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Archive for March, 2010

Report released March 29, 2010

Often adults think that children and youth don’t have the capacity to express themselves or make good decisions.  I’ve been working with kids for a long time and I wholeheartedly disagree.  It makes me cringe when I hear adults making a big fuss out of something intelligent that a child or a young person says.

I’m not amazed anymore when kids say something profound or brilliant – I’ve come to expect it.  When trusted and given a comfortable space to say what they think, children and young people tend to bring critical insights to a situation, especially when it’s one that directly impacts on them and their lives.

So when adults are designing and implementing programs, instead of assuming that they know what is best for children and youth, it’s a good idea to actually ask them and involve them.

The “Children’s Voices in the PDNA” project (implemented by Plan with support from UNICEF) did exactly that:  experienced Haitian facilitators developed a child friendly methodology to consult with 54 groups of children and youth – almost 1000 kids in total – in 9 departments in Haiti to find out what they wanted to see in the new Haiti.  The resulting document in full can be found here, and is well worth a look-through.

The consultations focused on a few broad areas:

  • the impact of the January 2010 earthquake on children’s and youth’s lives and that of their communities
  • their visions for the reconstruction and long-term development of their country
  • their views regarding their present situations and future risks they may face
  • their ideas on how they would like to participate the future development of their country.

The project aimed at not only gathering opinions and ideas from the participating children and youth to feed into the PDNA, but to help them understand the PDNA process and how it would link into the long-term reconstruction in Haiti and impact on their own lives. Children and youth were also given the space to share ideas for accountability, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

Participants were divided into age-based groups (5-10, 11-16 and 17-24 year olds) for the consultations, and their responses were recorded according to sex in order to ensure that gender-based information was available for future program planning.  The 4 main categories of the PDNA were included as well: social sectors, infrastructure, production sectors, and governance/security. In order to ensure a holistic approach when coming up with solutions, the root causes of vulnerability and risk were discussed.  Environmental hazards such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, and social risks like child trafficking, child protection, violence and abuse were addressed.  A summary of the children and youths priorities by age and sex is found on page 19 of the document.

Children and youth certainly had something to say.

——————–

I want a different Haiti where we, the youth, have a chance to participate with the government; we can be part of the government and of all activities in the country. In the past, youth had been completely excluded; we need a new strategy or approach to achieve this end.” Boy in age group 11-16, Croix des Bouquets

I’m sure we’ll have a better Haiti with the participation of youth and children. Then, Haiti would become a beautiful country. Haiti cannot be rebuilt without the participation of children and youth, we are Haiti’s present, we will be Haiti’s future.” Girl in age group 11-16yrs, Croix des Bouquets

After the earthquake, I have seen a deprived youth. The country had assumed a thinking mind on behalf of Haitian youth. Because in my vision, I saw there was no future for the youth. We need to make men act consciously to facilitate equal distribution of things and to help every citizen according to his needs. My advice would be to decentralize the country, think of the whole country and rebuild the country consciously. Awareness is crucial to achieve a better distribution of international aid so it can benefit those most in need.” 22 year old male, Cyvadier / South-East

First, the focus group was a very good activity; everyone was involved and conscientious. Everyone had the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions freely. About January 12, I think everyone has his or her own way to live, understand and explain this event. But, there is still confusion and fear among people. They are traumatized and desperate. Now, we must reconsider, give room for everyone, listen to every person with positive ideas in the context of the reconstruction.” 18 year old female, Department of the West

——————–

Permission for two of the participating youth to attend a March 30th Side Event called “A Haiti Fit for Children” and to participate in the March 31st Donors Conference (both held in New York City), was granted. Ironically, the youth were denied visas to enter the US.  In my last post about Haiti I asked “Will Haitian youth go missing again?” The answer is “yes.”  But at least we can hope that their voices in written form will reach the eyes and ears of decision makers and donors. I hope that they will listen.  Children under 18 make up around 50% of the population in Haiti… if they go unheard, that is a lot of missing voices.

If you are reading this blog post and you plan to launch an initiative in Haiti, I hope you also will take 15 minutes to read through the “Children and Young People’s Voices in Haiti’s Post Disaster Needs Assessment” to hear what these 1000 children and youth in Haiti have to say.

But not only that.  I hope that before doing anything on the ground in Haiti, you or someone that you are working with will directly talk with and listen to Haitian children and young people, as well as with their parents, teachers, community leaders, and others in the communities that you are hoping to help or support.

Related posts on Wait… What?

Will Haitian youth go missing again?

Children in Emergencies: Applying what we already know to the crisis in Haiti

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Remember back when you were a little kid?  The world then was so absolutely interesting that you never wanted to stop playing to eat, sleep, brush your teeth, bathe, or go to the bathroom.  How many times did you pee your pants when you were outside playing because you didn’t want to stop and come inside to take care of business?  How many times was bedtime the cause of a crying fit, with you insisting that you weren’t tired?  It was all because you didn’t want to miss out on anything.  The adults around never seemed to understand that, probably because your world didn’t seem all that interesting to them anymore.

These days I totally get it.  And sometimes I think I’m regressing back to that stage and acting like a 3 year old.  I’ve started resenting the time I spend on the mundane because it interrupts me from the fascinating and the exciting.  I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.  It could mean that I’m extremely stressed out and imbalanced.  On the other hand, it could mean that my world has once again become an amazing place to explore and experience.

Yes, I still shower and all the rest, but I wish that there were more time in the day to do and learn about cool stuff and hang around with interesting people. Most days I feel lucky that I don’t have a parent in the house to make me stop and go to bed. Other days I suppose maybe I need one….

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There are a lot of great ideas floating around about how Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) and technology in general can help to rebuild Haiti.  I hope these ideas keep coming.  I would love to see international development organizations, aid agencies and non-profits in general open up more to ideas on how technology can improve the lives of the people they are trying to support as well as facilitate coordination and program implementation.

But I also hope that the technology folks who haven’t worked in a crisis context such as that in Haiti will lend an ear to those who have experience working in past disasters and on-going development programs, human rights work, volunteer initiatives and advocacy. Those experiences shouldn’t be tossed out as old-school.  Good programs and experiences exist that can be examined, processed and built on.

I work globally, with one foot in community development and the other in ICTs, and I notice a gap between these 2 sectors, though they could really learn a lot from each other and work nicely together.

Cool technology ideas, just like cool program ideas can flop on the ground if the local culture and context are not taken into consideration, users were not involved or consulted during design and testing, the supposed ‘problem’ really wasn’t a problem at all, the proposed idea is not sustainable, a better/preferred local solution already exists, etc., etc.

Sometimes when I hear enthusiastic people sharing ideas for new applications, innovations or program ideas that they want to implement in ‘developing’ countries, I find myself thinking:  “Wow.  They have no idea what it’s like on the ground.”  I don’t want to shoot down someone’s excitement.  But I do wish that those who are not intimately familiar with their end users would slow down, think for a minute, and realize that local context is king. I wish they would remember that ultimately this is not about them and their ideas for other people. I wish they would stop being mad that abc organization won’t take that shipment of xyz technology that they want to send over, or that no one wants to implement such and such program that was so successful in such and such place.  Solutions looking for problems are not the best way to go about things, even when you have the very best of intentions.

However, non-profit organizations (large and small)  can be totally resistant to trying new tools, technologies and programs that could make a huge difference in their effectiveness, impact and quality of programming. They can be bureaucratic and slow to put new ideas to work.  They can be risk averse, afraid of failure, and resistant to innovation and new ideas.  The seemingly limitless relationships that need to be negotiated around can really slow things down.

Sometimes I see non-profits doing things they way they’ve always been done and I find myself thinking “Wow.  I wish they’d be open to trying ________.” I wish organizations would be more willing to test out new technologies and new ideas that don’t come from within their sector. I wish it were easier to make change happen.

When it comes to the Haiti earthquake response, the technology and non-profit sectors are 2 of the key players.  I’m worried that the outpouring of interest in helping will lead to a lot of wheel re-inventing.  I’m worried about local relevance and executability (if that’s even a word) of some of the ideas I am seeing.  I have concerns about the amount of projects being conceived and designed from afar.  I also see that there are new program and technology ideas out there that have the potential to make people’s lives easier if they were well integrated into the local reality, yet there are many factors that prohibit and inhibit organizations from exploring them or using them.

The technology and non-profit sectors benefit quite a lot from each other when they work together and understand each other.  It would be great to see a bigger effort to bridge the gap between these sectors.  Regardless of whether people believe NGOs and/or private enterprises and/or technologists or the Haitian government or the UN are good or bad, there are a lot of experiences that can be learned from and/or improved on from all sides.

The links below might be helpful for thinking about designing technology, ICT and programs in ‘developing’ country contexts and to help avoid known pitfalls and overcome obstacles. They can help reduce the amount of time and other resources wasted on projects that are not sustainable or impactful, or at worst are actually harmful in the short or long term to the very people that we all want to support and help.  There are certainly many more resources out there… please add ones that you find helpful in the comments section.

ICT Works and The 4 C’s of ICT Deployment

Mobiles for Development Guide by Hannah Beardon

IDEO Human Centered Design Toolkit

Changemakers and Kiwanja collaboration: SMS How To Guide

Mobile Active‘s case studies

ML4D:  Mobile learning for development’s design narratives

Ushahidi Blog: February Archives have a lot of information on the Haiti response

iRevolution: thought provoking posts on technology and crisis situations

Educational Technology Debate:  Sustaining, rather than sustainable ICT4E and Designing and sustaining a sustainable ICT4E initiative

Posts on Wait… What? that might be useful:

7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Meeting in the Middle: A good local process

It’s all part of the ICT jigsaw

I and C and then T

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Members of the "Voces" Latin American youth media network.

I’m in Nicaragua this week for a regional meeting of youth leaders from 12 Latin American countries where the organization where I work (Plan) operates.  Well, actually only 11 countries are present, since our 5 person Haitian delegation (2 adults and 3 youth) was deported immediately upon arrival. What I understand is that they were missing a special type of visa permit required by Haitians that the Consulate in the Dominican Republic should have issued and didn’t, and the Haitian youth paid the price by having their hopes dashed.

To me it feels like adding insult to injury, but I guess no one cuts anyone any slack these days.  After 3 days running around, staff at our office in Nicaragua were unable to arrange for the team to enter the country.

I’m really disappointed that the Haitian team is not here this week because it would have meant a chance to hear first hand from the youth and my Haitian colleagues about their experiences over the past few months and to learn about how they have been participating in the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) process in Haiti.  The youth from the Latin American youth media network, “Voces” (“Voices”) here are extremely bummed as well.  One aspect of their strategy for the next few years involves working in solidarity their Haitian peers to ensure that their voices and opinions are heard in the building and negotiating of the PDNA as well as in the post-PDNA process when promises and commitments will be monitored.

Around half of the population in Haiti is under 18, yet young people were not initially given a space to input into the PDNA process, even though it will decide the framework and funding for reconstruction of their country.  In order to bring those voices into the process, Plan worked in partnership with UNICEF to consult with 54 groups of children and youth (around 1000 kids in total) across the country (West, North East, South East, Artibonite, Nippes, South, North West, Grand Anse and Central Plateau) to find out about their current situation and their plans and ideas for the future. Issues of gender, disability, vulnerability, access to services, disaster risk reduction, participation in decision making, and accountability mechanisms for the PDNA were considered in the consultations. Plan has been working in Haiti for several years and has an active local network on the ground. These consultations were a lot of work, but not impossible.  (Read more about the process here.)

But the effort to fully involve children and youth does not stop at the consultation stage.  Plan and UNICEF are currently working to ensure that the input from the children and youth will be incorporated into the upcoming donor conference in New York on March 31, 2010 where representatives from the Haitian government, international organizations and representatives from the World Bank will decide Haiti’s future.  My colleague in the US office is working right now to try to secure visas for 2 youth to attend the March 31 meeting.

Interestingly enough, much of the input from the youth consultations fits right into the categories that will be discussed in these meetings:  education, housing, telecommunications, transport, energy, boosting the effectiveness of government and macro economic recovery.  If you ask me, it would be vital for decision makers to hear it.  The most common point made by children and youth during the consultations was education and getting back to school.

Here in Nicaragua, the 40 or so youth from the “Voces” network who did make it through immigration to participate in our meeting this week have been following the Haiti situation since it began, offering solidarity and support from afar.  The group is composed of young media veterans, all part of youth networks and media groups in their home countries. They have been doing local, national and global level advocacy work for years; some for 10 years, since they were pre-teens.  They write blogs, host television and radio shows, publish newsletters, make videos, produce music, and are generally involved and powerful voices for their generation.

I really like their vision for supporting their Haitian peers’ primary efforts in getting a seat at the table and being heard by decision makers around the PDNA and post-PDNA reconstruction process in Haiti. They are planning to use their contacts in their own governments and ministries and their existing media platforms to bring the opinions and voices of their Haitian peers in “through the back door” so to speak. They want to advocate with their own country governments, youth commissions, Ministries, etc., to influence their positions so that when they interact with the Government of Haiti, they are doing it with opinions and positions of Haitian youth in mind. In this way they want to help the voices of their peers to be heard directly and indirectly on various fronts and from all sides.

On the ground in Haiti, Plan is working to find and revive all the youth media groups that were its active partners before the earthquake.  These groups have been working in their communities and at the national level through various media around themes of importance to youth.  In fact Caroline and Fritz, 2 of the youth that I have met in the past at other youth encounters are at the forefront of the children and youth participation in the PDNA process right now.  These and other groups of  young people can play a vital role in the post-disaster reconstruction process in many ways, including monitoring the gap between commitments made and commitments fulfilled.

The knowledge, motivation and spirit of the youth here at this regional encounter, are a real inspiration. I can only imagine how disappointed their peers are, back in Haiti, after all the preparation that they did to attend this week. But our regional media encounter is of  much less significance than the March 31 meeting.  How will the youth who are planning to attend that meeting feel if they are not allowed in.  Why is their voice less important in that context, less of a priority than other voices?  I’ve been in this world long enough to know the answer to that question, but it will never cease to upset me.

So here’s hoping that the 2 Haitian youth who are slated to participate in the PDNA Meeting in NYC are given a seat at the table and permission to attend the donor meeting and to enter the US.  Here’s hoping that Haitian youth and their voices will not go missing again.

Related Posts on Wait… What?

Children and young people’s vision for a new Haiti

Children in Emergencies:  Applying what we already know to the crisis in Haiti

An example of youth-led community change in Mali

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There are surely enough travel blogs out there, but given how much travel I do and my recent hiccups getting home from Benin (eg., 5 day total delay), I thought I’d throw together some of the things that keep me sane and somewhat prepared when I’m on the road…. I normally travel to Africa and Latin America, so these ideas may not be useful to people traveling to other places.  I have geared them towards women, though they might be useful to men also…. Ladies, add your tips to the comments section!

Breasts, shoulders, thighs, knees and ankles. Do a little internet research before you leave.  Observe what local women where you will go are wearing in pictures or on other people’s blogs. Especially notice the attitude towards breasts, shoulders, thighs, knees and ankles. In many places, for example, breasts are not a big deal, but thighs are.  Keep that in mind when you pack and in your behavior when you arrive. Don’t wear tank tops/spaghetti straps if you don’t see local women wearing them.  Same goes for shorts and capris or tight clothing.  This may be different if you are a teenager and traveling with a group, but I still recommend against a lot of thigh action if you want to be taken seriously and to be respected.  There may be different dress codes depending on urban and rural, so observe that and be respectful, be smart.  And if you are not, don’t be surprised if you get unwanted attention.  Maybe not the most feminist thing to say here, just being realistic.  People will often cut you some slack knowing that you are foreign, but when I travel, I tend to go for respecting local customs over my right to self-expression in my attire.

Sweat – Not a nice topic for many of us, but if you are someone who sweats (I always envy those people who don’t) it’s a fact of life when traveling somewhere hot. You’ll often be advised to wear clothing made out of lightweight fabric, however this kind of fabric shows every drop of sweat. Skimpy underwear does not absorb sweat and that fact will express itself on your clothing, especially when you are forced to sit in a hot car, meeting or community for several hours.  Not attractive.  Cotton boy shorts are a good alternative to the sexier variety of under things, as is clothing made out of thicker fabrics.

And speaking of undergarments – I get really annoyed when I see young women who, in the name of modesty or fitting in with local culture or just being hippy backpackers wear long flowing skirts without realizing that they are completely see through when walking in the sun! Do us all a favor and invest in a slip.

Tattoos.  You may get stared at for having visible tattoos.  You’ll want to decide how you feel about that.  I normally keep mine covered until people get to know me a bit so that any judgment comes later in the relationship. Since a lot of Americans have them these days, it’s also kind of fun to explain that tattoos are part of our coming of age ritual.

Packing – If you’re a frequent traveler, keep a second set of travel stuff right in your suitcase.  I keep a plastic Ziploc bag with less than 3 oz. quantities toiletries in it and just refill them before I leave and stash them on the top of my carry on for easy removal at security check points.  I keep all my favorite warm weather travel clothes in my suitcase. I have a checklist that I run through before I go to add anything that’s missing.  Makes for much easier packing.

Luggage – Put some identifying marks on your luggage so you can spot it when you arrive.  Assume it might be delayed by a day or so, and be prepared in case it is.  I do this by always packing any equipment, a change of clothes, and any essentials in my carry on.  This includes a small quantity of any printed materials I need if I am presenting at a workshop, just so that I won’t be left hanging.  I always take my laptop.

Travel socks – They are dorky but they keep your ankles from swelling and you from looking like you have tree trunks for calves upon arrival.  They also help prevent a potentially fatal condition (deep vein thrombosis) where blood clots form due to long flights.

Shoes – If the climate is hot your feet may swell and your shoes will be tight, especially if you are walking or standing a lot. This is most pronounced in the evenings.  Bring shoes that are a bit loose to be more comfortable.

Flip Flops – I wear them whenever I can get away with it, but sometimes they are seen as a sign of disrespect.  If you’re on any kind of trip where you need to do business or represent at any kind of function, or train a group, bring some sandals that don’t look like flip flops, at least for the first couple days. Do bring the flip flops for sketchy showers.

Sarong – Pick one up somewhere next time you see one.  They double as a scarf for freezing plane trips, and a skirt for when your luggage gets lost, you want to visit a pool or beach, or you need a cover up in a pinch, like if you have dinner in your room and want to throw something on to cover your shorts/your thighs when your meal or beer arrives.

Coffee press – If you are a coffee addict and are traveling to a country that produces wonderful coffee, rest assured that you will be served none of it.  You will get Nescafe.  I bring my own travel coffee press (pick one up for cheap at REI) and some ground coffee.  You can almost always get boiled/hot water.

Food – If you are vegetarian, pack granola bars, a jar of peanut butter, some chocolate, and some of those little cheese hunks wrapped in red wax… they last up to a week or 2 without refrigeration (if you’re not squeamish), and taste really good after a few days of full-on starch meals (eg., vegetarians often get a plate of bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and green plantains for lunch and dinner and some more bread for breakfast).  Try to make friends with your hotel or workshop venue cook and ask if they could make you some beans or cooked vegetables.  Make sure you don’t refer to yourself as a vegetarian without giving some suggestions of what you do eat, or you may get raw vegetables and salad which often lead to amoebas and giardia.  Buy some fruit when you see it. Bring a knife from home to cut it up and be sure to wash and dry it well before digging in.  Fancy hotels will often have no idea how to feed you so look forward to a lot of French fries and omelets.  Local hotels or hosts will usually make an effort using what they have available.  Don’t assume that your fancy hotel food is safer than other food.  Different bacteria is different bacteria and your system just may need to adjust.

Bottle opener – Light, easy to pack, and a life saver when you have to buy your beer in advance or want to drink it in your room on a hot evening.

Ziploc baggies –Freezer size zip lock baggies seem to always come in handy for something.

Flashlight.  A small flashlight is useful for frequent power cuts. Especially for visiting bathrooms outside your sleeping area at night.

Towel – Often small hotels will not provide towels, or will give you a non-absorbent hand towel.  If this is a problem for you, bring your own towel.

Mosquito net – You can never count on a mosquito net.  Do yourself a favor and purchase your own.  I bought my own self-standing mosquito net (a “travel tent”) which has been a life saver.  Light weight and convenient, it sets up on any single bed or even on the floor.  It means you get sleep without being woken up by mosquitoes buzzing in your ears, and you can avoid taking malaria pills (well, unless you’re working for an organization that makes them mandatory….)

Laundry soap/clothesline – I usually pack a clothes line to string up in my hotel room, and a baggie of powdered laundry soap.   You can also get these when you arrive. You can pack lighter if you wash things out in the evening. If you’re in a hot climate they will dry in less than 24 hours.  When Air France lost my bag in Togo, I made it through 9 days by washing in the evening and re-wearing in the morning.

Water – If you see a bucket in your room, it is a sign that the water goes off.  Keep it filled or you may be in for an unpleasant surprise when you go to take a shower.  There’s quite a talent in toilet flushing with buckets.  Experiment and soon you will learn how to economize on water use and keep the bathroom area clean as well. I got through each day in rural Rwanda on one jerry can by being smart about re-using my bathing water for the toilet, etc.  Get a plastic cup at the market to make it all easier.

Candles – Same as a bucket – candle in your hotel room means that the power goes off fairly often – be prepared.  Charge up all your stuff whenever there is available electricity.

Electricity adaptors – Often your room will have only 1 or 2 outlets, (if at all when you’re out somewhere really rural).  A 3-plug + an adaptor are handy for charging up 3 things at a time instead of juggling them one after the other.  Google “electricity converter” or “electricity adaptor” something like that before you leave and get some plug adaptors of your own. It gets annoying when people are always asking to borrow yours, and your hotel will not have them unless you’re traveling in high style.

Check in – Check in on-line if you can.  If not, get there early enough to get a window seat on long flights.  Don’t expect any special attention unless you are wearing a fancy suit and a big watch.

Airport pick up – Assume that no one will be there to pick you up from the airport.  Maybe this is just an issue with my organization, but it happens quite often.  Before you leave, be sure that you write down the address and phone numbers of your office, any contact persons, and your hotel.  (I once arrived in India without this information…. not wise).  This is also helpful to keep handy when filling out paperwork at the airport upon arrival.

Flight delays and ticketing – Be aware that once you purchase your ticket, Orbitz and the like won’t help you much as they transfer the ticket over to the airline systems.  I found out last week when stuck in Benin for 4 extra days that your ticket will not have a phone number on it, or it will be an 800 number, which only works in the US.  Try to get a non 800 number before you leave in case of anything.  When in a real pinch, send out pleas for help on Twitter and the community will get you the phone numbers you need.

Cash – Some places only change $20 bills or less.  Other places give a better rate for $100 bills.  Do some research.  Change money in the airport when you arrive if the agencies are still open. Assume you may not have access to an ATM when you arrive.  Assume your hotel may not have cash to change money for you when you need it.  Assume you will wait for 2 or 3 hours at a bank to change money, and will need ID to do it.  Know that every time you ask your organization’s driver to do these types of things for you, you are probably ensuring that his day is that much longer. (Drivers in my experience have the worst rap, always having to arrive before everyone and leave after everyone’s all taken care of, and they don’t get any recognition for their work).

Communications – Get an unlocked cheap phone and buy a local SIM card and some airtime on arrival.  Check before you go which network has 3G or Edge if you plan to use it for internet.  Download the software to connect your phone to 3G internet before leaving.  If you travel often, it can be worth the money to invest in a phone that connects to internet.  If you are a Twitter or Facebook freak, install Snaptu for Twitter/Facebook on your phone.  Outlook doesn’t work on all phones, so I do an out-of-office reply giving people my phone number for emergencies.  I create a rule to auto-forward my work email to my gmail.  If you use an i-phone and want to get some extra mileage out of it on the plane/before you jump into local phone/local SIM mode, Duracell makes a $17 charger that gives you an extra 3 hours.

Medications – I don’t like taking medicine.  I do however have a prescription for Ambien for sleeping on flights. That means I can sleep all night on a plane, get some coffee when I arrive, and get straight to work, and I can avoid arriving a day or so early to acclimate.  Never take a sleeping pill before your flight is in the air in case you have to deplane!  Get a prescription for Cipro before you go.  Take it if you have a bad stomach w/fever for a couple days. Then eat lots and lots of yogurt when you get back home as Cipro depletes your good stomach bacteria.  (*Note – I’m not a doctor and am not giving medical advice here, just telling it like I do it!).

Malaria – I never take malaria pills.  They make me tired and nauseous which means I can’t work, so what’s the point?  And the pills prescribed by your doctor at home may not be effective for the zone or area that you are traveling to because of how the disease evolves.  Decide for yourself, but if you are careful, you can get by without them.  (Again – I’m not taking responsibility for this if you follow my advice and you do get sick).  I prefer using my mosquito net, wearing long pants/long sleeve shirts in the evenings, and using hard core bug spray on exposed skin.  Beware that many bug sprays will eat through nail polish.  My toenails normally look like there is chewed up gum residue on them by the time I get home.  Dark clothing attracts mosquitoes so be aware of that.  Don’t be surprised if sometimes there is a cloud of them swarming over your head if you have dark hair…..  Never take Lariam.  I know of a couple cases where the side effects caused permanent psychological damage to colleagues.  I don’t really know why it’s still prescribed actually.

Marriage proposals and unwanted attention – I could write a whole book on this, but in an effort to be succinct….  Ladies, if you are under, say, 30, don’t be surprised if you get your fair share of suitors.  If you are over 30 and divorced or single, expect some attention from 20-something young men who imagine you to be desperate and lonely.  If you’re interested, by all means, go for it, but protect yourself just like you would when you’re at home. Don’t take any excuses.  Condoms are readily available just about anywhere, or better yet, always travel with some.  If you are American, you will likely have a reputation for being loose (thank you Hollywood and MTv) [note: adding “and all the ‘Western’ women who have helped confirm that stereotype“). If you are divorced, people may pity you.  If you are married or in a relationship, some men will still try to pick up on you.  (In El Salvador when I’d say I was married, men would often say “It’s ok, I’m not jealous”).   If you are not interested and the attention you are getting is not overly offensive, take it in stride.  Don’t be rude, but do be firm.  Deflect lightly when possible and move on, it’s OK to say no. Sometimes you may want to keep your phone out of sight so that you can pretend you don’t have one if you keep getting asked for your number.  If the attention is scary and threatening though, do whatever is necessary. As anyplace, be safe.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something…. Add your comments below.

Update:  Here’s a great post by Scarlett Lion:  What to bring and not bring when traveling to Africa.

Related post on Wait… What?

Getting screwed by Orbitz.

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Mapping Violence against Children in Benin

In my last post, I wrote about key questions to ask before adding ICTs to a development initiative, using the example of a violence against children program I’m working on in Benin. The piece that was missing, and which came together over the past 2 weeks, was the view from the ground.

We just finished two workshops (in Natitingou and Couffo Districts) with 24 youth from 9-10 villages in each district, the district heads of the Center for Social Protection (CPS), and the Ministry of the Family (both of whom are responsible for responding to cases of child abuse/child rights violations in their varying forms).  We covered several topics related to youth leadership and youth-led advocacy.

I was most excited, though, about getting end user input and thoughts about implementing a FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi set-up as a way of reporting, tracking and responding to violence against children.

I had a lot of questions before arriving to Benin, but by the end of my 2 weeks here, I feel satisfied that the system can work, that it’s reflective of real information and communication flows on the ground, that roles of the different actors – including youth – are clear, that it can add value to local structures and initiatives, and that it could be sustainable and potentially scaled into a national level system in Benin and possibly other countries.

What we are tracking.

Violence children said they experience at family and community levels.

Forms of violence that children and youth experience at home and in the community.

The UN Report on Violence against Children (VAC) identified 4 key forms of violence against children (physical, psychological, sexual and neglect) and 5 key places where it takes place (home, school, community, institutions, workplace).  Plan is one of the organizations that participated in the elaboration of the study. Now, together with local, national and global partners, we are working on sharing the study’s results and strengthening capacities at different levels to prevent and respond to violence against children.

Plan’s approach helps rights holders (in this case children and youth) know their rights and engages them in educating on and advocating for those rights. At the same time Plan works to strengthen the capacities of duty bearers (local and national institutions, including the family) to ensure those rights.

The VAC study revealed some shocking statistics on violence against children, yet we also know that under-reporting is a reality, meaning that the magnitude of violence is not fully known.  People don’t report violence for many reasons, including fear of reprisal and stigma, difficulties in communication and access to places where they could report. Institutions also face difficulties in responding to violence for a variety of reasons, including lack of political will, disinterest, lack of awareness on the magnitude of the problem, scarce resources, poorly functioning or corrupt systems, and poor quality information.  Even when violence against children is reported, national response and judicial systems in many countries don’t do a good job of addressing it.

How ICTs can help.

Watching testimonials captured as part of the workshop.

Watching testimonials youth produced during the workshop.

Mobiles can pull in and send out multiple bits of information, creating a kind of glue that can hold a system together.  In Benin, the use of SMS and mapping can bolster and connect the existing system for reporting and responding to cases of violence against children. SMS allows for anonymous and low cost reporting. It’s hoped that this will encourage more reporting.  More reporting will allow for more information, and for patterns and degrees of violence to be mapped.  This in turn can be used to raise awareness around the severity of the problem, advocate for the necessary resources to prevent it, and develop better and more targeted response and follow-up mechanisms. Better information can help design better programs. SMS can alert local authorities quickly and help improve response. Mapping is a visual tool that children and youth can use to advocate for an end to cultural practices that allow for violence against them.

In addition to FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi, digital media tools can be used to record audiovisual information that helps qualify the statistics and better understand attitudes towards violence.  At the workshops we trained youth to use low cost video cameras, mobile phones and audio recorders to document violence and to take testimonials from other youth and community members.  These testimonials can help youth improve and target their messaging to change violent behaviors and can be used to educate in their communities and generate dialogue around violent practices. Testimonials and audiovisual materials also help youth connect with people outside the borders of their communities to share their realities, challenges and accomplishments via the web.

What the system looks like.

My colleague Henri sharing the basic idea of the information flow and how it could intersect with a FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi system.

My colleague Henri explaining the basics of the system.

We had some ideas and a drawing of what the system might look like that we shared to get across the basic idea of the system and to obtain user feedback on it.

After the workshops, with input from the youth, national and district level Plan child protection staff, community outreach staff, the Center for Social Protection (CPS) and the Ministry of the Family, it ended up looking something like this (forgive my poor artistic talents….)

My low tech attempt at drawing out the system....

For now, the Frontline SMS piece of the system will be managed by Henri (see photo above) at Plan’s Country Office. Plan’s district level child protection staff will administer the Ushahidi system, receiving and approving the SMS reports that are automatically forwarded to Ushahidi from Frontline SMS.  Automatic alerts will be set up so that when there is a case reported in a particular community, the Plan staff person who liaises with that community, as well as the CPS point person, and the local police and any other relevant community level persons will be alerted.  These authorities will verify the cases and do the follow up (they are already responsible and trained for this role).  The goal is for management of the whole system to be handed over to national authorities.

Main challenges we face(d) and ideas for overcoming them.

There were many questions and thoughts from users about the system that need to be worked out (see below). But these are not insurmountable.

Lack of resources to respond to violence at the local and national level is the main challenge seen by the CPS and local Plan staff.  It will be easy to report now because there will be a locally available, low cost and fast system.  The number of reports will increase. What if we don’t have enough capacity to respond to them? Children and youth may feel discouraged and stop reporting.

Proposed Solution:  Plan Benin will continue to work closely with the Ministry of the Family and the CPS during the 6-12 month pilot phase in the Natitingou and Couffo districts.  The end goal is that the CPS and Ministry will manage the entire system. The information collected during the pilot phase will be used to advocate for more resources for prevention and response.

Anastasie during some group work with the youth.

Anastasie

Airtime and mobile phone access in order to report incidents was raised as a potential challenge by children and youth in both groups.  What if people don’t have credit?  Can Plan purchase credit for the participating youth leaders and buy them phones?

Proposed Solution:   My amazing colleague Anastasie, who coordinates the program in West Africa, turned around to youth and said, “Hah? Do you honestly think Plan can purchase credit and mobile phones for the entire country of Benin?  No! This is not only Plan’s concern. This is not only happening here in one community or one district.  This is a problem that we all share, and we all have a responsibility to do something about.”  The kids laughed and agreed that anyone could find a way to report by borrowing a phone if necessary or asking an aunt or friend to help them.  The youth that we are working with are all part of organized community youth groups, about half of them have mobile phones and all said that their families or neighbors had phones that they could borrow or use.  Still, Plan will approach the government and cell phone providers about getting a “green” number that would allow for free SMS violence reporting.

Phones and modems. “Here (at the Nokia Store) we don’t carry the older models, surely you would prefer this nice new one with many cool features and capabilities?”  Um, no, actually what we’re looking for is an older, cheaper phone or one of the modems on our list here!  We spent quite some time visiting stores and testing modems and phones to find one that worked with FrontlineSMS.  Mobile phones are a complex ecology with many factors — phone or modem model and auto-installed programs they come with, SIM cards, etc.–that can trip you up and there is not a lot of standardization across phones or countries, so what works in one place may not work in another. It’s good to have an additional day for testing things out.

Proposed Solution:  The young woman working at the Nokia store in Cotonou was very happy to sell us her used old phone for an exorbitant price…..  I’m thinking I will go on e-bay or someplace to find some older model phones that work with Frontline SMS to use as a backup.  I wonder if there are original (not pirated) phones at local markets….

Weak internet, electricity. Staff and CPS wondered: What if our internet is down, or not strong enough to go into the system and verify the reports in Ushahidi?  Will the messages from FrontlineSMS forward to the Ushahidi system if the internet is down?  What if there is a power cut? Will FrontlineSMS still capture the SMS’s and forward them?

Proposed Solution:  Power and electricity are always a challenge, but we were able with a normal degree of patience to make the system work. I was constantly reminded how my habits are based on having constant electricity and high speed internet.  Use patterns are quite different when it’s a weak, intermittent connection, but most people in places with customary weak connections and unreliable electricity have higher tolerances for the situation.  Internet and electricity are not really in our hands, but we did use mobile internet as a back up and that worked in some cases.  The Ushahidi system will be managed from the two Plan district offices for now, which have good internet (the training site where we were working did not). Eventually if/when the system is passed to local authorities this will need to be looked into.

Our own technical knowledge.  We were asked: How can we set it up so that the CPS or Plan staff or local authorities can get an SMS when a case is reported so that they can go immediately to check it out?  Can people make reports by email?  Can we get statistics on a regular basis from Frontline SMS and Ushahidi to send to our superiors?  Is there a way to track the status of each case so that we know where it is in the process from reported to resolved?  Well, yes, there is but we couldn’t get the email or the alert system working.  Likely this is our lack of experience with the system…. and the weak internet didn’t allow us to do a lot of poking around on user forums while at the workshops to find solutions.

Proposed Solution:  We’ll continue to explore FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi to better learn all the functionalities and see what potential ones we can use.  We will also add relevant feeds, add an “about” page, clear off the test SMS’s, etc., so that our Ushahidi instance can go live.  There are likely add-on functions that we could use to query data in FrontlineSMS for exporting to spreadsheets for sorting and managing (I have done this with Frontline SMS Forms but couldn’t make it work with text message contents).  We will look into to a way to manage the status of each incident report, moving from reported into FrontlineSMS, approved in Ushahidi, sent out by alert to the relevant authority for verification, verification completed and marked in the system (hopefully with a report), and some kind of closure of the incident – what response was given or what legal or community resolution process was started and what was the result – and finally, incident closed. Some of the applications developed during Ushahidi Haiti may be useful for us here, or those being used by FrontlineSMS: Medic.

Privacy and protection for violence victims/witnesses who report.  In this sense we have two challenges.  Can we capture all the information that comes in, yet scrub it before publication on Ushahidi so that it doesn’t identify the victim or alleged perpetrators, yet keep it in a file for the local authorities to follow up and respond?  And a second challenge:  If everyone knows everything that happens in the community, how can we ensure privacy and confidentiality for those who report?

Proposed Solution:  Find out how this was managed in the Haiti situation in the case of names of missing or separated children.  Learn more about all of the possible data exports from both FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi.  Find out if a separate box for “Private Information” could be added to the report section of Ushahidi for information to be kept in the system but not published on the public site itself or if there is a program that can query the data base either in FrontlineSMS or Ushahidi. The second challenge, that of information confidentiality at the community level, is actually more of a concern.  Staff will have follow up meetings with children and youth to identify additional ways to ensure confidentiality at the community level.

What if your phone rings while you are making a video report with it!? Strangely enough, this was one of the hottest questions with the most debate at the workshop.  I found that amusing, but it was a question that needed to be resolved then and there.  I suggested that it was unprofessional/rude to answer your phone if you were in the middle of a video testimony.  But what if your family has been in an accident?!  What if it’s an emergency!?

Proposed Solution:   OK, well in the end we decided it was up to each individual to decide what to do!

Next steps.

Draft campaign poster after the first workshop; information to send by SMS will be updated to reflect input from the CPS in Couffo.

Draft poster. Information to send in the SMS will be altered to reflect input from the CPS.

Our main next steps will be follow up training for Plan staff, Ministry of the Family and Center for Social Protection, including discussions on how to pass management of the system over to them. We’ll also continue to support youth to promote the SMS hotline and to do their video and photo testimonies.  We will continuously monitor how the system is working and in about 6-12 months we’ll evaluate what has happened thus far with the system in order to make decisions about potential scaling up to the national level in Benin and/or to other countries. And we’ll follow up on resolving any of the challenges noted above.  During the pilot phase we will also tweak the system according to suggestions by users – including the youth, the CPS, Plan staff, and other reporters and responders.  For the evaluation, we will want to measure results and factor in a variety of elements that may impact on them, both those related to ICTs and those not related to ICTs.

Key principles confirmed.

Your ICT system needs to rest on an existing information and communications flow. Conversations about a new ICT system can be a catalyst to help identify and map out or even adjust that flow, but it’s critical to understand how information flows currently, and to find points where ICT systems can help to improve the flow.

End user input and testing is critical. We learned a lot and our thinking evolved exponentially during the workshops because we had children and youth present, as well as Plan frontline staff who work on child protection at the community and district levels, community members, local authorities responsible for child protection and responding to cases of violence, and the relevant ministry.  At first, my colleagues from the Country Office and I were uncertain that the system could be used for more than gathering information on violence for future decisions; we didn’t feel confident that there was a reliable local/national response system in place.  We wondered what the point of collecting information was if there would be nothing done about it.

However, the excitement of the CPS, children, and Plan staff working at the district level changed our thinking, and during the workshop we adapted it towards supplying information for future decisions as well as for immediate response.  Local authorities did have concerns about their own capacity to respond, but embraced the system and its potential to help them do their jobs.  They suggested many ways to improve it, and fleshed out our original ideas on how the information should flow to those responsible for responding and supporting victims, including local actors that we hadn’t thought of during the initial design phase.

The CPS, for example, suggested that the SMS’s should contain the full name of the victim, which is something we hadn’t thought was necessary for information gathering.  “We will have a much easier time finding the victim and responding if we have a first and last name.”

Testing SMS with the youth was important. We initially set up the word “HALTE” as our key word, but during testing noticed that people were spelling it “HALT” and “ALT” in their messages. So we adjusted the key word in FrontlineSMS to “ALT” to capture the alternative spellings that people might use when sending in reports.  Something we can find out during the next 6 month testing period is how to set up the system for local languages as well.  Local staff brought up the issue of adult literacy.  During local promotion of the violence prevention hotline these will all be key factors to consider.

Youth have a main role in promoting the SMS number and orienting peers of where to go for support.

Youth's role in promoting the line and orienting their peers will be critical.

The role of the participating youth leaders was a bit nebulous before the workshops for me.  I wasn’t clear if they were to be those who reported violence or if they would have another role. I was concerned about potential retaliation against them if they played a leading role in reporting violence. At the workshops it became very clear what they saw as their role – working to promote the SMS number for violence reporting, taking testimonials from youth and community members on the situation of violence, carrying out radio and poster campaigns against violence, leading educational sessions at schools and in their communities about violence and the SMS line, working to approach local leaders and decision makers to engage them in the campaign, and orienting those who had questions about which authorities and institutions they could approach for support if they had been victims of violence.  They are also key people to consult with around how the system is working during the monitoring and evaluation – what are the challenges children and youth face in reporting by SMS, how can we work around them, what other factors do we need to consider.

Input from the CPS and Ministry was critical to flesh out the information flow.  Participation by the CPS and Plan’s Child Protection point persons who know how things work on the ground brought us amazing knowledge on who should be involved and who should receive reports and alerts, and at what levels different parts of the system should be managed.  Their involvement from the start was key for making the system function now, for sustainability over time, and for potentially scaling to a national-level system.

Continued monitoring and evaluation of the effort will be critical for learning and potential scaling to a national system in Benin and for sharing with other countries or for other similar initiatives.  We’ll establish indicators for the various steps/aspects outlined in the information flow diagram.  As we pilot the system in these 2 districts in Benin, we will also want to pay close attention to things like:  additional costs to maintain the system; reporting and response rates; legal action in severe cases; adoption of the system and its sustained use by local entities/government bodies (Ministry of the Family and Center for Social Protection); suggestions from users on how to improve the system; privacy breaches at community level and any consequences; numbers of verified cases; number of actual prosecution or action taken once cases are reported and verified; quality of local level promotion of the hotline and education to users on how to report; progress in obtaining the green (free text) line; factors deterring people at different levels from using the system.

The end goal, something to evaluate in the long term, is whether actual levels of violence and abuse go down over time, and what role this system had in that.  Our main assumption — that education, awareness, reporting and response, and follow up action actually make a difference in reducing violence — needs also to be confirmed.

Related posts on Wait… What?

If you are still in the mood to read… I added a 7a and a 7b to my 7 or more questions to ask before adding ICTs post based on suggestions from readers and my time in Benin.

Here is an update on the project after 2 months:  Tweaking: SMS violence reporting system in Benin

For background on the broader Violence against Children (VAC) initiative:

Fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children

Breaking it Down:  Violence against Children


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