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Archive for December, 2010

My Twitter pal Bonnie Koenig and I were chatting about how we have both enjoyed watching our kids grow up with Harry Potter. We thought we’d share our stories, imagining that they are not so far from the stories of others who have children of similar ages. Read Bonnie’s post Harry Who? We’d love to hear other stories too….

This past November was the first time that my kids and I have spent Thanksgiving on our own at our place. We’ve always either been in a country that doesn’t celebrate it, or with my family. (And there was one year I missed it altogether because I was at a work meeting in Bangkok….)

This year the 3 of us made Thanksgiving dinner together. We each cooked our specialty and broke out the fancy china. It was a nice, cozy time. During dinner, my son Daniel said ‘We should go see Harry Potter. It’s tradition.’

We saw the first Harry Potter movie with our entire extended family in Oregon on our first Thanksgiving in the US after moving up from El Salvador. My kids always remember because there was a huge snowstorm, and they had never seen snow before. Subsequent Thanksgivings and Christmases, if there was a Harry Potter out, we’d make a point of all going together. I associate the movies with warmth and holiday, even though the themes of the movies are often dark.

Harry Potter for us didn’t start with the movies though. When Daniel was 7 and we lived in El Salvador, I picked up the first Harry Potter book on a work trip to the UK, having no idea what it was or what it was about. (I did the same thing with Radiohead’s Kid A now that I think about it. That was an influential trip!)

I started reading Harry Potter to Daniel, a chapter a night. He was in first grade, and reading short story books in Spanish. He read English at a slower pace. After we got through the first few chapters, he couldn’t wait for me. He would take the book to school in his backpack and read on his own at my mother-in-law’s house after school. He quickly finished the book without me.

We got hold of the second book while still in El Salvador. Then we moved to the US in the summer of 2001 when he was 9 and he spent a good deal of his waking hours devouring and re-devouring the 3rd and 4th books.

The Nimbus...

By that time he was a fast reader. We had to buy the hard copy versions of the books because he couldn’t wait for the paperbacks to come out. Since we were in the US, he had access to the Harry Potter paraphernalia too. We had the Nimbus Quiddich broom (which you may remember due to it’s funky reputation), and the Harry Potter Lego set. Daniel’s best friend at the time was a shoe-in for Harry, glasses and all.

As we left the theater after seeing the latest Harry Potter movie this Thanksgiving, Daniel commented on the new layer of connections he’d made between the film and life. Now that he was older, he could see themes of racism, government control, censorship and genocide and relate them to the real world. ‘I need to go back and read the books again,’ he said, ‘to understand what they are really about.’ Later that night while I was washing up the dishes, we got to talking. ‘Mom, I’ve been thinking how important reading is,’ he said. ‘People who don’t read, they’re just missing so many things. I’m glad I like reading. I’m glad you got me to like reading. Remember? Harry Potter was the first book I ever read. And in English!”

I am thinking maybe it’s time for me to get off the Internet and start reading books again too….

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A little more than a month ago, I wrote a post asking ‘Where is the ICT4D distance learning.’ Ernst Suur and I had been trying to figure that out since last July.

A bunch of ideas and information came in via the comments section that helped us to figure out what is happening in the space, including info about ICT4D advanced degrees options, short courses, related courses, etc.

In addition to following up with a couple established universities to see if (and when) they might be offering Masters level ICT4D programs, Ernst and I had a skype meeting with Mark Weingarten and Nick Martin, the folks over at TechChange (the Institute for Technology and Social Change).

TechChange is a new organization dedicated to training practitioners and students to effectively leverage emerging technologies for social change. They are building tools and courses for ICT4D and have already partnered with a number of universities — eg., American University, George Washington University, the UN University for Peace — to deliver face-to-face courses in topics like ‘technology for crisis response’ and ‘social media for social change.’ They also have upcoming projects planned with U4UshahidiSouktel, and FrontlineSMS. In addition to in-person trainings, TechChange is designing learning tools for use in online courses and degree programs.

As Mark commented, ‘We are developing curricula for practitioners (including those working in the field), and recognizing that needs and schedules vary. Some people and organizations might want to quickly learn how to use specific ICT tools, but others may want a more in-depth understanding of the entire ICT4D ecosystem, its successes, its failures, and where things are headed in the future. We want to better understand this range of needs and tailor our courses. We’re also interested in knowing more about what else is being done in this space and what other examples we can learn from.’

In order to get some wider input, we invite you to join us for a twitter chat on ICT4D Distance Learning on Friday, January 14th at 11 am EST. The hashtag will be #ICT4DDL.

We will cover 5 questions:

  1. Topics: What sorts of courses would interest you most? What topics are most relevant?
  2. Timing: What timeframe for distance learning courses would best suit your schedule and needs? Short-term courses on specific topics (or tools) vs. more in-depth courses?  3 hr modules or ten week facilitated trainings?
  3. Credit: How important are things like credit or degree programs? Are certifications enough?
  4. Skills: What skills would you like to gain as a participant – considering 1) university students just entering the field and 2) practitioners taking professional development courses.
  5. Delivery: How does connectivity affect your ability to take courses? What about in the case of others who might be interested in this type of training but are not on Twitter/online as often? Is a mobile option a good idea?

Tips for a good Twitter Chat:

  • Login 5 mins ahead of time and be ready with a short introduction (eg, Cathy here, I manage maternal health pgms at XYZ in Malawi, we’re just getting started with ICT4D).
  • Tools like TweetChat which automatically add the hashtag and refresh often are helpful to keep up with the conversation.

We look forward to chatting on Friday, January 14th at 11 am EST and welcome any questions or comments before then!

Related posts on Wait… What?

Where is the ICT4D Distance Learning?

3 ways to incorporate ICTs into development work

Demystifying Internet

ICT4D in Uganda: ICT does not equal computers

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

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My children were not born in the United States. They were born in El Salvador. We moved to the US when they were 9 and 4 years old. Their father is not and never has been a US citizen or legal resident. They’ve likely lived in the US a lower percentage of their lives than many of the young people who just had their dreams dashed when US Senate blocked the DREAM act, legislation that would have provided legal residency to young people who came to the US illegally before age 16 and who graduated from high school, completed 2 years of college or military service and had no criminal record.

My son is applying for college. He’s just been accepted at one of his top choice schools. He is eligible for scholarships, grants and loans that will cover almost the entire cost of his education. He worked his ass off to get where he is. But what if we’d ended up staying in El Salvador? If he’d worked just as hard there in El Salvador, would he be planning to go to one of the world’s top schools in the Fall? Would his education have prepared him to go? Or what if instead of having me for a mother, he’d had another woman as a mother? A woman exactly like me who wasn’t a US citizen when we moved to the US. What then?

How are my children any more worthy than other young people their same age who came to the US as young children, but whose parents were not able to obtain legal status? Why do my children have more privileges?

Ah, right. Because I happen to be their mother and I happen to have been born in the US. That’s the only reason. It just seems so unfair.

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The real story involves anti-social entrepreneurs and anthropology

Beginnings

18 years

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When people tell their own stories and take photos of themselves, the results are quite different from when outsiders bring in their stereotypes and their agendas.

I love love love this photo series by youth in Croix des Bouquets and Jacmel.

In October, 2010, Plan commissioned Natasha Fillion, a Canadian photojournalist based in Port-au-Prince, to train and work with 22 teenagers to document their own lives in their own home, neighborhoods and schools. The youth, ages 14-19, got a crash course in photography and were given a digital camera and sent out ‘on assignment’ in their communities. Their brief was to cover topics such as home life, education, leisure, friends, everyday Haiti, and anything about which they were passionate. The photos were taken over a period of 2 weeks.

Fillion commented ‘I go out and I’m covering demonstrations, violence and destruction but there’s a whole side of Haiti that the media, the whole world doesn’t get to see, and I told the students — this is your opportunity to show people what Haiti is really like. These are photos that tell the story of Haiti as a whole, not just news.’

February 3, 2011, update:

Interview with 2 of the youth photographers and Natasha Fillion.

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Clare and I

14 years ago today it was a chilly December morning in Barrio Candelaria, San Salvador. I’d spent the night before doing something mundane yet extraordinary… giving birth to a baby girl. She was still a little blue that morning, having had a tough time making it through to the light of day. Being born when you weigh 10.5 pounds is not an easy thing for a baby, or for a mother. But she was nursing and we had her wrapped up in a warm blanket and a little hat.

Niña Lita, my elderly midwife, stopped by around 7 a.m. that morning to bathe the baby, Clare, in the customary rose and rue to ward off any evil spirits or bad vibes.  She had come back early in the morning rather than waiting till later because she was concerned about us. The night before she was worried that neither of us would survive. She didn’t say so of course, but it was clear from her eyes and the lines of concern on her face as she helped us through the short, 4 hour labor.

I had gone to work on the 13th, the last day before Christmas break. My stomach was so big it was hard to eat or breathe. The baby was taking up all the possible space in my abdomen. I grabbed the bus home as usual, made dinner, read my son his bedtime story, and got ready to sleep. Around 11 I felt the first labor pains and called Niña Lita. She had attended me with my son Daniel (see my 18 years post) and had been coming around every month to ‘sobar‘ me – massage my stomach – and check in on how I was doing. I’d been to the ‘real’ doctor a few times also, but the pervasive medical approach in El Salvador at the time was a mix of fear and pharmaceuticals and that wasn’t my thing. So my pre-natal care was pretty infrequent and I was mostly just going through the motions.

As with Daniel’s birth almost 5 years earlier, I had decided to have my baby at home in the small room attached to our bedroom. We didn’t have the money for me to go to a private hospital, and the public hospital horror stories had me turned off. I wanted a natural birth with my family nearby. I wanted to breastfeed immediately and keep the baby close at all times – things that the public hospitals didn’t promote at the time.

Niña Lita arrived around midnight with her daughter A., a registered nurse who owned a hair salon down the street (and who had a mafioso for a husband – I learned last time I was in El Salvador that A. and her husband are in prison.) She made me some cinnamon tea to help speed up the labor, and I promptly threw it up. It was freezing in the house and the power was being funky so we relied on the flickering lightbulb and kept the candles handy. My mother-in-law was next door, I later found out, awake and vigilant, lighting candles to la Virgen and on her knees praying for a safe birth. She later said she’d had a bad feeling. My husband and Daniel were in the next room, dozing off and waiting.

Labor came hard and fast, but then the pains stopped despite the fact that the baby hadn’t arrived. She had crowned but she was stuck. I looked at Niña Lita, in pain and wondering what was happening. What was I supposed to do now? I wanted her to fix something, to make it better. She worked her calm magic, carefully reaching inside and untangling the baby’s umbilical cord from around her eyes and her neck. Random and harried thoughts marched through my head as I waited. Wondered. Time stopped and everything was silent. Then she gave me a penetrating look. ‘Tenés que empujar mamita. You have to push, mama.’No puedo, I can’t.’ ‘You must.’ There were no longer any labor pains to help me out but I managed. Finally the baby was born and relief set in – until I propped myself up a little more and looked down between my legs. A big baby. A girl. Her chubby body from the neck down was a beautiful rosy pink…. but she was still. Her entire head was bluish purple, her eyes swollen and puffed closed. Oh God. She’s dead.

Not possible. Not happening. Why? Why am I so stupid and stubborn? Why did I insist on having a baby at home?! This can’t be happening.

A. stepped back from attending me. Niña Lita bent down somberly. She rolled the baby onto her side and tapped her back gently while she murmured some prayers. The baby started to cry. ‘Una niña,‘ said Niña Lita with her crinkly smile. ‘Una bebecita gordita. Ay, que hermosura, que hermosura. What a beauty.’

A. cradled the baby while they cut the cord and cleaned her up. She was a bit scary looking, with her blue face and head attached to a chubby, healthy, pink body. Niña Lita put a little white hat on her and swaddled her up and gave her to me. She immediately started nursing and the fear left me. I knew she would be OK, despite her funny looking blue head…. it was about 5 a.m. and the sky was just starting to lighten.

My husband had come in from the bedroom to see the baby and pay the midwife. He had no idea of the tragedy we had just avoided. I heated up some water and took a bucket bath – I was exhausted and shaky. I crawled into bed with him and my son and Clarita, relieved.

My parents-in-law came over early to see the new baby and word spread quickly through the Barrio. My mother-in-law held her and gave thanks to la Virgen Maria. The night before she had promised that the baby would be a child of la Virgen, and that she would keep the tradition of celebrating the 12th of December – the feast day of La Virgen de Guadalupe. The visit to bathe Clarita left Niña Lita feeling relieved also. ‘Estaba bien preocupadita mamita,’ she said, ‘I was very, very worried.’ We got the scale from the corner store: 10.5 pounds. No wonder, we all thought. No wonder.

Clare and her dad

The following day we took Clarita over to get her first vaccines and her foot prints at the local health unit. ‘Where was the baby born?’ ‘At home.’ ‘En casa? ohh.’ ‘And how old is the baby?’ ’2 days.’ ’2 months you mean?’ ‘No, 2 days.’ ‘A baby of this size? Are you sure? Let’s weigh her. 5 kilos?’ They looked at me suspiciously. They looked at each other. Clarita was big, healthy, pink and strong. I was in good shape with no belly sticking out. I wasn’t wearing socks and didn’t have cotton in my ears as would a normal Salvadoran woman who had just given birth. I was very obviously a white woman. The baby looked very Salvadoran. ‘Would you like to have an exam?’ ‘No.’ ‘I think we should examine you. We need to examine you.’ they insisted. I realized they didn’t believe this was my baby. I agreed to the exam… certainly I didn’t want anyone accusing me of child trafficking. I passed the exam and went home for my 40 days of rest…. Well, actually I didn’t get that, but that’s another story.

Birth was only my first big scare with Clare. There were a couple other times that I thought I was going to lose her.

When she was 9 months old I took her to the clinic to get her MMR vaccine. I was walking home with her, and after a couple blocks her skin began to mottle. Then she fainted. I rushed back to the clinic with her, knowing that she was having a bad reaction. The doctors were nowhere to be found. The nurses were slow and bored. They thought I was overreacting. ‘She probably was scared of the vaccine.’ ‘No, this is something else. She didn’t even cry when she got the vaccine. She’s having an allergic reaction. Please can you do something?’ ‘The doctor isn’t here yet. Sit there and he’ll be in.’ ‘No I need something now. Do you see her? She needs something now.’ Eventually one of the nurses took us into an examination room and gave her some Benedryl while they searched for a doctor. Luckily the Benedryl worked, and she was fine. It felt surreal walking out of the clinic into the warm sunshine, birds singing.

Once she was feverish and dehydrated and the hospitals were closed. We had to wait until the next day to take her in. Meanwhile my mother-in-law took her to a traditional healer. Trying to leave for the doctor, then, we had a huge family fight because my in-laws said the healer said that Clarita had to stay inside because any air blowing on her would kill her. My husband and I wanted to get her medical attention as soon as possible. It escalated into a rift that was difficult to subsequently repair between my husband and my father-in-law. An argument of tradition vs ‘modernity’. Quien crees que sos, con tu esposa chelita y tu título de bachiller? Who do you think you are with your white wife and your high school degree? Crees que sabes mejor que tus padres? Do you think you know more than your parents?

My mother-in-law always counted on la Virgen to keep Clare safe and sound, and though I am not religious, I’ve always taken great comfort in her ability to pray.

14 years later Clare is still a survivor. She’s smart, strong, independent and beautiful. Beginnings always shape things and Clare’s beginnings shaped her. They shaped me. They shaped all of us.

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I got a great comment from Gareth on my last post Why aid and development workers should be reading blogs:

Do you know of any good blogs from local aid workers? I enjoy reading all these blogs from western-educated aid workers like myself, but we do tend to have a fairly similar way of looking at things, so it’d be great to read something from a different perspective. Any suggestions?

He’s right of course.  It would be nice to add some local perspectives to the lists of aid and development bloggers that float around.

Two well-known sites to find ‘local’ voices are Global Voices and Rising Voices. There is also Maneno which is (used to be?) a platform for bloggers in Africa, but it seems to be under maintenance while an open source platform is developed. I’m not sure how many of the bloggers on those platforms technically work at aid or development organizations, but regardless of that minor detail, you will get great local perspectives on aid and development issues there.

But the question stands – where can we find local aid and development worker blogs?

Suggestions please!

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