Africa Bridge

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Data Gathering for A New Century: The Africa Bridge Cell Phone Pilot!

Posted March 18th, 2013 by

In rural Africa, people often do without electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. Many families don’t have enough pairs of shoes to go around. Regardless of income level, folks almost never have cars; a village motorbike is a luxury.

There is one thing, though, that appears more often than you might think: mobile devices. As Susan said, “You’d be surprised to see just how many people have cell phones!” Observing this, volunteers Susan Stewart and Ellen Worcester were inspired; if people were using cell phones in the villages we serve, maybe Africa Bridge could use similar technology to improve the way we work! And with that, they decided that they would find a way to marry technology with our need to gather clean, quality data.

When we gather good data, we can understand the communities we serve better– and help ensure that kids like this young man have a great start!

After a rousing presentation by Susan and Ellen, a team of dedicated Portland State University computer science students selected our cell phone pilot as their ‘Capstone Project’, which allows them to work on community-centered projects in lieu of theses.  The program and desktop application they made is changing the way we deliver services in Tanzania.

— These students created an application that allows census data to be collected in the field and transferred into central master files back at our Tanzanian office in Tukuyu. This paper-free process is far more accurate and less laborious than our previous system: handwritten notes.  This information can also be transferred simultaneously to the US. We use cloud storage that’s accessible across continents.

— We are deploying this survey tool on the ‘transit walks’ that Africa Bridge conducts to get the data that help identify vulnerable families and populations.

— The data will be collected, stored and analyzed for current and future programs.

The collection of census data is essential to our success because we must understand who we’re working with. Having just entered Lufingo ward, this couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Tanzanian government benefits from partnership with us as well; the data we collect helps them meet their goals around keeping track of rural populations. Notably, as part of their goal, the government wants to reduce the share of the population living below the poverty line from around 50% currently to 30% by year 2015. http://www.tanzania.go.tz/poverty.html

As I write this, a pilot for the cell-phone application is being conducted. This pilot will ensure that everything works smoothly so that we can maximize our time in Lufingo. We will say more about that soon!

We’d like to give special thanks to the students at PSU who created the suite of programs that’s making our survey work possible. They continue to do work for us even though their project is long since ended– a testament to both their dedication and commitment, and the compelling nature of the work Africa Bridge does. Thanks also to Susan and Ellen for their contributions of countless hours, expertise and equipment.

Support this and other innovative projects by donating to Africa Bridge. Call or click to learn more and give.

PSU Capstone Project Team:

  • Nicole Huey (Team Leader)
  • Yuriy Krushelnytskiy
  • Weston Wedding
  • Marsall Rogers
  • Adam Jones
  • Dung Chau
  • Adam Eckels

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