Back home after nearly a month in Africa – so many questions, so much mail. I thought it might work best just to put up a little FAQ on my blog – enjoy! I’ve also inserted some pictures into this FAQ for fun.
Q: Was this your first trip to Africa?
A: Nope, this was my third trip there. I intend to go at least once per year for a long time.
Q: Why do you go to Africa? How did you get interested in Africa?
A: I started becoming interested in Africa, after I met Anton. He is originally from Cape Town, was living in Manchester, UK at that time, now though he ‘lives’ in Dubai. We both are Microsoft Certified Trainers and we collaborated professionally before we both joined Microsoft. We are now both developer evangelists for Microsoft.
Q: Are you working when you go there?
A: Kind of – in the past, I took vacation from Microsoft to conduct personal technical volunteering for the SmartCare project in Zambia. This year I combined Microsoft work with a volunteer trip. When I am in Zambia, I am officially on vacation from Microsoft and I volunteer my technical services for SmartCare.
Q: What did you do for Microsoft during this trip?
A: I spoke at Tech Ed Africa in Durban, South Africa. I presented 3 full sessions on Windows 7 for Developers as well as other sessions.
Q: Did you take any time off while you were on your trip?
A: Anton and I visited his family and friends in Cape Town over a weekend.
Q: What else did you do at TechEd Africa?
A: I was part of the keynote demo presenter lineup. I also spoke (2 sessions) at Academic Days to K-12, and then to University students. I also spoke at the WiT event. I also recorded two Virtual TechEd Sessions. One was with Bart de Smet and the other was with SmartCare developer Mwansa Lumpa. I also did a book signing for my SQL BI book.
Q: What did you like most about TechEd Africa?
A: The great people (attendees and other speakers) that I met while there. Also the African dancers that opened the first keynote were fantastic!
Q: Did you see anything else in Durban?
A: Not really, the hotel was next to the ICC, so it was all about work while I was in Durban.
Q: What surprised you about Cape Town?
A: The beautiful countryside.
Q: How long is the flight?
A: Flight(s) take about 3 days from LAX. Yes, I flew coach. No, that part is not fun.
Q: What was the highlight of your Cape Town trip?
A: Getting to know Anton’s family and friends. Of course, this is Africa, so there are always animals to be seen. Truth be told, on this trip, I saw birds, zebras, lions and more. I did like the cheetahs the best.
Q: What is SmartCare anyway?
A: It’s an electronic medical records system, built on .NET and SQL Server Express, which also uses smart cards for data storage. It’s been accepted as the national standard for Zambia, and after a multi-year pilot, SmartCare is being deployed countrywide by the Zambian Ministry of Health and other (NGO) implementation partners. Project funding comes from a number of sources, such as the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation, PepFar and more. The US CDC is also involved.
Q: What do you do for SmartCare?
A: From a practical point, whatever is needed around technology knowledge transfer. This time for example I wrote and conducted technical classes and presentations for MoH staff, SmartCare developers and a newly-formed local user group. I also physically setup a training room, wrote technical job descriptions for open positions, negotiated a new service contract for web site hosting with a local ISP and more. Because Anton and I have been volunteering (and have been contributing both on visits and remotely) for many years, we really try to ‘fit in’ with the local team when we are there.
Q: Why Zambia?
A: Because this is a project that we can benefit, because the people on the team have grown to become our friends and because the people of Zambia have incredible challenges.
Q: Is SmartCare being used in any other countries?
A: In fact there are two active pilots in Ethiopia and in South Africa. There is interest from other countries as well.
Q: Can I (the reader) volunteer for this too?
A: Well, yes and no. I am literally inundated with such requests. While this does confirm my faith in humanity, neither the team nor I can respond to each request. I do tend to respond to interested potential volunteers who do their homework, i.e. read the technical specification at www.opensmartcare.org, read about Zambia, etc…it is also important to understand that for this project patience and long-term commitment is vital. I do ask that anyone who is considering volunteering, is thinking about doing so for YEARS.