Peace Corps volunteers, working closely with Zambian software developers, have developed a mobile application “Bantu Babel” that will translate English words and phrases into any of seven languages spoken in Zambia. The app is now available for Android-compatible devices in the Google Play store, and is intended to help Peace Corps volunteers, international aid workers and host-country nationals communicate more effectively.

peacecorpsThe app has two sections: a dictionary for translating individual words and a survival phrase book that contains helpful terms for accommodation, shopping, food and emergencies, among other things. Bantu Babel, which can be used as a training tool for government and aid workers or as a supplement to formal language training, runs offline, eliminating the need for an Internet connection.

“Peace Corps has a phenomenal language-training program, and to be able to share it is both exciting and inspiring, and to be able realize a solution in collaboration with host-country nationals truly embodies the spirit of Peace Corps,” said Tony Tseng, a third-year volunteer from Sacramento, California.

Volunteers Tony Tseng, Melissa Stetler and Rasa Kent worked with developers from BongoHive, a Lusaka-based technology and innovation hub, to develop the app. BongoHive provides a place for the local tech community to meet, swap experiences, and attend training, networking and hackathon events.

“It is my belief that Zambia, like many other developing countries, is in a great position to leapfrog over traditional technology infrastructures. Almost all Zambians own a cellphone, and the market for mobile applications is growing. To be able to utilize the mobile phones already in use is a new approach to development that has proven to be successful in other countries across Africa,” said Tseng.

The framework for the program was developed during a two-day “hackathon” in December 2012 in Lusaka, part of the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) global hackathon, which included participants in 32 cities and 16 countries. RHoK’s mission is to create a self-sustaining global community of innovators building practical open technology for a better world and to ensure that their work creates impact in society.

The Peace Corps participated in this worldwide event by collecting ideas for problems and solutions through the Peace Corps Innovation Challenge.

The Peace Corps is again seeking submissions of relevant problems through the Innovation Challenge website. Problems will be reviewed and voted on by current and returned volunteers, Peace Corps staff, technology experts and entrepreneurs. Once problems are reviewed and refined, technology experts will team up to develop solutions during the next hackathon in June.

Credit: Peace Corps