The OKOA Project Arrives in Rural Tanzania
Imagine, you’re in labor, ready to welcome a new baby into the world, but aren’t sure how you’ll get the proper medical care you need in a timely way. People in rural communities throughout the world cannot safely access healthcare with existing transportation options. Traditional modes are too expensive, while other alternatives aren’t safe or sustainable.
Two years ago in Africa’s Tanzania, there was no viable transportation option that was both versatile and affordable, until The OKOA Project team stepped in.
Thanks to a dedicated, knowledgeable, and caring team of professionals from around the world, reliable, upgraded transportation is becoming more widely available and more efficient. The OKOA Project is committed to making a difference, providing special motorcycle ambulances, and saving lives one ride at a time.
Our Work Officially Begins
This work began in an MIT D-lab design course where a group of engineering students were paired with The Olive Branch For Children to address the pressing problem. The team traveled to Tanzania three times to get a first hand look, conducted more than 240 interviews with the people of the remote villages, and built and tested several prototypes in Boston and Tanzania.
“When I was a senior at MIT, our group went to Tanzania and did many interviews about the people’s frightening experiences there. Besides walking to the hospital miles and miles away, the women would ride on the back of a motorcycle taxi, which can be dangerous, even fatal during a complicated pregnancy, as well as too expensive. We really wanted to get to the root of the problem,” explained Eva Boal, MIT class of 2018 alum and Okoa’s Co-founder and Treasurer, Development and Implementation. “We talked to women who lost their babies because they couldn’t afford to take the taxi, and got to the clinic too late. After hearing these painful stories, we realized we can really help these people, and it was then we decided to commit to making a difference.”
Creation of The OKOA Ambulance
The team created the first Okoa Ambulance. Okoa means “to save” in Swahili, and that was their ultimate mission. The new vehicle, with a removable trailer, is designed to navigate narrow and rough terrain.
“It is easily integrated into their existing motorcycle systems, and can be locally maintained,” she said. “We’re thrilled to say we’ve provided more than 100 rides to people who needed them most.”
How The OKOA Project is Changing Lives
People in dire need. People like 29-year-old Helena Boniface.
“I was so sick that I could not talk or eat. I had diarrhea and was pregnant, and was afraid I would lose the baby. Mama Rosie called the ambulance forme. Pascal picked me up from my house, and Mama Rosie came with me.
Mama Rosie runs the ambulance service and takes care of the maintenance in Tanzania. Pascal is the first Okoa driver. Mama Rosie ensured 21-year-old Tamasha got the care she needed too.
“They waited for me while I was in the hospital, and I was able to get medicine that fixed my problem,” she recalled. “Now my pregnancy isn’t broken, I am safe, and so is the baby. I would recommend this. It’s safe and free.”
Mama Rosie ensured 21-year-old Tamasha got the care she needed too.
“My baby was sick, and I called Mama Rosie to bring me an ambulance. I went with my baby to Utengule and held her in my arms. The ambulance was more comfortable and safe than a motorcycle because I could lie down. It was fast, and I arrived at the hospital in time,” she explained. “If I got pregnant again I would take the Okoa Ambulance.”
Sarah Rashid, 40, also recommends the Okoa Ambulance.
“My kid came home from school one day and she was very sick. She is 16, and I knew she needed to go to the hospital,” she said. “I went with my daughter, and it took 30 minutes for the ambulance to come which was quick. Once it arrived, it was very quick to get to the hospital, and my daughter was able to get treatment.”
Expansion of The OKOA Pilot Progam
Seeing the success of this pilot program, and hearing first-hand how it’s saving lives, the Okoa team is now working with other villages. They’ve partnered with the Virtue Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to provide both short-term, impactful and long-term, sustainable development solutions to communities worldwide.
“We’re excited to partner with Virtue, and are working on a program in Ghana,” Eva said. “We have to alter the construction because the Ghanaian motorcycles are different than in Tanzania, so our team is fully assessing to make sure it can work in a similar fashion. The great thing is, we use recycled motorcycle parts to build the ambulances, which most technicians, even in remote areas, can fix. That’s an added bonus, we’re creating locally-made vehicles, and creating jobs for the people who live there.”
Though Eva’s journey started with a school project, the MIT alum is now fully invested in The Okoa Project.
“As I continue working, I find new things that we need to address,” she said. “When I went back to Tanzania this summer, it’s the first time it really hit me that we’re able to help people. Everything is worth it.”