Summer (May to July 2010) with iSTEP in Bangladesh

Posted: July 13, 2010 in Internship Experiences

Logo of iSTEP

Throughout my first year of university, I have learned, Humanities, Social science, Quantitative Reasoning, and Science. While I was reaching the end of my first year all the four disciples were put together and our professors focused on making us think in different perspectives, which is essential to build solutions for real world problems. Not surprisingly, we had the summer projects, which is mainly for exposing the students to the real world with our newly gotten insights from our first year of liberal arts education. 🙂  Some of the projects were

  1. Avian Birds species watching
  2. Oral History
  3. Participatory Research
  4. Working with iSTEP 2010 team from TechBridge world
  5. Asian Arts and Culture blogging
  6. Different English in the World
  7. Infant/Children Nutrition check up

and so on..

As I have planned to graduate in Information and communication Technology(ICT), I chose working with the iSTEP 2010 team members. This summer project includes 10 AUW interns(8 Bangladeshis and 2 Indians).

iSTEP, innovative Student Technology Experience Program, is a part of TechBridgeWorld group in Carnegie Mellon University.  There are two technical projects that are implemented in Bangladesh. One is English Literacy tools for improving the English proficiency for the Access Academy students of Asian University for Women and another one is the Braille Writing tool project for the visually impaired people who are associated with the help of YPSA.

This summer for me was not  focused only on iSTEP, its a focus of the ICT4D (Information and Communication for development). Our first step was visiting YPSA ( Youth Power in Social Action), an Non-governmental Organisation in Bangladesh. We, along with Professor. Hussain, our advisor, went to two of the YPSA’s office. The office in Chittagong consists of ICTD lab for visually impaired people. They teach the visually impaired people how to use computer. It is surprising for me that Mr.Vashkar, head of the YPSA office in chittagong, also a visually impaired person and I got to know this only when he said “you can see some pictures…” pointing to the projected power point presentation. ” but I can’t see that”.. He had his computer talk, his cellphone talk, whenever he perform a function. 🙂

Sitting in a oval shaped conference, Vashkar was giving the amazing presentation about YPSA’s work to the underprivileged communities in Bangladesh. I was in a mixture of happy and surprised feeling to see a new phase (face) of developing Bangladesh and the youths behind it. I was able to feel the negligence of the minus and the presence of strong confidence within those differently able people.

Another office in a village called Sitakundu is a tele center and physiotherapy center. Entering into a small room, bending my tall figure, i found 3 women looking after a 5 year old kid who is not able to sit straight without others’ support, and to understand or talk properly. The women there says to the child, “if you are massaged well everyday like this (massaging and pulling his bent legs), dear you will be alright soon”. In Bangladesh, physiotherapy is not popular and there are less physiotherapist and lack of qualified physiotherapists. On the other hand, there are many disabled people in Bangladesh with their age ranging from infant to adult.  When thinking about YPSA’s initiative for this physiotherapy center, it is really inspiring. It was a small room, with a bed covering 1/4 of the room and 2 long wooden shelves stacked with documents and files, that is called as their physiotherapy center. I was thinking, though I see lots of tall buildings for residents and restaurant purposes, there still exists these little houses waiting of some opportunity to get better in their life.The Communication office of YPSA’s Sitakundu office provides computer training to students and household women.

They also have a special room for “Community Radio” to broadcast Chittagong based programs and to disseminate information to the local areas. It was run by YPSA “illegally” before the formal permission from Bangladeshi Government. They ran cultural shows like competition for the little singers and chose the best one.

Tele centre which is situated in the most interior part of a village mainly focused on spreading latest information to the villagers, for example, a new technique for farming. Tele centers are very valuable resources which acts as a medium between the technology deprived community and the real source of information. The women work in this tele center  gathers the questions from the farmer and sends to the experts for suggestions using internet.

World is not easy for anyone! YPSA faces a lot of problems to carryout its vision of empowering the youths in Bangladesh. Frequent power cuts (Electricity, a common problem of Bangladesh), lack of resources, lack of qualified trainers, lack of fund and support, lack of culturally/communally relevant solutions, lack of space, e.t.c. thus goes the challenges! After this very long trip, I got to understand the real meaning of why technology is considered a way of solving problem, a way to bridge the gap between the developed countries and underdeveloped/developing countries.

The Next phase of this internship begins with a week of classes given by Professor. Yonina Cooper of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. It was a six week course for the iSTEP team members. Throughout the course, I got to know about the different levels that iSTEP research program will take to make the project tools sustainable in a particular community. Talking about Professor. Cooper, she is an amazing figure with the kind way of approaching students to make them understand the subject. It was really a great time to have her classes for that week as she is very friendly and caring person. During her stay, we went to the nearby YPSA’s office for meeting Mr.Vashkar and Professor. Cooper shared her experience staying in Doha, (U.S. is her country).

Meanwhile, Professor. Hussain gave us his research papers on Community Radio and his yet to be published paper. I was so happy reading those and gaining new informations and insights about ICT :).

The next phase happened after long time, which is the arrival of the iSTEP interns. We showed them all our AUW spaces and later shared about each other’s plan for this summer program. And we were in small teams of four. Myself and Nishi were working with Aysha, the technical lead of English Literacy tools program. Binny.K.Babu, Fahria Kabir and Zishrat Hasan were working with Jen, team leader and the needs assessment member for both the projects. Lutfun and Shumana had been working with Anthony, the technical lead of braille Writing tool. Last, but not least, Nipa Nandita, Sadeka, Tasmin Nouf and Shagufta Shathy with Brain in documenting the whole project for marketing.

With Aysha, I researched on articles that talks about the educational games  and how it helps to improve knowledge of people in different age groups. Then Aysha taught us the database that would be behind the tools. Later, worked on designing and creating the mockups. Apart from this project, Aysha was really kind enough to teach me and Nishi the importance of Microsoft Access database. Now that I am able to make databases, I am looking forward for a perfect day where I would start doing a data base for Professor. Amin.

During the 7th and 8th week of the iSTEP, which were mainly the development phase of both of the projects, Aysha was too busy on coding, and we assisted her in testing by inputing the questions on the teachers’ interface in order to detect the bugs. The first testing for the student interface was made and very valuable feedback were gotton. Along with the testing, a survey and a follow-up interview has been done with each and every person who participate. I am so impressed after seeing how testing is important for the developing technical projects. Its  not that you develop and you know it is user-friendly, it is actually based on different perspectives and practical usages that says how user-friendly it is.

It was nearly the end of seventh week  of iSTEP program, I joined the needs assessment team with Zishrat, Fahria, Binny and the lead, Jen. They raised concerns about the slow server and internet connections that might occur during next weeks testing. The AUW interns foresee and provide the iSTEP interns with the information. Then the steps were taken accordingly to back up the future plans of the project. Thinking about the future plans and foreseeing the problems that would occurs gives a strong mental and physical preparations to the find the alternatives. The same morning I have given an interview about my intention to join iSTEP  and my experiences so far to Matt, who arrived that day to document the experiences of all the interns(AUW+CMU) for the future interns and marketing :).

Together with Bea, Matt, Aalborg Professors, Professor.Hussain and other istep interns, I made an another field visit to the different offices of YPSA as we did in the beginning. I got to understand YPSA better this time in their ICT plans.

Throughout this internship experience, the most interesting was reading the blog of the istep team members. Here is where all the five members share their experience with their new learning and the cultural shocks. They all especially seemed to be my roll models in the field of technology.

In future, I am really looking forward for working in a tech research project like this.

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