Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Dream Come True

Written by Nick Stolberg:

Papito running the Database on the iPad
My life in Haiti is far from normal. Life here represents the abnormal.  Problems that we face, challenges that we have, and the solutions are all fundamentally different than I would have ever thought possible.  When I first came to Children of the Promise, I had two visions of things I could help with.  The first was Solar Panels.  I had a strong desire to see that project through completion.  It represents an amazing long term investment, lessens our dependency on diesel, and saves us money.  I am proud to say that the solar panels now operate every day, rain or shine.  They are doing well and it was awesome to see it finished.  After the Solar Panels came the next project.
Before you go on, you must know that I am a bit of what some might call a nerd.  I place a high value in efficient systems that utilize our resources to the maximum.  So while this post may not directly be about babies, it is about how we are improving our system to better care for our babies.
The problem was that COTP was experiencing information overload.  There was so much information that was being collected each day on so many different children in many different programs, but none of it was centralized.  Each person and program had their own way of collecting the data.  When ever a new person took over a program, they would completely change the way of doing it.  There was no consistency at all and that made it difficult to ever train people to do this for us or to know what the data meant.  We were gathering so much useful information but we had no way of using it.  If we ever wanted to go back and analyze the data it would have been such a time consuming task that no one would ever be able to do it.  
My solution was a Database.  Back in High School I took a class on Microsoft Access.  From then on I was enthralled with the potential for Databases.  For various reasons and after months of discussions we decided to develop a database using File Maker Pro.  File Maker Pro offers seamless integration across platforms, and can be used like an app on an Ipad and Iphone.  We had this crazy vision of our Haitian Staff using Ipads to collect and enter the information on the go.  
The journey started for me in September 2011.  I downloaded a trial version of File Maker to start trying to figure it out.  After a few unsuccessful and frustrating hours I began looking on craigslist for FM developers in Minnesota since I was headed there in a few days.  We ended up finding one that was willing to teach us how to start.  He only charged $50 per hour (which is a good deal) and was willing to meet with us for an 8 hour lesson.  
Jamie and I sat in a coffee shop for nearly 10 hours while our head was crammed full of technical database development information.  I then spent the next 3 days in Jamie’s basement building the foundation to what has now revolutionized Children of the Promise.
When I returned from the States I had this database on the laptop that was only a work in progress.  I had poured probably close to 40 hours in 3 days into this thing.  It was described as interesting and vibrantly colored; and we all wondered if we just wasted a bunch of time and money, or if it could really help.  

Nikki teaching Fifi and Roseline how to type.
To switch to something like this requires everyone to throw away the entire way they used to work and relearn a very new system.  The timing worked out amazing as we were having some staffing changes at the time.  Sheila had used databases while working in Hospitals before coming here and had lots of great ideas on how to wildly improve the medical screens to track our children’s health.  The medical aspect of the database was our biggest priority.  There was too much information for each child to efficiently organize it with any other tool.  
The transition also included hiring Papito to do data entry.  We had lots of information of previous children and current children in a vast array of spreadsheets, word documents, note books, and in our heads that we needed to get into the database before it would really be useful.  Papito spent months entering name by name and date by date.  
There have been so many benefits to this that it would take the entire day to tell you them all.  Instead I want to share two of them.
Empowering our Haitian Employees:  A huge misconception that I had before moving to Haiti was that the best way for me to help Haiti was for me to send aid.  While aid is needed, it is critical that it be distributed in a way that builds instead of destroying communities and individuals.  What I try to do now is to empower Haitians with tools that allow them to work better and more efficiently.  The initial time investment in the beginning is far greater than if I simply did it myself, but the long term results are greater than I can image.  
Prior to the database, computers at COTP were for the international volunteers.  That meant that all computer work, data entry, etc had to be done by international staff.  The database is set up to be simple and built in a way that allows our Haitians Staff, who have no prior computer experience, to be able to use it.  Many of our employees didn’t even know how to move a mouse a few months ago, but are now efficiently entering data into our database!  We currently have seven of our Haitian staff who use it daily!
The database is helping us in countless way.  For instance, each room takes different quantities of various types of formula depending on the children in that room and their nutritional needs.  Handing out the supplies used to be a huge task as room assignments were always changing. Now this task is much easier, thanks to a report that Madam Ga runs on the computer in the Depot which shows her exactly how much of each formula to distribute to each room.  This task used to have to be done by an international staff member, however we have now empowered one of our employees who has worked here for 12 years to do it.  In addition, it’s much easier to control the quantity given out.  If we want to change a child’s formula, we no longer have to tell a whole list of people, we simply change it in the database and then everyone can see it!  
Madam Ga has worked for COTP for 12 years, she has at one point probably done every job here.  Now she is using a computer to help COTP operate more efficiently.  COTP is saving money by controlling our distribution of supplies in a much more effective and correct way.  Madam Ga has a job, where she was taught and empowered to use a computer.  She has an increased moral and sense of self accomplishment.  This story is multiplied across many of our administrative staff at COTP that have taken on this Database.
Papito teaching Roseline something new on the Database
Centralizing our data: Well, obviously a database centralizes data, what we didn’t realize is how critical this was.  With a few mouse clicks I can see a graph of any child in any of our programs weight gain.  With a few clicks we can get a precise dosage of tylenol and log the distribution of it into the system.  With a few clicks we can access more information for more of our children than any of us ever realized we needed.  Our international staff, who tend to be swamped with never ending administrative duties, are doing less and less of the data entry and more and more of the reviewing and evaluating.    
For each child we have over 230 fields of information that we can add to. Today we have 872 Records of Children that COTP has helped, we have entered in 3,270 Heights and Weights, 1032 Medical Notes, 539 Medications, 904 Vaccinations, 531 Lab results, and a whole lot more!  All of this has happened in just the past six months!   
It makes it so easy to know that in the first quarter of this year COTP has admitted 11 children, reunited 9 children, completed the adoption for 1 child, and 3 children have passed away.  In addition, so far this quarter 19 kids have been admitted into the formula program, and 11 into the Medika Mamba program.  In addition, 30 Moms in our Prenatal Program have given birth!
COTP has taken on some expenses in switching to this system. One of the keys to having all this information online is that we need to be able to access it quickly and from anywhere.  Many generous people have donated money to allow for this.  We are using a Mac Mini Server to host all of our files and our databases.  We have 5 additional Mac Mini’s Set up as work stations, in addition we use 2 Ipads, and 2 MacBooks.  We have installed over 3,000 feet of ethernet cable, two 16 port switches, one 4 port switch, one Airport Extreme, and five Airport Expresses (For those who want to get technical).  We also have the ability to connect to the database remotely from the US, which allows our staff there to have up to date information on all of our children.

Fifi and Roseline practicing using the computer!
In addition, we just made another significant step in the way that COTP operates which we would not have been able to do with out this system.  As of the beginning of April, we are now doing our employee role call on the Ipad thanks to the database!  This means that when it comes time to do payroll, instead of spending hours transferring data from one sheet to another and then entering it in the computer, we can now get this information at the click of a button.  Not only is it much faster, but it is also much more accurate. 
As COTP continues to grow, we have a bigger and bigger demand for more technology.  Several of our Haitian staff members have already began to ask if we can teach them to use a computer as they know it’ll drastically improve the way they are able to operate at COTP.  If you are upgrading a used piece of Apple technology, chances are we could use your old piece in Haiti.  This includes Iphones, Ipads,  Imacs, Monitors, Routers, Switches, Network Boxes, UPS supplies, Etc!  If you would be interested in donating these items or any others to COTP, please contact me at
Thanks for taking the time to read my Nerdy blog post.  We truly appreciate all of your support in making these big things happen!
Nick Stolberg

1 comment:

  1. Awesome, this is key to all COTP does. Empowering!