Can you Django?

Ghana Summer 2012 Blog

Written by: Alessondra Springmann

July 9, 2012

We're starting our fourth week. Aooooooooooooooo!

Last week was a blast: we started teaching the students Django, a web framework for Python. A lot of the participants had been well-versed in relational database theory through their university classes; very few had actually written a website. A testament to both their ability to apply theory in practice and to the ease of using Django, within a couple of hours the entire class had functioning blog platforms using Django. Rock on!

Django hasn't just been fun and CMSes, or a way to teach about models and databases: it's also been a tool for teaching the model-view-controller paradigm of software construction. I'm a firm believer in the power of modularity, and this is a great way to show, and not just tell, about the power of MVC when it comes to building large pieces of complex software.

Last Wednesday was our elevator pitch competition! We had three judges, all Meltwater Entrepreneurship School of Technology alumni, giving feedback to our 40 students in three "heats" of elimination rounds. They've come a long way since the first day of the program. The judges, Edward, PK, and Isaac, all gave really helpful feedback not just in terms of the pitch presentation but in terms of idea potential and whether it'd attract funding.

PK's company, First Capital Plus, furnished our winners with t-shirts, pens, and umbrellas. Thank you, PK! Our winner, Gifty, had just finished a round of laryngitis; imagine what she could do with full command of her voice!

Today, LiAn assembled a panel of program alumni to speak on their experiences in the last year since they finished AITI. They emphasized sticking with programming even if it was hard, working in teams with people who challenge your ideas, and how fantastic git is when it comes to collaboratively working on software development.

This week the focus is on writing, in preparation for business plan crafting. We have a range of writing skills present; I am a firm believer than engineers should be given the opportunities to learn how to be effective communicators and to make the process fun. If when I leave here our alumni can use commas and not type "ma" when they mean "my", I'll declare the summer a success.

Over the weekend, the instructors all trundled out the door to visit Koforidua, a town in the mountains about two hours north from here by minibus. The road wound through ridges and through dense forests to Koforidua, a former bead market town. We visited the twin streams of Boti Falls, then hiked for about 45 minutes to a rock shaped like an umbrella and a three-headed palm tree. Moseying down the road, we encountered a band of children who took us to their school, three rooms for 150 students open to the air under a tree.

Continuing down the road, we came across Akaa Falls, superior in many ways to Boti Falls. Most importantly, the trail was clean of those ubiquitous plastic water sachets and other debris, and the cost of admissions was half of that at Boti.

The caretaker at Akaa, Darko, is a gem of a man. We we first approached the falls, none of the other instructors wanted to visit, having already paid 10 GHS to enter Boti Falls.  I'd heard the rock formations were interesting, so paid the 5 GHS to enter Akaa and moseyed down the trail.  Apparently Jovana, Louis, and LiAn were convinced, so Darko seemed really pleased that my 5 GHS quickly turned into 20 GHS for the park.  When I returned up the trail, I asked if I could buy sachets of water from him.  He brought back four and I asked if I could pay him for the sachets; he said no. He seemed very considerate and said he cleaned the path to the falls regularly; I promised I'd tell more people to visit the area to bring him more business.

Currency here is interesting: while 1 GHS is worth $0.50 according to current exchange rates, it seems to buy about $1-2 worth of goods or services, ranging from park entrance fees, laundry, or most importantly, food.

Yesterday I met up with some MIT friends and went rock climbing north of the Shai Hills.  My Course 12 background is coming in handy: I identified semiprecious garnets embedded in the granite rocks, in veins of crisscrossing quartz.  The caretaker there sold me the huge mangos that are usually 2 GHS each in the markets; here I paid 1 GHS each and came back with five. I did the math and if current trends continue, I'll eat 25 pounds of mango by the end of the summer. Question is, will I turn bright orange or be able to see in the dark from the beta-carotene?