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Archive for October, 2010

I have issues with the word ‘charity.’ It makes me squirm and wrinkle my nose when I’m introduced or described as working for a ‘charity.’

‘Charity’ conjures up images of wealthy church ladies in Victorian times, assembling baskets of Christmas food for the poor that their husbands maintain working for miserable salaries the rest of the year. ‘Charity’ to me is working at a soup kitchen but never asking why people don’t have enough to eat, and who should be doing something about it and what needs to change. ‘Charity’ is the community members having to kowtow to the big man in the community for some of his left-overs in difficult times.

‘Charity’ is about power. ‘Charity’ is having pity for those that you are ‘helping’ and seeing ‘the poor’ as helpless victims. ‘Charity’ rests on foundations of guilt, privilege and the belief the ‘the poor will always be with us’.

Most everyone understands the act of ‘charity’. I have more than you do, so I give you some of what I have. You feel grateful for my generosity. I feel good about my generosity. Everyone’s momentarily happy. We do it again next season, nothing changes or gets better; and ‘the poor are always with us’ and kept in check by power imbalances.

‘Charity’ is related to a ‘needs-based’ approach, still used by some non-profit organizations, both large and small.

—–

There’s another approach that is referred to as social justice, related to the ‘rights-based’ approach. This type of approach is a little more complicated, but still not too hard to grasp on the surface.

Needs-based vs. Rights-based

However, social justice or rights-based approaches are not so easy to actually implement, because they imply shifting power, changing systems, demanding that governments and other authorities fulfill their obligations, pushing citizens to take on their civic responsibilities, and getting political. They require those who have power to question why they have it, and they require those who are claiming rights to be empowered and organized. They often require examining one’s own behavior on a broader level. These approaches are not so easy as giving someone some money or your old clothes or a turkey at Thanksgiving. Talk of justice and rights makes a lot of people afraid, both those who hold wealth and power and those that the wealthy and powerful manipulate through the media. However these approaches can lead to long-term and sustainable changes.

This blog post at the Episcopal Cafe (I recommend reading the whole post – it’s short) sums up the difference between charity and social justice quite well. It starts off with this quote:

“Had I but one wish for the churches of America I think it would be that they come to see the difference between charity and justice. Charity is a matter of personal attributes; justice, a matter of public policy. Charity seeks to eliminate the effects of injustice; justice seeks to eliminate the causes of it. Charity in no way affects the status quo, while justice leads inevitably to political confrontation.” – The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., from his book Credo.

—–

When I read about some of the initiatives being promoted these days – the #SWEDOW projects of the world and the idea that ‘anyone can do aid or development’ – more than anything, what irks me is that many (not all) of them are coming from a charity mentality. Sure, if all you need to do is hand out some of your old stuff or build something, maybe anyone can do it. But that’s not really helping much in the long term.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a non-profit, a do-it-yourselfer, an innovator, a business person, a religious-based group, a social media guru, or a movie star who wants to help out. And it doesn’t matter if the person is from (or working in) the US or a ‘developing’ country. The first thing that I look at in an initiative is the approach — is it coming from a charity mentality (in which case I will groan and fume) or is it questioning why the problem is happening in the first place and does it work in a non-patronizing, non-romanticized, respectful way with the people who are affected by the issue in an effort to help resolve it? (In which case I’ll then look further to see if the person or organization initiating the project has done their research to find well-documented good practices and avoid repeating mistakes or potentially doing harm or doing something that’s totally unsustainable.)

I recognize that social justice is not nearly as easy to achieve as ‘charity’. And I recognize that sometimes people need to be fed so that they have the strength to question why they are hungry and so that they have the energy to do something about it. And I don’t want to give the impression that solutions come from the outside, because most of the time they don’t.

I also recognize that ‘people want to do something’. But if ‘doing something’ means ‘charity’ then I am not in favor. It’s important to address the causes, not just treat the symptoms.

Social enterprise with its triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) has come up heavily in the past few years as one way to address poverty. Social entrepreneurship is also a trend that allows people a way to ‘do something’. I’m not as familiar with these approaches as I am with the other approaches, and I admit that I get the two terms confused.

I like that they move away from the charity mentality. But I’m not entirely sure that these approaches do enough on the side of changing power structures and ensuring that those who are marginalized can access their rights. I’m not convinced that the market takes care the people ‘at the bottom’, or balances out society. I’m also concerned that when push comes to shove, the profit motive will always win out over people and planet, and we are back to where we started perhaps… ‘the poor will always be with us’…. The jury is still out on that one for me.

I’m looking forward to seeing what hybrids develop over the next years, and if we will ever finally eliminate poverty and injustice. In any case, I feel pretty confident saying that it’s time to retire the charity mentality.

Some Resources:

Dochas Network’s simple overview of the Rights Based Approach

Bamboo Shoots – a tookit for facilitators working with children using a rights-based approach

Participatory Rural Appraisal (aka Participatory Research and Action) overview

Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Anything by Robert Chambers (my development hero!)

Applying a Rights-Based Approach (.pdf)

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Bamboo Shoots training manual

I like to share good training guides when I come across them, so here is a quick summary and a link to Bamboo Shoots. It was originally created by Plan in Cambodia.

Bamboo Shoots is a training manual on child rights, child centered community development and child-led community actions for facilitators working with children and youth groups. You can download it here.

Bamboo Shoots was developed to: Increase children’s understanding of their rights as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC); raise children’s awareness of their rights and build their capacities to claim them; create opportunities for children to recognize, identify and prioritize issues and problems or gaps in relation to child rights violations; and provide opportunities for children to influence agendas and action regarding identified and prioritized child rights violations.

Bamboo Shoots takes complicated concepts and breaks them down into easy language and engaging, interactive sessions. It also offers good resources and background material for facilitators so that they can manage the sessions well.

Part One:

I like this manual because it starts off right in the first chapter with the importance of setting the tone and the context for good child and youth participation. It provides ideas on selecting participants and facilitators, and gives a description of a good facilitator. It provides recommendations on the setting and practical considerations for managing a workshop with children, as well as good paragraph to help think through when and when not to include other adults in the training.

The guideline goes through the 6 principles for making child participation a reality:

  1. Non-discrimination and inclusiveness
  2. Democracy and equality of opportunity
  3. Physical, emotional and psychological safety of participants
  4. Adult responsibility
  5. Voluntarism, informed consent and transparency
  6. Participation as an enjoyable and stimulating experience for children

It shares Plan’s code of ethics on child participation and important steps to follow in working with children, as well as tips on how to establish a good working relationship with children, how to help children learn and develop their potential, how to help children build self-confidence and self-esteem, and how to encourage children to develop a responsible attitude towards others and a sense of community. There is a section on how to keep children safe also and an explanation of a facilitator’s ‘duty of care’.

A last section of part one lists common facilitation techniques and tools, such as: role-play, working in pairs and groups, idea storming, whole group discussion, questioning, projects, buzz sessions, drawing, photographs, video, word association, recreating information and more; and gives ideas on when they are most useful.

Part Two:

Section 9 on community mapping

The next section has very complete sessions on:

  • the concept of rights
  • the history of human rights, and international treaties on rights
  • children’s rights as human rights
  • duties and responsibilities in relation to child rights
  • making sure children are involved
  • child rights and daily realities and making a child rights map
  • gaps in fulfilling child rights
  • setting priority problems and violations of child rights
  • creating an action agenda and proposed solutions to the gaps identified

Each session comes complete with a pre-training assessment, reading material for facilitators and handouts for participants.

Part Three:

The last section of the manual helps facilitators take children through the steps to child-led community action, including children’s participation in all the program and project cycles: assessment, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Needs-based vs. Rights-based

It also explains Plan’s rights-based child-centered community development approach, the foundations of that approach, and the difference between needs-based approaches and rights-based approaches. It goes on to cover planning and supporting child-led community action.

The last section of the guide offers a list of resources and references.

For anyone working with children, or even anyone looking for an excellent comprehensive community training package on rights and community-led action, I really recommend checking out Bamboo Shoots. Whether you are working through media and ICTs or using more traditional means for engaging children, this is a great guide on how to do it well from start to finish. I’ll be referring to it often.

Additional Resources:

Minimum standards for child participation in national and regional consultation events

Protocols and documents to help ensure good quality child participation

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Insight Share’s rights-based approach to participatory video toolkit

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Child participation at events: getting it right

Community based child protection

Child protection, the media and youth media programs

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One of the main programs I support is a youth arts, technology and media program called ‘YETAM‘.  The program supports youth to identify and raise issues that they consider important, and then helps them engage their communities to resolve the issues they’ve raised. The youth have talked a lot about water in most of the places where I’ve been working in the past couple years, probably because children and youth tend to be the ones responsible for carrying water.

As part of the project in Okola District in Cameroon last year, youth mapped their community and prioritized their issues. One of their top issues was water. They made this film together about the water problem and shared it with the community adults and local authorities.

Probleme d’eau Potable – The Potable Water Problem (for subtitles, click on the arrow on the bottom right hand side of the video player and then click on the red ‘cc’ button)

Spurred on by the project and the organized youth, a few months later the community got to work fixing one of their water sources. They put in some resources and so did our local office.

La quete d’eau potable – Lack of Potable Water part 2.

Here are a couple other videos about water filmed by youth….

The Community Water Tank from El Salvador about what happens when water sources are not kept up (click on link as it’s not available on YouTube yet)

Djiko: l’eau potable a song youth wrote to remind communities about water scarcity in Mali

Water – Amazi where youth interview a rural family about water scarcity in Rwanda

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A catalyst for positive change

Youth empowerment through tech, arts and media

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An example of youth-led community change in Mali

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When my son was 15 or 16 we used to have go-arounds about selfishness and self-centered behavior. He was at the height of both.

One time he was explaining what he wanted to do with his life. ‘I want to do something like science or research, but I don’t want to have to help people with it. I just want to do it for me, because I want to learn it, but not to help anyone. Are there jobs like that? Like, where you don’t have to help people?’

‘One day you’ll mature,’ I remember saying sarcastically. ‘One day your brain will grow a little and you’ll develop some empathy, and then you won’t be so selfish with your brilliance.’

I wasn’t too worried that he’d stay selfish forever. I figured it would run its course.

He and I both play a Brazilian martial art called capoeira.  (Read this old post for more about this beautiful game and life philosophy). Once a year we have a big event called a batizado where people get tested and they can advance a level. It’s a lot of work, the testing is nerve-wracking, and the celebrations afterwards are huge. Our capoeira group is a tightly knit social group, so it’s always a big deal and one of the best times of the year for us.

About 6 months after my son and I had our conversation about selfishness, it was batizado time. We saw one after the other of our friends go in for testing and get their cords. There was cheering, hugging, back slapping and congratulations galore.

Towards the end of the event, my son came over to me, his face all lit up in a huge smile. ‘Mom! Mom! Oh my god I’m so happy for everyone! And Mom, Mom, I got that thing! That thing you said I’d get.’

‘Huh?’ (confused look).

‘You know, that thing… Come on, Mom, that thing you said I’d get. That thing where you care about other people and you put yourself in their place and you feel what they feel? That thing… what’s it called? Because I have it now!’

Empathy.

Nice. I love being right. :-)

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A piece of capoeira in Cameroon

18 years

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This is a cross-post of an article written by Shawn Hayward, who interns with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) via the International Youth Internship Program (IYIP). You can read Shawn’s original post here.

It’s easy to get jaded seeing sign after sign in the streets of Accra pointing the way to one NGO or another. Despite the slew of development organizations here, people continue to live with poor drinking water, low incomes and lack of decent health care.

One NGO (besides jhr, of course) seems to be taking a step in the right direction. Plan Ghana has been working with children in the country since 1992. The goals, according to their website, are to provide quality education and teacher training, create awareness of children’s rights and ensure food security for children.

Anyone can state goals on a website. It’s much harder to find effective ways to achieve them. Plan Ghana held a forum this week as part of a week-long workshop on the status of children in the country. They flew in 80 youth delegates from all over West Africa. It had real results.

This wasn’t an event where adults tell kids what they should think. The young delegates posed questions to the forum guests, including the United Nations Representative for Violence Against Children, Marta Santos Pais, and the Ghanaian Minister of Sports and Youth, Akua Sena Dansua.

Most importantly, the kids got a chance to tell their stories to a wide audience, and the media and representatives from various NGOs had a rare opportunity to hear well-spoken, motivated youth describe their experiences with children’s rights abuses.

One girl from Cote D’Ivoire told us in her native French how girls in her country are beaten by child traffickers when they refuse to prostitute themselves, and how a three-year-old girl was sexually abused by a neighbour. Police jailed the man for 72 hours and released him.

Outside the auditorium, Plan Ghana displayed pictures made by West African children that illustrate the abuses they’ve seen during their young lives. There were images of people being beaten, stabbed, raped and murdered.

I remember drawing snowball fights and monster trucks when I was their age, maybe the occasional army tank. No one being murdered though, or raped—I was lucky enough to grow up far away from that.

The forum was effective because the kids were active participants, not mere objects to be educated. We learned as much as they did during the forum, if not more. These kids came away with the pride of knowing they played a role in shaping their future, and Plan Ghana distinguished itself as more than just another NGO with a bunch of goals posted on its website.

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Tracking violence against children in Benin video

Breaking it down: violence against children

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7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Tweaking SMS based violence reporting system in Benin

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Our Tracking Violence Against Children in Benin project won first prize for Most Innovative Use of Technology or Social Media in Plan’s internal Global Awards contest. The competition was fierce and we were up against some really great projects.

Here’s a nice video overview of the project and where we hope to take the initiative as we go forward.

We still have some kinks to work out and we are still in pilot phase, but we are pretty happy about the award in any case. It helps motivate us even further to improve on the idea until it’s fully functioning and sustainable and we know that it’s resulting in more reporting of violence, helping to track trends and cases of violence, and being used by local and national authorities for responding and following up on those cases that occur.

Many many thanks to everyone who has helped the project get where it is, including:  Henri da Silva, Carmen Johnson, Bell’Aube Houinato, Amelie Soukossi, Eleonore Soglohoun, Morel Azanhoue, Victoire Tidjani, Alfred Santos, Jean Sewanou, Michel Kanhonou, Paul Fagnon, Camille Ogounssan, Anastasie Koudoh, Mika Valitalo, Ken Banks, Josh Nesbit, Patrick Meier, Juliana Rodich, Henry Addo, David Kobia, James Bon Tempo, Stefanie Conrad, Theresa Carpenter, Penelope Chester, Shona Hamilton, and community leaders, parents, school directors, local authorities, children and youth in the 2 participating communities.

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New Plan report on ICT-enabled development

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Plan just released a new report called ICT Enabled Development: Using ICT strategically to support Plan’s work. The report is part of an on-going process by Plan Finland (kudos to Mika Valitalo for leading the process) in collaboration with Plan USA to support Plan’s country offices in Africa to use ICTs strategically and effectively in their development work. It was written by Hannah Beardon and builds on the Mobiles for Development Guide that Plan Finland produced (also written by Hannah) in 2009.

The idea for the report came out of our work with staff and communities, and the sense that we needed to better understand and document the ICT4D context in the different countries where we are working. Country offices wanted to strengthen their capacities to strategically incorporate ICTs into their work and to ensure that any fund-raising efforts for ICTs were stemming from real needs and interest from the ground. Plan offices were also in the process of updating their long-term strategic plans and wanted to think through how and where they could incorporate ICTs in their work internally and with communities.

The process for creating the report included 2-day workshops with staff in 5 countries, using a methodology that Mika, Hannah and I put together. We created a set of ICT training materials and discussion questions and used a ‘distance-learning’ process, working with a point person in each office who planned and carried out the workshop. Mika and I supported via Skype and email.

Hannah researched existing reports and initiatives by participating offices to find evidence and examples of ICT use. She also held phone or skype conversations with key staff at the country and regional levels around their ICT use, needs and challenges, and pulled together information on the national ICT context for each country.

The first section of the report explains the concept of ‘ICT enabled development’ and why it is important for Plan and other development organizations to take on board. “With so many ICT tools and applications now available, the job of a development organization is no longer to compensate for lack of access but to find innovative and effective ways of putting the tools to development ends. This means not only developing separate projects to install ICTs in under-served communities, but looking at key development challenges and needs with an ICT eye, asking ‘how could ICTs help to overcome this problem’?

Drawing on the research, conversations, workshop input and feedback from staff, and documented experience using ICTs in Plan’s work, Hannah created a checklist with 10 key areas to think about when planning ICT-enabled development efforts.

  1. Context Analysis: what is happening with ICT (for development) in the country or region?
  2. Defining the need: what problems can ICT help overcome? what opportunities can it create?
  3. Choosing a strategy: what kind of ICT4D is needed? direct? internal? strategic?
  4. Undertaking a participatory communications assessment: who will benefit from this use of ICT and how?
  5. Choosing the technology: what ICTs/applications are available to meet this need or goal?
  6. Adjusting the content: can people understand and use the information provided for and by the ICTs?
  7. Building and using capacity: what kind of support will people need to use and benefit from the ICT, and to innovate around it?
  8. Monitoring progress: how do you know if the ICT is helping meet the development goal or need?
  9. Keeping it going: how can you manage risks and keep up with changes?
  10. Learning from each other: what has been done before, and what have you learned that others could use?

The checklist helps to ensure that ICT use is linked to real development needs and priorities and appropriate for those who are participating in an initiative or a project. The report elaborates on the 10 key areas with detailed observations, learning and examples to illustrate them and to help orient others who are working on similar initiatives. It places the checklist into a 4-stage process for ICT integration.

  1. Understanding the context for ICT work: includes external context and internal experience and capacity
  2. Finding a match between priorities and possibilities: rooting the system in local needs and priorities and finding good uses for tools and applications
  3. Planning and implementing concrete initiatives: carrying out participatory assessments, linking to other development processes and addressing technical issues and concerns
  4. Building a culture of systematic, sustained and strategic use of ICTs: linking ICTs with program work, transforming the role of ‘the ICT guy’, and building expertise on the cultural and social aspects of ICT use

Additional material and case studies, ICT country briefings, and an overview of Plan’s current work with ICT4D in Africa are offered at the end of the report.

The report includes input from Plan staff in Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal and Uganda who participated in the ICT4D workshops. It also draws heavily on some of the work that Mika has been doing in Finland and Kenya, and work that I’ve been involved in and have written about in Mali, Cameroon, Mozambique, Ghana, Benin and Kenya involving staff, community members and community youth. You can contact Mika to get the workshop methodology in French or English or to comment on the report (ict4d [at] plan [dot] fi).

There’s so much rich material in the report that I almost want to summarize the whole thing here on my blog, section by section, so that people will take the time to read it…  I think this is a really important and useful piece of work and we’re very excited that it’s now available! Download it here.

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ICT4D in Uganda: ICT does not equal computers

Demystifying Internet (Ghana)

It’s all part of the ICT jigsaw: Plan Mozambique ICT4D workshops

A positively brilliant ICT4D workshop in Kwale, Kenya

7 or more questions to ask before adding ICTs (Benin)

A catalyst for positive change (Cameroon)

Salim’s ICT advice part 1: consider both process and passion (Kenya)

Salim’s ICT advice part 2: innovate but keep it real (Kenya)

Meeting in the middle

I and C, then T (US)

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