Eritrea: 'When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going'

interview

Covid-19 has been dreadful for everyone throughout the world. Many people have become victims of the pandemic, especially when it first broke out, because of lack of information and prevention. To complement what media outlets have been doing to inform people about the pandemic, two Eritrean programmers, Tesfalem Belay and Engineer Ebtsam Hussien, came up with a mobile application. They are a team of like-minded people with specialization in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Tesfalem, who studied Physics at the University of Asmara and has a diploma in Accounting, is a certified Networker, and Web Developer. Ebtsam Hussien, who studied Computer Engineering (BA) at Eritrea Institute of Technology, has been working on IT related fields such as developing software and mobile application as well as creating websites and web-based applications. By creating a team called 'TES IT' Solutions, they have been providing products and service. They developed Covid-19 application with the help of UNDP and the Ministry of Health (MoH).

Tesfalem and Ebtsam, thank you for agreeing to this interview. First introduce us with yourselves.

My name is Ebtsam Hussien and my partner's name is Tesfalem Belay. We used to work individually, but we have now been working together for the past five years by creating a team called TES IT Solutions. We work as freelancers. We have been providing services/products like fingerprint attendance system, Enterprise Resource Planning(ERP) for factories, digital library for schools and libraries, Restaurant Management System (RMS), Point of Sale for business(POS), inventory management system, hotel management system, tour and travel management system, pharmacy stock management system, Eritrea yellow page mobile application, car driving tutor mobile application, Mobile shopping using SMS mobile application, Ecommerce Web sites, and other kinds of websites. Recently we came up with an application which can be useful to people as the world is suffering from the covid-19 pandemic. And we named the application "Eritrea tackling COVID-19".

Would you tell us exactly what the application is about?

The idea was mainly initiated by the UNDP and the application was primarily developed to raise people's awareness and enlighten them on how to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic by being aware of its symptoms. We started developing the application when the pandemic first broke out in our country. We started the project in April last year and we worked on it for the past one year. For months now media outlets such as television and radio have been giving information on symptoms associated with Covid- 19 and its prevention methods. We developed the mobile application to complement the efforts made by the media outlets.

For example, someone with a fever who wants to find out instantly whether it is a symptom of Covid-19 cannot depend on television or radio. We took that into consideration and started developing an application where anyone can use their mobile phones to find relevant information regarding Covid-19. The content is available in three languages: English, Tigrigna and Arabic in audio and video as well as sign language.

What are the contents of the application?

We included the parts we thought were crucial during the outbreak of the pandemic on the home page. They include awareness about symptoms, prevention methods and, generally, what Covid-19 is. We also added tips on what people should do in and outside their homes. What is peculiar about the tips is that you can turn it on whenever you need it and turn it off when you feel it is not necessary. It doesn't annoy you by peeping if you turn off the tips. For people suffering from boredom, we came up with a solution on what they can do taking their age into consideration under the category of self-care. We also included Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) regarding Covid-19 and its connection with breastfeeding, pregnancy and childbirth, HIV, influenza, physical distancing and so on.

What was the role of UNDP and the Ministry Of Health in developing the application?

When we submitted our proposal, it got accepted. Our idea was to bring essential information about the pandemic to the hands of everyone using a smartphone. We brought information we thought was important from the World Health Organization. As we are developers not health experts, we handed the information to UNDP and MoH for them to validate. This helped us to avoid misinforming people and spreading wrong information. In addition, the contents were filtered and finalized by MoH. Simply put, they were our biggest helpers throughout our journey to finalize the project.

You mentioned the word 'like-minded' working together in your application under "About Developers" section. Any specific meaning behind it?

Ebtsam and I had our own lives. However, we were so alike that the universe brought us together to be partners at work. We met at an occasion and instantly agreed to become partners when we noticed things we had in common -- our devotion to our work and our ambitions. At first, we were active in developing mobile applications. Then we presented our first work at Festival Eritrea in Expo in 2018. But then again a new idea started to cross our minds. We started to emphasize on creating professional, educational, business and informative solutions for Eritrean citizens, business owners, government institutions and tourists. As the saying goes 'Two minds are better than one'. Joining our ideas and opinions allowed us to be flexible and productive when developing products and giving services. Now we are like hands in gloves. That is the meaning of "like-minded working together".

Did you face any challenges while developing the application?

We did face challenges, but they were not that big of a deal. We wanted to increase the languages in the application, but we were able to do it only in three languages. And we started developing the application at a time when the government imposed Covid-19 restrictions. There was no transportation and the lockdown itself became an obstacle for our flexibility. We were forced to work from our homes. But in the end our work paid off. So the challenges we had are nothing compared to our achievement.

Any other points you want to make?

Generally, in our country, people don't make a move to get the best out of technology thinking that we lack advanced technology and Internet service. It is true that there is no fast Internet connection in our country, but the young generation should be creative and convert the available Internet access to their own advantage. You need to create your own opportunities. Particularly youngsters need to understand how to use the technology available in our country for improvement and development. We really do hope for the pandemic to vanish from the surface of the earth. But if things don't seem to end, we might come up with the second version of the application in order to help people be knowledgeable and safe.

Thank you Ebtsam and Tesfalem for the information.

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