Written by: Alessondra Springmann
July 20, 2012
Another Friday! We're going to Kumasi this weekend to meet with Mobile Friday, or MFriday, a community/incubator program at KNUST, the premiere science/technology university in Ghana. We'll give a presentation on AITI's technical and entrepreneurial curriculums, and hopefully strengthen some support structures for our participants' projects to continue in the coming year.
Technical curriculum this week was light, mostly Django as students submitted blogs they'd written from scratch in the web framework and submitted them to an internal competition. The business plan pitch was on Wednesday, attracting judges from Google, Tigo, MFriday (Farmerline), as well as representatives from VC and PE firms, and two tech startup founders. The winning idea was TroApp, a system for demystifying the often complicated and unclear network of semi-regulated private vans that serve as public transit across West Africa.
Getting the modems working on Ubuntu for SMS and voice applications has been a big struggle. Louis and Jovana are all but rewriting the drivers, as the VM they were tested under at MIT isn't working. This has been an immense source of frustration for everyone as it's delaying introducing SMS, IVR, and thus Android. There's a workaround where we can send SMS and voice messages through Android phones, but that's not quite the solution we want. Some students are already downloading the Android SDK for their final apps, so it's good to know that technological hurdles on the instructors' end aren't hampering their ability to figure things out on their own.
While walking home the other night, LiAn and I encountered some neighbors making fufu, pounding boiled yams and plantain into a sticky substance. We asked if we could help, and to our surprise they said yes! They gave us a giant stick, about 2.5 meters tall, and I pounded that fufu for a good minute or two until my arms became tired. LiAn pounded just long enough to pose for photos. Fufu pounding is hard work! The neighbors teased us for being weak.
Yesterday we had a fantastic visitor from mPedigree, a group here combatting counterfieted drugs, electronics, and even fabric. One of our students had lost a best friend to counterfiet medication, so this was a topic near and dear to our hearts. Selorm has very deep knowledge of the technologies his organization uses, ranging from the codes printed on medication labels to the processors in mobile phones to Android's potential in Africa to the types of dyes used in the making of African fabric. Seriously, this man is an excellent mentor and contact for our group.
AITI Ghana this year is a mix of students from UGL, KNUST, Valley View University, Ashesi University College, GIMPA, and Wisconsin International, so I'd hoped the students could create opportunities to hang out beyond the classroom. The first few days in a program like this are spent showing off the academic equivalent of peacock feathers: whose school is the richest, who had the highest scores... at some point, this stops and they all become friends. Encouraging social evvents has been hard, but finally last night our "social committee" hauled about half the class down to the campus pool. We played Dame, a Ghanaian twist on Checkers that left Louis somewhat confused but a good sport for several games. Next week we'll try to actually go swimming.
Today is due a design document for final projects, and on Wednesday we're expecting some fabulous business plans as well as advertising/promotional material for their products. Enough with the theory, GO TO MARKET!
Weekend report, and speaking of going to market: Two of our students took LiAn and I to Makola Market on Saturday, a maze of fabric shops bursting with every color of cloth. Decision paralysis! I purchased a few yards of what appeared to be a local wax print, but upon closer inspection it's a cheap Chinese knockoff. The colors will probably run or fade, according to Selorm of mPedigree. So much for intellectual/cultural property. LiAn dropped off her few yards of a beautiful blue wax batik print at the local seamstresses; we're excited to see what the dress looks like next week.
On Sunday, I took two friends from Tufts and Olin to Ada-Foah, a little town where the Volta River meets the Atlantic Ocean. We'd connected with a community of expats calling themselves the Ghana Sailing Club, a little slice of paradise on a sandy beach amidst palm trees. They graciously let us sail a couple of boats and all but convinced me to move to Ghana and join their club. There's something that feels very right about sailing boats under coconut palms.
Louis and Jovana headed out to Cape Coast to visit the castle, as well as Kakum National Park and the monkey preserve.
Here are a bunch of photos from the last few weeks, including some of the students' pitching on Wednesday! Enjoy your weekend.