Why Okoa?

As is the case with many other organizations, The Okoa Project exists to help people by solving problems. Our team is made up of individuals from around the world, MIT-educated engineers, Tanzanian community leaders, and passionate volunteers, that are working together toward a common goal: connect people to the medical care they need.

There are so many organizations out there, so how did Okoa get it’s start? The Okoa Project is an organization that aims to connect people to the medical care they need. The reality in many places around the world is that people are unable to receive medical care because they do not have access to transportation. We are working in rural areas of Tanzania, where transport is difficult or impossible to come by. When someone has a trauma or complication that requires immediate medical attention, they must call the nearest motorcycle driver, if they can even afford the exorbitant price of the ride. Alternative options are to bike, walk, or not go at all. They must wait for the driver to finish their current taxi ride, sometimes waiting up to 8 hours for them to arrive. Once on the motorcycle, the ride is painful and can cause greater problems. One doctor stated that he wished he would see people before they made their injuries so much worse by taking the motorcycle ride.

If you live in the US, chances are that you take the clinic down the road and 911 system we’re so familiar with, for granted. For millions of people around the world, they do not have the same access to invaluable resources, most notably, access to healthcare and safe transportation.

The Okoa Project got it’s start when Deb McCracken, director of The Olive Branch for Children, reached out to the MIT D-Lab. In Tanzania, there is a need to improve resources when it comes to transportation. This is the case because the World Bank found that transportation was one of the top 2 reasons people could not get to the hospital. In East Africa alone, 2 billion has been spent on improving emergency transportation, but the existing solutions are expensive and do not address the needs of their rural areas. Through the MIT D-Lab Design course, Deb McCracken started the conversation with a team of engineering students, from which the Okoa Project was born.

Over 3 and a half years, 6 prototypes, and hundreds of interviews, we have been able to design a locally manufactured ambulance trailer and build a team of talented engineers, skilled designers, passionate contributors and volunteers. Together, we work to bring our ambulances to rural communities and spread awareness on issues relating to maternal healthcare and access to healthcare in vulnerable areas. “Okoa” means “to save” in Swahili, a name created by our partner Deb and The Olive Branch, and saving lives is what we aim to do with our community partners.

Our approach focuses on increasing access to healthcare in rural communities and creating local employment opportunities for the same areas. We were born from a collaboration of engineers and community leaders, and approach our solutions with the same mindset. We apply engineering principles within local contexts, focusing on co-creating solutions that improve community outcomes and individual growth. The solutions to these problems are not simple and that is why our team works tirelessly to create realistic and sustainable solutions for all of our processes.

By developing the Okoa Ambulance, we are working to help people get access to the medical care they need. In Tanzania, the journey from the site of an accident or medical emergency is one of the biggest obstacles because many roads are in poor condition. The Okoa Ambulance works by attaching our motorcycle ambulance trailer which can turn any motorcycle into a life-saving device. It attaches to the back of a motorcycle and can carry essential medical supplies, a patient in a removable stretcher, and passenger so that no one has to go alone. With the design of the ambulance, our team has identified three crucial design criteria for the Okoa Ambulance: safety, comfort, and sustainability.

We are in the process of developing this blog as a way to connect with our supporters and those that want to learn more about The Okoa Project. Thank you for reading and stay tuned!

Existing transportation options to the hospital are dangerous, expensive, and unrealistic for vulnerable rural communities.

Existing transportation options to the hospital are dangerous, expensive, and unrealistic for vulnerable rural communities.

Meghan Olson