What I Learned During My Time Volunteering In Africa Building Modern JavaScript-Based Websites

Dave Powers
Aug 3 · 4 min read
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Photo by Damian Patkowski on Unsplash

Having just returned home from a full summer volunteering in Africa, I can say that it was indeed the truly life-changing experience I had hoped it would be. There are many things we take for granted in our day-to-day lives, such as our access to cutting edge Silicon Valley technology, and I’m very thankful I was able to use these resources to better the lives of those less fortunate.

I’d never been outside the United States before, so I was very excited for the chance to travel. Upon arriving at what would be my home for the next few months, the residents greeted us and were so incredibly kind and welcoming. And I’d be remiss to not mention the breathtaking sky. A gradient of colors from #FFC600, to #CE2000, to #546C90.

However, I couldn’t help but notice some of the subpar conditions. For instance, their websites were not responsive, and did not automatically adjust their design to reflect the fact that I was browsing using a mobile device.

The infrastructure was also woefully inadequate. Sure, they had proper sanitation and transportation systems, but the vast majority of people had bloated webpack configurations, their Node packages had numerous unpatched critical security flaws, and several developers still insisted on supporting Internet Explorer 11.

Though I was looking forward to connecting with the locals and exploring the land, I knew there was a lot of hard work ahead of me.

Despite all of this, the children were adorable, and had the biggest and brightest smiles. Others in my group tried to bribe them with candy, but of course they’d had sweets before. That’s why I decided to truly delight them by running a Google Lighthouse audit on my newly-created site as it scored perfect 100s across the board in performance, best practices, and SEO. Fully enclosed green circles for every metric. Now that’s a real treat!

One child in particular, Chiamaka, a young girl no more than four years old, took a liking to me. She was so adorable. I wanted her to have something to remember me by, so I spent one weekend building her a progressive web app with stylish UI elements. It works even when you’re offline. To really make this gift special, I even got a personalized domain name for her to go with it. I’m sure she’ll grow to appreciate it even more once she learns to read and type.

Some people mocked me during the fundraising stage of my trip. “Why don’t you pick up a hammer instead?” they’d comment. “After all, Jesus was a carpenter.” That may be so, but if Jesus had the choice between a hammer and a 16-inch MacBook Pro with a Retina display and Intel Core i9 processor, don’t you think he’d choose to build a kick-ass website instead of hastily banging some wood together to make a boring shed?

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But when you have a top-of-the-line MacBook with Node.js installed, everything looks like an opportunity to spin up a new React-based front-end project directory and start coding.

On my last day, I transferred ownership of a GitHub repository to a man named Emmanuel. Emmanuel is a grandfather, and has lived his whole life in the community, watching numerous generations grow up here. He is one of the most respected people in the area. When I walked him through the source code of the website I made him, the commands for building the project, and instructions for deployment and updating the CMS, he was so overcome with joy that he was utterly speechless.

I won’t lie, there were certainly challenges I ran into during my time volunteering. The harsh African sun was brutal during my walks to and from the climate-controlled office, and sometimes the building Wi-Fi would cut out while I was in the middle of downloading an important software update.

But my efforts were worth it in the end. Though it was a lot of work hacking on JavaScript all day, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The connections I’ve made, unlike an SSL certificate, will surely last a lifetime, and I’m already thinking about other charitable endeavors I can undertake next.

For now, I’m just happy that the great people of the country of Africa will be able to sleep easy knowing they now have robust websites ready to serve them for months to come.

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Dave Powers

Written by

Writer of humor and code. Has multiple plaques (the ornamental kind). https://davepowers.me

Slackjaw

Slackjaw

Medium humor. Large laughs.

Dave Powers

Written by

Writer of humor and code. Has multiple plaques (the ornamental kind). https://davepowers.me

Slackjaw

Slackjaw

Medium humor. Large laughs.

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