Over the past few years, we as an organization have experienced our fair share of obstacles to overcome and other generally difficult tasks. After Thursday though, I think I can say we have finally stumbled upon the single most onerous task to date: training. And I have every expectation that it remain one of the most challenging aspects for projects far into the future.

Our large training cohort in Porto Novo

This past Thursday we conducted the first of several training sessions to introduce our vaccine tracking system to the frontline health workers responsible for the system’s successful use. In fact, the success of this project in Benin–and of the organization as a whole–is far more dependent on the people sitting on the other side of those desks than it is on us. In this particular session, those people included the¬†state director of health and his lieutenant in charge of primary health delivery (under which fall vaccination services), the WHO national vaccination coordinator, municipal-level vaccination program officials and two representatives from each clinic that has been selected for participation in our pilot project.

Dr. Biey Jose of WHO

Dr. Biey Jose of WHO

The training lasted nearly six hours, and even with that marathon session, we will still need to do individual follow-up at clinics to answer questions and ensure proper use. We had approximately 40 people in attendance that represented a wide array of capability. Training was conducted in French by our new regional coordinator, Fidele Marc, supported by our far less fluent staff, Shawn and Mark.

Some of the training is intuitive. At the highest level, we are teaching vaccination professionals about a vaccination tracking system, something that is, at a high level, very similar to what they’re already using. The real difficulty comes from the fact that we have to teach people how to use a computer. We take for granted our own computer literacy which makes it challenging to teach someone who has literally never typed a single character nor even once clicked a mouse. We planned for this as best we could from day one. The software is designed to be as basic and intuitive as possible; the process flow mirrors what the health workers already do with paper records. Also, a large part of our training is dedicated to basic computer usage: turning it on and off, moving the cursor with the track pad, selecting options, entering information with the keyboard, etc.

The good news is that while training is difficult and time intensive, it is entirely within our own ability to overcome. So many other aspects of our project rely on external input: e.g. funders deciding to support us, government officials providing approvals. Training is unique in the sense that all we have to do is dedicate enough time and effort to reach our goals. As an added benefit, we are teaching basic computer literacy to a cadre of people that otherwise would never build that skill set. This prepares them well for a world, even here, that is rapidly becoming digitized and greatly enhances their career prospects.

Vaccination workers learning how to use the system