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Archive for January, 2010

At the Technology Salon hosted by the UN Foundation’s Technology Partnership with Vodafone Foundation on Jan 28, 2010, some folks from the DC area (and beyond) will gather to share experiences around girls and ICTs.

This conversation is an important one, given that gaps exist around discussion, practice and research.  The information and ideas shared at the Technology Salon will feed into the contents of the Girls and ICTs chapter for Plan’s upcoming 2010 “Because I am a Girl” Report (currently in the works).

There are a few points that I hope will be considered in the Technology Salon discussion:

Tension between participation and protection.

There are many examples of ICTs being used for increased participation and connection:  mobile phones for citizen journalism;  Twitter revolution in Iran; girls using mobiles to ask questions about sexuality and to get information to help them improve their sexual and reproductive health; girls married off early or those living in protective societies using mobile phones to maintain contact with friends; new media tools opening up possibilities for youth engagement in important conversations that normally they would be shut out of.

However, due to the very real problems of on-line child pornography, child trafficking, child harassment, and cyber bullying, there is also a strong push for more control, more restrictions on on-line use in the name of protecting children.  The tension between child participation and child protection is a very real one.

As we look at how technology and international development communities can support girls’ development, I hope it’s kept in mind that the more knowledge that girls have about the internet and ICTs in general, the more practical use they are allowed, the more coaching to help them understand implications of their actions, then the better prepared they will be to navigate these realms and to keep themselves safe.  Increasing their knowledge, abilities and desire to protect themselves may be more effective than setting strict external limitations.

Actively engaging girls in this as part of an educational process can be better than restricting their use – and being open to young people’s own ideas and ways of using ICTs is critical.  Adult involvement in this area is important, but it is probably more worthwhile to coach than to control.  Good communication and trust between children, youth and their adult mentors and guides is critical in this process. (Excellent resources on Child Online Protection (COP) for children, youth, educators and parents came out on October 2009 and are well worth the read.)

Online behavior mirrors offline behavior.

I remember getting an obscene phone call when I was around 8 years old.  My mother did not blame the telephone, however. She blamed the pervert that was calling.  She made sure to teach me how to be prepared in case it happened again. She emphasized not giving out information on the phone and hanging up immediately if I felt uncomfortable or didn’t know who was calling.  She did not prohibit me from ever touching the phone again or blame me, but she was vigilant for awhile.

In the same way, new ICTs themselves cannot be blamed for negative and twisted behaviors.  ICTs are tools that exacerbate and extend already existing human behaviors, and the blame lies with those who are using ICTs for child trafficking, cyber bullying and the other evils associated with the internet. It’s important to address underlying behaviors. Research shows that kids who are bullied offline are often also bullied online.  Girls who are vulnerable offline are likely also vulnerable online.  Online is a manifestation of offline, and the root causes of girls’ vulnerabilities online cannot be blamed only on the ICT tools themselves.

I have my own daughter now, and have discussed with her many times how to keep herself safe online and on the phone.  It’s important for her to know this before something happens, not during or after.  She will probably be using the internet and the phone for the rest of her life, so prohibiting them is not an option, and the benefits of using these tools obviously outweigh the risks.  My own involvement and use of social networking sites, texting, etc. is an excellent way for me to know how these sites are used and what security holes there are for my children on the sites. How can parents and teachers in areas with limited use of ICTs be involved and engaged to serve as coaches and leaders in on-line protection together with children?  How can communities help identify existing vulnerabilities in girls (or young people in general) that might manifest themselves online and offer support to prevent exploitation?

Digital gender divide.

There are some amazing examples of ICTs helping women and girls to improve their livelihoods; for example, women selling mobile telephone services; birth attendance being improved by using mobile phones to connect women to midwives, ambulances and other medical services; educational content being  expanded using internet; youth media and youth radio programs bringing girls voices and gender topics into the mix for community discussion and dialogue.

However, in places where boys and men dominate women and girls, boys and men likely also dominate the use of available ICTs.  Men may control the family’s mobile phone and take it with them, or monitor women’s calls. In places where boys are more favored, their confidence to try new things is higher meaning they may rush in to use mobiles, cameras, radio equipment in projects while girls shy back.  In some cases girls report that boys hog and monopolize the computers and equipment, and access is denied.  I’ve seen boys criticize, scorn and ridicule girls who are using equipment for the first time, and girls become too timid to try again.  In many developing countries, just getting girls to attend school is difficult.  If girls are assumed to be less intelligent or less worthy than boys, and their secondary school attendance (where ICT training might be offered) is not a priority, girls will have a very difficult time ever accessing and using ICTs.

Underlying issues surrounding girls’ participation in general need to be addressed.  We need to think about how ICTs can be used to help girls’ inclusion, participation and self esteem increase in general.

Girls involvement in developing and designing ICT solutions for their own needs.

Studies in several countries have shown that girls and boys use technology in different ways and for different things.  What specific ICT needs do underprivileged girls in ‘developing’ countries have? Is anyone asking? What processes or solutions already exist that take girls’ ICT needs into account?  What environments are necessary for girls to engage in defining, deciding and creating ICT solutions? Where are they already engaging, and how can communities, schools, organizations and businesses support and recreate those environments?  How can processes and products be designed together with girls?

Tech is still a field heavily dominated by males.  In the US, for example, some women in tech have pulled together to question this and to advocate for more opportunities for women to break into the male dominated worlds of publication owners, conference speakers, businesses, well known innovators, and “best of” lists.  There have been protests against prominent companies for promoting “Booth Babes” and in one case last year, strippers, at tech conferences.  This brings the question – in places without female tech role models and respectful environments, how can girls see themselves as leaders in this field?

Specific research on girls and ICTs.

There is not a lot of information on the impact of ICTs on the lives of girls in ‘developing’ countries, especially studies that go beyond establishment of computer centers.  There is  anecdotal evidence of positive impact of mobile phones on women. There are studies on the digital gender divide for women; on child trafficking and other negative aspects of the internet; and on use of internet and technology among youth in the US, UK, Australia, etc.  It’s been difficult to find a lot of information on the use of ICTs by girls in the “South.”  It would be interesting for more research to be done on girls and ICTs in the “South” and for some good practices to be shared. Hopefully someone at the Technology Salon will be able to share some insight on this.

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In early 2005, following the Tsunami, I collaborated with a cross-section of people at the organization where I work to put together a summary of lessons learned and some short guidelines for working with children and communities in emergencies.

All of us had been directly responsible for supporting and/or coordinating disaster response with communities, staff, local and national governments, international and national NGOs, children, youth, schools and teachers, or some combination of the above, in the countries where we lived and worked.  We discussed preparedness as well as relief and recovery phases. We talked about how child focused community development organizations, like the one where we worked, should look at children’s survival, development, participation and protection in a disaster situation and we created some internal guidelines.

Some of the most important things that stayed with me from the weeks we spent talking with each other, with peer organizations, and with our colleagues who were dealing with the 2004 Tsunami are related to the importance of child participation and protection during emergencies.  These recommendations can be applied now to the crisis in Haiti.

  • Don’t assume children or their families can’t do anything for themselves. Local coping mechanisms are often overlooked and underestimated by central governments or aid organizations, creating unnecessary dependency.  Participating and taking control of their situation can actually help people return to normal sooner. I clearly remember an example of an IDP camp where all the services (food, water) were at first centrally coordinated by the municipal government.  A manager from our organization was able to convince the government to engage camp ‘residents’ and organize children and youth into smaller groups who handled particular responsibilities. Suddenly the trash in the camp was picked up and time spent in the food line went from 2 hours to 20 minutes, tempers lowered and people relaxed a bit and got on with things.  The Children and Participation: Research, Monitoring and Evaluation with Children and Young People by Save the Children is a general guide that can help staff think through and orient participation of children and young people in emergencies.  Child-Oriented Participatory Risk Assessment and Planning (COPRAP): A Toolkit developed by the Center for Disaster Preparedness (CDP) in the Philippines is another excellent resource. Both were adapted and used by Plan during the conflict in Timor Leste, for example.
  • Child protection is critical during an emergency and after. During a disaster the typical social patterns and groupings that protect children may be challenged or broken. Children can be further harmed, abused and exploited by those who take advantage of the chaos.  Unaccompanied children can be preyed on if mechanisms are not established quickly.  Personal information about children is often shared or published widely in the interest of helping find parents or relatives or find missing persons, yet it can also help unscrupulous people to identify unaccompanied children and prey on them, especially now when published on the internet.  Birth registration and restoration of lost identity and other civil registration documents are critical to halt trafficking, as is close coordination among organizations, governments, communities and local agencies/staff.  Community members and the affected population can play a strong role in protecting their children, as can older children themselves.  The Interagency Guiding Principles on Unaccompanied and Separated Children, put together by the International Committee of the Red Cross, International Rescue Committee, Save the Children UK, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and World Vision, gives an excellent overview of protection.  Further resources are available at Better Care Network’s website which has materials on separated children in emergencies, how to prevent separation through good relief and response efforts, registration, documentation and tracing, emergency care arrangements, verification and family reunification.
  • Unaccompanied children should not be given up for foreign adoption during the emergency phase. Experience in many past emergencies and conflicts has shown that this is just not the way to go.  In the emergency phase there is no way to ascertain which children are orphans with no other family at all, versus children who might be orphaned but have family somewhere who could take them in.  Taking children out of the country to feed them without a long-term, sustainable plan for them can end up being more complex than finding a way to feed and care for them in country.  Supporting removal of children from their own country during a time of upheaval can also engender a negative reaction among the affected population, who may come to see every external face that comes into the community or camp as someone coming to steal their children.  Interim and emergency care should be consistent with the long-term goal of family reunification.  More background on this can be found at the International Foster Care Association’s website.
  • Participation and protection go hand in hand. The greater the amount of knowledge and ownership that children, youth and their families and communities have, the safer they will be and the sooner they will recover. When the affected people have more input in the relief, recovery and reconstruction, efforts are more successful.  This means linking and coordinating with existing community organizations and structures, local government mechanisms, local non-governmental organizations.  Though it may appear that everything is wiped out in a major disaster, leaders will emerge and regroup.  Plan’s publication “After the Cameras have Gone:  Children in Disasters” offers some examples and insights on protection and participation in disaster situations.
  • Report ethically. The media will undoubtedly look for the ‘best’ story in the interest of raising the most funds possible for the emergency.  In media-speak, unfortunately, that often means the hardest hitting story, the most emotional story, and some journalists/media folks will go extremely far to get it.  However, journalists and agencies bringing journalists to affected communities should obviously not further harm children or take advantage of affected persons in their drive to get the best story.  Journalists should not ask children to relive traumatic experiences or to make them tell stories that upset them just to get a shot of a child crying.  The golden rule applies – how would you like it if that were you or your child?  Children or other community members may be too polite or unsure of whether they can say ‘no’ to a journalist, especially if that journalist is foreign or comes with an aid agency or entity that is linked with emergency aid.  Those working regularly with children and their families should ensure them that they can refuse to talk, they can halt an interview, or not have their picture taken. Local staff managing media visits should feel empowered to intervene on behalf of children in these cases. UNICEF’s “Child Rights and the Media” Guidelines for Journalists and Media Professionals, published by the International Federation of Journalists, gives a background and guide for ethical reporting on children in general.  These guidelines include things like striving for sensitivity when reporting on issues involving children and avoiding use of stereotypes and sensational presentation to promote journalistic material involving children, and they should apply in emergency situations as well.

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My main experience with disasters comes from working at an international development organization in El Salvador and happening to be the only senior manager who wasn’t on annual vacation when a huge earthquake struck almost exactly 9 years ago, on January 13, 2001. The rush to act was immediate, and it was a lot of learning by doing.  I got handed the responsibility by fate I suppose and didn’t do such a bad job of it, if I do say so.  At that time we were pretty unprepared; something that has certainly changed since then in the organization where I work.  We now have country level disaster plans at hand and support a lot of disaster risk reduction and preparedness work with local communities and governments.

One of the main challenges for us in responding to the Salvadoran earthquakes in 2001 was information:  lack of information, wrong information, too much information to sort through, outdated information, etc.  We spent way too much time in staff meetings and meetings with other organizations/government sharing what we had done and what we were planning to do, only to find out that everything had changed while we were sitting there, and some decisions were no longer valid.  There was no effective way to manage all the information in the constantly moving and changing circumstances.

And in 2010…?

I’m sure things have changed quite a lot in disaster work since 2001, and since 2005 when I spent about 6 weeks in India and Thailand after the Tsunami, but I would bet that information management will still be a major challenge during the relief and recovery efforts in Haiti following the January 12, 2010 earthquake, especially given the scale of the crisis and the number of agencies who are already working there or are just now arriving to set up shop.

Today’s technology should allow us a better way to manage this information.  I hope that organizations working on the ground in Haiti will take advantage of the shared and open digital information systems available to them that can be updated in various ways by various people in various locations.  The convergence of information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as digital mapping, crowd sourcing and crowd feeding of information, GPS, mobile phones and SMS,  geo-visualization for rapid decision making and trend spotting will be put to a massive test as the disaster response in Haiti unfolds.

In comes Ushahidi

The place where these ICT tools are converging right now into one ready to use platform is at www.haiti.ushahidi.com.  (I confess that I’m unaware of other options that offer the same or similar crisis management capacity – feel free to post other examples in the comments section). [update: for regularly updated detailed info on Ushahidi and other digital tools being used in the Haiti Crisis, visit the Ushahidi Situation Room].

According to the Ushahidi blog, work on the Haiti crisis map began about 2 hours after the massive quake struck, thanks to a global effort of people linked to Ushahidi, Frontline SMS/Frontline SMS: Medic, UN OCHA Colombia, the International Network of Crisis Mappers, and the US State Department (and probably others behind the scenes that haven’t been mentioned yet).  The system is now operational.  The in-country short code 4636 went live on January 16th.

What is Ushahidi and how does it work?

Ushahidi could be described as a mapping tool and also as a platform I suppose.  Each Ushahidi ‘instance’ is created based on the information needs of whoever is setting up the instance, and a map of a particular geographical area.  Via email, SMS, Twitter, or by filling in an on-line form, anyone can send in information to populate the map with information.  This information falls into specific topic areas that have been decided beforehand by whoever is setting up the site. (Ushahidi instances have been used to track drug stock outs, to monitor elections and human rights abuses, and in crisis situations, for example.)  In the case of Haiti, it’s deaths, emergencies, threats, responses, missing persons, etc.

The “incident reports” that people send in are uploaded onto the map (using geo-location tags) to give a visual representation of what is happening and where.  They are labeled as “verified” or “unverified”.  As data is triaged, the unverified reports are eventually verified.  Different layers of information can be viewed, and you can see an overview or zoom in for more detail on the map.  [Update:  These reports are being channeled now into Sahana’s system (read about it here) system, developed in Sri Lanka for the Asian Tsunami in 2004.]

To really understand how this works, the best thing is to just visit the site.

Crowdsourcing and Crowdfeeding

Two of the basic concepts behind Ushahidi are “crowd sourcing” and “crowd feeding”. Crowd sourcing means information is obtained from the “crowd”.  Crowd feeding means that the collected information is consolidated and fed back to that same “crowd” so that they are better able to make decisions.  People standing right there on the ground usually know what is happening right there on the ground better than people visiting periodically from centralized headquarters, and via Ushahidi, that information is pulled in from the sources on the ground in almost real-time.  Giving consolidated information back and/or responding to those who provided it completes the circle.

Trust the Public

With a large enough amount of information input, any bogus incident reports can be identified.  I won’t go into all the discussions around the validity of crowd-sourced information as it’s been a large debate, but seems to play out that yes, you can trust the information to the degree necessary to help make quick decisions in times of crisis or emergency — and this information is better than no information or information that comes too late.

In fact, in September, I participated in a meeting about geo-visualization at Google’s offices in Washington, DC (see my before lunch and after lunch posts) and heard presentations by both the American Red Cross (ARC) and the US Federal Environmental Management Association (FEMA). Both organizations talked about the need to trust citizens to report on what is happening right in front of them, and that these reports are every bit as reliable as reports by experts, and a whole lot quicker because people have mobile phones now.  Pulling in information from citizens and mapping out the situation visually can be a huge resource for those making decisions about response.

What’s needed now

What is needed now for Ushahidi in Haiti to work to its fullest potential is for people to share information about what is happening where they are.  The general public in Haiti can text a message into 4636 to submit a report giving their location and telling about their situation: missing persons, need for medical attention, supplies needed, help that has already arrived, changing priorities, etc. [Internationally use 44-76-280-2524, or report using the web form at the Ushahidi Haiti site].

Emergency Aid agencies too

Information sharing is not only something for the public.  In addition to input from the local population, it would be great if local organizations and international agencies would use Ushahidi to share information on what they are seeing as they work in and pass through different communities.  By being open and sharing this kind of information, maybe overall coordination can improve and precious time and resources won’t be wasted because of information challenges.  [Update:  Organizations on the ground can register at Sahana, and receive situation reports so that they can provide assistance.]

One aid agency can’t canvas the whole country alone, and Ushahidi offers a way to get real information from real people on the ground in near real-time. I think it would have much been easier in El Salvador in 2001 if we had the ICTs then that we have now.  I hope people and organizations take the best advantage of them in 2010, now that they are available.


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For the past couple years, I’ve been supporting the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) project in 6 African countries. One of the best things about being involved in the project is the opportunity to work with some incredible people who are developing the program strategies and implementing YETAM on the ground.  Bedo, the child media program coordinator in Plan Mali, is one of those people I’ve been lucky enough to work with.  He’s kind, gentle, thoughtful and soft spoken yet solid in his opinions and knowledge. His face totally lights up when he’s working with the youth. He has clear vision and gets things done, writes excellent reports, and isn’t afraid to clarify things if he’s not sure he’s understood correctly.  It’s been a real pleasure working with him. On Friday, Bedo told me about some of the short-term positive results that the Mali team is seeing in the YETAM program there, which I’ll summarize below. Photo: Bedo in December 2008 at the Social Media for Social Change Workshop in Kenya.

YETAM
The YETAM project aims to help youth develop their skills to communicate, educate and advocate at local, national, and global levels about issues impacting on their lives using the arts, traditional media, and new media tools.The project methodology consists of hands-on workshops and activities where youth can improve their communication and analytical skills in order to effectively raise their viewpoints and enter into dialogue with families, peers, community members, decision makers, and the general public. Youth go through a process of participatory mapping, discussions to prioritize their key themes, topics or issues. Then they learn to use arts and media to get their messages across to those that they want to engage in helping them find solutions. To date the project is being implemented in 6 countries in Africa (Senegal, Mali, Cameroon, Rwanda, Kenya and Mozambique).

YETAM in Mali
In Mali, around 60 children and youth in a community in the Kati District have been involved in the YETAM project for about a year and a half so far.  In an initial workshop, the youth raised a number of issues through participatory mapping. They researched, investigated and developed opinions on these issues further through song, poetry, theater, photo and video, and later in the process, prioritized their most important issues:

· many children do not have birth certificates
· rural exodus
· violence at school
· excision (female genital cutting).

Integrating YETAM into school curriculum
Following the prioritization of their topics, youth began an education effort around the 4 themes with the local population and local authorities from their village and surrounding villages. As part of this effort, six school teachers were appointed by local school authorities to support the youth and supervise extracurricular activities around the youths’ 4 themes. They were trained by local consultants and Plan Mali staff on participatory methodologies using arts and media as participation tools.

During this training, teachers learned to adjust their teaching styles and to address the 4 topics not as lessons taught in the classroom, but as information sharing and advocacy topics through drawings, poetry, crafts, dance, and theater. New students joined the small arts groups according to the type of activity that they were interested in.  Students who had been involved longer supervised and trained newer students and helped integrate the program within the school.

In addition to the arts, youth and adults worked together on several short drama films. One of these was about female circumcision. It discusses the medical complications of circumcision in a married woman during her 1st birth. The complications were due to excision, done in infancy, and resulted in vesico-vaginal fistula. Rejected at first by her husband, the woman is eventually accepted after the husband’s becomes aware of the existence of appropriate care (free in Mali) and the commitment made between spouses at marriage.

Engaging the public and local authorities through arts and media
Through the training workshops and the production of the different arts and media materials, youth were able to form their own opinions, messages and ideas for solutions to the issues that they had prioritized.  They organized a public event in the community where they performed their drama, songs and poetry pieces, showed their film, and held a panel with local authorities to discuss how to improve the four areas that they had identified.  Photo:  youth performing a drama piece in the village.

Short term results to build upon
According to Bedo, “Integrating the YETAM methodology with the school environment enabled teachers to learn to address and manage issues with children and youth in a participatory way. The education methods have changed and the student / teacher relationships have become less tense, especially when it comes to discussing subjects such as violence at school or practice of female circumcision.”

Bedo explained that “the introduction of the ‘violence in school’ theme by the students initially caused some frustration among teachers. At first, they felt directly targeted. But when we integrated the teachers into the process, their frustration dissolved and trust began to grow between students and teachers because teachers are discovering another way to teach and discuss sensitive issues – they are behaving as coaches.”  Bedo also said that since the discussions took place at the school, the education authorities have become more interested in the topics and the project.

“At the community event,” said Bedo, “the mayor declared that the council was taking all steps to ensure that all children have birth certificates.  He also addressed the migration of young people from the rural to the urban areas, saying that one of the main reasons is lack of employment. He promised to create jobs to reduce the mass exodus of young people.” Photo: Children interviewing local authorities.

One of the most extraordinary things that happened as a result of the youth’s education and advocacy, according to Bedo, was that “the village chief also made a pronouncement….  He announced that ‘The practice of female circumcision is part of our traditions. As it has adverse consequences on the health of women, I have decided to end female circumcision in the village.’”

Teachers are engaged
Teachers have been happy with the new ways of teaching and the integration of the YETAM project within their school curriculum. One teacher told Bedo that “there have been developments in many areas, especially in the areas that teachers and students developed together – birth registration, rural-urban migration, female circumcision and violence at school.”

The teacher explained that the youths’ messages have extended to parents and those who practice these phenomena.Those who practice circumcision have pledged they will stop it. Corporal punishment is now prohibited by school rules, because we now know that violence undermines the intelligence of the child. The teachers have agreed to end it. They are ready to make every effort to pass the message of awareness among their colleagues so that together we can make every effort to end school violence….”

Youth see concrete results
Participating children also commented that they think that there have been improvements due to the project’s integration into the school. One 14 year old participant in the project said “With this new formula of YETAM, the suffering of children through corporal punishment in schools and the harmful practice of female circumcision has decreased. Before, we children, we could not stand before the public and parents to discuss the subject of female circumcision, but now we can do it. This has greatly reduced the practice of female circumcision. In our village, many people practiced circumcision, but now they say they will stop because they have learned from our messages about the harm it causes.

Another participant, who is 12 years old, commented that “with YETAM, teachers have ceased to beat us in school. Many of our schoolmates have their birth certificates. We are noticing an improvement in our situation.

Next steps
Bedo says that given the positive impact so far of the project, they will ask school authorities to institutionalize an annual special day for each of the 4 topics.  They will continue to support the work that the youth are doing and try to involve more youth, teachers, community volunteers and surrounding villages in this type of project.  Plan Mali also has plans to conduct a participatory assessment with stakeholders to evaluate the project so far and learn how to improve it.

Within the next month or so, the overall project website will be complete, and the maps, art work and videos of all 6 participating countries will be uploaded so that youth can connect with their peers in Africa as well as share ideas with youth in non-African countries.  A curriculum for teachers and youth groups based on the arts and media work that the youth have done around their priority topics is in the works and will be available for schools in the participating countries.


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Spoiler Alert – if you’re planning to go see Avatar you may want to stop reading now…. :-)

Last week I read a post called “When Will White People Stop Making Movies like Avatar”. So I went into the movie this past Friday with some preconceptions.  Yesterday I read another post on this topic by David Brooks in the New York Times.

Though I found a great deal of truth to these writers’ opinions, consider substituting “White” with “American” (or as my more politically correct friends would remind me “United States of American”).  It seems to me that the film could have easily have cast an American of any race in the role of Jake Sully, and the story would have remained pretty much the same.  The issue for me is not about color, it’s about the American way of life.

What I saw in the film was a basic characterizing of Americans and America. It showed a stereotype of the US, distilled down to basic qualities (which I kind of agree with) of capitalism/greed, militarism/violence, science/distance from nature, fear mongering/terrorism as an excuse for isolation, exploration/curiosity, advanced technology/creativity, courage/entrepreneurialism, and a strong need by individual Americans to belong/to be liked by other cultures.

From this perspective, the color/race of the hero is inconsequential as long as he is American.  It could have just as easily been a non-white actor playing Sully.  (Though I’m not sure substituting a woman would have the same effect).  Try, for example, to replay the movie in your head with Cuba Gooding Jr. playing the lead.  I think it comes out pretty much the same.  I really don’t think it’s about race; it’s about the “American Way.”

Having said that, I was really disappointed at the way that the Na’vi were given a noble savage role in the film and the American was the hero.  I would have liked to see the Na’vi themselves deal with the American intrusion (Neytiri, the main female character says her great grandfather organized the clans to join together many years ago – why not now?).  I would have liked to see some equal amount of character development on both sides of the conflict (I even had to look up the name of the main female character to write this as I couldn’t remember it).

It was annoying that Jake Sully was the only one daring and brave enough to consider jumping on the big red bird, and that this immediately made all the Na’vi bow down and accept him as their leader (and this is one place where the American male fantasy part really comes in – ha, my dad loved this part!).  And why is it Sully who goes to pray to the tree of life, to Ehwa, and it’s not the shaman or the lead Na’vi warrior? At the same time I had to chuckle at how in spite of all this, Sully keeps having to pronounce to everyone “I’m one of you.” Insecure much?

One interesting point that the movie made me think about was the use of anthropologists/social scientists in conflict. Anthropologists (as I can personally attest) have a tendency to cross over to the other side ['go native'], so I’m not sure what good they will do for the military if the US engages them in war zones, unless we are talking about a very different kind of anthropologist than the ones I’m used to.

I guess I would have liked a movie about the Na’vi and Pandora, with no violent, burning machine vs nature battle scenes and no Americans involved at all.  Well, then again, that film might have turned out like Apocalypto, whose portrayal of the Maya made me want to vomit….  Maybe I just need to stop going to see Hollywood films.

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