Drew Griscom Roos


Afghanistan Field Report: Week 1

Excerpts from field reports during my trip to Afghanistan to deploy CommCare with female, illiterate CHWs

Arrived Saturday evening after a loooonng journey from Dubai on little sleep. From the taxiing plane in Kabul I saw a waiting motorcade; immediately after meeting my handler outside, a lot of soldiers with M16s started chasing us out of the airport. Karzai [editor’s note: later determined to actually be the Prime Minister of Pakistan] was arriving and they needed to secure it. Used this opportunity to take a joyride around Kabul as I had screwed up my entry process and neglected to acquire a foreign visitor registration card – a document so important that there is absolutely no signage/instructions about what you need it for, how to get it, or that it exists at all. Kabul is really run down (not sure what I should have been expecting…); soldiers everywhere and streets flanked with massive fortified compounds posted with guards who look like they mean very serious business. Incidentally, Kabul is also crawling with late-model Toyota Corolla S’s! 2 metal detectors, 4 pat-downs, and a car-bomb sweep later, I was back at the gate for Herat (no ID check, though– ticket made out to ‘Mr. Drew’). Herat baggage claim is to load all the bags into the back of a pickup truck and let everyone have at it. Truthfully, it did seem like a more efficient system. The compound is quite nice…. razor wire, blast walls, and sand bags add to the charm. The basement bunker converted to a movie watching room. Beginning to feel ever more like an ‘expat pen’, though.

On to work stuff…

Have been very busy and I think things are going pretty well, considering.

We made a prototype app of just the pregnancy checklist, with the images we had, and with full audio and translated captions in Dari. The local team held auditions before picking who should record the audio content :). The dynamic with the local staff improved greatly once we had something tangible for us to play with.

Did our first testing round with CHWs this morning and I’m quite satisfied with how it went. It was two CHW couples, and one of the women was literate, which surprised me and made me slightly nervous that these wouldn’t be representative of the CHWs at large. The other woman was pretty basic, though, so I tried to focus on her. All owned and used phones, though the illiterate one probably only receives calls and gets her daughter to dial numbers (though she could map latin to arabic numerals, with difficulty). All seemed to take to the app quite well. The literate woman was obviously quicker but the other was not completely lost. Did see some usability issues (followed up separately). All also seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the app and thought it would help them in their work, and I don’t think they were just saying it to make me happy.

Having the men there was a challenge. They tended to monopolize the group discussions and it took some effort – though not insurmountable – to engage the women. But during the interactive portion they quickly got bored and started screwing around. One guy immediately discovered all the media files on the memory card, bluetoothed them to his phone and set them as his ringtone. The other started playing them on loop in the media player. Dude #2 also managed to unrecoverably corrupt the app practically every time he touched it (which is as much our fault as his) [editor’s note: later determined to be the fault of inferior, locally-sourced memory cards]. I hope the real trainings will be better when it’s more structured, but who knows. If we have a second testing session it might be better to be women-only.

Other fun comments from testing:

“we’re used to open spaces… greenery… this room [conference room in the basement] is giving me a headache”

“so… what religion are you?” [awkward pause]
(he just seemed eager to make friends… maybe my Tali-beard is paying off)

Given the current progress, it might be feasible to add some more content into the initial pilot. Making the content itself is quite labor-intensive, though, and that time might be better spent addressing bugs and usability issues. Hopefully I can ease the Field Implementor into the role of content creator, though not necessarily form builder. Full trainings currently scheduled to begin next Sunday.

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