we were let back into Newell-Simon and while walking down the hall I found that the sink in the kitchen had begun flooding black water all over the floor.
It’s been an adventure.
Luckily this doesn’t stop our progress today. I was able to retrieve my Braille Tutor and save it from whatever further mayhem this weekend may bring and have been isolating the areas to change when we translate it to Swahili. The biggest part has been preparing for the project to streamline the input of forms for social workers in Tanzania. I’ve been working with Dan to collect a set of tools to consider for the project. We’ve looked at Kannel, EpiHandy, EpiSurveyor, FrontlineSMS, amongst countless others. Luckily I think we’re getting close to demo-ready for the project which will go a long ways to see just what is workable in the long term. The next few weeks are going to be a wealth of getting feedback and reacting. It’s scary but also exciting as I’m not sure how my days could get more dynamic at this point.
Writing from Pittsburgh, PA….
Last night Pittsburgh and the entire metropolis area was hit by a fantastic summer thunderstorm, but this storm was accompanied by funnel clouds, then tornado sightings, and finally purple on the weather map–I literally do not know if I have ever seen a furious purple color on a radar map. About 24 hours after the storm, 1300 people are still left without power in the area.
During the storm, local news stations were claiming lightning counts reached record rates. Literally the sky was alight for about 3 hours with bolts that lit up the sky approximately ever 30-60 seconds. Rain came down at a furious pace, and on Forbes Avenue (the main street Carnegie Mellon is adjacent to) many drivers became stuck as their cars quickly flooded with rain.
Carnegie Mellon also experienced a decent amount of flooding. Apparently, the basement of Newell-Simon Hall, where TechBridgeWorld has its offices, flooded about 18 inches. Smith Hall was also closed on campus, and Wean’s basement was known to have flooded. In classic style, the entrances to Newell-Simon and Smith were blocked with bright yellow police tape. The yellow tape was definitely a positive deterrent for Newell-Simon, where the basement was flooded not by rain water, but sewage water instead. It was noted that at least the rest of the flooding was gladly just that, H2O overflow.
Okay, so we’re all hard at work on our various projects over here in Tanzania, and those are going really well. But in my free time, I’m busy trying to see how much I can resemble Dr. Livingstone. Here are the pictures; you be the judge.
Can you guess which one is me and which one Brad snapped at the National Museum? Oh, also, I would like to note that Brad, being destined for a career in model photography as he is was giving me directions such as “sterner, sterner! You’re in Africa! Africa is full of elephants! You hate elephants! Sterner!” I think I look pretty stern.
Oh yeah, and last weekend was my birthday, which was pretty awesome. We celebrated with a second trip to Kipepeo beach, which was as awesome as ever.
Hello to the BIG WORLD out there. Its almost 3pm in Dar Es Salaam, and that means traffic is about to kick into full force. Tons of cars coming from all over the city, way too many dala-dalas, some bajajs, and bicycles transporting tons of goods to the major markets around the city. Nevertheless, the ground team says YIPPPIE because we are not stuck in traffic and we continue to work hard and enjoy this beautiful city and the vibrant culture and people of Tanzania.
So you are all probably wondering why this blog post is titled yippie. Well, in the States we understand the word yippie to have several different meanings. I’m using this word in the context of an exclamation that is typically used to express one’s delight, excitement and/or happiness. The word yippie has been stuck in my head since a teacher, that works at one of the schools we are working with, sent one of team members on the ground a text message saying yippie; he was really happy to have met us.
…I promise this blog post is going somewhere. So, Bea and I spent most of last week on the field conducting interviews with school teachers. It was really exciting and challenging at the same time. By the end of the week we were pretty exhausted. On Friday, the tech leads followed us to the two different schools. Hatem and I went to Mlimani, while Bea and Brad ventured off to Uhuru. They had a great time interviewing the head teacher of the Blind School.
Hatem and I arrived at Mlimani school around 10am. We sat in the teacher’s lounge for a bit. Mind you it was a very modest room, with a few tables and chairs and no lighting. It was the last day of school and we could see the teachers were excited for a much-needed break. With 60+ teachers at the school (about 19 teachers are inactive, so really 40+ teachers) and 1,500+ students, its safe to say that the teachers were overwhelmed with the amount of work they had to do. Most of the teachers at this particular school teach at least 4 different subjects, and usually have 60+ students in their classes. There you have it, a bit of background on the teachers at the school.
When we went to the school last Friday, I was really interested in learning more about the students at the school. I didn’t want to just come in and amuse them with our fancy cameras, take pictures of them, and then call it a day. I wanted to learn their names, their ages, favorite past times, etc. A few minutes after socializing in the teachers lounge and waiting for a teacher to arrive (so we could return some books he lent to us), we walked outside and started doing a bit of exploring. Hatem started talking to some of the school boys and they loved speaking English. One of them messed up a sentence or two–when he was asked what grade he was in– and the other boys laughed at him. I like their competitive nature. Right away, I could tell that the children were eager to learn. We began taking some pictures and more kids swarmed in our direction. They wanted to be close to the camera. The teachers permitted the rowdiness for a couple minutes, and then told the kids to go back to their classes.
Hatem and I were starting to get excited and eager to interact with the kids a little bit more. Eventually, the teacher we were waiting for arrived and took us to his Grade 5 classroom. I counted about 40+ students in the class. Pretty good attendance for the last day of class. As soon as we entered the classroom, all the students stood up tall, shining brilliantly in their white and blue uniforms, they greeted us with a loud and uniform “Good morning, we are happy to have you!” I got goosebumps hearing that; the students were very polite. Their teacher told them a little bit about us. He spoke in Swahili the entire time; he had better command of the students when he spoke Swahili. Hatem told them all about Jordan and even drew a big world map, and the students asked questions about our University and the teacher facilitated the conversation. I am not the greatest with geography, but when I said I was from Nigeria all the students said they knew where that was because our countries are on the same continent. They asked us a couple more questions, and then the teacher left us with the students because he had to go and attend the final teachers meeting before the prize day parade.
WOW! We had the classroom all to ourselves!! So many eager eyes starring at us in anticipation for us to teach them something new. So, I picked up a piece of chalk and began to write relatively simple English words that came to mind (teacher, apple, girl, boy…) They recited the words confidently. It was all too simple for them, so I started to ask them more complicated questions. The students enjoyed being selected to come up to the board and answer questions. I loved seeing really shy students get engaged when I would ask them to fill in the blank to a sentence like. I like to eat ______. As a side note, many of the students liked to eat a lot of foods that I hadn’t heard of. The liked ugali, makande, beans, meat, chicken and chips. They wanted to visit local places (we recorded some of them on video, unfortunately I don’t remember the names of the places), but there was a young boy that wanted to visit Paris (I hope he gets to go someday). I learned so much about them from this activity. Hatem videotaped a lot of it. I had them recite a lot of the sentences, because their teacher said that they really don’t get enough practice with dictation.
“We come from TechBridgeWorld!” The student recited the sentence so loud and clear. They had a bit of trouble pronouncing tech, but they learned so fast and again I got goose bumps just hearing them say TBW. We didn’t bring anything with us to give to the students. We brought them our undivided attention, and a sincere desire to learn more about them. I believe the students and their teacher saw this and responded positively.
“YIPPIE!” The students learned the word YIPPIE last Friday. Although their teacher had sent the word in a SMS to us a couple weeks ago, he hadn’t shared the word with the students. I must admit that it was a bit difficult to communicate with the students because their understanding of English was limited, but there was one student that spoke English exceptionally well and she really helped me translate a lot of things. She was so cute. She would say things like, “Ugali is a type of food that we eat here in Tanzania. It is also called Stiff porridge.” She was awesome! So, I proceeded to write the word Holiday on the board, then I wrote school, and then I wrote Monday. With those words “Holiday, School, and Monday” I was able to piece together a question for the students about whether or not they were coming to school and Monday and they all responded emphatically, “NO!”
I then taught them the word/expression, “Yippie”. I looked silly at first then the kids caught on once I started saying yippie after they answered a question right or solved a fairly difficult math equation. The kids began to say yippie without being prompted. After a while, they began to get a little rowdy and started jumping and moving around while saying yippie. I quickly tried to put together some semblance of order, so that their teacher didn’t come in and get upset. They really loved saying yippie, it was another way of expressing their happiness. The cool thing about that “teaching” experience with Standard 5 at Mlimani School in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania is that the children were just like other children that I have worked with in day camps in the US. They wanted to learn new things, and they were happy talking about games that they liked to play, their favorite foods, and other things like that.
The students had a ball while Hatem got some video footage and took photographs, and I allowed them to come up to the board and answer questions. After the class, the students quickly ran out to the parade and some even requested to take special pictures with us. We watched as one of the head teachers announced the top 10 students in Standard 4, and we were especially proud of them because we felt as if we had connected with the students and now we were sharing in their joy. After the ceremony, we returned to the classroom where Mr. Sipto gave out their final reports. I could see that the students were eager to open the reports, but they had to wait until they arrived at home. For a quick moment, I had a flashback to the time when I was in primary school in Nigeria and we received our report cards–it was an intense time to say the least. There was one student whose report was misplaced, and he began to cry. I really felt sorry for him, but of course the teacher had everything under control and put together a new report for him. After the students received their reports, we all went outside to take pictures before we said our goodbyes for the holiday. While we were snapping the pictures the students were screaming yippie, and then other students that were outside around us began to scream yippie. Wherever I went after that, at least one student would see me and jump and scream yippie.
On our walk back to the UCC, some kids saw us and screamed yippie. I guess we really made an impression on the students. More than anything, it made me happy to see that they learned another way to express their joy and excitement as children! The relationship that we have created with the school over the past 3+ weeks, will allow us to begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together and see the bigger picture of their needs and where we can be of assistance with our proposed literacy games project.
- For Dan’s birthday that was yesterday!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAN!!!
- For the inspiring work that TBW does all around the world, and that we are doing here in Dar Es Salaam
- For my amazing team members here in Dar, in the States, and in Doha: Anthony, Bea, Brad, Dan, Emily, Hatem, Shakir
- For the spectacular TBW admins: Bernardine, Sarah, Freddie, and Ermine
- For Eric Beda, and the rest of the UCC staff
- For our cooperative partners in the 3 communities we are working with.
Until next time,
Your Sista from Dar Es Salaam
Haaaaaatemmmmmmm, I realized I should start my blog post the same way I start my conversations the team meetings, my way of expressing how much I miss Hatem
It’s another summer in Doha, one of the hottest in the recent past this time, and the only answer I have to the question “What’s new?” is “Our new building!”. Although the number of students I see on a daily basis has gone down to about 20, there is a decent amount of activity thanks to Northwestern moving in. One can also see some new faces, the incoming freshmen, coming to campus to complete their placement tests. Surprisingly, the food court is still decently populated, thamks to the lack of good vendors in the other buildings GO CMU!
Outside the CMU building, the Student Center and Georgetown University buildings are coming up faster than ever (its Qatar and construction, remember), and the number of roads under-construction has gone up considerably. There is a new 4-way interchange coming up right outside Education City and the Convention Center construction is at its fastest as well. It feels like Education City is not out of graduation fever yet. The posters of graduating students are still up and bright in the night light and the humungus billboard right outside the campus shines brighter than ever.
That’s all from Doha for the time being, an update coming your way as soon as something interesting happens That’s a word!