Students To Apply Computer Science Skills in Tanzania

Four students will spend this winter break in Tanzania applying their computer science skills to help improve health infrastructure for clinics and hospitals.

The project is the pilot program for Tech in the World, a newly created student organization that seeks to send top computer science students to work on coding projects in developing countries. From Dec. 22 to Jan. 19, Brandon Liu ’14, Joshua K. Lee ’14, Salvatore R. Rinchiera ’14, and Christian C. Anderson ’13 will live in Dar es Salaam creating a solution to better the current management system of electronic medical records for maternal health care.

Liu, co-founder of Tech in the World, said he got the idea for the organization this summer after reading “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” a book focused on University Professor Paul E. Farmer’s work at hospitals in Haiti.

“As I was reading it, I was thinking that I really wanted to see how I could contribute to his work,” Liu said. “I started to talk to people in global health who said that they wanted more computer science people to get involved.”

The team plans to collaborate with students from Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology and a local Tanzanian entrepreneurship group in order to share their knowledge and ensure the long-term value of their projects.

“A lot of trips like these can be branded as voluntourism, where you are ostensibly providing value but, in reality, are really just a burden to whoever’s hosting you,” Liu said. “Pairing with someone locally tries to offset that to train people and have something sustainable.”

The group is also partnering with the Bienmoyo Foundation, an organization that matches volunteers with global health projects, and the Association of Private Health Facilities in Tanzania, an umbrella organization for all private health facilities in the country.

The four students will be joined by Mateus C. Falci ’14, a visual and environmental studies concentrator who will make a documentary of the experience.

The students plan to return to Dar es Salaam for the next few years to continue their service work.

“It’s good to have that continuity, to develop the relationship and build on prior work,” Liu said.

Though Tech in the World did not have a formal application process this year, Liu and his co-founder Lee hope to expand the team in the future to include strong computer science students from other schools, including Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“We definitely want people to be comfortable in the environment and, from day one, to be able to start coding,” Lee said.

—Staff writer Christine Y. Cahill can be reached at christinecahill@college.harvard.edu.

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