Why do analytics in a place without electricity?

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Going to Africa and working with kids has always been one of my biggest dreams. But as I was getting older and started to read more about the widely criticized “voluntourism,” I took a step back and had a hard think about whether it’s the right thing to do. I did a lot of research on this more than a year in advance and found out that a well-planned trip with a certain purpose can do a lot of good. So I started planning.

By a brilliant stroke of luck, I found a newly opened school in a small village in Tanzania that was looking for volunteers to come and help, even for a short period of time. I was in right away. I love to play with children, I have experience in teaching and I’m not afraid of physical work. With my IT background I didn’t feel like I had something to offer. But fortunately, I was wrong.

I was so excited that I ended up doing my final project for a non-profit organization working in Central African Republic.

I was so excited that I ended up doing my final project for a nonprofit organization working in the Central African Republic.

My first contact with the Data4Good program

I first learned about Data4Good in Cary, NC, while taking part in the Customer Advisory Academy (still the greatest adventure of my life!). I was so excited about this movement that I ended up doing my final project for a nonprofit organization working in the Central African Republic. My aim was to help optimize well placement. That was the first time I considered data analysis useful in Africa. I didn’t know then that it wouldn’t be the last time.

I went to Tanzania with a general idea of what Africa looks like. And many things were true. It is extremely poor and getting food and water is often a problem. But what surprised me the most was the attitude of local people being able to appreciate the smallest things, never complaining about their situation, and trying to make my stay as good as possible while showing me the best of their country.

One week full of games and activities

During my three weeks in Buhemba, I got to do a lot of different things. With a group of friends, we organized a whole week full of games and activities for children to participate in during their vacation. We also helped to renovate and clean the area and nearby buildings. But the biggest long-term contribution was possible thanks to medical students in our group. We were able to conduct medical checks for all the children in the school, being able to find kids with sight, hearing and dental problems, faulty postures and malnutrition.

„General information about all the kids that were included in medical check”

General information about all the kids that were included in the medical check.

One computer in a village

While helping to prepare the checkup form template I got an idea: Why don’t we gather all the collected data in a database? That could give us way more conclusions. Fortunately, there was one computer in the village, so we were able to create a CSV table with all the collected information. While introducing the data from paper to the table, another idea hit me. Why don’t we try to summarize that data and prepare a general health report for all the kids? In that way, it will be possible to get a full picture of the society. And with that idea in mind, I uploaded the data on the only USB stick available and took it back with me to Poland.

Even though I have worked at SAS for a relatively short period of time, I have enough experience to be sure that our tools can help achieve great results in a short time. So as soon as I came back from Tanzania, I went to ask my managers if it was okay to use SAS Visual Analytics to create the report and send a PDF file with conclusions back to the school. And I couldn’t imagine a more supportive reaction! They were happy to let me do it and willing to give any help needed. I started to work on that right away, and after three days it was ready.

Finding a way to help

As I don’t have any medical knowledge, I asked my friends who are doctors for help. We sat together to draw all the conclusions and prepare a list of best practices. I don’t want to describe all of our findings here, but I’ll mention just one that can really make a difference: We found out that one of the biggest problems with the kids’ posture is scoliosis. It’s not a big surprise, as 3-year-old children are walking with five-litre water buckets on their heads and carrying younger siblings on their backs. In addition, there is no physical education at school, as exercises are not common in Tanzania.

So we decided to prepare videos with exercise explanations to make it easier for teachers. And we already got feedback that from next school year (starting in January), they are going to have a dedicated time for exercises at school. It’s a small change but can have a great impact on kids’ health by building good habits.

I’m aware that my one visit is not going to solve all the problems in Africa. There are so many things that need to be fixed there. But I strongly believe that any bigger change is only possible through consequent small changes. It’s always worth trying to improve our world, and if it can be done thanks to analytics, I can’t imagine a better use case.

It’s always worth trying to improve our #world, and if it can be done thanks to #analytics, I can’t imagine a better use case. #data4good Click To Tweet

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About Author

Agnieszka Piechocka works as a Customer Advisor for SAS Poland. She is part of the fraud practice team, advising customers on the use of advanced analytics to prevent fraud and other illegal activity. She is also enthusiastic about getting involved in #data4good projects, and finding ways to use analytics to help humanity.

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