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Archive for May, 2012

I’ve been a runner for probably 7 or 8 years now, but it wasn’t until this past January that I finally started ‘barefoot running‘. The funny thing is that I still wear shoes when I run, but I’ll get into that later…. The story starts about a year ago with the purchase of a new pair of same-shoe-new-model Nikes that trashed my knees and ankles and spiraled me into not being able to run, gaining a few pounds, struggling to keep up my capoeira game, and dealing with the thought that I’m just going to have to face the fact that I’m getting old.

Luckily my mid-term memory is better than my short-term memory, and I kept thinking about the book I’d read over Christmas break in 2009: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall.

Hype generally turns me off (and there is certainly a lot of hype right now around barefoot running), but this book touched all the right nerves: anthropology, natural fitness, shifting paradigms, sticking it to the man, history and culture, a great story, good writing, running, and being barefoot. It finally hit me, after 6 months of joint pain, that I could blame everything on those damn Nike shoes and start over.

Meanwhile, 2 of my brothers had also read Born to Run. My youngest brother has always been a slender, healthy runner. My middle brother is tall, super muscular and has perpetually complained that his bad joints prevent him from running. Without even knowing it, the three of us were on the same barefoot running track.

My middle brother and I spent last Fall obsessively sharing information about barefoot running on Facebook, dropping articles and videos and instructions back and forth. My youngest brother would chime in now and then, though he was already easily doing double-digit mile runs in the San Francisco hills.

Finally while I was visiting my middle brother in New York in December, he and I decided we’d both get serious, invest in some official barefoot running shoes, and (re)train ourselves to run.

‘Barefoot running shoes’ (oxymoron much?)

This is where I explain that most people who ‘run barefoot’ actually wear some kind of ‘barefoot running shoe’. Normally this means Vibram Five Fingers, which look like a wet suit glove for your feet; huarache sandals (apparently the ‘next big thing in barefoot running’); or some kind of minimalist shoe, as in the photo below.

All this footwear is designed to be as minimal as possible while still protecting your feet from concrete or glass or whatever you might find on the ground while running. Part of the logic behind barefoot running is that the overdone structure in most running shoes weakens the muscles in your feet and calves (kind of like putting your foot into a plaster cast). Regular running shoes also encourage you to land hard on your heel rather than gently on your forefoot, causing all kinds of knee, ankle, back and hip stress and injury. Running with proper form (see graphic below) reduces shock to the joints and allows you to put less stress on your body. It is one of the main reasons that people learn to ‘barefoot run‘.

A Wired Science article (To Run Better, Start by Ditching your Nikes) by Dylan Tweeny notes “strong evidence shows that thickly cushioned running shoes have done nothing to prevent injury in the 30-odd years since Nike founder Bill Bowerman invented them, researchers say. Some smaller, earlier studies suggest that running in shoes may increase the risk of ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis and other injuries. Runners who wear cheap running shoes have fewer injuries than those wearing expensive trainers. Meanwhile, injuries plague 20 to 80 percent of regular runners every year.” (Unfortunately, now the shoe industry is going to make a killing out of making those cheap shoes really expensive…)

(Ditching the Nikes – The new model of Nikes that I mention in the first paragraph were Nike Frees. I had been wearing Nike Frees for a long time, but the new model had a slightly different design and more spongy cushioning than the old model, and this turned out to be a bad thing for my ankles and knees.)

According to a 1997 study in Sports Medicine (Hazard of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear), “Athletic footwear are associated with frequent injury that are thought to result from repetitive impact. No scientific data suggest they protect well. Expensive athletic shoes are deceptively advertised to safeguard well through “cushioning impact”, yet account for 123% greater injury frequency than the cheapest ones.”

A team at Harvard is dedicated to “comparing habitually barefoot runners with runners who normally run in modern running shoes with built-up heels, stiff soles and arch support”. Their research notes that “barefoot runners experience a shock of only 0.5 to 0.7 times their body weight, whereas shod heel strikers experience 1.5 to two times their body weight–a threefold to fourfold difference.” (Unfortunately much of the ‘barefoot running’ research is funded by shoe companies like SOLE and Vibram, so I like reading around and finding testimonies by real people who aren’t trying to sell me shoes, too.)

Social fitness and apps

So anyway, my brother got the funny looking Vibram shoes and I went for the less obnoxious-looking ones (in the photo above). As of January 1, we started re-training ourselves to run with a proper ‘barefoot stride’ for short distances on the treadmill. We’d regularly text, message and email each other about our progress. By March it was warmer and we both got to running outside. Whenever I am in NYC, we plan our days around long runs together over the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

My eldest brother who lives in Los Angeles had also started running (though we’ve yet to evangelize him to go barefoot). He and my middle brother started using the Nike+GPS app to track their routes, distance and pace. I started seeing all kinds of comments on their pages from friends and fellow runners, barefoot and not.

I resisted the Nike app for a number of reasons but eventually caved. Once I started using it, I joined the group of motivators and found myself motivated too. I was more aware of my pace because the app was notifying me each half mile how fast I was running. I’d always run a slow and easy pace of 10 minutes per mile over a maximum of 5 miles and had no real interest in picking it up or pushing myself. I still can’t totally keep up with my brothers and their friends in terms of pace, but I’m now running more hills and I’ve shaved 48 seconds off my mile average in the past month since I installed the app.

On top of running better and longer and faster, I wanted to ditch those few extra pounds that had accumulated from my months of not running. So in early January, I downloaded a free app called “Lose It,” which allows you to research and track everything you eat and to plug in calories burned through exercise. It helped me pay better attention to what I was eating, make healthier and more natural food choices, and ensure that I was not eating more than I was burning off through exercise. My daughter downloaded it too, and it’s been a helpful neutral tracking tool for us to motivate each other. Being lighter is helping me to run more gently, and it’s also meant my speed and agility in capoeira have picked up. Not to mention, my knees and ankles feel great (knock on wood).

The barefoot running obsession is not only mine and my brother’s. My son was with us at the shoe store in December and hinted around that he needed a new pair of running shoes. My brother told him that if he read Born to Run, he’d give him $50 towards a pair of Vibrams. Deal complete, my son got his shoes in March, worked on his barefoot stride a bit, and is off and ‘running barefoot’ as well. Via Facebook I discovered a few other friends are into it, including a college roommate I hadn’t seen in 4 years and a fellow development worker, Weh Yeoh, who does barefoot running training in Phnom Penh and has even done a “Nerd Night” talk on it. (Check out Weh’s awesome other project here). Below is his video on how to run with proper ‘barefoot’ stride.

I’ve never been someone who needs to have the latest shoes or apps or gadgets.  But since January, this perfect storm of  information, communication and technology (books, videos, articles, blog posts, social networking, improved shoes and a couple of mobile apps) along with self-motivation and the encouragement of family and friends, has allowed me hit my sweet spot and reach my health, fitness, running and capoeira goals.

For some really interesting research, reasoning and background on barefoot running, check out this 2009 post by fellow anthropologist and capoeirista (check out his book) Greg Downey - Neuroanthropology: Lose your Shoes: Is barefoot running better?

And by the way – new research is showing that running (and other exercise) makes you smarter too :-).

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Starting next week, I’ll be participating in TechChange‘s course on Global Innovations for Digital Organizing: Open Data, Good Governance and Online/Offline Advocacy. I’m excited about it because the topics are among the things I’m most interested in, and I think they deserve a closer and more focused look.

I wrote a post back in November 2010 asking “where’s the ICT4D distance learning.” This led me to discover TechChange, and in January 2011 we co-hosted an “ICT4D Distance Learning Tweet Chat.” Since then I’ve been collaborating with the team to input into course ideas. I also participated as a moderator in the Mobiles in International Development course last year.

So after a year of running courses, what has TechChange learned? Nick Martin, TechChange founder, says that online learning needs to be social in order for it to be effective. “Most organizations think of ‘online learning’ as uploading powerpoints or manuals onto their website or hosting monthly webinars for their employees, but it can and should be so much more than this. By emphasizing social elements such as video chats, collaborative simulations, small group discussions and through the use of video game mechanics (point systems, progress bars, and good graphics) we keep participants engaged and connected with one another, not just the content.”

Working across time zones can be a challenge, as I also discovered when moderating the Mobiles in Development course. Scheduling in side chats was difficult, but that’s not something that’s easy to fix. TechChange tries to address this by “combining synchronous and asynchronous learning in the same platform and keeping the balance between a persistent learning network where people can socialize (via video, audio, and text) with each other and experts, and allowing people to get caught up on weekends when they fall behind so that they don’t feel left out,” according to Nick.

One thing the group learned about running this kind of course is that when engaging external experts in webinars and chats, informal-yet-direct interaction is much better than more produced content.

“We tried doing formal studio-style interviews with our experts, but found that most students just tuned out like they were watching a TV show. When the experts were just talking directly to the camera from their laptops, we found students asked more questions and participated more. They really appreciated the access to experts and weren’t particular about the production value of the webcast. Sometimes less is more,” Nick says.

Personal attention can still be a challenge, however. So TechChange emphasizes the role and importance of moderators. Their last Mobiles for International Development course had 70 students from 30 countries (see map below), making moderators a key part of personalization.

TechChange recently ran an online course for Pakistani students in partnership with IREX, where Nick says the challenge was keeping up with the students. “They brought creative ideas from their cultural exchange program with Global UGRAD-Pakistan, so we were always trying to tailor lessons around ways to improve or discuss their experiences. IREX was very focused on using our platform to create a tailored four-week program for the students, so we were able to tweak it as we went along.” (Read more here: TechChange Lessons from Training Pakistani Students Online)

The class with the Pakistani group was based on the Global Innovations for Digital Organizing course. TechChange had information ahead of time on the participant profile (the students were from Pakistan, undergraduate education, good English, decent connectivity), so they were able to maximize the experience by bringing in local partners like Pakistan Youth Alliance and Khudi and targeting youth leaders that they thought would resonate (like Prashan De Visser of Sri Lanka Unites). However, doing a class in Pakistan presented some difficulties, such as rolling power outages and load shedding. “We had to really make sure everything was optimized for low bandwidth and archiving.”

What does the future hold for TechChange? According to Nick, the group is pushing ahead on two fronts:

  1. Working with technology firms to create courses that can help them better engage their user communities
  2. Helping international development organizations integrate online learning into their local capacity building projects.

The open enrollment courses will remain, but the team will be focusing more on partnering with tech/development firms to help them build out their engaged communities. “There’s already a ton of cool tools out there that we love to teach, like Ushahidi and OpenStreetMap, but the biggest challenge isn’t tech–it’s educating and engaging communities of practice. We’re really excited about our upcoming Ushahidi course, which we developed in partnership with Ushahidi (developer Rob Baker will be the lead facilitator), but we see it as the first of many. Developers have great manuals, products, and organizations, but we can often add value by helping them educate their existing audiences and reach out to new ones.”

TechChange plans to work in the area of technical capacity building by developing more custom courses for organizations. “We see our role as changing from being the central learning location for individual students to helping development/nonprofit organizations reach out to their key stakeholders. This fulfills a key part of our mandate. It lets us provide tailor-made courses for organizations in fragile states and countries in transition.” TechChange is also looking to integrate their platform into other online learning opportunities, such as accredited courses and online conference opportunities.

It’s inspiring for me to see how quickly TechChange has built their online learning platform and how adaptable they are to the topics and themes that different people and organizations need to get a handle on in the area of ICTs and development and related humanitarian fields. I’m looking forward to participating (and speaking as a guest) in the Digital Organizing course starting on Monday!

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There’s a great, ongoing discussion happening around aid and development and the ethics of using photographs and other media and stories about people INGOs and NGOs are working with (a.k.a beneficiaries, clients, participants). The discussions are organized by CORE Group in DC. I also participated in the first meeting of the group in April (see this post: On the ethics of photos in aid and development work).

Today’s meeting focused on consent and informed consent for photographs.
Jim Stipe was the key speaker. He shared Catholic Relief Services‘ experiences with developing a process that allows for informed consent in a variety of situations.
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Future discussions will cover related topics such as what happens with social media sites and consent and copyright? What about fair use of images and stories? I’m quite looking forward to continuing the discussions and learning!

Check out the compilation of tweets here on Storify - be sure to read from bottom to top!

Also see this old post: Child protection, the media and youth media programs.

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Starting yesterday (I’m late on writing about this one!) people from across the African continent are meeting at the Conference on Child Protection Systems Strengthening in Sub-Saharan Africa in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss how child protection systems work effectively in the African context. Follow the conference at the #cps12 hashtag or via @CPSystemsS and check out a day one summary on Storify.

“Dozens of African countries are engaged in strengthening child protection systems and mobilizing new sectors for child protection. For example, education and health sectors are engaged in violence prevention work, and social protection is becoming an essential part of efforts to reduce child labour and child marriage. Child justice initiatives are being embedded in broader national justice and security reforms and the health sector is supporting birth registration. Mobile technologies are being used for the reporting of violence, family reunification and rapid assessments. Donors are also increasingly supporting child protection systems….

“’Just the way a health system deals with many diseases, a child protection system addresses a broad range of violations of children’s rights. Children cannot be protected effectively unless social workers, police officers, justice servants, teachers and health workers and communities work together to prevent and respond to abuse and violence…. Investment in national child protection systems leads to better outcomes for children because of children’s improved access to protection services, new investments in frontline workers to identify and respond to children in need; and improved partnerships to mobilize and use resources for children, families and communities,’ according to Joachim Theis, Regional Child Protection Advisor, UNICEF, West and Central Africa.”

Key conference themes include:

  • Mapping and assessment of national child protection systems
  • Strategies and approaches to strengthening national child protection systems
  • Community based child protection mechanisms
  • Children as actors and partners in child protection systems
  • Social welfare workforce strengthening
  • Services delivery in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Aligning traditional child protection agendas with child protection systems
  • Strengthening monitoring and evaluation for child protection
  • Mobilizing resources for child protection systems

Resources and a discussion forum are available at wiki.childprotectionforum.org. Some relevant background papers include:

A few webinars are recorded here on the topics of systems strengthening, budgeting for national system and core competencies for better national child protection systems.

There’s also a good paper on community-based child protection systems that I summarized awhile back.

Coming up soon, a few of us from different organizations will be looking more closely at the role new ICTs can play in child protection systems. Some examples of ICTs and child protection systems are here.

(Thanks to Joachim Theis at UNICEF West Africa for sending over the info on this one.)

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On the off chance you don’t have time to read the 594-page Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX), check out this simplified (and nicely designed, easy-to-skim) 28-page report called ‘Climate Extreme.’

Climate Extreme: How young people can respond to disasters in a changing world shares ways to prepare and reduce risks children and young people can face when disasters impact their communities and presents examples of crucial roles children have played in disaster preparedness, community education, hazard identification and in evacuation and first aid during disasters.

The report was authored by Amalia Fawcett from Plan Australia who says “Children and young people have the right to information that is tailored to them. Even complex scientific reports should be converted to child and youth appropriate versions, if the information is likely to affect them.”

Examples of young people having a real impact include:

  • Young people lobbied their government to get their school moved out of the path of potential landslides in the Philippines.
  • Girls and boys in Bangladesh have carried out household visits and community assemblies to share their skills and knowledge on early warning and household preparedness with others.
  • A school safety program in India involves children in conducting risk and vulnerability assessments in over 2,000 schools.
  • In Thailand youth are actively engaged in revising community based disaster risk management plans in flood affected areas.
  • In Vietnam, children are training their peers on how climate change could affect their communities.

Climate Extreme is based on the report prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), featuring the extent to which climate change is affecting the number and severity of weather related disasters, investigating the current and predicted changes in our climate, how these affect disasters and what communities, governments and the international community can do to reduce risks people face.

Along with the IPCC report, Climate Extreme is being launched in New Delhi on May 3 and Bangkok on May 4.

*****

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a scientific body first established in 1988 by two United Nations organisations, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and later endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly. Its mission is to provide comprehensive scientific assessments of current scientific, technical and socio-economic information worldwide about the risk of climate change caused by human activity, its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences, and possible options for adapting to these consequences or mitigating the effects. As such it produces regular reports, the latest of which, the ‘Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.’

Children in a Changing Climate is a coalition of leading child-focused research, development and humanitarian organisations each with a commitment to share knowledge, coordinate activities and work with children as agents of change. Members of the coalition include UNICEF, World Vision, Plan International, Save the Children and Institute for Development Studies.

Australian Aid (the disaster response arm of AusAID) funded the production of the child-friendly version.

Download the full version of IPCC report.
Download the child-friendly version.

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This is a guest post by Alana Kapell. Alana has recently joined the Office of the Special Representative on Violence against Children as the children’s participation expert. As part of her work to further define a child participation strategy and identify key opportunities for learning and collaboration, she is researching projects and initiatives related to the UN Study on Violence against Children (UNVAC) specifically focused on involving children in preventing violence.

Six years after the UN Secretary General’s Study on Violence against Children (2004-2006) and in preparation for the 2012 Statement to the General Assembly, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Violence against Children is currently assessing progress made since the Study recommendations were released in 2006. This is a strategic occasion to gain perspective on progress achieved and to reflect on good initiatives, factors of success and define opportunities for further advancement.

Many initiatives, projects, networks and advancements were born out of the process, including continued efforts to support children’s participation. In order to gain further insight into children’s own efforts and perspectives, partners are invited to help inform the analysis of ‘progress made’ by sharing information (reports, publications, videos, research, etc.) about children’s own efforts to end and prevent violence.

Contributions should be current (e.g. developed from 2007-2012) and focus on ‘progress made’ with children or how children themselves perceive violence in their lives and communities.

Additional areas of interest include:

  • Research: any research or data collection done with children.
  • Links to UN Study: initiatives that were started as a direct result of the UN Study process.
  • New forms of Violence: material or details where children have identified and/or addressed new, hidden or emerging forms of violence.
  • Prevention: examples of initiatives undertaken by children to raise awareness in their communities and projects aimed at preventing violence against children.
  • Evaluation: information that measures the impact or outcomes of children’s participation and efforts related to ending violence against children.

In addition, there are numerous partners and networks supporting and facilitating children’s participation to prevent and end violence. Community, national, regional and international efforts exist to ensure children’s views, opinions, realities, recommendations and actions are informing and shaping our collective efforts.

We would also like to update our contact lists and map the individuals, organizations, children’s groups, etc. who are supporting children’s participation to prevent and end violence. We want to reconnect with groups who were involved with the UN Study process, including the follow up and to also identify new partners who are doing innovative and important work.

We are looking to connect with both adult led organizations and child led organizations and initiatives working on issues related to violence against children and children’s participation.

Please be in touch with me [akapell at unicef dot org] if you have any information to share!

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