App brings education without borders


By Shaun Kuriakose

On Youtube, there are a variety of tutorial videos, ranging from makeup to home improvement. Now, a University-based organization is creating tutorial videos that can be translated into a variety of different languages and accessed around the world, even in developing countries.

Founded in 2011, Scientific Animations Without Borders, or SAWBO, creates animated videos meant to educate the world on three different topics: agriculture, health and women’s empowerment. Earlier this year, SAWBO released their mobile application, Deployer, to the Google Play store and Apple’s App store. The app allows people to download SAWBO’s videos directly to their phones.

According to Julia Bello-Bravo, they currently have about 30 videos for agriculture and health, and around 10 videos for women’s empowerment. One example of a video is a tutorial on how to wash your hands, that can be translated into different languages.

Barry Pittendrigh, co-founder of SAWBO and professor of entomology at the University, said the main purpose behind the organization is to make educational material for others to use in their programs.

“It’s everything from government organizations that use our videos to NGOs (non-governmental organizations),” he explained.

PIttendrigh said the application was made with ease-of-use in mind. A user can search by topic, language or country. Someone who has the app installed on his or her phone can download any of the videos that SAWBO has released and have it stored for access even without an Internet connection. The videos can also be transferred, along with the app itself, to another phone via Bluetooth. Pittendrigh explained that this is beneficial for NGOs or groups who go to rural areas around the world with the intention of teaching locals about health. The language options for the animations vary because they are done by volunteers.

“Our approach is to create the content and make it easily accessible to other groups that just download our materials on their own and use them,” Pittendrigh said.

SAWBO’s videos are often based on topics that the creators want to cover. However, Bello-Bravo said they have also been created in reaction to world events. Their second video was about how to treat water for cholera prevention, in response to an earthquake in Haiti. This is because after an earthquake, countries tend to see the largest outbreaks of cholera. Bello-Bravo said SAWBO often gets video requests as well. 

Although the organization’s phone app is fairly new, Pittendrigh said SAWBO has already seen some positive responses to their videos in some countries.

“There is a television station in Nigeria that now runs our videos between television programs,” Pittendrigh said.

Benjamin Blalock, production and IT manager at SAWBO and 2014 University alumnus, found the organization while looking for an animation job, and was impressed by their impact.

“At first I didn’t know what SAWBO was at all,” he said. “I started this job just because I was interested in doing animation work, then I realized how important these animations can be for the rest of the world.”

Blalock stated that the production of a SAWBO video could take anywhere from a few weeks to six months. While this may seem like a long time to create a single video, Blalock said the animation team is usually working on multiple videos at once. 

“We have a team of three to four animators at any given time and they all have their own assignment that they are working on,” he said.

Currently, SAWBO is working on an animation about hip dysplasia in children. Blalock said this animation is the result of working with an NGO in Ethiopia who works with children with clubfoot. He explained that hip dysplasia is something easy to diagnose and treat, but people don’t know how to handle the problem. 

But with SAWBO, Blalock said he hopes that their animations will be able to fix a majority of these cases around the world.

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