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Archive for July, 2010

At last week’s workshop in Kwale, we had the good fortune to have 4 folks from Map Kibera with us to train us on GSP and Open Street Map so that we could support youth in 3 districts where we’re working on the south coast of Kenya (Kwale, Kinango, Msambweni) to map their own communities. Jamie Lundine and Primoz Kovacic are Map Kibera staff, and Kevin Otieno and Millicent Achieng are youth who are trained on mapping. See the video above where Kevin and Millicent talk about the experience or watch it at the link here.

Kevin Otieno from Map Kibera

Both Kevin and Milli have been working with the Map Kibera staff since October, mapping out different areas in Kibera. For our introduction to Map Kibera, they started us off with a general overview of Voice of Kibera.

Kibera was a blank spot on the map (just like Kinango). (Jamie Lundine)

Jamie continued on with an overview of GPS and the Map Kibera project.

How GPS works. (Primoz Kovacic)

Primoz gave us the details on using the GPS devices and Open Street Map.

Hotel Kaskazi LTI Diani is now officially on the map

We practiced by mapping out our hotel, and adding it to Open Street Maps.

Then we went to Kinango District to start making the community map there. We met with the District Official and George, the District Youth Officer, explained why we were there. The DO said he’d heard good things about Map Kibera, and he ‘wanted to meet some of those youth mappers’. He welcomed us to move around the community.

The 4 teams did the first piece of the map, and will continue on with it in the future in Kinango but also in Msambweni and Kwale. The maps can then be used for different purposes, such as looking at existing resources and missing resources, or resource allocation, social auditing (eg., the government said that they built something here but it doesn’t seem to exist), tracking and responding to child protection issues, etc.

In addition to that, the arts and media content that youth produce as part of the project will have a much nicer digital map to sit on than what we currently have available… practically no information exists on digital maps about these 3 areas.

Here’s a video about the community mapping. If you can’t access, try the link here.

I had the pleasure of attending a Nairobi party on my last night in town and meeting up with Mikel Maron and Erica Hagen, who make up the rest of the Map Kibera team. I also ate some really bright pink rice…. yum….

If cotton candy were rice....

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A positively brilliant ICT4D workshop in Kwale, Kenya

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Nothing to do with the topic of this post, but the Kwale coast is gorgeous.

Last week I was in Kwale, at a Plan Kenya hosted workshop as part of the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media program. The team at Plan Kwale has been pointedly using ICTs in their community development programs since 2003 (not counting email and Internet of course) when they began working with radio and video as tools for raising awareness about children’s rights.

It’s really impressive to see how they’ve moved forward with very strategic ideas for integrating ICTs to help reach programmatic and development goals, especially in the areas of youth and governance, universal birth registration, and child/youth-led advocacy around rights and protection issues.

Over the 6 day workshop, the main things we wanted to do were:

  • look at the development context in Kwale, Kinango and Msambweni Districts (South Coast areas where Plan operates via the Kwale Office)
  • better understand the perspective of youth in the 3 districts
  • remind ourselves of rights-based approaches to community development
  • discuss youth issues, governance, advocacy, violence against children and gender within the local context
  • look at the ICTs currently being used by youth, communities and Plan in the Kwale Development Area
  • share and discuss new social media and ICT tools and ways they can be used
  • practice using new social media and ICT tools and see if they can be useful and sustainable in the 3 districts
  • determine next steps for integrating social media and new ICTs in specific local initiatives and plan for how to build on them in Plan Kenya’s overall work

Some elements that made the week positively brilliant:

workshop participants

Engaged and committed stakeholders

We were a group about 20, including staff and university student interns from Plan’s Kwale and Kilifi District Offices and Plan’s Country Office in Nairobi; Government District Youth Officers (‘DYOs’) from the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture; Youth Council members from Kwale, Kinango and Msambweni; 2 staff from Map Kibera and 2 youth mappers from Kibera.

This mix meant that we had a variety of perspectives and opinions, including those of youth from local communities, partner organizations, local government, frontline staff, protection and governance technical advisors, ICT managers, and senior level program managers. This helped to ensure that we were grounded in reality, technically and thematically sound, able to cross-pollinate and integrate new ideas with solid experience and practice, and take decisions immediately forward to a higher level.

Local partners and youth-youth networking

Peer-peer learning and exchange among all the participants was a big plus. Plan and Map Kibera have very similar visions and values, yet each has its own area of specialized technical expertise and experience.  The youth participants from local councils from the 3 South Coast districts and the youth mappers from Kibera brought different perspectives into the workshop which enriched the discussions.  We all learned a lot from each other. Combining expertise as partners brought the workshop to a whole new level, and will help to ensure that the efforts are sustainable and can be built on and expanded. The youth in Kwale can now extend their skills to more youth in their communities, the youth mappers from Kibera can take home new ideas to improve their work, the university-level interns gained practical experience, and the buy-in from the local government’s District Youth Officers (who manage government funds) in the 3 participating districts can help provide the necessary support to broaden the efforts.

Flexible workshop methodology

We had certain goals that we wanted to achieve and we were clear on that, but we let the agenda flow. We started by taking a deep look at the local context and resources. We heard from local experts in the areas that we wanted to focus on (youth and governance, child protection) as well as community youth and local authorities. We spent time getting to know some new tools and discussing the pros and cons of using them.

Hands-on with FrontlineSMS

Hands On Work

We had practical sessions and hands-on work on blogging, FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi, Map Kibera, and mGESA (a local application of the mGEOS mobile platform co-developed by Plan Kenya, Plan Finland, University of Nairobi and Pajat Management and being piloted in Kilifi).

This was important for helping participants feel confident about doing some of the work once the training team was gone. I imagine however that more practice will be needed during some follow up sessions, as most of the participants don’t have regular computer and Internet access for enhancing their skills on a daily basis with additional practice and exploration.

We spent one day mapping our Hotel on Open Street Maps, and another day in Kinango, mapping specific points in 4 teams.  Lessons learned during hands-on work included the importance of engaging and involving the community ahead of time, so that rumors about why people are mapping the community don’t fly. In my group, for example, we were moving around with George the District Youth Officer from Kinango. Someone that he ran into joked to him “Oh, now Kinango is going up for sale!”  A joke, but nonetheless if people don’t know why we were mapping, this or other rumours can quickly spread. (See the video about mapping in Kinango at this link and the background blog post here.)

End goals + new tools + back again

By starting with people’s expectations for the workshop, analysis of the local context, and an understanding of the goals that youth and staff wanted to achieve together, we could be sure that we stayed true to where we wanted to end up. At the same time, by learning about new tools, things that weren’t possible before became imaginable and people started to innovate and mix their existing knowledge and experience with some new ideas.

Combining the two, and having a good variety of perspectives in the room and a lot of space for discussion and practice means that next steps will be more achievable and sustainable, because people are clear and agree about where they want to go, and they feel capable of incorporating some new tools and ideas to get there.

The tools

We explored a number of new(ish) tools at the workshop. They had been identified over the past couple years due to their use by Plan or other organizations in areas such as: community development work, violence tracking, advocacy, governance and social auditing.  We talked about mobile phones, email, Internet, Facebook, Hi5, Google search and Google maps. We did a quick overview of Voice of Kibera, use of GPS, Open Street Maps, FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi, the YETAM project, the PlanYouth website, and a Plan pilot project in Benin using SMS to track violence against children.

The first day, the context analysis was very focused on youth and governance, transparency and social auditing, so we pulled out the 10 Tactics video by Tactical Technology Collective (which @hapeeg had given to me a couple days earlier). This video series talks about 10 tactics for turning information into action. It really sparked ideas among the participants for how they could use social media and ICTs in social accountability work and human rights/child rights work.  Map Kibera partners also shared a tool developed by SODNET (SMS for social auditing of the Constituency Development Fund).

We talked about the use of mapping and SMS in child protection work. One of the main child protection issues in the south coast area is the distance that a child, girl, family has to travel in order to report an abuse. Women’s lack of economic power, inability to own property and the importance of marriageability also mean that often women and girls feel unable to speak out or protest abuse when it’s happening. It’s still not certain what role ICTs can play in this context given the risks involved to those who report, but Plan’s child protection point person, Mohammad, is planning to host a series of meetings with local child protection authorities to discuss possible ways forward.

Digital mapping was immediately cataloged as an important tool for identifying resources, advocating for services and holding government accountable through social auditing. It was also recognized as a potential income generator once areas, shops and local businesses could be added to an on-line map, or if youth could purchase GPS units with funding from the District Youth Office and charge for their GPS services. George, the District Youth Officer for Kinango talks in this video about how mapping can be useful to the Kinango community, even if most members don’t have access to computers and broad band. (Click the link or watch below)

Information and communication gap analysis –> ICT integration plans

ICT integration for youth and governance program

Early on in the workshop, we worked in 2 groups to analyze the goals for the Youth and Governance and the Child Protection programs that Plan is supporting in Kwale. The groups discussed the information and communication gaps that needed to be filled in order to move towards the goals of the 2 initiatives. We looked at what ICT tools might best help reduce the gaps, from existing traditional tools (like meetings, face-to-face advocacy, drama, town criers, radio) to those new(ish) tools that we had discovered (see above paragraph) that might be useful to try out given the goals in the 2 key areas. The groups revisited this gap analysis on the last day after having had more hands-on use of the different tools and turned the gap analysis into an action plan.

ICT integration for child protection programs

Management buy-in and leadership

While the 2 groups worked on local action plans for integrating ICTs into their work, senior management from Plan’s Kenya office created their own action plan for how to build on the workshop experience, engage mid-level managers and other key staff in ICT integration, further develop partnerships and solidify cross-cutting incorporation of ICTs into Plan’s work in Kenya. The Kwale and Kilifi program units have been innovators within Plan for several years. Learning from, supporting and building on concrete work that they are doing on the ground allows for a solid and feasible country strategy based on reality. Having a strategy built from the ground up and with solid support and buy-in from national management means that there is less risk of donor led ICT funding, and more probability that new resources mobilized for ICT work go towards real needs and have better results.

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'Green bicycles' change students' lives

So I’m sitting at lunch today in Kwale, Kenya and one of my Kenyan colleagues is reading the newspaper. He comments, ‘You know, sometimes what is said to be green is not really green.’  He shows another colleague and me this article:  “‘Green bicycles’ change students’ lives.”

They begin discussing:  How are these bicycles really green? How much are they paying to ship them over to Kenya? This is not even the right model of bicycle. These are not the Black Mamba bicycles like we are used to — these bicycles will not stand up to Kenyan roads. And you won’t find the spare parts here either. We are not short of bicycles here in Kenya. Why not purchase them locally? Why are they shipping in refurbished bicycles?

I tell them about 1millionshirts (an idea to send a ton of used t-shirts to ‘Africa’ that was subsequently taken through the wringer) and SWEDOW (Stuff We Don’t Want — a term made famous by @talesfromthhood to represent the idea of sending unwanted junk to ‘developing countries’ and feeling good about it).

We go back to the article to see what the details are, to see what exactly is it that makes the bicycles ‘green’?  After all, ‘green bicycle’ is in quotes in the headline, so maybe the article’s author is also questioning the real ‘greenness’ of these bicycles.

We read that the project is the brainchild of Kenyan Isaac Kalua, who runs the Green Africa Foundation. He visited Tokyo a few years ago and met Hiroshi Kurokawa, the Chairman of the Japan Bicycle Foundation, and the idea was born.

“The organisation [Japan Bicycle Foundation] receives bicycle donations from wealthy Japanese, refurbishes them and ships them to other Asian countries to help rural people reach school and healthcare centres…. On average, each refurbished bicycle costs Sh12,000, including the cost of shipment.” Kalua was able to convince Kurokawa to ship some to Kenya also.

So, if my calculation is correct, 12,000 Kenyan Shillings is around $150. (This June, 2009, blogpost called “Wanna buy a Kenyan bike” [complete with great photos] details the features that a good bike should have for the Kenyan context, and says that a new one can be purchased in Kenya for $75).

The article explains that in return for receiving a bicycle, “beneficiaries have to plant trees in their homes and schools and also encourage their communities to do so.”  The Japanese ambassador to Kenya says “this is an innovative way to get people to plant trees.” He also says that he looks forward to the day that there will be more Japanese bicycles than Japanese cars on the roads of Kenya.

Continuing on, we read that “…the project is facing challenges from Customs officials who take too long to clear the bicycles, making storage charges to soar. We were forced to pay Sh1.2 million for the storage of the latest batch of bicycles. We find that a big burden since this project is meant to be humanitarian.”  (That’s around $15,000 for storage.)

Handy SWEDOW flowchart

Now, I haven’t visited the project, spoken with project participants/ beneficiaries, nor have I done extensive research on the initiative, so I might be missing something here. But on the surface, using the handy SWEDOW flow chart, (created by Scott Gilmore at Peace Dividend Trust) it looks like the best thing to do with a bunch of used bicycles would be ‘sell them, send the cash to buy local’, or ‘throw them out.’

Greening Africa. Bike riding in Kenya. Tree planting. Recycling/re-using Japanese bicycles. Good ideas, but I bet there is a better, more sustainable, and more cost-effective way to achieve those aims than shipping refurbished bicycles from Japan to Kenya.

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The elephant in the room

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Capoeira is ‘the Brazilian martial art of dance fighting’ if you believe Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Meet the Parents. That’s one way of putting it, I suppose. But the old masters of capoeira describe it a bit differently…

Capoeira is everything the mouth eats.  ~Mestre Pastinha

Capoeira is a game, it is dance, it is fight, it is of war and it is of peace, it is of culture, of music, it is a piece of things. ~Mestre Suassuna

The impossibility of one person completely capturing capoeira, yet its potential to be touched by anyone are part of the balance of power and beauty of this magical art. ~Mestre Acordeon

Capoeira has always been rich and beautiful. We find everything in capoeira: life philosophy, self-defense, art and culture. We find part of religion in capoeira if we seek it. The word religion means ‘to re-link oneself,’ so everything to which we link ourselves would be a religion. We shouldn’t learn capoeira in order to cause trouble with it, but instead use it in the hour of defense when necessary. After all, in its life philosophy capoeira is love, celebration, and also joy. ~Joao Pequeno

For about 5 years now, I’ve been playing capoeira. I even have a capoeira name: Jaguatirica, which means ocelot. I’m not great at it, but I keep training faithfully and improve little by little. Training is about the only time that everything leaves my head and I live right in the moment. It’s my meditation, my yoga. So in spite of capoeira being challenging and demanding, it’s also the one thing that frees my mind.

I train 3 times a week when I’m not traveling. We train as a class, and training involves a combination of exercises to improve strength, balance, flexibility, playfulness, precision and control. It also involves playing the pandeiro (tambourine), the berimbau (a bow-like instrument) and the atabaque (drum) and singing in Portuguese. Capoeira music is one of the main things that drew me in.

berimbau

What I love about capoeira is its mix of music, history, strategy, gaming, balance, strength, flexibility, creativity, daring, control, spirituality and community. Playing capoeira you learn to better understand where you begin and end. You learn how to interact with people in a physical and mental conversation that happens inside the roda (the circle) while the rest of your capoeira community claps and sings beautiful songs, building a ring of energy around you. There are different games within capoeira – some slow and beautiful, some fast and aggressive, and some devious and tricky. Each capoeira group has its own look and style within the different games of capoeira.

my son Daniel (aka 'Moska' meaning 'fly') is a quick and graceful capoeirista

My  18 year old son plays capoeira too. He started a couple years after I did, and plays a million times better than I do. It is one of the things that binds us, something that we do together, and a place where we share experiences and friends. So capoeira has become a part of our family and community life as well.

The history of capoeira is a bit fuzzy.  Some say that it was how the chained slaves taken to Brazil from Africa fought their masters.  Other say it was how slaves trained in secret to overthrow their masters – they disguised their fighting as a dance. Yet others say that the game came from Africa to Brazil and morphed there as a result of the many cultures and traditions that were mixing and mingling, including the native populations of the area.

Capoeira was an underground thing until the 1920s. It was outlawed and people were imprisoned, whipped or beaten for practicing it. Now things are quite a bit different. Capoeira is Brazil’s national sport and people of every social class and color play, in about every country of the world.

There’s a beautifully thorough and interesting book (if you’re into history) called Capoeira: the Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace by Gerard Taylor. It traces the roots of capoeira from various countries in Africa through the slave trade to Brazil and onward. Not enough is yet known and proven about where capoeira actually comes from and how it changed over time to the game it is today.

There is some thought that the game comes from Angola. There is a traditional dance there called N’golo that has some of the same characteristics. There are words used in capoeira such as mandinga that can be traced back to northern Africa, and which were originally used to describe magic and magicians. In capoeira mandinga is the magic and craftiness that a player brings to the game. There are similar yet distinct games found in Cuba and Cape Verde. There are still questions about where the instruments used for capoeira come from and at what point each instrument became part of the capoeira orchestra that we use today.

I do quite a lot of traveling in different parts of Africa, and I’m always on the look-out for pieces of capoeira. In Togo, I saw Evala, where young men wrestle and women sing and egg them on. I wondered if there was any connection. In Togo and Benin I heard about voudoun, the basis for condomble, the religion that many of the early (and some current) capoeiristas practice(d) in Brazil.

kashishis in Ndop...

Last week I was out in Ndop, Cameroon, with a group of local kids who are working on an arts and media project. They were filming a local pottery business. I was wandering in the craft shop, and what do I see but a bunch of little hand rattles. I recognized this hand rattle as a caxixi from capoeira. There was tag on a group of them saying ‘hand rattle kashishi’. These kashishis are made in exactly the same style as the caxixis that we use in capoeira when playing the berimbau, and we always get them in Brazil, and I don’t remember ever hearing about any strong connection between Cameroon and capoeira.

I see drums all the time when traveling, and I’ve seen different musical bows, but to now I hadn’t seen a caxixi.

So now I’m wondering. How did the kashishi get to Cameroon and when?  And who took it to Brazil? Was it people living in what’s now Cameroon or Nigeria during the days of the transatlantic slave trade? Or was it the Portuguese moving back and forth in African countries who passed the kashishi around in Africa and then in Brazil?

I suppose I’ll have to do a little research now, and maybe I’ll never know, but it felt like a little piece of home, seeing those caxixis there on the shelf of the craft store, all the way out along a back road in Cameroon. It made the world seem a little smaller and connected. It made me homesick for capoeira.

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That thing you said I’d get

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HSBC Ad Campaign

If you’ve done any international travel lately, you’ll likely have seen the HSBC Ad Campaign on the walkway as you get on your plane. You know the one. It has 3 identical photos, each with one word or phrase written on it, showing different perspectives.

Well, last week in Ndop, Cameroon, I had a random and cool experience that I was a tiny bit hesitant to post about.  But thanks to HSBC Advertisements, I figured something out. (Note, I still really don’t know who HBSC is or what in particular they do nor do I have any intention of using their bank).

I was with some of the youth participating in the YETAM project, filming at a local craft shop called PresPot. When we’d finished filming, we walked down the road towards the local Fon’s (King’s) Palace to meet another group that was filming there. The plan was to eat our packed lunch together.

There were more people than normal out on the road we were walking on, so it seemed to me that something was up. Then one of the kids pointed down the road to show the reason why.

The Ndobo were coming. ‘Ndobo?’ I asked? I could make out what looked like small group of people, some of them dressed in brown grass skirts.

Ndobo

As they got closer, I remembered a blog post (perhaps ScarlettLion’s or maybe a link she posted?) a few months back, where someone had taken shots of people in different places – I think mostly in Africa and in Haiti – wearing similar types of costumes to the ones the Ndobo were wearing. In any case, the Ndobo were definitely something to behold, and since I’d seen that post, they were now sitting within some kind of broader framework for me.

[Update: Thanks to Meghan for her comment below, with this link to the blog post I am referring to with the stunning photos. They are by Phyllis Galembo and on exhibit at the Tang Museum: "These portraits of masqueraders build on Galembo's work of the past twenty years photographing the rituals and religious culture in Nigeria, Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti, as well as the homegrown custom of Halloween in the United States. Organized by Ian Berry, Malloy Curator of the Tang Museum, in collaboration with the artist.”]

‘So what are we supposed to do?’ I asked.  ‘Are the Ndobo scary? Are we supposed to run away? Stay here? Get off the road? Bow down?’

‘Just watch them when they come,’ one of the girls told me. ‘They will ask you for some coins and you just give them some.’ ‘Are we allowed to film?’ I asked. ‘Yes, once you give them some coins they will be happy and you can film.’  I dug around in my bag to find some coins.

There were about 6 Ndobo, all teen-aged boys and young men, and a bunch of excited younger boys with them.  They moved in a way that was part stealth, part walking and part dancing as they approached. Someone played flutes as they moved along.

‘Why are they here? Why today? Who are they? What do they represent?’ I wanted to know. The kids had all kinds of different answers. ‘They come out to announce the corn harvest season is here.’ ‘They are just looking for money, so they make those shirts and clothing at home, and then they become Ndobo.’

‘In my village,’ said one of my co-trainers, ‘only certain of the young men are allowed to be Ndobos.’ ‘No,’ said one of the girls. ‘here any boy who wants to can just make his clothing and go out. My brother, when he became that age, he made that clothing and went out just to get some coins.’ Another of the kids said ‘They come out when there is a town hall meeting to ask for money.’ ‘Ha, it’s an income generation project for the youth,’ said one of the other co-trainers.

Meanwhile the Ndobo were approaching, and everyone was waiting and kind of excited to see what they would do. It was one of those amazing and random moments that make me love life. It was not scheduled purposely so that a white person could see some ‘local traditions’. It was not a tourist show. There were no tables with locals performing for respected visitors. It would have happened regardless of me being there or not. In my line of work, those moments can be rare and I was savoring this one.

We stood off the road in a clearing, and watched the Ndobo arrive, their entourage of overexcited sparkly eyed young boys with them watching us from a distance, flicking their eyes at me regularly. Maybe they wanted to know what I was going to do also, how I was going to react to the Ndobo and vice versa. I wondered also if it was going to be somehow weird because I was there. I was thinking how surreal it was, and how cool their ‘costumes’ were, remembering that blog post about young men in similar dress with photos that seemed to be from some kind of museum exhibit… thinking that this was real life, not a museum…. Then thinking about how in museums things from Africa are often called ‘handicrafts’ or ‘anthropological exhibits’ whereas things from Europe are called art…. Wondering what the difference really is.

The Ndobo  took their stance for a moment in front of us. They were carrying little sticks and whips made of grass and palm. They surrounded us and started lightly thrashing me and my colleague Georges with their sticks and whips in a vaguely threatening way, but not one that caused any fear. The feeling was someplace between theater and in-your-face reality. I found my coins again, and several hands came forward to collect them. The kids with us were watching and laughing, the little boys accompanying the Ndobo were giggling.

After I’d given out my coins I looked behind me and saw that one of the Ndobo had a stick against the back of Georges’ neck and another was holding his grass whip against Georges’ shins. Georges rolled his eyes and dug around to find some coins for them, also laughing. He dropped the coins into the outstretched hands and the Ndobo let him go. One of them stood in front of us to get his picture taken, and then they moved off down the road. We carried on towards the Fon palace.

When we arrived to the Fon palace, the other group of youth asked ‘did you see the Ndobo?! They came here and danced right in front of us! We took pictures and films!’  They were pretty animated too, so I felt less like a silly foreigner, getting excited about seeing ‘local tradition’.

We sat on the steps of the local council’s building and started in on lunch – boiled plantains and koki bean. The rest of the day, all the kids could talk about was the Ndobo. I kept thinking that the Ndobo reminded me of Halloween… harvest time festival, costumes to hide your identity, playing tricks and asking for treats.

I posted a picture of the Ndobo on Twitter. But I hesitated before doing it. A colleague saw it and said something about Africa stereotyping. So she had the same reservations.

I held off on the blog post… but then HSBC came to the rescue.

African Tradition

African Stereotype

African Entrepreneur

It’s interesting how uncomfortable ‘Africa’ can make us. But I guess so can anything, anyone or anyplace that is complex and involves human behavior and culture… I guess you could say the Ndobo are a small piece of a much larger ball of string, just like high heeled shoes, plastic surgery, tattoos and henna, and shaved heads. Ask HSBC.

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PresPot

While I was in Cameroon last week, I had a chance to go out to film with one of the youth groups. Earlier in the week they had worked together to map out their community and look at local resources, and one of those resources was PresPot, a local business that makes different types of clay products. It’s part of a larger initiative, supported by Presbyterians (get it? PresPot?).

the road to PresPot

The PresPot is a pretty cool place.  It’s located down one of the roads leading off the highway near Ndop, the main town in the area of Bamenda where we were working.

PresPot Manager

The kids had their storyboard and their interview already prepared, and they got going by first asking the manager for permission and his consent to film and do some interviews. They explained that they were not doing a film for commercial purposes but as part of a project they were working on.

The manager gave them an overview of the work area, gave staff permission to be interviewed, and then went through the shop where they sell their things, explaining each product in detail.

Clay waiting to be formed into something

The clay used comes from the area nearby, It’s one of the highest quality clays. A ton of different items are made here out of the clay.

Builds up some nice arm and back muscles

Making zebras for a Noah's Ark

There’s everything from tiny trinkets, carved by hand to big pots using the potters wheel. One guy explained that he was making a lot of Noah’s Arks. He was carving little zebras using a knife.

Spinning by foot and making a pot

I watched another guy spinning a pot. He uses his foot to spin the wheel. He mentioned that PresPot also has a guest house, and that lots of foreigners come to visit and rest there. I asked if they also do pottery classes but he didn’t seem to get what I meant.

(I know some people who would love to go to the beautiful mountains of Ndop, and spend a week learning to throw pottery….)

The workshop gets really warm with the ovens going

After the pieces dry, they are fired.  It was pretty hot in there.

Forming the roof tiles

Out back, away from the firing ovens, one guy was making clay roof tiles. He said he makes 150 tile per day and they take 2 days to dry and then they fire them. He works Monday through Saturday.

Laying the tiles to dry

150 per day

Adding final touches

Another guy was adding little figures to the pots that the other guy was spinning. He was using glue to attach them.

and this guy finishes them up

And another one was finishing the pots up.

Final products

the PresPot Shop

The shop has all kinds of clay products as well as products that come from 2 other regions that work with wood and with fibers, bamboo and palm.

There is a shipping area where their items go out to the whole world.

I kept wondering if this little business was really sustainable, or if a Presbyterian NGO or church was supporting and it was barely profitable like many of the little craft businesses I’ve seen people try to fund.

The kids were doing the questioning, not me, and so I didn’t butt in to ask. It does seems like this small business is thriving. It’s nice to see that this exists in the community, and it will be cool to see the kids’ video on it.

I also think it’s interesting that the kids chose to show the PresPot as one of their community resources, but they didn’t mention any of the small business/ market sellers lining the streets of Ndop.

Walking down the main road in Ndop, there are people selling fresh boiled peanuts, roasted corn, and palm wine.  There are mechanic shops, and places to get your hair done and fabric shops. There are corner stores and taxis and bars.  Maybe the kids will do a piece on the market as the project goes on.

If you ever get out to the Bamenda area, I’d suggest checking out PresPot and maybe staying there to kick back for a couple days. Maybe they will teach you to throw some pots….

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Youth in Ndop, Cameroon

For the past few years I’ve been supporting the Youth Empowerment through Technology Arts and Media project (YETAM) in several countries in Africa.  The last few weeks I was in Cameroon, where the initiative is expanding to new communities, based on learning from last year’s work in Okola.

The project

The project uses technology, arts and media to spur youth engagement in the community development process and youth-led actions around challenges youth identify in their communities. In the process they think about their personal and community strengths and resources, develop skills for problem solving, team work, research and investigation, and get training on how to use some different ICTs (information and communication technologies). They also build confidence and self esteem and learn how to bring up different issues in their communities and involve their peers, families, local authorities and local leaders in actions to address them.

Audience

The main ‘audience’ for the arts and media is the communities where the youth live and nearby communities. Some of their teachers, parents and local leaders also take part in the project and related training. This helps youth to build up support for their agenda. The arts and media is aimed at engaging communities in dialog and discussion that eventually leads to positive change.  Youth often have opportunities to participate in and use their new skills and their arts and media to advocate at national levels as well. Via the Internet, the youth’s voices are amplified to also reach their global peers and decision makers. For example, the YouTube site for the project has over 100 videos made by youth over the past 2 years.

Youth drawing on issue of water

Actions

Last year, the youth in Okola identified poor quality drinking water as a key challenge. They got the community moving to restore a damaged and contaminated spring bed and improve the water quality (without external funding).  This year we’ve incorporated a stronger focus on prevention of violence and gender discrimination because those were the themes that emerged most heavily across all the participating countries in the past 2 years of the project.  We hope the youth will improve their analytical skills around these areas and begin to look at these issues in more depth, strengthen their understanding of the causes of violence and gender discrimination, and develop strategies for overcoming them.

Process

The whole process starts when staff begin discussions about the project and its goals with interested local communities and youth. It’s a dialog and negotiation process, aimed at building local ownership and partnership for the initiative. Staff identify local partners skilled in the areas of technology, arts and media to accompany and support the process.

Staff and partners learning to use GPS for Open Street Mapping

TOT

A 1-week training of trainers (TOT) ensures that everyone is on the same page with regard to the project objectives.The TOT also helps deepen staff and partners’ understanding of some of the issues such as gender and violence, and is an opportunity to build skills on new ICTs that can be used in the project.  This year, for example, we had a session on GPS and OpenStreetMap because we want to add digital mapping to the toolbox to complement hand-drawn mapping, since both are of value to the work we are doing. (Shout out to @billzimmerman and @mikel for pointing us in the direction of Ernest, our fabulous GPS and OSM trainer from Limbe).

Critical questions

At the TOT, we discuss some of the critical questions in a project like this, such as:

Whose media? The arts and media created in the project should belong to the community, not to the funding organization or the arts and media partners. This has connotations then in how it is attributed and copyrighted, and who keeps copies of it, and what it is used for. The best way to manage this seems to be to see organizations and funders as ‘sponsors’ of the project and to ‘brand’ the media as such (this project was funded by xxx and does not represent official positions of xxx).

My personal bias is that the media and any web associated with the project should not carry an institutional logo or be hosted on an institution’s website, but should be established and managed locally using free tools like WordPress and YouTube with support from partner organizations.  I think that we should be looking at these kinds of initiatives as youth and community capacity building not as an institutional branding opportunity.

A middle ground could be that the media is ‘owned’ by all the involved partners and all can use it to promote their own objectives, or that some of the media supports an institutional position and that media is put on an institutional site, and other media can be created by the community for its own purposes, and hosted/posted on free sites like the ones I mentioned. This aspect can still be a little bit tricky, if you ask me.

Whose agenda? The agenda should be built by and belong to the youth and the community. They are not making promotional materials for us or the local partners. We also should not be censoring media.  This is an issue sometimes when the position of the community does not follow institutional positions.  This can be addressed by resolving the issue of ‘whose media’.

Which media? The project aims at building skills in various media forms. The primary audience is local, and so we help youth learn to select their media form by thinking about the primary audience’s access and media habits or traditions. Often painting, drama, newsletters, comedy, poems and singing, radio, and video are more effective than say YouTube and blogging for getting a message across to local community members who may not have electricity and/or Internet. Digital media serves a purpose, but for a different audience, normally at the national or global level.  In addition, sometimes one tool is better than another for addressing a particular topic, for example, violence may be difficult to portray on a film without identifying the person who was mistreated and putting them at risk of retaliation.

At the same time, the thing that draws a lot of the youth into the project is the opportunity to learn computer skills, to manipulate and manage a camera, to go onto the Internet. So we bring these tools in as well to build those skills in young people, even though they may not have Internet access on a daily basis. We also ensure that youth have access to the tools and equipment they need to continue making digital media and accessing the Internet and computers by working with schools and partners on an agreement for owning and managing the equipment and supporting youth to use it.

Media for what? We all know that kids can make amazing arts and media and that they can learn to use computers and cameras and mobile phones without a problem. So what? The goal of the project is what children and youth learn in the process of making that media, what skills they build, and then what they actually do with their skills and their art and media that counts, what changes do they achieve for themselves and in their communities? How do they generate dialog while making the arts and media and/or how do they use their final ‘products’ to push for positive change.

Adapting to the local setting

During the TOT, partners and staff create a detailed plan for how they will train the 60 or so participating youth on technology, arts and media over a focused 2-week period and beyond through refresher training and hands-on work. We’ve set the goal of 30% theory and 70% practice to help guide partners and facilitators as they prepare their sessions. The goal is not training professional artists, journalists and technologists – it’s using arts, media and technology as tools for youth participation, action and advocacy.

Mercy presents the youth's map

Mapping

To identify the themes that the youth will focus on, we facilitate a participatory mapping process. The youth create a base map of their community and discuss the community’s history and what makes it unique – they create their community profile.

Then they identify community resources and risks based on the 4 categories of child rights:  survival, development, participation and protection. In other words, they identify what exists currently in the community that supports children to survive and develop, and how the community currently protects children, and what spaces children currently have to participate.  They then look at where those 4 categories are not doing so well, and where children are at risk.

Youth, parents and local authorities discuss the map

The map is shared on the first day of the youth workshop and discussed with participating teachers, local authorities and parents in order to generate additional input and to get buy-in from the adults.  In small groups and plenary, they together prioritize the issues and decide which ones they will focus on during the workshop and beyond, using arts and new media tools. In follow up sessions, they will also make a digital map of their area for uploading to the Internet, and their arts and media work will be uploaded as points on that digital map. The digital map and the hand drawn map bring distinct benefits to this kind of process.

I love mapping. It’s a really interesting process, because when you start by looking at resources and when you are working with youth, so many things come out that would not come up if you came in and asked about needs or problems and only worked with adults. Communities are used to NGOs coming in to ask them what they need, to train them to see only their problems and to feel like victims, and to then expect the NGO or external agent to ‘resolve things.’ If you start by identifying only needs and problems, there are so many things in a community that will be missed. I notice that youth are not as well-trained as their parents in playing the victim. They are much better at talking about their community and what it means or holds for them than their parents are. When I show up as an outsider, they often want to show me beautiful places, special places, things they have and are proud of, not their needs and problems.

Some of the challenges youth identified and will work on

The real work

After the workshops comes the real work.  The partner organizations, staff, teachers and community leaders who are involved support the youth over time to continue their learning in the different areas, to do refresher training in areas they didn’t fully catch during the first round, to generate dialog in the community around the themes youth have identified, and to work on the issues they have identified through organized youth-led actions and advocacy at different levels and engaging decision makers at the local, but also district and national, and sometimes even global levels.

This is where the real change happens and is the real heart of the initiative.

My Cameroonian colleague told me one day ‘This project is like a catalyst in my body.’ It has motivated and driven her to learn new skills and take on new challenges, to push herself to new levels to achieve the goals set out. I’ve seen it have the same effect on the youth and on myself as well. In the end, that is what we want to achieve — motivated and engaged people, working together to make positive change in their communities and beyond.

Resources

This morning I came across this toolkit ‘A Rights-Based Approach to Participatory Video Toolkit’ by Insight, and I absolutely love it. It pretty much spells out what we are doing (though we had nothing to do with writing it up), and confirms a lot of the hunches and ideas that we’ve had while developing the program. I highly recommend it if you are working on rights and media.

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