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Archive for the ‘Cameroon’ Category

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent last week at the 55th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. The organization where I work supported 12 girls from various countries to attend and speak at different panels and side events during the week.

Why is it important for girls’ voices to be heard at global events like the CSW? Why should they be allowed to sit at tables with adult decision makers? Is this a wise investment when we could have spent that money to bring an adult staff member instead? Well, from a strictly rights-based perspective, it’s because girls have a right to participate in decisions that impact on their own lives.

But there are so many other reasons that girls need to be present at these events. They bring perspective that is otherwise missing. Before women are women, they are girls. It’s well known and well documented that investing in girls’ education and other areas has impacts that go far beyond schooling. At these big meetings, issues that impact girls and women are being addressed and discussed – so there needs to be space for girls and women who feel these issues directly to speak for themselves, especially girls and women who are typically left out of these processes. Girls bring a reality check. They offer ideas and solutions from their own contexts. They bring points home that can otherwise be missed. They are often amazing speakers and have incredible wisdom and insight to share. We can all learn from them. And bringing girls and their opinions and voices to a huge event like the CSW can really have a positive impact both on the event, the event participants, the decisions made there, and on the girls themselves, as they return home with a mandate to live their leadership in their own communities and countries.

Early in the week, I shared a panel with Fabiola, one of the girl delegates from Cameroon, and she truly stole the show. Here’s how:

Fabiola participates in the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project, and was selected by her peers to represent her group and Cameroon at the CSW. More information about Fabiola and Shira, the other girl delegate from Cameroon are in this post: Girls in rural Cameroon talk about ICTs. Shira also spoke at high level panels, as did the girls from Sierra Leone, Indonesia and Finland.

The girls also planned and managed their own side event where they talked about girls and new communications technologies.  In preparation for the event, they brought with them videos from their home countries, and Kirby, one of the girls from the US, edited them together into one piece. The video was shared at a few different events, and the girls were even asked to show it at the general assembly (at the last minute they weren’t allowed to for one reason or another). In any case, you can see it here:

On the last day that the girls were in New York, 3 of them sat on a panel in front of hundreds of high level decision-makers: UN officials, Ministers and government representatives. They talked about the challenges girls face in terms of accessing ICTs and raised the issue of violence against girls and how violence in schools impacts heavily on girls’ education.

My Cameroonian colleague, Judith, who works on the YETAM project with the girls, told me afterwards that she felt unbearably proud, seeing them there in front of the whole room, with everybody hanging on their every word. “I was floating,” she said. “As if my feet were not even touching the ground.” She was proud that Shira didn’t only present the issues that girls are facing in accessing ICTs or in terms of violence or early marriage, but Shira went further and talked about what they are doing in the community and how they are working with ICTs and conducting advocacy with decision makers and traditional councils to resolve the issues, and what impacts they have already had.

Josephine, one of the girls from Sierra Leone, said afterwards: “When I was there, speaking, I felt like I was on top of the world because people were listening to my voice.”

There needs to be more of this!

But if you are still not convinced, my fabulous colleague Keshet Bachan, coordinator of this year’s Because I am a Girl Report and the previous 3 reports, gives a convincing overview here about why girls and why now. Worth watching.

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The 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women is taking place this week in New York City, with the core theme of: “Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”

Some of the girls that we’re working with in our programs are participating, including Fabiola and Shira from Cameroon. I met them both last July when we worked together on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project. The YETAM coordinator in Cameroon, Judith Nkie, is also attending the CSW as the girls’ chaperone. She certainly also has a lot to contribute on girls, women and ICTs. Judith once said to me “This project is a catalyst in my body.” Judith is awesome.

Girls from the YETAM project worked to prepare the interviews, film and videos below. Each girl interviews another girl from the community about the role of ICTs in their lives. The videos are worth watching as the questions and the responses of the girls are very insightful.

The interviewee in the first video says ICTs help you find out what is happening around the world. She comments that she found out about what just happened in Egypt (the February revolution) because of ICTs. Some of the other things I found most interesting in the videos are:

  • The girls’ recognition of the importance of information for making good decisions
  • The technologies that girls have most access to (mobile phone!)
  • The first time the girls encountered a mobile phone (a few years ago, at a local call box for one, and via an uncle who brought one back from travels for the other)
  • Why it is hard for girls to use ICTs in the community (lack of ICT devices, cost, parents don’t allow girls to learn about ICTs, at school the computers are few – you will see at least 20 persons per computer – and half are broken, the boys are very powerful and they fight us to occupy the computers, girls’ illiteracy, girls don’t continue in school)
  • How often the girls use ICTs (mobiles are used every day, there is only one place to access Internet in the community)
  • What they like most about ICTs (ICTs help me to know what is happening in other countries, I came to know about what happened 2 days ago in Egypt via communication technologies, many youth have been able to be employed through their mobile phones)
  • What they like the least about mobile phones and Internet (scamming, its easy to tell lies by mobile)
  • How can ICTs be helpful to girls (in my community a girl was able to borrow a phone from a friend to report that she was to be married at the age of 12, and the marriage was stopped)
  • Can ICTs be used to hurt girls? (yes, the girls who can afford their own mobile phones are those who are wealthy, when the poor girls see the wealthy girls with their phones, they go into competition, they can go into prostitution to have money to get a phone; but on the other side, girls are also self-employed through the phones, so the mobile phone hurts but it also helps girls)
  • How the communities use the Internet to sell their products (most people in the community use ICTs to communicate to find buyers for their products)
  • What girls would like parents, community leaders and government to do regarding ICTs (improve our access to ICTs, bring in programs and projects that can support youths to use ICTs and learn to use them better, educate parents to help them to see that girls also should be allowed to access this type of training and technology)
  • What hurts most about this ICT thing (when those who are really privileged and who can use the Internet don’t put their talents and privileges to good use, they go there to scam, to do robbery, not to do good; if these youth have the time and this privilege they should not do harm but they should do good.)
Kirby, one of the girls from the US, edited together portions of the videos above with video footage from the rest of the girls in the group, and they used the video to kick off their ‘Girl Led Side Event’ today. The turnout was great. They will continue throughout the rest of the week getting their ideas and messages across in different events and panels. You can follow their thoughts and impressions on the Plan Youth Tumblr or by following @plan_youth on Twitter. My colleague @KeshetBachan is also blogging from the CSW at the Girls Report blog.

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The 55th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) happens in New York City Feb 21-25, 2011. For me, the most exciting thing about the event is that several girls from some of the countries where we are working (Canada, US, Finland, Cameroon, Sierra Leone and Indonesia) will be participating and speaking. This aspect of our work – helping to bring young people’s voices into these large influential forums – (when done properly) can be very effective at bringing a reality check to the ivory tower and helping influence decision makers at the very highest levels.

This year’s CSW is especially interesting to me since I work in the area of ICTs, and the theme of the CSW is:

“Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”

The girls will be presenting at the Girls Take the Stage: Growing up in a Digital World on Feb 22nd:

I’ll be presenting with Fabiola from Cameroon at the Empowering Girls: Education and Technology” session on February 23.

I’ll also talk at a panel-workshop hosted by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation on Tuesday Feb 22, from 10-11.30, called “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty of Women and Girls through Education and Training,” on the 2nd floor room of the CCUN (Church Center of the UN).

Update: Ika one of the girls from Indonesia, will speak at a panel on Commercial Sexual Exploitation and the Girl Child: A Human Rights Approach at the Main Auditorium, Salvation Army Social Justice Center, 221 East 52nd St between 2nd and 3rd Ave, on Feb 24th from 2-3.30 pm.

Update: Lil Shira from Cameroon will present on Violence and Discrimination against Girls in School, along with Marta Santos Pais (UN Special Representative to the Secretary General on Violence against Children) and others on Feb 22, from 16-17.30 at UN Church Center, 777 United Nations Plaza, Drew Room, Ground Floor.

Join us at the some of the sessions or come for an evening with the 21+ crowd at #ICT4Drinks Feb 23rd at 6 pm at Me Bar.

We’re trying to interest the girls in tweeting during the CSW on the @plan_youth account and to blog at  http://plan_youth.tumblr.com, so check it out as of this Monday. (We’ll see if they are willing or not!)

You can follow the events on Twitter at the hashtag #CSW55.

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Forget that show “Off the Map.”  Real live on the map is way more interesting.

Last July via the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media project, we did some GPS and Open Street Map (OSM) training with Ernest Kunbega in Bamenda, Cameroon. I left for Kenya to attend a similar training with Map Kibera, and Ernest continued working with staff, local partners and youth in Ndop, Okola and Pitoa over the next several months to make maps of the 3 areas where the project is being implemented.

I got an email this week from Ernest and I was thrilled to hear that maps of the 3 areas have been completed. They did a fab job, too. Check these out.

This is what you used to find when you looked for Ndop on Open Street Map, and what you will still find on Google Maps (eg., not much):

and this is what you’ll find now if you look for Ndop on Open Street Map (close up):

This is what Okola looked like before on OSM, and what you will currently find on Google maps:

And what Okola looks like now on OSM (close up):

But in addition, they mapped out the chefferies in the larger Okola area:

And I’m pretty sure this is the youth’s work because nothing else around is mapped in this level of detail:

And lastly we have Pitoa as it is on Google/was on OSM:

And Pitoa after Ernest and the youth mapped it on OSM (close up):

And the chefferies in the whole area of Pitoa:

And Pitoa (on the right) compared to Garoua (lower left):

For more background on the training in Cameroon, check out this post: A catalyst for positive change.

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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

Related posts on Wait… What?

A catalyst for positive change

Youth empowerment through tech, arts and media

Meeting in the middle

An example of youth-led community change in Mali

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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.

Related posts on Wait… What?

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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HSBC Ad Campaign

If you’ve done any international travel lately, you’ll likely have seen the HSBC Ad Campaign on the walkway as you get on your plane. You know the one. It has 3 identical photos, each with one word or phrase written on it, showing different perspectives.

Well, last week in Ndop, Cameroon, I had a random and cool experience that I was a tiny bit hesitant to post about.  But thanks to HSBC Advertisements, I figured something out. (Note, I still really don’t know who HBSC is or what in particular they do nor do I have any intention of using their bank).

I was with some of the youth participating in the YETAM project, filming at a local craft shop called PresPot. When we’d finished filming, we walked down the road towards the local Fon’s (King’s) Palace to meet another group that was filming there. The plan was to eat our packed lunch together.

There were more people than normal out on the road we were walking on, so it seemed to me that something was up. Then one of the kids pointed down the road to show the reason why.

The Ndobo were coming. ‘Ndobo?’ I asked? I could make out what looked like small group of people, some of them dressed in brown grass skirts.

Ndobo

As they got closer, I remembered a blog post (perhaps ScarlettLion’s or maybe a link she posted?) a few months back, where someone had taken shots of people in different places – I think mostly in Africa and in Haiti – wearing similar types of costumes to the ones the Ndobo were wearing. In any case, the Ndobo were definitely something to behold, and since I’d seen that post, they were now sitting within some kind of broader framework for me.

[Update: Thanks to Meghan for her comment below, with this link to the blog post I am referring to with the stunning photos. They are by Phyllis Galembo and on exhibit at the Tang Museum: “These portraits of masqueraders build on Galembo’s work of the past twenty years photographing the rituals and religious culture in Nigeria, Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti, as well as the homegrown custom of Halloween in the United States. Organized by Ian Berry, Malloy Curator of the Tang Museum, in collaboration with the artist.”]

‘So what are we supposed to do?’ I asked.  ‘Are the Ndobo scary? Are we supposed to run away? Stay here? Get off the road? Bow down?’

‘Just watch them when they come,’ one of the girls told me. ‘They will ask you for some coins and you just give them some.’ ‘Are we allowed to film?’ I asked. ‘Yes, once you give them some coins they will be happy and you can film.’  I dug around in my bag to find some coins.

There were about 6 Ndobo, all teen-aged boys and young men, and a bunch of excited younger boys with them.  They moved in a way that was part stealth, part walking and part dancing as they approached. Someone played flutes as they moved along.

‘Why are they here? Why today? Who are they? What do they represent?’ I wanted to know. The kids had all kinds of different answers. ‘They come out to announce the corn harvest season is here.’ ‘They are just looking for money, so they make those shirts and clothing at home, and then they become Ndobo.’

‘In my village,’ said one of my co-trainers, ‘only certain of the young men are allowed to be Ndobos.’ ‘No,’ said one of the girls. ‘here any boy who wants to can just make his clothing and go out. My brother, when he became that age, he made that clothing and went out just to get some coins.’ Another of the kids said ‘They come out when there is a town hall meeting to ask for money.’ ‘Ha, it’s an income generation project for the youth,’ said one of the other co-trainers.

Meanwhile the Ndobo were approaching, and everyone was waiting and kind of excited to see what they would do. It was one of those amazing and random moments that make me love life. It was not scheduled purposely so that a white person could see some ‘local traditions’. It was not a tourist show. There were no tables with locals performing for respected visitors. It would have happened regardless of me being there or not. In my line of work, those moments can be rare and I was savoring this one.

We stood off the road in a clearing, and watched the Ndobo arrive, their entourage of overexcited sparkly eyed young boys with them watching us from a distance, flicking their eyes at me regularly. Maybe they wanted to know what I was going to do also, how I was going to react to the Ndobo and vice versa. I wondered also if it was going to be somehow weird because I was there. I was thinking how surreal it was, and how cool their ‘costumes’ were, remembering that blog post about young men in similar dress with photos that seemed to be from some kind of museum exhibit… thinking that this was real life, not a museum…. Then thinking about how in museums things from Africa are often called ‘handicrafts’ or ‘anthropological exhibits’ whereas things from Europe are called art…. Wondering what the difference really is.

The Ndobo  took their stance for a moment in front of us. They were carrying little sticks and whips made of grass and palm. They surrounded us and started lightly thrashing me and my colleague Georges with their sticks and whips in a vaguely threatening way, but not one that caused any fear. The feeling was someplace between theater and in-your-face reality. I found my coins again, and several hands came forward to collect them. The kids with us were watching and laughing, the little boys accompanying the Ndobo were giggling.

After I’d given out my coins I looked behind me and saw that one of the Ndobo had a stick against the back of Georges’ neck and another was holding his grass whip against Georges’ shins. Georges rolled his eyes and dug around to find some coins for them, also laughing. He dropped the coins into the outstretched hands and the Ndobo let him go. One of them stood in front of us to get his picture taken, and then they moved off down the road. We carried on towards the Fon palace.

When we arrived to the Fon palace, the other group of youth asked ‘did you see the Ndobo?! They came here and danced right in front of us! We took pictures and films!’  They were pretty animated too, so I felt less like a silly foreigner, getting excited about seeing ‘local tradition’.

We sat on the steps of the local council’s building and started in on lunch – boiled plantains and koki bean. The rest of the day, all the kids could talk about was the Ndobo. I kept thinking that the Ndobo reminded me of Halloween… harvest time festival, costumes to hide your identity, playing tricks and asking for treats.

I posted a picture of the Ndobo on Twitter. But I hesitated before doing it. A colleague saw it and said something about Africa stereotyping. So she had the same reservations.

I held off on the blog post… but then HSBC came to the rescue.

African Tradition

African Stereotype

African Entrepreneur

It’s interesting how uncomfortable ‘Africa’ can make us. But I guess so can anything, anyone or anyplace that is complex and involves human behavior and culture… I guess you could say the Ndobo are a small piece of a much larger ball of string, just like high heeled shoes, plastic surgery, tattoos and henna, and shaved heads. Ask HSBC.

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PresPot

While I was in Cameroon last week, I had a chance to go out to film with one of the youth groups. Earlier in the week they had worked together to map out their community and look at local resources, and one of those resources was PresPot, a local business that makes different types of clay products. It’s part of a larger initiative, supported by Presbyterians (get it? PresPot?).

the road to PresPot

The PresPot is a pretty cool place.  It’s located down one of the roads leading off the highway near Ndop, the main town in the area of Bamenda where we were working.

PresPot Manager

The kids had their storyboard and their interview already prepared, and they got going by first asking the manager for permission and his consent to film and do some interviews. They explained that they were not doing a film for commercial purposes but as part of a project they were working on.

The manager gave them an overview of the work area, gave staff permission to be interviewed, and then went through the shop where they sell their things, explaining each product in detail.

Clay waiting to be formed into something

The clay used comes from the area nearby, It’s one of the highest quality clays. A ton of different items are made here out of the clay.

Builds up some nice arm and back muscles

Making zebras for a Noah's Ark

There’s everything from tiny trinkets, carved by hand to big pots using the potters wheel. One guy explained that he was making a lot of Noah’s Arks. He was carving little zebras using a knife.

Spinning by foot and making a pot

I watched another guy spinning a pot. He uses his foot to spin the wheel. He mentioned that PresPot also has a guest house, and that lots of foreigners come to visit and rest there. I asked if they also do pottery classes but he didn’t seem to get what I meant.

(I know some people who would love to go to the beautiful mountains of Ndop, and spend a week learning to throw pottery….)

The workshop gets really warm with the ovens going

After the pieces dry, they are fired.  It was pretty hot in there.

Forming the roof tiles

Out back, away from the firing ovens, one guy was making clay roof tiles. He said he makes 150 tile per day and they take 2 days to dry and then they fire them. He works Monday through Saturday.

Laying the tiles to dry

150 per day

Adding final touches

Another guy was adding little figures to the pots that the other guy was spinning. He was using glue to attach them.

and this guy finishes them up

And another one was finishing the pots up.

Final products

the PresPot Shop

The shop has all kinds of clay products as well as products that come from 2 other regions that work with wood and with fibers, bamboo and palm.

There is a shipping area where their items go out to the whole world.

I kept wondering if this little business was really sustainable, or if a Presbyterian NGO or church was supporting and it was barely profitable like many of the little craft businesses I’ve seen people try to fund.

The kids were doing the questioning, not me, and so I didn’t butt in to ask. It does seems like this small business is thriving. It’s nice to see that this exists in the community, and it will be cool to see the kids’ video on it.

I also think it’s interesting that the kids chose to show the PresPot as one of their community resources, but they didn’t mention any of the small business/ market sellers lining the streets of Ndop.

Walking down the main road in Ndop, there are people selling fresh boiled peanuts, roasted corn, and palm wine.  There are mechanic shops, and places to get your hair done and fabric shops. There are corner stores and taxis and bars.  Maybe the kids will do a piece on the market as the project goes on.

If you ever get out to the Bamenda area, I’d suggest checking out PresPot and maybe staying there to kick back for a couple days. Maybe they will teach you to throw some pots….

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Youth in Ndop, Cameroon

For the past few years I’ve been supporting the Youth Empowerment through Technology Arts and Media project (YETAM) in several countries in Africa.  The last few weeks I was in Cameroon, where the initiative is expanding to new communities, based on learning from last year’s work in Okola.

The project

The project uses technology, arts and media to spur youth engagement in the community development process and youth-led actions around challenges youth identify in their communities. In the process they think about their personal and community strengths and resources, develop skills for problem solving, team work, research and investigation, and get training on how to use some different ICTs (information and communication technologies). They also build confidence and self esteem and learn how to bring up different issues in their communities and involve their peers, families, local authorities and local leaders in actions to address them.

Audience

The main ‘audience’ for the arts and media is the communities where the youth live and nearby communities. Some of their teachers, parents and local leaders also take part in the project and related training. This helps youth to build up support for their agenda. The arts and media is aimed at engaging communities in dialog and discussion that eventually leads to positive change.  Youth often have opportunities to participate in and use their new skills and their arts and media to advocate at national levels as well. Via the Internet, the youth’s voices are amplified to also reach their global peers and decision makers. For example, the YouTube site for the project has over 100 videos made by youth over the past 2 years.

Youth drawing on issue of water

Actions

Last year, the youth in Okola identified poor quality drinking water as a key challenge. They got the community moving to restore a damaged and contaminated spring bed and improve the water quality (without external funding).  This year we’ve incorporated a stronger focus on prevention of violence and gender discrimination because those were the themes that emerged most heavily across all the participating countries in the past 2 years of the project.  We hope the youth will improve their analytical skills around these areas and begin to look at these issues in more depth, strengthen their understanding of the causes of violence and gender discrimination, and develop strategies for overcoming them.

Process

The whole process starts when staff begin discussions about the project and its goals with interested local communities and youth. It’s a dialog and negotiation process, aimed at building local ownership and partnership for the initiative. Staff identify local partners skilled in the areas of technology, arts and media to accompany and support the process.

Staff and partners learning to use GPS for Open Street Mapping

TOT

A 1-week training of trainers (TOT) ensures that everyone is on the same page with regard to the project objectives.The TOT also helps deepen staff and partners’ understanding of some of the issues such as gender and violence, and is an opportunity to build skills on new ICTs that can be used in the project.  This year, for example, we had a session on GPS and OpenStreetMap because we want to add digital mapping to the toolbox to complement hand-drawn mapping, since both are of value to the work we are doing. (Shout out to @billzimmerman and @mikel for pointing us in the direction of Ernest, our fabulous GPS and OSM trainer from Limbe).

Critical questions

At the TOT, we discuss some of the critical questions in a project like this, such as:

Whose media? The arts and media created in the project should belong to the community, not to the funding organization or the arts and media partners. This has connotations then in how it is attributed and copyrighted, and who keeps copies of it, and what it is used for. The best way to manage this seems to be to see organizations and funders as ‘sponsors’ of the project and to ‘brand’ the media as such (this project was funded by xxx and does not represent official positions of xxx).

My personal bias is that the media and any web associated with the project should not carry an institutional logo or be hosted on an institution’s website, but should be established and managed locally using free tools like WordPress and YouTube with support from partner organizations.  I think that we should be looking at these kinds of initiatives as youth and community capacity building not as an institutional branding opportunity.

A middle ground could be that the media is ‘owned’ by all the involved partners and all can use it to promote their own objectives, or that some of the media supports an institutional position and that media is put on an institutional site, and other media can be created by the community for its own purposes, and hosted/posted on free sites like the ones I mentioned. This aspect can still be a little bit tricky, if you ask me.

Whose agenda? The agenda should be built by and belong to the youth and the community. They are not making promotional materials for us or the local partners. We also should not be censoring media.  This is an issue sometimes when the position of the community does not follow institutional positions.  This can be addressed by resolving the issue of ‘whose media’.

Which media? The project aims at building skills in various media forms. The primary audience is local, and so we help youth learn to select their media form by thinking about the primary audience’s access and media habits or traditions. Often painting, drama, newsletters, comedy, poems and singing, radio, and video are more effective than say YouTube and blogging for getting a message across to local community members who may not have electricity and/or Internet. Digital media serves a purpose, but for a different audience, normally at the national or global level.  In addition, sometimes one tool is better than another for addressing a particular topic, for example, violence may be difficult to portray on a film without identifying the person who was mistreated and putting them at risk of retaliation.

At the same time, the thing that draws a lot of the youth into the project is the opportunity to learn computer skills, to manipulate and manage a camera, to go onto the Internet. So we bring these tools in as well to build those skills in young people, even though they may not have Internet access on a daily basis. We also ensure that youth have access to the tools and equipment they need to continue making digital media and accessing the Internet and computers by working with schools and partners on an agreement for owning and managing the equipment and supporting youth to use it.

Media for what? We all know that kids can make amazing arts and media and that they can learn to use computers and cameras and mobile phones without a problem. So what? The goal of the project is what children and youth learn in the process of making that media, what skills they build, and then what they actually do with their skills and their art and media that counts, what changes do they achieve for themselves and in their communities? How do they generate dialog while making the arts and media and/or how do they use their final ‘products’ to push for positive change.

Adapting to the local setting

During the TOT, partners and staff create a detailed plan for how they will train the 60 or so participating youth on technology, arts and media over a focused 2-week period and beyond through refresher training and hands-on work. We’ve set the goal of 30% theory and 70% practice to help guide partners and facilitators as they prepare their sessions. The goal is not training professional artists, journalists and technologists – it’s using arts, media and technology as tools for youth participation, action and advocacy.

Mercy presents the youth's map

Mapping

To identify the themes that the youth will focus on, we facilitate a participatory mapping process. The youth create a base map of their community and discuss the community’s history and what makes it unique – they create their community profile.

Then they identify community resources and risks based on the 4 categories of child rights:  survival, development, participation and protection. In other words, they identify what exists currently in the community that supports children to survive and develop, and how the community currently protects children, and what spaces children currently have to participate.  They then look at where those 4 categories are not doing so well, and where children are at risk.

Youth, parents and local authorities discuss the map

The map is shared on the first day of the youth workshop and discussed with participating teachers, local authorities and parents in order to generate additional input and to get buy-in from the adults.  In small groups and plenary, they together prioritize the issues and decide which ones they will focus on during the workshop and beyond, using arts and new media tools. In follow up sessions, they will also make a digital map of their area for uploading to the Internet, and their arts and media work will be uploaded as points on that digital map. The digital map and the hand drawn map bring distinct benefits to this kind of process.

I love mapping. It’s a really interesting process, because when you start by looking at resources and when you are working with youth, so many things come out that would not come up if you came in and asked about needs or problems and only worked with adults. Communities are used to NGOs coming in to ask them what they need, to train them to see only their problems and to feel like victims, and to then expect the NGO or external agent to ‘resolve things.’ If you start by identifying only needs and problems, there are so many things in a community that will be missed. I notice that youth are not as well-trained as their parents in playing the victim. They are much better at talking about their community and what it means or holds for them than their parents are. When I show up as an outsider, they often want to show me beautiful places, special places, things they have and are proud of, not their needs and problems.

Some of the challenges youth identified and will work on

The real work

After the workshops comes the real work.  The partner organizations, staff, teachers and community leaders who are involved support the youth over time to continue their learning in the different areas, to do refresher training in areas they didn’t fully catch during the first round, to generate dialog in the community around the themes youth have identified, and to work on the issues they have identified through organized youth-led actions and advocacy at different levels and engaging decision makers at the local, but also district and national, and sometimes even global levels.

This is where the real change happens and is the real heart of the initiative.

My Cameroonian colleague told me one day ‘This project is like a catalyst in my body.’ It has motivated and driven her to learn new skills and take on new challenges, to push herself to new levels to achieve the goals set out. I’ve seen it have the same effect on the youth and on myself as well. In the end, that is what we want to achieve — motivated and engaged people, working together to make positive change in their communities and beyond.

Resources

This morning I came across this toolkit ‘A Rights-Based Approach to Participatory Video Toolkit’ by Insight, and I absolutely love it. It pretty much spells out what we are doing (though we had nothing to do with writing it up), and confirms a lot of the hunches and ideas that we’ve had while developing the program. I highly recommend it if you are working on rights and media.

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I recently wrote about how difficult I find it to know what the etiquette is when riding in a car with a hired driver. So I was happy to see that the owner of this van, hired to take the youth out to film in Ndop, Cameroon, last week, had the good sense to clearly inform passengers of the rules.

No fighting.

Don't send your head or hands outside.

Sit down when the car is moving.

The driver is not responsible for any unpaid load.

No discussion with the driver when the car is moving.

No vomiting. No smoking.

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