Mr. Potter goes to Tanzania

For most of us, updating computers and setting up a network would be plenty daunting, but it becomes doubly complex when the power goes out several times a day, sometimes for hours at a stretch.

Reconnected to the world: IMA World Health staffer Suzanne Chimaliro in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where Dean Potter of Potter Networking recently spent nine days updating the nonprofit’s computer network. Photo by Dean Potter

Dean Potter learned this firsthand while working in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for nine days in mid-February.

“There’s a big difference in the quality of electricity there; it was a challenge,” says Potter. “Little things we take for granted here … can make it difficult to work overseas.”

He and his wife, Julia Potter, own Potter Networking, a computer-network-services provider based in Candler. They were hired by IMA World Health, a Maryland nonprofit that provides health-care services and supplies to people around the globe. Dean’s mission was to update IMA’s computers and network at its Dar es Salaam offices. The former Maryland resident had done work for IMA in the past.

Many computers in Africa, says Potter, cannot access data from the rest of the world, due to a lack of fiber-optic Internet connections. That puts people at a disadvantage, and his work there entailed standardizing the machines to improve Internet access. Potter also added a new server and firewall while reconfiguring and upgrading the organization’s network.

In Africa, high-speed Internet is expensive and doesn’t work well, as it typically relies on satellite connections. As a result, says Potter, people use flash drives to transfer files. But they’re less resilient and more susceptible to viruses than hard drives, so he also spent lots of time cleaning up viruses and supplying office workers with new “tougher” flash drives.

The updated Dar es Salaam network can now be maintained remotely from IMA Health’s home base. But the required system updates were so extensive, says Potter, that he worked nine days straight, 12 to 16 hours per day. So he saw little of the Tanzanian city, though he did note the disparity between the few prosperous people and the vast number of poor folk.

While Tanzania is one of Africa’s more stable countries, it’s also among the poorest. IMA Health’s work there includes providing services and support for the large number of people with HIV/AIDS.

“It was a really interesting experience; I’d like to do it again,” says Potter. “I obviously stand out there, but everyone’s all smiles, and they all came up to me in the street and asked where I was from.”

In fact, he just might get that chance. This was a pilot program for the nonprofit, which may also want to standardize the systems in its offices in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the couple will continue working with small and medium-sized businesses throughout Western North Carolina. Julia handles the marketing, sales and bookkeeping so that, as she puts it, “Dean can focus on being an IT expert.”

Info: Potter Networking, 256 George’s Branch Road, Candler NC 28715 (231-4980; www.potternetworking.com).

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