For Peace Corps volunteers, the rate at which we are required to adapt to new situations with creativity and flexibility can at times be overwhelming. The limited stay in our host countries, combined with the speed at which the international community is developing alongside our villages, builds pressure for action. Thankfully, recent technological developments and greater ease of access to various mobile devices has set the stage for a dramatic shift in the way Peace Corps volunteers work with their host countries to disseminate valuable life saving information.
In an effort to optimize resources, Peace Corps Ghana’s SWAT Malaria Initiative (Standing With Africa to Terminate Malaria Initiative) teamed up with Tech Think Tank and an impressive crew of nearly 27 computer programmers to address one of Ghana’s greatest burdens, malaria. The result of this collaboration was a “Hackathon,” with malaria being the sole focus.
With the support of Coders4Africa and space provided by Mobile Web Ghana, the event kicked off on the morning of July 12th in Madina with 23 host country nationals and 4 PVC’s present, including hackathon innovator Joshua Kim. After greetings, PCV and Masters International student Matthew Ward gave an introduction, which included the event’s goals and some humbling statistics to aid participants in understanding the magnitude of the challenge before them. Patrick Choquette and Matthew McAllister of Peace Corps’ Department for Innovation in DC even took time from their weekend to Skype-in during lunch and offer their support.
Living in a malaria endemic country, it is of the upmost importance that we fully understand the problem and continuously work towards new solutions. With nearly 3.5 million reported cases of malaria annually, it remains the number one killer in Ghana. Roughly 1/3 of all reported cases in Ghana are in children under the age of five. This equates to nearly 7 newly diagnosed cases of malaria every minute and almost 40 deaths of children under the age of 5 every day.
Following the introduction to the mission, Matthew Ward & Joshua Kim laid out 4 different projects that focused on designing software applications to strengthen the fight against malaria by increasing awareness and education. Motivated participants wasted no time and began furiously coding, both adapting old ideas and constructing new solutions. Participants included representatives from Wikimedia, Google, Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology and Coders4Africa, just to name a few. The first day wrapped up with devoted participants requesting permission to work on their projects at home.
Cooperation and idea sharing continued to flow like ‘fanta’ as new faces including a few curious PCV’s arrived the second day. In talking with Selom Banybah, representative of the Ghana chapter of Coders4africa, he shared his sentiments for working with Peace Corps volunteers by stating, “They bring joy to all the work they do.” This was the third hackathon Selom participated in with Peace Corps volunteers and definitely hopes it will not be his last.
After a few concentrated hours it was time to display the finished products; presenters plugged into the projector and shared the work of the last two days. The first mobile application, modeled off the game show Jeopardy, included 4 sections of malaria related questions rated on level of difficulty. As players answered correctly, the questions became increasingly more difficult. The second mobile application likened a modern version of duck hunter, wherein players swatted mosquitoes as they flew quickly across the screen. Players were awarded points for killing as many mosquitoes as possible, all the while being provided the option to make monetary donations to malaria prevention efforts. The third and final mobile application of the day shared a quiz bowl type game that included a variety of informative malaria facts.
Mobile applications were then judged on a number of criteria, including: practical application, visual completeness, and overall identification with the malaria mission. Peace Corps Volunteer Matthew Oneil closed the event by presenting awards to each of the participants. Overall the event succeeded on multiple levels, bringing together local experts with Peace Corps Volunteers and generating new tools in the age-old fight against malaria in Ghana.