Archive for March, 2007

Work, work, work (Mark)

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

The guy who runs the site wrote up an article on DrumNet. I thought that it was fairly concise in describing what DrumNet is. For those of you that aren’t quite sure what DrumNet is, this article might provide some additional insight:

Anyway we arrived in Nairobi on Sunday and have been working non-stop since we got here. So what have we been doing? Currently we are in the process of applying for a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. We submitted our proposal and they got back to us saying they wanted some more detail on certain areas. So Bebeth has been working from dusk to dawn ( 8am – 10pm) on editing the new proposal. Hopefully we will send it out and be done with it. (Update: I wrote this before she sent it off, and now it’s done! It seems promising as they are sending out someone from the states to come see us and meet the various partners we’ve written about)

I have the wonderful task of playing babysitter/mediator between our two developer groups (Alex Weir, a Scottish ex-pat living in Zimbabwe and Verve KO a Kenyan run software development company). They’ve gotten off to a rocky start and it’s been downhill ever since. Alex’s contract is up this week so we are scrambling to get everything finished, documented, and handed off. We have to be ready to do a live demo next week the CEO of BIDCO and the Technology Director from Equity and our Primary Donor, IDRC. So I am also working on a PowerPoint that we can utilize to demo the system.

Last week we had a Peace Corps meeting called Cross Sector. This is basically when all the volunteers in your region, from all the different sectors (Business/ICT, Health, Education, Deaf Ed/BCC) get together and find out what people are working on and what needs do each sector have. For example, Health volunteers are often working with HIV/Aids affected groups. Many parents die from AIDS leaving a family of children without any income. These children are often taken in by the community or other relatives, but most families have trouble supporting their own family much less additional children. Health volunteers are often tasked with helping these groups come up with Income Generating Activities (IGAs), which is really what Business/ICT were trained to do. Now that we all know each other better, if a Health volunteer needs help with IGAs or doing feasibility studies they know now people to call.

So what sort of cross sector activities are we participating in? Well as you all know we spend a lot of time with Sam and Miranda at the deaf school. Miranda is teaching life skills in the girls secondary school. Part of this is teaching HIV/AIDS awareness. She found some startling lack of education among her students and came up with an idea of creating an interactive true/false quiz on the computer that includes some live video. To read more about how it came up, get it straight from the horse’s mouth:

So we are now helping Sam and Miranda code this game/quiz. Here are some pictures of us all working (If you’re having trouble viewing these pictures you can also seem them on our online gallery at

Frank Lester and Miranda (though not working on the game)

Frank and Miranda

Bebeth, Sam, Lisa, Allie, and Matt


A different side of Bebeth, Sam, Lisa, Allie, and Matt


One of the challenges facing deaf people getting education truly in their mother tongue. For the TRUE/FALSE game/quiz Sam and Miranda are taking each question and having deaf people sign the question in front of video cameras. We are then using these in the game. We are also including the English text and may include the Swahili. All questions are TRUE or FALSE so people with low or no computer literacy will be able to easily use the game. We are starting out with 20 questions and 10 will be randomly selected. The system keeps track of all the answers and starts to “weight” questions based upon how many times they have been answered incorrectly. The more times a question is answered wrong, the more likely it will show up in future sessions. Teachers will be able to login into a statistics area and see how their classes are performing. They will see overall percentage of questions answers and be able to see a trend for each question. So let’s say that a teacher lets his/her students play with the game for a month. At the end of the month the teacher takes a look at the statistics and sees that 60% of students think that having sex with a virgin will cure you of HIV/AIDS. (Note: this is a true perception in some rural areas of Kenya). The teacher can then focus classes to educate on this topic. After a another month the teacher can go back into the statistics area and see a graph trending the performance of the students, hopefully seeing that the question is now being answered correctly more often.

Anyway a little snapshot of some things we are working on.

From the land of Ugali and Skuma, Mark

They’re here….more pictures

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

We’ve been a little delinquent recently with the posts…sorry. The good news is that after months of being not so busy, we’re now way too busy. Yes, we know….age old story. We spent a week in Kakamega for Peace Corps activities (the highlights of which were good food, AMAZING showers (at least by Kenyan standards), 2 days of Kenyan Sign Language lessons, and relaxing with other volunteers.

This week and next we’re in Nairobi and it feels like we’re back in corporate America. I spent Monday through Wednesday doing 13 hour work days trying to finish a proposal for the Gates foundataion (and anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like writing anything…if you have doubts as Rachel – a.k.a the saint who put up with me for 4 years of trying to write college papers :) Mark has spent the week trying to manage the development team and deal with a situation that could probably be found in chapter 1 of “How to design software to fail”! (more details to come later…)

The good news is that we have faster and free internet here and we’ve been able to upload a whole new set of pictures on our website. They can be found at:
(this is the same page, but the link to get to page 2 is not all that obvious.)

The newest folders are at the end.


Technology in the bush (Mark)

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

Something that is always interesting is the differences in culture that can happen when you take a bunch of American’s with all their gadgetery and stick them into the villages and rural areas of Kenya. A picture that I think captures this is one we took of our friend BRyan Polson. Some of you may have already seen this picture in our gallery but I really like this picture and thought I’d share it again.

But kenyans are not without their own gadgets. The other day when Bebeth and I were teaching computers to the Farmer field school in our area, I got a chance to see a very cool modificiation to the single gear bicycles here. Attached to this bicycle is a small engine and a 2 liter fuel tank. These bicycles can get close to 50 km a liter and cost around 100 dollars.

Ta ta from Kenya!