This is a write up for the first of five days I spent at Nyakabande. here’s a link to the other days:
Last week sure was an eventful one. I’ve just returned from a 1 week trip to a refugee camp close to the border of Uganda/DRC/Rwanda. For the past few months I’ve been working as a full time developer on the RapidFTR Project (through ThoughtWorks), and last week saw the application being used to register children at a real refugee camp for the first time ever.
It’s always a great feeling to see a project you’ve worked on go live, but this was an especially proud moment for me, and for the hundreds of people in the open source community that have dedicated their own time over the past 2+ years to the project. I also had the opportunity to travel, along with some folks from UNICEF, to Nyakabande- a small town in the Kisoro District in south western Uganda where the border camp is located, and home to the first ever users of RapidFTR.
I’ve spoken previously about the project, but in a nutshell, RapidFTR is a pair of applications (a native android app, and a Ruby/Rails webapp) designed to facilitate in the registration and reunification of children in refugee camps that have been separated from their families during times of crisis and turmoil.
Since October last year, I have been working on the project from the new ThoughtWorks Uganda office, hired by UNICEF to aid in the completion of the first phase of RapidFTR. Over these months we’ve talked through the various scenarios of its use and the application of the mobile app in the field, but getting to to there and see it with my own eyes brought a completely new perspective and I finally understood just what we were building and how it was going to be used. Here’s a recap of what went down last week:
Day One – 7.00am, Monday 11th Feb, 2013 – Road Trip
It’s a 10/11 hour drive from Kampala to Nyakabande, so the day starts early with the team getting into the office and ensuring we have everything ready for the trip. We’ve spent time over the previous weeks decided on the hardware to use for the deployment. A few of us went out the previous week to buy everything we needed; including netbooks for connecting to the webapp, 10 samsung galaxy music duos to be given out to the various volunteers that will be using the phone for registration of the children and a couple of printers for printing photos of the children captured through the app.
After a few short delays we finally manage to leave the office by around 8.30. As we wait outside the office for me to be picked up by a UN car, we manage to dial into the stand up on my laptop and have a 10 minute standup from the roadside. I turn on the webcam and show the team in India the boxes of supplies and we have one of the most unique standups I have been in. The UN car pulls up so we take the laptop over and everyone gets to wave goodbye and good luck as I get into the car and the long (oh so long) car ride begins!
I’m in the car with Cary (the RapidFTR Project Manager from UNICEF, and our main point of contact), Eleanora, a child protection specialist, Christoper, a Field Operations Assistant and Zubeida, our driver.
The ride itself is pretty uneventful, the roads out of Kampala are a big step up from the roads within the city itself, they seem quite new and its a pretty smooth ride (aside from the odd hour or two in the middle where the roads are still being developed and so it gets a little bumpy). We drive about four and a half hours from Kampala to Mbrara, which seems like one of the largest/most developed towns that we pass, and we stop here from some lunch. It’s pretty standard fare, local food which seems to be the same wherever in Uganda you may be, and it sets the tone for the rest of the week as it’s all that will be available to eat for the next 5 days. We get back into the cars and drive on, we pass many towns/villages along the way, most very small, and the scenery starts to improve as we get closer to the mountains. Along the way we happen to meet another UN car that is travelling to the same place as us, so we stop to strech our legs and say hello, turns out we’re also staying at the same hotel (not a surprise as it’s a small town and not many to choose between). We drive on through Kabale and onto Kisoro, we eventually reach the hotel just as the sun starts to set around 6.30pm.
We’re all pretty exhausted, and the next day we have to be up to start work, but it’s our first night in town so we decide to go out to one of the local bars and play some pool and get to know our new UNICEF friends that we met along the way; one is particularly good and so the locals in the bar take it upon themselves to challenge him one by one, there are a few close matches, but he walks away victorious.