Archive for September, 2009

How do you break down a high level UN study and connect children and youth with the information so that they can use it for their own purposes, engage others and push for a change?  Through participatory arts and media, of course!

My colleague Anastasie (in the photo above) in Plan’s West Africa office is working on a project to stop Violence Against Children (VAC). “We want to make the content and follow up mechanisms of the United Nation’s VAC study widely known among children, youth and their caretakers in West Africa and mobilize a wide representation of children and youth in the region to prevent and respond to violence against children.” Anastasie told me.

“People need to know about the VAC study and its outcomes.  Children and youth especially need to know so that they can participate in finding solutions.  We are working to strengthen the capacities of existing children and youth organizations to play their full role in civil society.  We’re helping develop their capacities to communicate efficiently and effectively about this issue so that they can influence decision making processes.”

What does that actually mean, and what does the project look like?

“We work with the participating youth and children’s organizations and the adults that work with them to build their capacities through producing comic books, cartoons, information booklets, and radio and television programs that inform about the topic of violence against children,” Anastasie told me. “We have a website with a blog to give room to children, youth and adults to share opinions on violence.”  The participating groups have also formed a network and an action plan to focus them as they go forward.

For me, it’s clear that child/youth participatory media is again (disclaimer – I’m obviously passionate about this) an ideal method for both building individual level skills and capacities in children and youth, generating discussion, research and reflection among children and youth on the topic, and identifying real stories and messages that can have a strong impact on viewers and which can be used to share ideas, opinions and generate dialogue.  Social media tools open the project up even further to additional audiences and allow space for those not directly participating to also join in on the discussion. Photo: Youth in Ghana filming opinions about the topic of violence.

The cartoons (go about halfway down on the page click on ‘dessins animes’) and comics (click on ‘BD’) are drawn by the children and youth themselves with the support of partner organization Pictoons (amazing short feature video about Pictoons on Africa Open for Business!).  They are based on real life stories that the children and youth bring to the workshops. Once drawn and animated, adults do professional voiceovers. Currently the materials are only available in French, but they will be dubbed in additional languages to spread their impact further.  The website itself has a wealth of information about violence against children, including statistics, radio discussions, videos, comic books, and the cartoons mentioned above.

In the next phase of the project, additional tools will be incorporated.  “We plan to use SMS, blog and mobile reporting, and maybe Ushahidi and Frontline SMS,” said Anastasie.  “I heard about these tools in a workshop last December at Plan.  I thought these tools would be good for mobilization and monitoring/evaluating the project.”

The idea would be for the youth groups to collect and report on incidences of violence in their communities using SMS.  They would refer people who report violence to institutions that can provide support.  The incident reports would be visualized on maps to show the extent of the problem, and these maps would be used to advocate, along with the other communication materials, to local, district and national decision makers.  “We plan to begin this next phase of incorporating more social media and new technologies starting in January,” said Anastasie. Photo: youth learning to use the computer to share opinions on the VAC blog.

Check out some of the materials made by the youth at the Violence against Children site.  Really nice work!

The Violence Against Children project takes place in 7 countries: Benin, Ghana, Mali, Togo, Guinea Conakry, Cote d’Ivoire and Gambia in partnership with Save the ChildrenCurious Minds (Ghana), Child Protection Alliance of Gambia, youth and children’s clubs in all these countries, the African Movement for Working Children and Youth, and Planet Jeunes (a popular magazine for youth in West Africa).  The United Nations Violence against Children (UNVAC) studywas released in 2006.  It identified 5 specific places where children face violence: home, school, work, community and institutions. Recently a Special Representative on Violence Against Children (Marta Santos Pais) was appointed by the UN Secretary General to look specifically into this issues.


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Next week I’ll have the honor of (wo)manning the expo table for Plan at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Exchange [the networking event after the actual CGI meeting]. It’s Plan’s first year at the CGI, which is exciting for us as an organization. The project that we’ve committed to is a convergence of many of the things that Plan has been getting deeper and deeper into in the past few years – youth engagement, youth employment, participatory media, social media, ICTs, youth voice, youth-led advocacy, and last but not least, girl power. I’ll be supporting the project with some training around social media and ICTs based on experiences in past projects such as the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media project.

Our commitment, Vocational Skills and Media Training for Adolescent Girls in Ghana, is a three-year project that combines job skills training for girls with media production by girls.  The combination of these two elements will give girls key skill sets for employment opportunities while also creating public platforms for girls to raise awareness and advocate on issues affecting them. Through the project 140 adolescent girls will participate in training on media production and journalism, including citizen journalism/social media.  Of those, some will go on to participate in an internship program to do hands-on work in media.  The girls will be trained on how to use diverse types of media, including traditional as well as new media, to advocate against gender discrimination.  Adult journalists will participate in Plan’s training program on child rights and gender respect in media.  In the process, the project will engage the public through radio, television and web communication around the challenges that adolescent girls face in West Africa at the community, national, and regional levels. Participating girls will also have opportunities to meet and share experiences with each other and their female Ghanaian journalist mentors.

I really like this project because it brings so many critical elements into one initiative.  More and more Plan is supporting this type of work in Africa, and it really makes a difference in the youth themselves in terms of skills, self confidence, team work, and learning how to communicate issues of importance in a confident and respectful way.  It helps them access information and new skills that help them find employment. It also has an impact on communities who see their youth in a new light and who become more open to dialogue with youth around issues that youth want to discuss but may not be able to bring up in existing forums.  The media produced by children and youth can raise awareness and encourage dialogue at the national level, and it can be presented in global meetings to bring youth voices and a dose of reality into high level discussions. It can be shared on the internet to engage and involve people in other parts of the world, and to break down stereotypes about Africans. I also think one outcome will be that the participating girls and women will contribute to modernizing the field of journalism in Ghana because they will be trained on new media tools and they will likely think seriously about how girls are portrayed by the media in the future.

Plan’s research “Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls” came out in 2007, highlighting the urgency for us to focus more programs on girls as key players.  Out of this report, a decision was made to make girls Plan’s key focus over the next several years, and the Because I am a Girl Campaign was launched.  Since then, two in depth studies have highlighted specific issues: Because I am a Girl: In the Shadow of War (2008), and Girl’s Economic Empowerment (coming out later this month).

Come by our table to say hi if you happen to be at CGI exchange!

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Last week some Plan USA staff got together at Plan’s Washington, DC office as part of our ongoing discussions on how Plan globally could better use ICTs and social media as enablers in our work and to improve program outcomes.  We had the honor of some amazing minds to support us, including Josh Nesbit (@joshnesbit) from FrontlineSMS: Medic, Dave Isaak from SixBlue Data (@sixblue_data), Michael Downey from Indiana University (@downeym), and Wayan Vota from Inveneo (@wayan_vota).

Photo: Mwendar and Ali using mobiles during a meeting on modernizing the birth registration process in Kwale, Kenya, in June 2009.

We started with an overview of ICT4D, emphasizing the importance of not starting with the tools and devices, but rather a mapping of information and communications needs.

The presentation was based on Plan’s “Mobiles for Development Guide” by Hannah Beardon.  (See the presentation here). For me, a key aspect was the 3 ways that organizations can incorporate ICTs in their work:

1) Directly:  Addressing the digital divide through improved connectivity, capacity, access

2) Strategically:  Applying ICTs to enhance the impact of development projects and programs

3) Indirectly: improving their efficiency and effectiveness

The Mobiles for Development Guide also proposes a three-step process for arriving at decisions on how ICTs can be incorporated:

Stage 1: Assess the need/potential for ICTs/mobile technology

Stage 2: Analyze the socio-technological context

Stage 3: Choose the technology and content

For me, this is kind of obvious but we seem to often forget it.  Most sound organizations wouldn’t decide that building a clinic or a school is the solution without looking at the broader situation together with community members, and analyzing together what the desired outcomes actually are, what the local resources are, what the barriers are, how sustainability will be achieved, issues of upkeep, local ownership, power and control, usability, etc.  In the same way, we clearly shouldn’t slap on 100 mobile phones and some computers and call it an ICT4D or m-Something initiative.

But sometimes technology seems like such an obvious solution that organizations start with the technology tools rather than looking at the desired outcomes:  let’s do a radio project, a video project, an m-Health project – when rather we should be stepping back and seeing what the larger goals are, how we plan to reach them, what kind of information and communication needs to happen to reach project goals, how is information and communication currently happening in the local situation and who has control over it, and lastly what types of tools might work best for relaying that information and communicating.

As an action item from the workshop, we will begin work on a more concrete methodological guide for Plan staff to use at the local level.  The concept is in place, but how to actually do this concretely when we are developing programs with communities is perhaps not so clear.  The idea is to develop a detailed and participatory methodology that could be used locally (by staff, community members, district officials, etc.) to identify information and map out communication needs in existing (or developing) initiatives, to better understand the local ‘socio-technological’ context, and to have some sort of ‘decision tree’ that could help suggest the most appropriate ICT enablers for the local context. We hope to gather input from others who have done similar work (in and outside of Plan) and to field test it in Cameroon in a Child Survival project early next year.

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