What have I been doing lately?

Despite the title, this isn’t a meme that’s going round some planets, but a short reflection on the last three weeks.



I’ve been back in India since the 13th August, and despite massive anxiety in the run up to coming out, I’ve settled in better than I thought I ever would. I’ve been welcomed back into my home in Thrissur, and have had three awesome volunteers come out so far – all of whom have contributed fantastically to the cause.



What am I doing out in India?



The main aim of my trip to India is to look at how the skills I have can help increase the speed of administration for the Doctors working for the charity I’m helping to support. In a word I’m trying to use my IT skills to create easy-to-use systems which should hopefully enable the charity to operate with a lower admin overhead. If I was still in the UK business world, I’d call it “Integrating legacy systems across multiple co-operative organisations.” Out here the legacy application is paper-based forms, and I don’t just have to integrate them, but for many of the people I’m working with, it just isn’t possible to upgrade to IT systems.



One of the things at the forefront of my mind is that IT is not an answer – it’s just a solution to a small slice of the pie I’m attempting to eat. Luckily I’m working alongside two skilled paedeatrictions who have a real heart for the children we’re caring for. Since getting back I’ve been to visit the following children:



Edi – A 12 year old boy with Cerebral Paulsy who lives in a house atop a 16 foot cliff. To travel anywhere his Mum has to carry him down, but now he is too big for her to carry. Sentenced to a life at home, Edi cannot get the exercise he needs to keep his muscles from wasting. Thus the vicious circle continues.

My role was to work out a way to enable Edi to get down the cliff. Despite our first option being to get the child moved to a new location; land prices made that prohibitive. Instead we decided to design a ramp, to go parallel to the cliff which Edi could walk down. Once I’d designed the ramp, the implications of installing it and practical considerations (maintenance, vandalism .etc) it was no longer feasible. I’m now trying to raise money to help Edi move house.

Jenny and Sarah – Two sisters whose house gets flooded year by year during the monsoon. A few years back, the local church raised their house to avoid it being flooded. This is working well, but both girls and parents were suffering with asthma related illness. They also have a few goats provided by a micro-finance initiative; these were also causing the children breathing difficulties when they were too close. We visited the girls and provided them with Sabutamol inhaler, spacer, and some anti-histamines to relief the itching.

A Mercy Home – The Mercy Homes are the main charity that the one I’m volunteering for is linked with out in India. It’s a fantastic organisation where rather than put children into orphanages, the children are put into a family-based home with a pastor and his wife. We visited a couple of homes and played cricket with a few of the children. Having people pop in to visit them is an experience that very few of the children get. It was also an opportunity for us to check out whether there were any obvious illnesses and make sure that those children on long term medication had been taking it correctly whilst we were away.



I’ve also been pretty ill. I managed to avoid it last time I came out to India, but this time I got the Dehli-belly pretty bad. I was laid low for 6 days, and managed to lose over 7kg. The food here is awesome though, so I was really missing out. Luckily the illness passed with some immodium and anti-biotics, and despite submitting a little ‘sample’ to a local laboratory, we never got to the bottom (excuse the pun) of what actually caused it. I’m good now though!



So that’s been the trip so far. I’m also working on digitising all the records of children in the Mercy Homes, and having a system whereby paper-based forms submitted to the charity can be backed-up for reference in a local database. It’s pretty rewarding work, as all the software that I’ve used is still open source stuff. I’m trying to get more involved in django, and I feel like I’m learning more about it very fast. It always felt to me when I was working in Open Source that I was somehow at the wrong side of the equation. Now working for the charity, I can get them the direct benefit of me being here to support it 24/7.



So that’s it so far. I’m planning on going to spend a couple of days at a Tribal Mission Hospital in Tamil Nadu – it’s a pretty inspirational story, but I’ll share that with you in the next post I do. Thanks for all of you who have been supporting me with your words and thoughts – and also thanks to the many techies on IRC who’ve been helping me with the IT stuff. I couldn’t do it without you.

Posted Tuesday, September 1st, 2009 under ICT.