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Peace Corps Volunteering
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A snapshot of my unforgettable time as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

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Peace Corps - Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa

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The TFT Editorial Team

The community at Phelandaba

Scott Liang

South Africa 22

Shortly after graduating from college, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the rural village of Phelandaba, South Africa. This was perhaps the most impactful period of my life—vastly broadening my perspectives and cementing a set of values that I still hold to this day.

Below is a snapshot of the activities I participated in.

Makabongwe Primary School

As part of the School and Community Resource Program, I was assigned two schools to work with. Makabongwe was the first of them.

Makabongwe Primary School

Here I focused on introducing computer literacy to children who, on the most part, had never seen a computer before. With the help of forward-thinking administration, I set up a small computer lab to teach after school classes in.

I also team-taught English and Maths (yup, there's an "s" at the end) when the opportunity arose. Below, the phenomenal Ms. Nsele begins her class with song & dance.

 

Sithembinhlanhla Secondary School

At Sithembinhlanhla Secondary, I focused on extracurricular English and Life-Skills programs.

Sithembinhlanhla Secondary School

One such program was a speech and debate team that eventually took second in regionals. Additionally, Zinhle (leftmost) took first in Prepared Speech and Sindiwe (fourth from the right) took first in Traditional Poetry. So proud!

The Sithembinhlanhla speech & debate team, after a regional competition

Star of Sea NGO

Outside of the schools, I assisted a local NGO called "Star of Sea" with two of their initiatives. The first, a project that provides basic housing for community members who were especially in need. This largely involved:

  1. Evaluating potential candidates
  2. Purchasing and delivering raw building materials

A Star of Sea-funded home

The second, an HIV / AIDS "popup" clinic that involved:

  1. Providing HIV tests to community members
  2. Conducing monthly checkups on HIV-positive patients
  3. Packing and distributing PEPFAR-funded antiretrovirals

The HIV testing kits we used (blood is deposited in the basin on the right)

The Trust Fortune Times

Coined by the student team, the Trust Fortune Times was a newspaper program that I introduced in an effort to promote English competency, critical thinking, and self-confidence among Sithembinhlanhla's learners.

The Trust Fortune Times Team (plus a few photobombers)

Team members interviewed for positions and were granted full creative freedom to publish what they found meaningful. I'd then sit down with them to adjust writing techniques and technicalities, assemble the material, and create layouts before printing and distribution.

Below is the very first issue of TFT. It started things off with a heck of a splash.

 

In this edition, the TFT team introduces jokes, puzzles, light reporting, and motivational pieces.

 

Here the team engages in more robust reporting (including a full spread on a local election). I was immensely moved by how, as time went on, they felt more empowered to express themselves: On page 3, they offer support to peers who faced the hardships of abandonment and teen pregnancy.

 

The learners at Sithembinhlanhla were a joy to work with. I deeply hope that the Trust Fortune Times made a positive impact on them, however large or small.

Life in Rural South Africa

I often felt like the community did (far) more for me that I did for them. Here are a few shots of the extraordinary experiences that we shared.

Killing a chicken with my host brother

The family kids

Sometimes the simplest things are the most beautiful

With little resources, the children's ingenuity shines

Church members delivering donations to the poorest of their community

Always looking sharp at church

How folks get around in rural areas

A typical Zulu dish—pap (maize porridge) and beans

Another, less typical dish

Gum tree farming is an esssential part of the local economy

Cattle are still used as currency in this area

Elephants, not so much!

The following are a few shots of Umkhosi Womhlanga, the annual "reed festival," where tens of thousands of young maidens congregate in the hopes of being selected by the Zulu king as his next bride. (Note: there is light nudity in these images.)

 

The Zulu princess leading her cohort

5. Researcher Portal

Lastly, the third leg of the stool: the product that researchers (Vetty employees) use to actually conduct the background checks.

Product principles:

  • Speed. Make tasks easily identifiable.
  • Efficiency. Focus on minimizing redundancy; at high volumes, every redundant action is magnified (even eye movement should be considered).
  • Memory management. The UI should work to minimize information that the user has to hold in memory.
  • Power users. Due to training, higher complexity in exchange for higher power is OK.

This is a basic researcher workflow. Note that it is divided into 3 stages:

Generally, teams of researchers are assigned to different accounts, with each member taking on a specific phase. Due to Vetty's limited resources, individual researchers take on their own accounts and conduct all 3 phases.

5.1. Researcher Dashboard

The main focus of the researcher dashboard is the "Adjudication Needed" column, which uses a simple "yes" or "no" to indicate when there is a pending task. Hovering over the cell in the column brings up more detailed information.

Because researchers are trained users, the dashboard can adopt more complexity for more power. Below, custom components that allow each column to be independently searchable:

5.2. Candidate Details

Much like the client portal (for account managers), the candidate details are where most of the tasks are done:

Key items:

  • The reference panel can be brought up at any time for glanceable information (for example, the researcher may need to compare SSN trace results with national criminal results). The panel eliminates the need to scroll back and forth. Furthermore, it includes a notes section for each candidate, eliminating the "mountain of sticky notes" that researchers previously had to deal with.
  • All top-level information is easily glanceable in the left navigation panel.

The researcher portal is now undergoing a major redesign to accommodate larger teams. Stay tuned!

Conclusion

Whew, that's it! A complete Consumer Reporting Agency platform from scratch. As of this writing, Vetty has experienced a 10x increase in MRR and is now undergoing a serious M&A bid. If you have any questions, or would like to work together, please don't hesitate to reach out at hello@scottliang.com.