Inveneo West Africa Archives

What’s Sierra Leone Like Almost One Year After the Ebola Virus Hit?

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on April 20, 2015 in the categories: Healthcare, News, Relief

Inveneo team member Eric Zan serves as a Senior Field Engineer in the Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI). He recently explained his thoughts on the ERCI Project and the difference it has been making in Ebola-hit Sierra Leone. Read his story below on what country is like now almost one year after the virus hit.

  1. What is Sierra Leone like one year after the Ebola virus hit?
Inveneo visited a case management and burial management team in Sierra Leone. Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

Inveneo visited a case management and burial management team in Sierra Leone. Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

“Although I haven’t been in Sierra Leone throughout the entire crisis, I can see that Sierra Leone used to be a place where ‘doors were closing’ in almost all areas for the residents. What I mean is that there were serious limits on migration, how much people moved, and where people congregated. In addition, several businesses left Sierra Leone which drastically affected opportunities for individuals. The overall economic landscape was hurt from this, and often people had to change their jobs. And even if you did not contract the Ebola virus your life was still drastically altered.

Today, humanitarian organizations of Sierra Leone are transitioning to more of a “recovery” mode. Ebola is still active there, but it is concentrated in different provinces. Priorities are changing theses days since many regions are not experiencing new patients and are devoting their resources to the economic and social recovery. Not surprisingly communities have experienced different levels of fallout from all this. However, through it all, communication is the biggest factor we are concerned with and it was good to see local communities having trust in the global community.”

  1. What were your daily activities in the ERCI project?
Eric Zan organizing materials for the ERCI project.

Eric Zan organizing materials for the ERCI project.

“It was constantly different because every day presented new challenges. In general I was the logistics coordinator and helped direct the Field Team on where they could go.

  • I made sure there was a way to gather details and share them with the team about where to go and when to take precautions.
  • I would liaise with our project partners in order to come up with a plan for integrating our equipment into their core network.
  • Also, I’d discuss how to build out each tower in a coordinated way, how to ensure bandwidth strength, and how to monitor the network.

Those items were the “big picture” parts to my day-to-day activities. But they add up when working in a crowded and limited-resource environment.”

  1. How is the ERCI project making a difference?

“First, the Internet will help main hubs coordinate with their field offices because a lot of decision making and resource allocation happens in the capital. Before getting an Internet connection, main offices sometimes had to wait days or weeks to get information about what was going on in the rural areas. By then it’s often too late to respond to the key needs in an efficient way. Second, the organizations can get data back almost instantly. This communication helps them coordinate with other organizations which overall helps paints the big picture for everybody.

Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

Photo Credit: Eric Kuhnke/Inveneo

As a last note, the Internet generally helps people and organizations be more efficient in their missions, whatever their mission is. This may include having more time for projects, less need for travel, and better cost-effective strategies.”

  1. What precautionary health measures did you and your team take while in Sierra Leone?

“The health measures were mainly based on behavioral changes; they were all behavioral-based policies that we established for the team to follow. The ABCs meant Avoid Body Contact at all times. We were taking our temperatures at least twice a day, and we worked alongside a health a safety member from NetHope from their Icelandic Search and Rescue Team. Also, communication was important and people checked in with me. We also had a group chat on Skype going, and I was constantly coordinating with others in case someone needed to go to the hospital or wasn’t feeling well.”

  1. In your opinion, what ICTs would be the most effective in stopping Ebola from spreading?

“Although many people have mobile phones in Sierra Leone, they may not always be the entire solution. For example, mobile phones are not reliable to transfer large amounts of data. Instead, what is needed is a reliable Internet link and a better system for gathering and aggregating data in an automated way.

Another important part is the building of local capacity. Training is very important and it must be coordinated with local support and knowledge. Information should be made available to communities and more members of an organization’s team, too, and not necessarily to just the Project Coordinator.

Over the last few months I’ve realized that those living in Sierra Leone are incredibly resilient people, and they have so much that they are already offering. Combining these skills with ICT has the potential to play a significant role in bringing an end to this tragic Ebola crisis.”

Inveneo Begins Internet Connectivity Training in Sierra Leone

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on February 3, 2015 in the categories: News

As part of the Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI) project that Inveneo is doing with other partners, the next step is underway – training local technicians in Sierra Leone.

The Inveneo team has been on the ground in West Africa for several weeks now, and they recently started training the Inveneo Certified ICT Partner (ICIP) “Damsel Business Centre” on building Internet service for medical centers in Sierra Leone! To kick off this training, Damsel representatives have been meeting with Inveneo throughout this first week in February to go through a tower climbing safety course.

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Inveneo’s Director of Field Operations Samuel Perales leads training and discussion with employees from Damsel Business Centre, an ICT business in Sierra Leone.

The training participants include Inveneo’s Director of Field Operations Samuel Perales, Inveneo’s Senior Field Engineers Sean Burgoyne, Matt Hulse, and Eric Kuhnke, and finally Inveneo’s ICIP partner Damsel from Sierra Leone. Damsel’s Director Eugene Tani-Luke brought with him five technicians to also take part in the training. Although representatives from AirTel and the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) were invited, they were unable to make it.

After the climbing training is completed the team will continue with preparations and logistics for the first Internet connectivity site. Inveneo’s current goal is to start the first Internet installation by Monday, February 9th.

As Inveneo has been helping Damsel on safety throughout this training, they have been taking safety measures of their own. The men are washing their hands with bleach water, and when they enter a hotel nearby, a hotel staff member will take their temperatures on a regular basis. As positive as it is that Ebola infection rates have been going down, Inveneo is leaving no room for its team or its partnering teams to become sick in the process. In addition, NetHope has supplied the team with two Icelandic medics who may travel with them.

Inveneo’s Samuel Perales feels that this ICIP training process is just the beginning of a vital project that will make a big impact in Sierra Leone. He notes that Internet connectivity is always important and an issue for any humanitarian organization, no matter if they work in immediate relief or long-term development. He notes that the ERCI project is no different – connectivity will remain an important tool for years to come as communities rebuild from the devastating effects of the illness. The Inveneo team and its ICIP will continue to work long and hard to make connectivity available for those in need it most in order to make as big an impact as possible.

The Inveneo engineers have been very happy with the collaboration of this combined effort. The teamwork between NetHope, the ETC, and more has made an incredible difference in getting this project off the ground. Mr. Perales explains further, “One thing that’s been really nice is the collaboration between the ETC, NetHope, Inveneo, and Ericsson Response…we’re all out in the field, we’re all supporting each other, and we like to say that ‘There are no lines between us.’ That camaraderie is showing through as we continue to build our dedicated team.”

Network Monitoring on ARM-Based Equipment in West Africa to Fight Ebola

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on January 26, 2015 in the categories: News, Relief

The Inveneo team has partnered with NetHope, EveryLayer, Cisco, and Facebook to extend broadband connectivity to medical centers fighting the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Our team is implementing the most relevant pieces of technology on the market, and often we rely on ARM-based products. For the Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI), the Inveneo team plans to use the BeagleBone Black Rev C, a Linux computer the size of a credit card. It is a “heart beat” technology that Inveneo will heavily rely on throughout the ERCI project to monitor the broadband network health.

The ARM-based Beaglebone with its energy efficient, yet powerful processing power, offers the project real-time analysis through its AM335x 720MHz ARM® processor. The project will place Beaglebones in strategic points in the network for monitoring using SmokePing software.

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A BeagleBone Black

SmokePing works by sending many tests within a small period of time called pings and then calculates the median. Inveneo found that this open source program SmokePing is the single most useful measure of network performance, with a single graphic showing both latency and packet loss. The data then is displayed graphically in a Network Operation Center (NOC) being established in Ghana. By using this approach, the NOC staff can be proactive in addressing network outage, bandwidth issues, and overall network reliability.

In addition to SmokePing, our team will be using Zabbix, which will be installed for network monitoring. Zabbix is a free, open source program that monitors the radios and networking hardware over various protocols, including SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), which is a standard protocol for network monitoring. While SmokePing monitors the quality of the connection through packet loss, round trip time, and jitter, Zabbix collects a lot more information, has a very good user interface, and generates alerts via email when a device is performing poorly or is offline. Finally, it reports to the cloud so one can use a web-based front-end that can be assessed from any location (as long as there is an Internet connection).

Our team will use BeagleBones because they run the Ubuntu operating system and also provide access to other command line tools which are useful for monitoring the network that would be used/ran directly by a human. By adding Smokeping and Zabbix, our software will be constantly running in the background and will be accessible from the cloud for access by the NOC.

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An example of the SmokePing layout.

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An example of the Zabbix layout.

Support Inveneo’s Response to Fighting Ebola

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on October 23, 2014 in the categories: Healthcare, News, Relief

Ebola has become an increasingly serious health crisis around the world, and humanitarian aid organizations in West Africa are in critical need of ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) to effectively support health care workers. In response, Inveneo is assembling a team that is preparing to travel to Accra, Ghana. Once there they will distribute 500 Google Nexus 7 Tablets (which will be pre-loaded with crisis-response apps) to major aid agencies working on the ground in affected areas.

ManandTabletThe Inveneo team, led by Senior Field Engineer Samuel Perales and Executive Director Bruce Baikie, will provide a Tablets for Ebola Responders training, delivering relevant skill sets to aid workers stationed throughout West Africa. This project will support up to 50 aid organizations.

Inveneo is eager to launch this project because of its ability to impact thousands living in communities potentially affected by Ebola. “International relief organizations have been expressing the need for tablets on the ground. Having seen firsthand just how effective these tablets were in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan last year in the Philippines, we are particularly eager to get tablets into the hands of aid organizations working to eradicate Ebola,” explains Samuel Perales.

The Google Nexus 7 tablets will be pre-loaded with software and apps that enable post-crisis communication and coordination. With programs like street-level maps and access to medical information, tablets become powerful ICT tools in the fight against Ebola. Aid workers will be able to deliver medical supplies more quickly and will receive updates and news stories that rural communities desperately need.

Inveneo’s team has been at the forefront in responding to global crises with effective ICTs. In addition to supporting recovery efforts after Super Typhoon Haiyan hit The Philippines in 2013, our team also responded to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake with the rapid build-out of a wireless broadband network that enabled communication necessary for relief and rebuilding efforts. In 2005, we sent team members to Mississippi immediately after hurricane Katrina to assist with rebuilding communications.

Inveneo needs your help to fight Ebola and to raise $185,000 for our Tablets for Ebola Responders project.  Your donation will enable us to provide these needed tablets and training in Ghana to support aid organizations working throughout West Africa. For more information and to support our efforts visit http://inveneo.org/donate