Archive for July, 2008

2 weeks already!

I can’t believe I’ve been back so long and haven’t posted anything. There was a lot to catch up on at the house (as in my dear son Daniel didn’t clean for the last 3 weeks and there was no food except the moldy stuff that was still there from before I left….). Work was also a bit of a catch up, being back at the office and seeing what was up with the youth engagement team and the rest of the office. The first thing I did was try to sort through all the big initiatives that I’m working on to see if I can actually do them all in a quality way. Starting now I need to start saying ‘no’ or I will be in too deep with stuff.

We are almost finished with the 4 Virtual Visits that we’ve done through the US office. The Dominican Republic should be done next week and then we just have to finish El Salvador. It will be nice to have that off my plate as they were hanging there for awhile without being finished. Good experience though to know exactly what needs to be done for the new ones, and how long it takes, and some good ways of going about it. http://www.dotsub.com/, the website we use for subtitling will be moving to their new site next week, and it’s looking great. Michael called me tonight though to let me know that the virtual visit maps don’t show up on Firefox with a Mac so need to figure out what’s going on there….

Lots is going on in the US office with the plan to work in more new technology and social media so I’m happy about that. I worked with the new strategic operations vice president on a short concept paper linking constituency building, youth engagement and new technology together to present to the executive team to see how we can really get going. I think it’s a good niche for us as an organization because we have so much global experience with child and youth media.

OK more later, hopefully with photos so it’s easier to keep reading….

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Today was our last day in Senegal and we’d planned to do something with Aissatou, one of the girls who had come to the US youth conference in 2004. We took a cab downtown and walked around with her for awhile and then we went to the Dakar museum which was cool. They have lots of statues, masks and carvings related to different ritual ceremonies from the peoples of W. Africa. Most of the ceremonies and carvings are related to female initiation (excision), male initiation (circumcision) and fertility. Aissatou told me that female circumcision is now illegal but that many people in the South of Senegal still practice it and it’s quite dangerous. They consider that men and women are unmarriageable if they are not circumcised or they don’t go through the initiation ceremonies. I knew this from work where we do work around awareness raising to mobilize communities and help support the women who don’t circumcise their daughters. It’s hard to change this kind of thing though.

We went to the market after the museum and got just a couple of things, and then met Laye and took a car rapide to N’gor, where we caught a water taxi out to the N’gor island. The beach out there was really nice. We sat on some mats, listened to people’s reggae music and relaxed till about 4 when we headed back to pack and get ready to go to the airport.

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We finished up the workshop this morning by watching the short videos we made the first day, reminding people what they had said their expectations were. It was a good way to really take people back to the first day, how they were feeling and to track what we’d all learned about the project and each other in the week of workshops. We all felt we’d come a long way towards a common understanding of the vision and attitudes required for successful implementation. So I was happy about that.

Went back to the office after lunch to tie up any loose ends and got home about 7. It’s my birthday today and Clare made me this awesome dinner and a surprise cake! She’s awesome and really loves to do stuff for people, especially on holidays. It’s always good to have birthday outside of the US because that way they don’t count and you can pretend they didn’t happen!

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We had a field trip today to the Notto community in the Thies district where Plan Senegal is going to be implementing the project. I took Clare so she would get to see some of Senegal outside of Dakar.

Photo: Community notables with Papesidy (center) explaining the project.

We stopped at the Thies Program Unit (PU) Office first. (Click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liX3VniQ11c for a video of the PU Office.)

Papesidy is the manager of the Theis PU. Within the Plan structure, most countries have a Country Office (CO) and then a few PUs which are district offices closer out to where the communities that we’re working with are. Each PU has staff (100% local people) that manage programs, sponsorship, grants, finance, etc., and that report into the CO. There are ‘community animators’ who have close relationships with the communities where we’re working on projects and who spend most of their time out in the communities helping facilitate the projects, supporting them to plan what they want to do and manage their projects, etc. They also spend quite a lot of their time managing communications between sponsors in the 17 Plan offices in the ‘north’ and the sponsored children in the communities in the ‘south’.

The meeting in Notto (the community in the Thies district that will participate in the YETAM project) was really long. When we got out of the car, we were surrounded by kids just staring at us for awhile and then we moved over underneath a tree and sat on some mats. The head imam from the village along with a few other ‘notables’ as they called them sat in chairs and addressed everyone in Wolof (one of the main local languages in Senegal) to start the meeting. We had translation in French and I realized I’m understanding pretty well actually! They gave thanks to God and prayed, saying that the prayers would be to the Muslim, Christian or Jewish Gods and we all pray to the same one God. Then we were welcomed to the community, and the children and youth were encouraged to put their total trust into the people from Plan who would come work with them on the project. We were told that we should to think of the community as our family – that we had mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles in the community and that they also had the same in us. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JkquUlusuk for some scenes from the meeting.

There was a really really long discussion then about the project. The community had been seeing it as an internet training project but after several exchanges and lots of interventions, it became clearer what the project is about. That through different arts and media the youth would learn how to better express themselves and the community would have the opportunity to take its place, to occupy its own space on the internet, and that it would be they themselves who would portray their community there, not people from the outside. There were lots of questions related to how they could access and use the internet if they didn’t attend school or read/write in French and if their community didn’t have an internet connection. But then the wife of the imam said that she hadn’t gone to school and she could do lots of things with her cellphone, so it was the same thing. After the community meeting everyone came up to us to say bye and Clare had lots of boys asking what her name is, how old she is, etc. She turned pretty pink. Photos: Community youth commenting on the project.

Photo: Papesidy filming a testimonial for the Nokia report.

On the way home we drove the back way through a whole bunch of urban communities right near the beach to avoid traffic. At one point we just plowed through this big sand field with all these guys playing soccer, making our own road as we went along. There was so much going on – people selling mangos, baobab fruits, fish, kids, goats, cars, busses, men and women sitting outside their houses chatting all along small winding streets next to big expanses of sandy beach leading to the shore. Along the beach the entire way was pure movement of people — playing soccer, doing sit ups, running in groups of 2-3 or in larger groups the size of a soccer team. (I’ve never been in a country where so many people jog – at all hours of the day in all types of gear and non-gear – from running shoes to flip flops to even small groups of women with headscarves). I kept thinking of Laye’s term “social living” and thinking this is really it. If I ever moved to Senegal I’d want to live in an area like this where people ‘live socially’ rather than the more exclusive neighborhoods where people tend to stay indoors more and the only people you really see outside are the men sitting in chairs in near the front door keeping an eye on things.

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Social Living

Yesterday we went through who all the different groups and people with something at stake in the project are, and what they might want out of the project and how we can ensure that we meet their expectations. This included the kids, adults and communities that are participating, people in African countries who will see and discuss the art and media the kids produce, the different Plan offices, ourselves personally, youth in the ‘north’, etc. Then we talked about the concept for the 3 week training in each country with the youth and shared ideas about how to do it, coming up with an action plan for each country and a common vision for how to structure the training as well as things to consider when adapting the project and training to each country’s/communities’ individual realities.

Today we drilled deeper into what Nokia needs from us in terms of communications, reports, PR efforts, etc. and went over social media, new technology in communications and how it links with this project as well as some of the other projects that Plan is doing. For example how mobile phones can be used for call centers in cases of child abuse or disasters. This is one of the main things I’m going to be doing for this year – looking at how to incorporate more new technology and social media into our programs to increase impact and improve them.

I met up with Laye finally after work. He came to the Regal restaurant near Mie’s house to meet me, and we took a Car Rapide downtown. The Car Rapide was a new experience – a lot like the busses in El Salvador. They are smallish busses, painted all colors, and are probably all 30-40 years old. People kind of cram in and the back doors are left open for people to hop on and off. They smell like diesel smoke, but the evening was cool and with all the windows open, the ride downtown was really nice. We got down at the Poste Medina stop and walked through down town for about an hour, taking some pictures and seeing things. I’d been missing ‘social living’ as Laye calls it – something I was used to in El Salvador.

Social Living it seems is what the majority of people in Senegal do. Spend much more time outside, ride on crowded busses, and live in closer quarters. We ended up in La Escala night club. I had a beer and Laye had a Coke since he stopped drinking a few years ago when he met his spiritual guide who counsels him on life. He is Muslim, so we talked about that for awhile and what it means to him. Basically he feels that through his spiritual guide he has come to know himself and therefore he can know God. There were a lot of fairly obvious sex workers in the club, and he explained that in Dakar there are licensed and non-licensed ones and that the prices range depending on the ‘quality’. Laye said he doesn’t do the nightclub scene and that he prefers Reggae parties. He learned his excellent English by listening to Reggae music.

I took a cab home around 12.30 and we made plans to do something later in the week. It will be fun to see more of the ‘real’ Dakar.

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