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Ask Slashdot: Geeky Volunteer Work?

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the lend-a-hand dept.

News 229

An anonymous reader writes "I plan to be in-between jobs for 1-2 months later this year and use part of this time to do some volunteer work in Africa. My naive question: what to do and where to go? Is it possible to make good use of the skill-set of a typical geek? Any interesting projects worth supporting on-site?"

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What can you do? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36871992)

What is a "typical" geek? Are you a programmer? Do you work with hardware? Can you do science? Are you an environmental engineer? A teacher? I don't know much about Africa, but someone who does is going to need to know more about you.

Re:What can you do? (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872110)

Some suggestions:

Water filtration/purification techniques (think of decanting using solar power)
Wiring generators, lighting systems, or similar
Making old computers usable again

Depends on the problems they have at the region, if you don't have to dodge bullets that's a start

Re:What can you do? (2)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872222)

It really matters where in Africa you are going which you didn't mention. Your computer skills will probably do little good in the middle of the Kalahari desert where engineering skills are more useful for things like water irrigation. After all Africa is big place.

Re:What can you do? (1)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872384)

To be fair, the question included "where to go"...Also:

  • Syria : near civil war
  • Libya : actual civil war
  • D. R. Congo : recent war
  • Somalia : famine

in fact, it's a rare country in Africa that doesn't have some kind of terrible problem that computer skills probably won't solve.

Re:What can you do? (2)

scuzzlebutt (517123) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872466)

FWIW, Syria is not in Africa.

Re:What can you do? (1)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872532)

Oh, yeah. I even had google maps open. Oh well mod me -1 idiot..

Re:What can you do? (1)

martyros (588782) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872526)

Syria : near civil war

Geography fail: Syria isn't in Africa.

Re:What can you do? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872528)

What's with the brain-fscking double negatives?
Why not just say "it's rate country in Africa that have some kind of terrible problem that computer skills probably solve"

Re:What can you do? (1)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872602)

Blame the 20p nasty tea dispenser machine : it wasn't not un-accepting my money, so I didn't not get none.

Re:What can you do? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872634)

Why not just say "it's rate country in Africa that have some kind of terrible problem that computer skills probably solve"

Because that is a different, as in not logically equivalent, statement.

What kind of skillset is 'geeky'? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872002)

You ask for advice, but 'geek' encompasses everything from civil engineering to cloud computing IT.

Re:What kind of skillset is 'geeky'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872136)

And even that's an extremely narrow subset.

Re:What kind of skillset is 'geeky'? (1, Insightful)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872176)

Pretty much what I was thinking. I'm a computer/engineering guy but I've been doing philosophy lately and I'm writing a book on economics and finances. That book is turning into an essay because... it's information, not fiction; I keep making revisions and pairing it down into a more concise technical writing piece, though I realize I need an appeal to emotion to not completely bore the reader.

Finances fall between engineering, philosophy, and economics. From an engineering standpoint, I have resources, vague goals, and various costs involved in using those resources: rent versus own, car versus bike versus motorcycle versus a diversified strategy involving all that (and maybe public transit), family versus single living, plans for emergencies and for the future, etc. From a philosophical standpoint, I also have various needs to balance: overconsumption and excess luxury are waste, yet elimination of all luxury is not necessarily spiritually healthy--life should be enrichment, not poverty or gluttony. Of course finances and economics go together implicitly: what costs money, what do you do to save money, what do you do with that money?

You see, even philosophical venues--extolling the virtues of using a bicycle or not wasting labor by overusing their car is a philosophical venue--intertwine with "geek" venues like engineering and economics. Using a motorcycle incurs less fuel costs (half) and purchasing costs ($4000 vs $20000) than a car, but the same maintenance; using a bicycle incurs roughly 1/10 of what a motorcycle incurs, and contributes to physical fitness and health as well. Either of these helps the economic goal of reducing wasted labor and putting additional funds into the economy; and, in varying degrees, the environmental concerns of burning excess fossil fuel (motorcycle is both easier to manufacture and takes less energy to run than a car).

The world is filled with interesting problems.

Re:What kind of skillset is 'geeky'? (0, Flamebait)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872698)

*Spelling Nazi alert*

You meant paring [] , not pairing.

Miss America (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872324)

You ask for advice, but 'geek' encompasses everything from civil engineering to cloud computing IT.

Or a Miss America [] contestant.

Geek Corps (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872024)

Depending on your skill set Geek Corps might have something for you:

Re:Geek Corps (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872388)

Geek Corpses? Is that where Geek Squad employees go to when they die?

Re:Geek Corps (2)

Yakasha (42321) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872462)

Geek Corpses? Is that where Geek Squad employees go to when they die?

No. They go to hell. They go to hell and DIE.

Re:Geek Corps (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872572)

Geek Corpses? Is that where Geek Squad employees go to when they die?

No. They go to hell. They go to hell and DIE.

Processor die or gambling die? :-)

Re:Geek Corps (1)

airfoobar (1853132) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872684)

Processor die. There are daemons there.

Open-source software. (1)

koreaman (835838) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872032)

Figure out if any open-source software is widely used in Africa, and contribute to it. A month should be easily enough time to implement a new feature or track down a few bugs.

Re:Open-source software. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872090)

My God... if something this stupid is all you can come up with, please don't post.

Re:Open-source software. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872164)

Ditto for you, flamebait

Re:Open-source software. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872140)

It sounds like the asker is actually going to Africa. Contributing to OSS is something you do from sitting at home. And it doesn't really do much in the long run anyway.

Re:Open-source software. (1)

koreaman (835838) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872778)

Fine, then my answer changes to "stay at home and donate the money for your plane ticket to charity".

Re:Open-source software. (4, Funny)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872590)

Ubuntu was founded by an African. Helping out with Ubuntu is probably the best way to help Africa. I recommend installing Ubuntu on your computer, as well as any other computers you have access to (your friends, parents, library computers, etc). And spread the word on blogs, forums, mailing lists etc.

Help build out computer infrastructures in schools (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872036)


A coworker of mine will be going to Ghana in September and help set up computer labs using donated equipment (no longer used) from his department and other departments. His hope is that equipping schools with more up-to-date hardware and helping to set up their network for them will help improve the students' access to technology enough to help them get up to speed with modern tech.

Others could possibly include investigating different uses of mobile technology to improve the connectivity of more out of reach places or something as simple as helping to liveblog the construction of new water wells ...

Re:Help build out computer infrastructures in scho (2)

damienl451 (841528) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872612)

I don' t know the specifics of this operation. Maybe it is the one exception that proves the rule and it is a great idea. However, I should point out (if not for your colleague's sake at least for that of others who might be contemplating to do the same thing) that the consensus among aid scholars/professionals is that gifts-in-kind shipped from abroad are generally a bad idea. Why? Many different reasons:

1) Shipping is expensive. Not so much the actual journey across the seas (although it is still a factor, especially with bulky equipment such as computers), but just the logistics involved. It takes time to ship things overseas and this has an opportunity cost. Overall, it is usually estimated to be much cheaper to just source everything locally. Including labor whenever possible, which is most of the time since a project that relies crucially on foreign expertise to continue is likely to be a bad idea in the first place. If you actually go there, you'll end up doing unqualified/semi-qualified work that locals could do just as well, if not actually better. Are there no IT people in Ghana who can set up a computer lab? I'm pretty sure there are.

2) It might not be what people need. Would you be happy if you had to maintain a computer lab made up of second-hand computers that might have been refurbished but are still more prone to hardware failures than new equipment and that additionally has two dozen different kinds of hardware and software because different donors all gave whatever they had at their disposal? This would be a nightmare for any organization (there is a reason why many universities/companies standardize on 1 brand/basic configuration and stick with it as much as possible). It's the same in the developing world.

3) It promotes false ideas about developing countries. In most cases, the problem is NOT that whatever people want or need is not available locally. The problem is that people are poor and don't have enough money to purchase these goods. Electronics, including PC and parts, are available in Africa. Especially in a country like Ghana. For the matter, there are Dell distributors in Ghana and virtually all African countries. There are also wholesalers that carry all the parts that you might want to buy, that will sell you computers that are suited to your needs, etc.

Overall, you're much better staying at home and donating the money that you'd have spent on a plane ticket to a reputable NGO or to your local partners (e.g. the school). It's even better since it allows *them* to prioritize their spending. Maybe they have a roof that needs fixing and that might be more important than setting up a computer lab.

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Re:cheap jerseys free shipping (1)

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Volunteering is good... (4, Insightful)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872074)

But don't take skills away from the community. If you're going to contribute, don't replace someone who is already doing the job, and don't remove the need for the community to engage someone locally to do the job.

Going in to train others to do some sort of techincal work is good, but you have to remember that their values and yours won't really mesh, and you can't force people to learn C++ when they really want to use Basic.

Re:Volunteering is good... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872170)

The best work I ever did in Africa (Kenya, Ghana, Zambia) and Haiti was to train local staff to do the job I was being asked to do. When it comes down to it, a system that can't be maintained shouldn't be set up in the first place. Whatever you do, train someone there to keep it up.

Why Africa? (5, Insightful)

SiliconJesus (1407) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872076)

There are plenty of good projects wherever you happen to be right now. Schools (public and private), libraries, senior centers are all always looking for volunteers to help make their environments better places for those who use their services. Sure its not as impressive as going overseas to do some work, but it also has many headaches that the overseas visit will not.

Re:Why Africa? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872130)

Not to mention all the nasty diseases you will catch....

Re:Why Africa? (4, Funny)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872354)

Look, senior centers and schools aren't THAT bad. Just remember to wash your hand frequently, don't put anything in your mouth that hasn't been washed, and don't leave any cut or scratch uncovered.

Oh, you meant Africa. Sorry.

Re:Why Africa? (0, Flamebait)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872340)

Well unfortunately volunteering at schools comes with political baggage that you have to carry, If you are too educated teachers don't like you and see you as a threat for teaching children better then they can, especially if you are Non-Union. Because teacher pay is too low, many of them compensate it with a personality that states that they are better people then the rest of the population. And the fact that they work all day with people who look up to them (In some way or another) they get caught up in that delusion.

Re:Why Africa? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872660)

Off-topic, but where I live, senior teachers approach the six-figure mark, in an area where the median income is half that. I wouldn't call them under-paid, but of my friends who are teachers, they still have that oh-so-wonderful "teacher personality". My wife (a former teacher herself) and I think it's caused by being absolute ruler of your small domain, and being the most intelligent person in your group for 6 hours a day. You start to think of yourself as more intelligent that everyone, not just the group of 9-year olds you normally hang out with. It just becomes how you interact with people.

Re:Why Africa? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872358)

Sure its not as impressive as going overseas to do some work, but it also has many headaches that the overseas visit will not.

Wait, so, it's not as impressive and I'll get MORE headaches? where do I sign up?

Overseas better. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872404)

In this day and age of international business, going overseas looks much better on a resume than volunteering domestically. And speaking as someone who does a lot of local volunteering, it means nothing on a resume. In this economy, just about everyone is volunteering to get out of the house, network, and hopefully turn their volunteering job into a paying job.

Re:Why Africa? (1)

eln (21727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872424)

There are lots of reasons to want to go to Africa. I'd love to go to Africa, because there are lots of interesting things to see and the culture is so very different from my own.

To answer the original question, I would say go over and do what's needed, which is probably not computer stuff for the most part (unless you want to volunteer some place that already has somewhat functioning infrastructure). Digging ditches for sewage systems, installing toilets, or digging wells would probably be more useful. Sure, it isn't glamorous work, but it's necessary work, and I'm sure there's some sense of gratification in helping people not die of dysentery.

Re:Why Africa? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872490)

...And what makes you think people there aren't already qualified to dig ditches?

It's the higher education they need, not more hands to provide manual labor.

Re:Why Africa? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872652)

...And what makes you think people there aren't already qualified to dig ditches?

It's the higher education they need, not more hands to provide manual labor.

The higher education is a guy pointing to a spot and saying "dig there". No, don't put the latrine next to the water well. etc.

I have a relative who pretty much did that in a South African township in the 80s.

I would imagine the frustrating part is you can do all the civil engineering work you want, if they aren't willing to actually dig the hole where sanitation requires, then you're better off just staying home and playing video games.

You'd be surprised how thin on the ground surveyors are in the 3rd world... if you're geeky enough you can do the book learning for surveying in about a week of really hard work, then help them lay out roads and plan bridges and teach them how to do it themselves.

Re:Why Africa? (4, Insightful)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872666)

And money. If your true goal is to help people and not seek out a personal experience, frankly, the best thing a tech person like us can do is stay home, and work, and donate the money you make. A techie earns anywhere from $20 to $50 an hour in the US. Add to that the cost of an airline ticket and other expenses, then consider how much grain, how many solar-powered lightbulbs, vaccines, hand tools, pencils and paper, etc could be bought with your donation by a group that already has the network and infrastructure to provide those things. You donating 1 hour of income at tech rates can provide enough wages to hire an unskilled worker for a few days, which has not only the effect of the work he does, but the side effect of giving someone a job.

Additionally, you need to consider how much support you will require when you get where you are going? Are you expecting some non-profit to feed and shelter you? You need to make a donation equal or greater to their expense to offset this. I remember a Red Cross worker specifically asking people not to show up unannounced in Haiti after the earthquake to "set up tents". You end up being just one more mouth to feed.

This is a deeply unsatisfying answer, I know, but it's the truth.

Re:Why Africa? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872538)

Around these parts, there's a nonprofit that hooks up private sector IT guys with nonprofits in dire need of a tech hookup. One lady was like a manual EDI interface between accounts payable and the bank. For one account field amonst 20, she added in enough zeroes to make the field exactly 32 bits in length so the interface would process it correctly. God help her if she missed one.

She nearly cried when I told her CONCATENATE(REPT(0,32-LEN(A1)),A1).

It may not be as saliently charitable as doling out soup to the homeless, but consider this: The more efficient backoffice operations is, the less donation money gets diverted to overhead. If I miraculously gave her back 25% of her workweek, that is $10k/yr freed up. That's a lot of soup.

PS: I know that efficiency gains can be eaten up by make-work. The solution is clearly to give them more real work. With a high unemployment rate. I'm sure they can think of something.

Re:Why Africa? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872580)

Travel (meaning the cultural/language experience) may just be the primary reason he wants to do it. Or at least a top priority.

Also consider that if he lives in the US, we are talking about the most expensive, most powerful government that has ever existed in the history of organized coercion. I don't know about you, but that certainly discourages me from volunteering here at home. No thanks, I'll volunteer my time and effort to a place where the ruling elite isn't already swimming in my hard-earned cash.

Think global, act local (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872774)

When the enviromentalist/hippie/etc. movement began, there was a slogan "Think global, act local" and they really had a point there. I applaud a person who is willing to volunteer a month or two in Africa but that isn't really optimal use of resources. In a developed world full of specialization, the best way to help fight the world hunger isn't to become a baker for a month or two. Giving one month worth of wage (or even just the money you would otherwise spend on plane tickets) to a charity organization likely helps more than donating a month or two of work.

Then again, the motivation is likely to be more complicated than that. I'm sure that it's interesting to do something like that just to see if you can do it. Just to experience the situation there first hand. Just to have a month worth of experience that you can look back to when you are old. Just to have one interesting line in the CV. Etc... It doesn't need to be just about optimal use of resources. Hell, many very important things in life aren't really that optimal use of resources, if you analyze them...

In that case, I recommend contacting the red cross or any similar organization with actual experience on coordinating this sort of stuff. I'm sure they can tell you where to start!

Hackers for Charity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872114)

There is Hackers for Charity [] I think.

Here is an idea (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872126)

Don't waste your time in Africa. There are things that you could be doing in your own community and state. I'm sure it sounds 'exciting' to cross over the sea and help but its retarded. Why don't you donate your plane ticket money to a local food pantry? If you go to africa then fuck you.

Re:Here is an idea (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872190)

Maybe because it isn't purely philanthropic?

Heavan forbid one helps themself while hhelping others.

Re:Here is an idea (4, Insightful)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872732)

There's nothing wrong with that. But you have to be realistic. Giving $2000 to a food shelter buys that shelter $2000 worth of food, or 1 to 1 return. Buying a $2000 plane ticket to somewhere in africa, to show up and do the equivalent of $100 worth of labor at local rates gives a 1 to 20 return. That's ok if you're considering $1900 of it to be a vacation, with a $100 donation. The $100 will still help...

Whatever they need (3, Insightful)

chinton (151403) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872128)

Don't go into it so narrowly focused -- do whatever they need you to do. Who cares if they are running open source if they need fresh drinking water.

Here's a tip (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872134)

Don't die.

Re:Here's a tip (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872412)

Thats easier said than done.

More effective and less work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872144)

That's way too much work and so ineffective. Just chain yourself to the White House fence to protest against blood diamond trade in the Congo. That sort of thing always changes hearts and minds among the warlords of the diamond mines.

Re:More effective and less work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872326)

Be sure to sign an Internet petition about it too.

Don't worry if it's "Geeky" (4, Insightful)

sconeu (64226) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872154)

Go ahead and volunteer outside of your comfort area. You might find that you like doing something "different". At a bare minimum you'll learn something new.

Re:Don't worry if it's "Geeky" (1)

boristdog (133725) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872314)

YES, this.

What most of the "needy" world needs is clean water and proper waste disposal. The fact is a proper septic system is very easy to construct and will eliminate 90% of the water contamination problems in many areas.

Study how to build simple septic systems, wells and water purification systems. That's what people really need.

Re:Don't worry if it's "Geeky" (1)

kirtu (908082) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872616)

So what people really need are finished projects from mechanical engineers ..... there was this rich Indian Communist in the 70's doing this kind of work when he wasn't running his company (he took time off to do simple projects) and there was also an article in the Washington Post within the past year or so addressing the OP's question. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872156)

Check out the following site for volunteer work in Africa... I met the founder at Shmoocon this year, neat guy and great cause:

Hospital... (1)

Landshark17 (807664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872158)

A friend of mine in med school wanted to help out with the building/early staffing of a hospital in Ethiopia, but she wasn't selected for the program (so she went to Cambodia instead to do other humanitarian work). I know nothing whatsoever about the details, but I have to imagine any hospital built today, anywhere in the world, would have some sort of technical infrastructure. A network with WiFi or perhaps even some sort of program that manages and sorts patient data... all these sound within the skill set of the average geek and could make a major positive impact. Apologies for the lack of solid information and here-say nature of the post. Regardless of what you do, I wish you the best of luck and I hope you find a project where your talents are put to good use for the benefit many, many people.

Re:Hospital... (1)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872418)

I've seen many "Hospitals" (more like tiny clinics) which don't have any tech infrastructure. Many places in developing countries want to address huge issues like famine and curable diseases quickly, and are not particularly concerned about patient records when distributing food, vaccines, or doing disease tests.

Re:Hospital... (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872768)

distributing food, vaccines, or doing disease tests

You'd be surprised how handy it is to have infrastructure to handle the inevitable logistics problems. You don't want to "have to" start reusing needles, for example.

It depends where you are... "city" means the dr already has a cell phone to handle logistics so they simply don't need you. Doing vaccinations deep in the wilderness its really convenient to order more "stuff" over a radio rather than having to hike "home" and back out again. Pretty much if there's a road, they don't need help, but if they don't have a road, they'll need a radio operator. You'll also probably end up as a psuedo-nurse when you're not on the radio, so if vaccination needles make you faint, stay at home. Also "real doctors" are a magnet for every sick person, even if you insist you're just vaccinating, you'll have people show up with every crazy ailment you can imagine, so you'd best be prepared with comms if necessary. Would be a shame if someone died because you can't order a simple antibiotic airdropped.

Help with Maintenance! It's what's missing! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872174)

I spent three years in Africa (South Africa and Zambia) doing geek work. Here's the deal, you can't do something "important" in one or two months, so don't plan on being the knight in shining armor coming in to help. However, if you go in with an attitude of humility and a desire to learn, you can be helpful.

My suggestion, based on my experience: Most of the NGOs I worked with had crappy old donated computers running some pirated version of XP, full of viruses. You could be a great help by finding a local (i.e. Africa run, not international aid agency) NGO and helping to clean up their computers, install anti-virus, get their printers working etc etc. Good computer support is in short supply, so folks do what they can but it's not easy. If you are thinking about this, also bring along a box of CDs or DVDs with latest versions of software, because getting on the internet is either impossible or slow or really expensive, so doing on-line updates is a pain.

I tried teaching people to use Ubuntu with limited success, everyone wanted Windows with Word, because that was what everyone else was using, and that was what was "known". It's a good solution, but without support falls down like everything else.

Good luck, let us know how it all worked out.

Re:Help with Maintenance! It's what's missing! (1)

kirtu (908082) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872672)

Well if Open Office really produced 100% Word compatible documents then the problem would be solved. 98% or so just isn't enough - or did they not understand that there was a 98% free solution?

shared humanity (1)

mtrachtenberg (67780) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872188)

I think an always-on, human-sized internet video connection between a refugee camp and one or more "Western" schools or public locations would be of dramatic help in humanizing the refugee crises of Africa. I'd love to see the Times Square jumbotron showing a refugee camp instead of an advertisement.

Re:shared humanity (1)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872446)

I'm sure if you pay whoever owns said jumbotron enough money, they will show whatever you want.

Re:shared humanity (1)

kirtu (908082) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872708)

People would quickly grow accustomed to the suffering and tune it out.

Re:shared humanity (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872798)

Of course you'd have to get an Internet connection with enough bandwidth for live, hi-res (you want life-sized) video into the refugee camp first...

Duh (0)

Mr.Fork (633378) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872202)

Find a local Comic-Con event of course! It's a GEEK's haven. San Diego is just over, but they tend to roam around North America like Midway filled with Geek carnies. I don' t know where you live but it's worth a shot if one is up and coming to your area.

Nigeria... (4, Funny)

stretch0611 (603238) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872208)

You can teach the poor downtrodden deposed ex-kings how to get through spam filters.

Re:Nigeria... (1)

kirtu (908082) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872810)

Or we could build AI tutors that could be accessed locally and inexpensively (and certainly at no cost to the local population) and go a long way to solving the education problem - we could test that in another 3rd world nation - the poverty stricken cities and regions of the US. Unfortunately this is a long term project because while work in AI tutoring systems has advanced we still aren't there yet although the ACT-R people have taken their cognitive rule systems out of the lab and did produce an efficient, dynamic and interactive math tutoring system that was able to engage about 60% of the students that used it at a school I taught at in DC. Then we had a teacher war.

Engineers without borders (4, Insightful)

fliptout (9217) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872212) []

I have not had the time to join the local chapter, but I'd very much like to learn more.

Help the 419 scammers! (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872214)

They apparently need more help with their spamming and scamming. I have seen a lot less of that lately and have missed it a great deal.

Geeks WIthout Borders (2)

fallen1 (230220) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872216)

Why not try them? They had been focusing primarily on Mexico and Central America with a secondary focus on Africa. Couldn't hurt to drop them a line and see what activities they have going on. []

Good luck!

IMO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872232)

Stay home and stop encouraging a corrupt government that neglects its own people...

Re:IMO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872390)

As an African living in South Africa, I can tell you, you should perhaps look at your own government first. Assuming you are American it isn't like your government isn't corrupt too and neglecting its own people.

"good use" (1)

superwiz (655733) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872256)

Of one's skills is finding an endeavor that people need done so much that they are willing to pay for it.

Teach economics (-1, Offtopic)

TheSync (5291) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872306)

The best thing you can do is teach locals about economics and the benefits of economic freedom [] . Education could lead to political change. They could learn how to be a bit more like Botswana [] and less like Zimbabwe [] .

What part of Africa? (2)

Nkwe (604125) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872362)

Africa is kind of a big place. There are something like 50 countries there, all with different kinds of people, politics, and needs. it might help if you indicted where in Africa you were planning on going. Once you pick a country, are you planning on going to a large metropolitan city, a medium city, a small town or village, or what? Does the place you are going to have an industrial or economic base or are the people there just subsistence living? Like other places in the world Africa has a mix of all of this.

Without further information I would give the same advice that I would give any geek looking for volunteer work anywhere in the world (or at home): Find activities that inspire others to be smart, inquisitive, and have a passion to figure out how stuff works. Focus on the young.

Hubris much? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872368)

It sounds like you've decided that you want to help people today cause you are bored and Africa needs help so you are going to go hop on a plane and go 'help' them do things your way if they need help with interesting things because you are that awesome.

Shouldn't you already be involved with one of the many organizations that is already entrenched in the local culture and infrastructure before trying to plan a trip? Why not start there? Africa is a pretty big place with vast socio-economic differences between different places. If you want to help people, get involved with the other people who are helping and find out what they actually need and when. (2)

spinkham (56603) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872370) []

I highly recommend reading the blog, and maybe contacting Johnny. Reading their blog gives a good feel about what tech charity work in Africa can and cannot do, from someone who gave up their career to do it.

For those who want to volunteer closer to home, [] has national and local resources. Their local affiliated NCtech4good group seems to be doing good things in my area, I've only found them recently myself.

Set up computer labs for underfunded schools (1)

rebelwarlock (1319465) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872380)

One charity drive I got involved with thanks to a teacher in university was to take old, discarded hardware and form it into something useful for schools. We would get computers that were to be thrown away by the government delivered to the university instead. Then we would salvage as much as we possibly could to make working computers out of them, set up a network that shouldn't require much in the way of maintenance, and educate teachers about how to use it. We'd even appeal to ISPs to get them hooked up with free internet. This was in Belize, which is a third world country. Since I don't really know much about Africa, I'm not sure how helpful that will be, but it's a thought.

Check with your local Rotary club or district (2)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872402)

One of the local clubs may have a contingent going somewhere internationally to help set up fresh drinking water, or fighting polio, or building a bridge, or starting a library (my club is doing the last two). It's a good way to help without having to get exceptionally bogged down with the administrative and political details of international assistance.

Heard of (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872426)

I've been involved with this project for a few years:

They use functional programming as a vehicle for teaching algebraic concepts (which kids desperately need). As far as the kids are concerned, they're learning how to make their own videogames. But what they're really learning are the core concepts of abstraction and data modeling, in a programming language that's actually well-suited to the job.

Their materials are insanely well laid out, and they even over free trainings in a bunch of states around the US. They were recently awarded an NSF grant, and just got listed as one of eight recommended STEM programs by Google. I don't think they do anything in Africa just now, but there's nothing stopping you from using their material there. Even their software ( is free, and doesn't require anything more than a browser.

On a side note - Vaccinations (3, Informative)

lunchlady55 (471982) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872470)

Please talk to your doctor ASAP about starting your vaccination courses. Some can take up to 6 months to hit maximum effectiveness. I wish you good luck on your journey.

bitcoin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872474)

Try to introduce Bitcoin to internet connected people. Maybe Bitcoin will be an attractive alternative to their government currency...

$$$ money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872484)

Assuming you live in the US, it's probably best to get a part-time job here and donate the money. A couple grand (just an estimate for 2 months of part-time work) is a large sum, and you can use your 1337 geek skills to search google for a trustworthy charity.

be careful, dude (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872486)

Sounds like somebody's got a case of jungle fever and the only cure is african poonie!

Watch out for the AIDS, though. Of course, if you already have AIDS, go wild :)

magnanimous but (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872500)

Assuming you're an American, you might want to do your part to straighten out your own nose diving society.
However, if truth be told, America and Africa are arguably both beyond the point of conventional help.
Not trying to be negative here, just trying to be realistic.

VSO (1)

16Chapel (998683) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872512)

How about the VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas): [] For a while I was thinking about apply to work in Nepal as a computing instructor / network guy

Google local non-profits, email, work! (1)

Yakasha (42321) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872570)

Every major non-profit has some kind of geek stuff going on: web/email/data servers, networks, software, websites. Even if its all 10 year old hand-me-down hardware and free software.
So if you want to help them out with geek stuff, here is what you do:
  1. Self Incorporate, LLC, something to protect yourself. No sense losing your house because you misconfigured somebody's server for free and let the hackers in.
  2. Search for local non-profits. Google helps.
  3. Email/call said non-profits and offer whatever services you're able to do. Explain exactly how much and what kind of work you're willing & able to do.

Its not much different from cold-calling for contract work... except you'll get a lot more positive responses.

Come to Uganda! (3, Informative)

batje (818323) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872640)

Here are some ideas.
  • We recently did a mapping party in Uganda [] . That was in Kampala. Uganda is much bigger, so you can travel around and show people a bit about GPS & Openstreetmap.
  • If you want to code, there is no CDN targetted for Africa, though bandwidth here is insanely expensive. If you want to help us build a trial, you are more than welcome.
  • If networking is your thing, check out [] ran by Johnny Long (he is in Uganda & in Wikipedia)
  • And you can always find a computer with a virus that needs to be removed.

By all means, do come to Africa. It's an experience that will change your life. It did change mine. Am stuck here for 6 years and enjoying every single day of it.

And drop me a line when you want to join us for hacking or a beer.

Sorry (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#36872682)

I don't have anything to bring to this discussion that hasn't already been said, but I do want to say that I wish you well and I think it's admirable what you're doing.

Your time is free. Equipment is not. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872776)

I volunteered for a cash-strapped nonprofit.

If there was a $100 piece of equipment that would save me 20 hours of work---guess what choice they would like to see made?

Which, from time-to-time it's understandable.

It's just, there comes a point when you have to say to them, "YOU NEED TO SPEND MONEY!!!" that things get dicey. Between being a 'big' for Big Brothers Big Sisters and doing IT work for an unappreciative nonprofit that sees you as 'the guy that asks for things'---go mentor. can use your help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872786)

You might want to check out (open source medical record system) and help a hospital in deploying and configuring an instance of openmrs. I think the openmrs community can help you further as well.

Sign up at PeaceGeeks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36872792)

You could always volunteer or make some connections over at PeaceGeeks (

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