12 November 2007

What is it, exactly, that I do out here?

Posted by JonHaley under: Mongolia .

Bit of a downer last time, but the basic idea is that I’ve been brought over here at great expense and effort. Now I’m living in a comfortable apartment, consuming resources and taking up space. So, what exactly am I doing here? What work am I doing that couldn’t be done by a Mongolian or at least by someone else at a lesser expense? Well I’m happy to report I can sorta answer the first question and hopefully soon the other two will become more clear. I’ve finally turned a corner with my job and I am looking forward to being busier in the future both at work and outside of work.


Here’s what I will be doing for the rest of the month and into the future, in some sort of order and priority:

1) Website updates and design modifications for the Erdene Zuu Buddhist Monastery in Kharkhorin, Uvurkhangai Aimag. A volunteer who was working at the monastery promoting its fundraising efforts and other activities is now at the end of her 2 year placement has passed this project on to me. Basically I’ll just be cleaning up the site and adding some updated static content for the next few months until someone else can take over. Check out the site and lemme know if you encounter any problems (I haven’t done anything with it yet!!) Interesting group as well.

2) Computerizing the appointment system and patient records database for Nalakh Health District, a small hospital outside of UB. Mongolia’s health system is still a mystery to me (I hope to learn more soon and report back), but it appears to be a private/public mix and every hospital seems to be on a different page in terms of their resources and informatics. The Nalakh hospital has a very convoluted system for registering patients who come in for appointments, checking their health insurance information, and storing their records, resulting in a lot of manual labor for the staff. As the hospital gets busier this is turning into a serious problem. Another VSO health volunteer who is working with the hospital has asked me to consult on this issue and maybe even help to develop a more streamlined system. Obviously, I don’t know anything about how hospitals operate in general, much less in Mongolia, (other than that their record keeping requirements are pretty intense and security and privacy are huge concerns). However, since for the time being no one else is able to do much for the hospital’s IT needs, I hope I can at least offer a somewhat educated opinion on the best course of action.

Through this project, I had the opportunity to visit UB hospital number 1, the biggest and busiest hospital in the country, last week to observe their methods for processing patients and transferring records between reception, the insurance company’s computers and the individual doctors’ computers. The hospital was quite modern and I was impressed with how well things appeared to be working. The computer systems they were using were quite basic, a database with a user interface for adding records and a network for sharing the information around the hospital, and a lot of things were still being done by hand. Through an interpreter the other health vol and I were able to get a pretty good idea of things were being run. We also got the number for a local Mongolian software company who had developed the database software, and we may be able to use them to develop something similar for the other smaller hospital. All in all the experience was enlightening and I hope to get a chance to help out more with this project, but to address all the issues at the hospital would take a few months of solid work and a lot more money than anyone has, so will see how it goes.

3) Some basic web development training and other IT consulting with the Mongolian Education Alliance (MEA), where yet another VSO Vol is working. I don’t have much info on this as of yet but it should basically entail doing some training and streamlining of MEA’s website updating process and helping out with a few other smaller network problems they are having. Should have more information on this project next week.

4) Working with a Dutch VSO who is a teacher trainer at a construction technology college in UB. This would mainly be setting up an online course system that can be used to deliver training material to students outside the city and provide a way for teachers to more efficiently deliver their course content. Haven’t done anything with this yet, but again I hope to at least consult and help direct the college towards the right resources and local web developers who might be able to help them out.

5) Continue to work with VSO Mongolia to develop a public website in Mongolian and English to help them reach different partners and other International NGOs working in the same areas. This site will also have a private volunteers section where current volunteers can share training documents, forms, ideas and anything else via forums, blogs, wikis and whatever else. I’ve been trying to get this going for a while now, but so far have been frustrated because everything has to go through the VSO UK main office in London for approval which is quite slow. Moreover, VSO UK is reluctant to recede control over country specific websites for fear something will go awry with branding and such. Pretty lame but hopefully will get something going before too long.

6) Any spare time I might have will be spent hacking viruses out of other volunteers’ work PCs or flash disks, painstakingly trying to restore crashed or virus ridden computers, or otherwise fighting the good fight against anarchy, disease, and corruption in the digital world!

This is definitely a good work load going forward and I feel like I shouldn’t have much trouble with most of these things, at least from the technical side. I pretty much only have two gears when it comes to work: Neutral and 5th, so I’m shifting to the latter now and I should start getting better efficiency overall. I’ll give updates on these projects and the many other new ones that will be coming up as they happen.

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