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I spent the first 2 weeks of November in Mozambique working on the continuation of the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media project. This year, we are piloting digital mapping in addition to the other ICT tools that we’ve been integrating into the project. We weren’t able to find anyone locally in Mozambique who could train on Open Street Map but luckily were able to link up with Portuguese-speaking Iván Sánchez Ortega from OSM in Spain. (In case you didn’t catch the link – the official language in Mozambique is Portuguese…)

Iván was a great trainer and the youth from the two associations (Vuneka and Litanga) that we are working with really took to the idea of digital mapping and learning some new skills in the area of painting, theater, print journalism, radio, video and blogging. See some of Ivan’s thoughts on this Maps for Mozambique post.

Here are some photos of the work we did while in Mozambique….


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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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So, a few weeks ago I came across this fabulous article by Jay Rosen called “How the backchannel has changed the game for conference panelists“.  It was perfect timing because I had just been discussing how much I had enjoyed the public/private tweeting and live commenting happening during a live stream event I was watching, and how Twitter allows for a totally different and very engaging experience at these things than we used to have before.

I had no idea that there was actually a name for this phenomenon:  the backchannel; coined by Victor Yngve in 1970 and made famous in 2002 at the PC Forum conference (thank you Wikipedia!).

Rosen notes that “The popularity of the backchannel… has empowered those in the audience to compare notes and pool their dissatisfaction during a performance that misfires…. Especially at risk are ‘big name’ speakers whose online or offline status is such that they may complacently assume their presence alone completes the assignment and guarantees success.”

He goes on to give 10 tips for how to avoid getting killed in the backchannel. These tips are a good read for famous types who speak at conferences or panels. But they are also a good read for the rest of us, as a lot of it is still relevant. For example, I liked the idea of “blog it first” to get early reactions to what you are going to present so that you can tweak it before your actual presentation.

Now, I’m obviously the non-famous type, and I doubt the ‘audience’ will be harsh, but in mid-June, I’ll be in Karlstad, Sweden presenting at the 6th World Summit on Media for Children. My presentation is on one of the projects that I’ve been involved in over the past couple years: Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM). I actually refer to it a lot in this blog, though I haven’t really written a summary post on it.  I normally refer people to this nice overview posted on the Communication Initiative website or to this post on the project’s overall methodology.

So, I thought I’d post my presentation here for the 99.9% of people I’m acquainted with who won’t be at the 6th World Summit, and of course as part of my plan to avoid any negative backchannel tweeting while I’m presenting!  Enjoy, and would love to have any comments to, you know, tweak it before it goes super live, just in case there are any hardcore backchannellers there….

Note: if you are reading on Google Reader, it seems the presentation doesn’t appear, so try clicking through to slideshare here…. or [NEW!] watch or download the file with notes here (if watching with notes, resize the .pdf document so that you can see the notes underneath the slides).

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Yesterday I inadvertently clicked on a link to the first blog post by Talesfromthehood that I think I ever read. The post starts by saying ‘There is just no way around the critique that aid is ultimately about imposing change from outside….you’ve got to make your peace with that reality.’  (Not what I like to hear).  Tales goes on to say that we need to better define the term ‘bottom up‘ development and concludes that we may really not be talking about ‘bottom up‘ development at all, but more about ‘meeting in the middle‘.

The idea of imposing change from the outside is a little uncomfortable sounding when you normally think of your work as ‘bottom up‘, and you have seen the countless problems that ‘top down‘ approaches create.  But funny that Tales happened to include a link to that particular post in the more recent post that I was reading, because I was in the process of writing up some notes about a community development approach that I believe is quite good.  And looking more closely, it actually sounds a lot more like ‘meeting in the middle‘ than ‘bottom up‘….

I spent this past week in a workshop with colleagues from Cameroon, Mozambique and Kenya discussing a program we’re all working on at different levels. The initiative (Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media -YETAM) aims to build skills in youth from rural areas to claim space at community, district, national and global levels to bring forth their agendas. It looks to create an environment where peers, adults, decision makers, partners, schools, and our own organization are more open and supportive to young people’s participation and ideas.  It uses arts and ICTs (both new and traditional ones) as tools for youth to examine their lives and their communities; identify assets, strengths and challenges; build skills; share their agendas; and lead actions to bring about long term and positive change.

It is clear from listening to my colleagues that ICTs in this case have been effective catalysts, tools and motivators for youth participation and voice in their communities and beyond, but that other elements were just as critical to the program’s successes.  Throughout the meeting they kept saying things like ‘we are adopting the YETAM approach for our disaster risk reduction work’ or ‘we are incorporating the YETAM approach into our strategic plans’ and ‘we are going to use the YETAM approach with new communities’.  So I asked them if they could put into words exactly what they considered ‘the YETAM approach‘ to be so that we could document it.

I furiously typed away as they discussed how they are working, and what they consider to be the elements and benefits of the ‘YETAM approach.’ And it’s probably a pretty good example of what is normally called a ‘bottom up approach‘ but which might actually be a ‘meeting in the middle approach.’  And I’m definitely OK with that.

I like the approach because it builds on good community development practices that we’ve endorsed as an organization for quite awhile. It brings in new ideas, new tools and new ways of thinking about things at the community level, but it doesn’t do so in a top-down way.  It doesn’t encourage youth to abruptly raise controversial issues and then leave them to deal with the consequences.  It thinks about implications of actions and ownership.  It addresses the ‘what’s in it for me?’ questions but doesn’t turn the answer into unsustainable handouts.  It looks to instill a sense of accountability across the board.  On top of all that, it incorporates ICT tools in an integrated way that gets youth excited about engaging and participating and helps them take a lead role in advocating for themselves.

YETAM Point Persons: Mballa (Cameroon partner), Anthony (Plan Kenya), Pedro (Plan Mozambique), Lauren (Mozambique Peace Corps Volunteer teacher), Nordino (Plan Mozambique) and Judith (Plan Cameroon)

So, ‘bottom up’, or ‘meeting in the middle’ or whatever, here’s ‘the YETAM approach’:

Meetings…. Lots of them. We meet with men, with women, with children, with youth, with local authorities and district officials and relevant ministries, with partner organizations and community based organization, in short, with all those who have a stake in the initiative, to get their input.  This is an opportunity to understand what everyone wants to get out of the project, what value it adds to what they are doing or what they aspire to do, and what role everyone will play.  Then we meet with everyone all together at a community assembly. Once we pull together what everyone’s interests and contributions are, we can go forward.  This means a lot of time and a lot of meetings, which can be tiresome, but in the end it is worth doing for the long term success of the initiative.

Partnerships. Everyone brings something to the table – communities, local partners, young people, schools, teachers, local leaders, and us.  So we work to ensure that the contributions of each entity are clear and detailed, and that all sides are accountable if they don’t hold up their end of the deal. The community might contribute time or food or labor or a training space or some other resources that they have. We might contribute funds or technical advice or facilitators or the like.  Local partners might bring in technical expertise; schools or governments something else. Youth are putting in time and efforts also. To ensure that the project holds up and succeeds, we negotiate with all involved partners to see what they can contribute. If you see that people are not willing to put something into the initiative, it means that it is not of value to them.  If you push the project on people, and move it forward without it having value for them, it will be a constant struggle and a headache.  Seeing the level of commitment and interest in different community members can tell you if the initiative is a good thing for the community or not, so that you can adjust it and be sure it’s worth doing, not pursue it, or continue to work on buy in if some parts of the community are interested, but others are not.

Accountability. We set up agreements with all partners in the initiative, detailing what everyone will contribute and what they will get out of it, establishing everyone’s roles.  This is critical for accountability on all sides, and gives everyone involved a common basis for any future discussions or disputes, including if the community wants to hold us or a local partner accountable for not fulfilling our promises.

Buy-in. We don’t pay people to participate in projects or for sitting in workshops.  If you pay people to participate in a project once, you will have to pay them forever and it becomes a weak project without any real buy-in.  Our particular role in community development is not creating short term jobs, but contributing to long term sustainable improvements.  So what we do is to sit with the community and any participating partners or individuals from the very beginning and fully discuss the project with them. Then those who participate do so with a clear understanding of the set up, the longer term goals, the value to the community, and they have decided whether they want to be involved, and what is their level of commitment.

Some NGOs find that paying people to participate is an easy way to move budgets. This may help get things done in the short term, but for the type of programming that we do, it doesn’t work in the long term. It takes away people’s ownership of their community’s development if you pay them a fee to participate in their own project. So to avoid misunderstandings, everything needs to be clear before the project activities even start. We spend time with the community and all those who would be involved.  In the very first meetings with the community before concrete activities even get started, we address the issue of payment.  It’s not our project for the community and they are not working for us – it’s the community’s project.  We do negotiate with them to cover additional expenses that they may incur for participation in a workshop or event, for example, transport, food, etc.

What’s in it for me? Many NGOs have come around before, just giving hand outs, and people are used to seeing an NGO come in paternalistically to give them things.  They imagine that you have a lot of money and you’ll arrive to just start handing things out.  This is not how we want to work.  But people want to know – well, I’m not making any money from this, and I’m going above and beyond, so what do I personally get out of it? What’s in it for me? They even ask this directly, and that is normal. There’s a need to help people think beyond the immediate project. What value does this project add to people’s lives in the long term, to what they do on a daily basis?  If they are not thinking in the long-term, it may be hard for them to see value in the project. If during this discussion with them it’s clear that people don’t see any value in an initiative, then you should be aware that they are not really going to participate.  And that is also logical – if there’s really nothing in it for them, why should they do it? So you need to listen to people and be prepared to discuss and redesign and renegotiate the project so that they are really getting something of value for themselves and the community out of it.  If you come in with an idea from the outside and people don’t see value for themselves, and you go the easy route and pay people to participate in the project, you will see the whole thing fall apart and the efforts will have been for nothing, you will see no impact. So we take the time and discuss and co-design with the community to make it all work. That way it becomes a catalyst for long term positive changes.

Understanding local culture and how your government works. We work to involve local governments and ministries in this work as well as other kinds of decision makers. It’s important to understand how local culture works and what the hierarchies and protocols are in order to do this successfully. It’s critical to know what your government is like and how they work.  If you are not aware of this, it will create problems.  You need to know how to engage teachers, district officials, school directors.  We follow local protocols so that we can ensure good participation and involvement, especially when we need support from the government or ministries in order to move forward with something.  We involve people at these levels also because they are the duty bearers who have the ultimate responsibility here in our countries.  If you leave them out of the equation, you are really harming the initiative and its sustainability as well as losing out on an opportunity to make sustainable changes happen at that higher level.

Respecting community schedules. Communities are not sitting around, waiting for NGOs to show up so that they can participate in NGO activities and projects.  They have their own lives, their own other projects, their own work and their own goals that we need to harmonize with.  Projects that we are supporting are just one part of what community members are doing in their lives.  So we need to be flexible and let the community dictate the pace.  Sometimes partners, colleagues from other parts of the organization and outside donors do not understand this, which can cause conflicts and misunderstandings with the community.  In our case, for example, we are working with youth. They are in school.  We can’t interrupt their primary responsibility, which is getting their education, so we work with them during school holidays or after school.  Often parents want them to work during their school holidays. So again those meetings with parents, community leaders and so on become very important so that they see that their children are participating in a broader initiative and they see the value in it.

Gradual processes.  In this particular project, we are working with youth to have more of a voice.  This can be threatening to some adults in the community, and can go against local norms and culture, just like working with women to overcome gender discrimination can.  If youth are not used to voicing their opinions, they may be fearful of reprisals.  We don’t want to show up, give young people the tools and means to speak out, create conflict in the community, and leave.  This can be very counterproductive and even dangerous. This is where those meetings and building those relationships with different parts of the community again become very critical. We’ve adapted a methodology of intergenerational dialogue.  We sit with the elders, with the community leaders who hold elective positions, and share the project idea and what might come out of it, sit with women, sit with youth. This is like a focus group.  You don’t go in accusing people either. You ask them – what issues do you think youth are facing in the community? They will tell you, and when you’ve heard from everyone, you triangulate the information. Then you find a way to bring everyone together to find common points to start from.  The shift cannot come so strong and fast.  You need to take a slow process.

Listening to children and youth. The strongest point of reference will be what children and youth have talked about, because that is our focus. And for a child to tell you something, it’s taken a lot of work inside themselves to say something.  We had one case where a child decided to stand up and raise the issue of incest at an inter-generational dialogue meeting. A man stood up and said ‘you are lying, this doesn’t happen here’.  But there had been an on-going community process already, and there were other people in the community who were aware and were prepared to stand up and support the child.  In that case, a man stood behind the boy and said, ‘in our community we don’t talk about this, and it takes courage.  Let’s listen to the boy.’ This community process and work is really important to give confidence to the children to be able to speak.  If you are not yet at the point where children can stand up publicly and speak out, then ICTs can also be a good tool.  We’ve found that children’s radio is an excellent place to speak out anonymously about a sensitive community issue.  Children can call in to raise an issue and others can call in to confirm it if it’s happening in the community.  Theater, cartooning and other media area also good ways to raise issues.  Making a drama video on a sensitive topic and sharing it with the community can also be a way to raise an issue without directly accusing someone or implicating a child or youth for having raised it.

Expecting yourself to be held to task too. If there is a track record in the community with children speaking out but nothing happening or changing, then that will deter them from saying anything. So if you want to go down that road, of encouraging children and youth to speak out, you need to be prepared to take it through to the end, to support them. You have to be prepared to really take children and youth voices seriously, to follow things through to the end.  This is actually also true if they raise an area where your own organization has failed, that you yourself have not done something that you promised.  If we encourage them to use their voices, we have to expect that they will hold us accountable too.  We raise funds in the name of these children and communities, so we need to be accountable to them.  We need to be open to children, youth and the community also calling us out.  And have no doubt that they will. It’s happened before and will happen again. So we encourage them to challenge us as an organization, to be honest and to hold us to task.

Change and growth from within. As part of the whole community process, we do mapping, problem tree analysis, assets analysis with the youth and accompanying adults, and they learn much more about themselves. They think about where they are coming from and where they are going, and what local resources they have. This offers perpetuity, especially for the children and youth.  Because of knowing where you come from, you can know where you are going. Where you dream to be.  Using this kind of documentation and these tools actually helps a community to be open to absorbing new things, to be open to change and growth. But not external change and growth, change and growth coming from within the community.

Addressing gender discrimination. As part of the process of mapping and prioritizing issues, there is a lot of discussion.  Very often this brings up issues that are closely linked with gender discrimination.  We see this over and over again. Because we are working in a safe space and using different tools, the issues come up in a way that is not so threatening. Boys also are at a stage where they are more adaptable. They see their sisters and mothers being victims of discrimination and they are more open to hearing out their female peers.  So, we are able then to build a shared agenda that is favorable to girls, and which both boys and girls are then acting on and working to address.  Issues like child marriage, early pregnancy, girls’ schooling come up, but there is a way to look at them and do something.  We also open opportunities for youth leadership roles within the project, and we’ve seen girls start to fight to have a space there, whereas before they would not have thought that they could play an executive role.

Opening space for youth. We work to build new skills in youth to manage new technology, new media, and to do research in their communities.  Through this, youth claim a space that they didn’t have before and can influence certain things, advocate on certain issues they feel are important to them. You see them start taking ownership in communities and in leadership, they want to pick up new things for this role.  We used to invite youth to community meetings. We would start with 20 youth, then it would go down to 10, to 4, to 3 to none. They got bored with it because they didn’t see any relation to themselves. But with this integration of technology and arts, youth have a high interest. It’s really bringing in their opinions, their thoughts and ideas to join their voices with their parents. Now they use arts and media to promote communication, dialogue on their issues and look for ways to resolve them. Before they were totally missing. We tried to come in with programs for youth but they never worked before. With this new way of working, they have become more responsible because they  are not waiting for adults to come in with something and invite them in to ‘help’. Now they are designing strategies and solutions themselves and bringing these to the table.  It’s less easy for politicians and parties to manipulate them and incite them to violence.  Arts and media are effective in this way to share ideas, issues and to use in generating dialogue and solutions in their communities.

ICTs providing reach, motivation and skills. In addition to using ICTs to generate interest in young people and for them to take actions in their communities, we also use ICTs as a cost-efficient way of actually advocating at different levels. You can use video at the local level but also at the national, regional and global level. That is cost effective and has a real impact. You can use videos in invited spaces, for example, where governments, schools, other communities, or our organization itself invite children’s and youth’s voices in.  But we also support youth to use these tools to claim spaces, to fight for space and to get their voices heard there.  We give youth the tools, and you see their brains rewiring. They learn better hand-eye coordination by using a mouse and a computer, and you see then that in class, they can copy from the board without looking at their paper. They learn organizational skills by creating folders and sub folders. They learn structure from filming a video and making a time line while editing it.  They learn to speak with adults and decision makers from talking on the radio, using a recorder or a camera.  They become more motivated to complete school.  All this makes them more effective leaders and advocates for themselves and their agenda.  They also know that they’ve learnt a skill that puts them at the top of the pile in their community for jobs now. They are plugged into something that would never have existed for them before.

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Putting Cumbana on the map: with ethics

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For the past couple years, I’ve been supporting the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) project in 6 African countries. One of the best things about being involved in the project is the opportunity to work with some incredible people who are developing the program strategies and implementing YETAM on the ground.  Bedo, the child media program coordinator in Plan Mali, is one of those people I’ve been lucky enough to work with.  He’s kind, gentle, thoughtful and soft spoken yet solid in his opinions and knowledge. His face totally lights up when he’s working with the youth. He has clear vision and gets things done, writes excellent reports, and isn’t afraid to clarify things if he’s not sure he’s understood correctly.  It’s been a real pleasure working with him. On Friday, Bedo told me about some of the short-term positive results that the Mali team is seeing in the YETAM program there, which I’ll summarize below. Photo: Bedo in December 2008 at the Social Media for Social Change Workshop in Kenya.

YETAM
The YETAM project aims to help youth develop their skills to communicate, educate and advocate at local, national, and global levels about issues impacting on their lives using the arts, traditional media, and new media tools.The project methodology consists of hands-on workshops and activities where youth can improve their communication and analytical skills in order to effectively raise their viewpoints and enter into dialogue with families, peers, community members, decision makers, and the general public. Youth go through a process of participatory mapping, discussions to prioritize their key themes, topics or issues. Then they learn to use arts and media to get their messages across to those that they want to engage in helping them find solutions. To date the project is being implemented in 6 countries in Africa (Senegal, Mali, Cameroon, Rwanda, Kenya and Mozambique).

YETAM in Mali
In Mali, around 60 children and youth in a community in the Kati District have been involved in the YETAM project for about a year and a half so far.  In an initial workshop, the youth raised a number of issues through participatory mapping. They researched, investigated and developed opinions on these issues further through song, poetry, theater, photo and video, and later in the process, prioritized their most important issues:

· many children do not have birth certificates
· rural exodus
· violence at school
· excision (female genital cutting).

Integrating YETAM into school curriculum
Following the prioritization of their topics, youth began an education effort around the 4 themes with the local population and local authorities from their village and surrounding villages. As part of this effort, six school teachers were appointed by local school authorities to support the youth and supervise extracurricular activities around the youths’ 4 themes. They were trained by local consultants and Plan Mali staff on participatory methodologies using arts and media as participation tools.

During this training, teachers learned to adjust their teaching styles and to address the 4 topics not as lessons taught in the classroom, but as information sharing and advocacy topics through drawings, poetry, crafts, dance, and theater. New students joined the small arts groups according to the type of activity that they were interested in.  Students who had been involved longer supervised and trained newer students and helped integrate the program within the school.

In addition to the arts, youth and adults worked together on several short drama films. One of these was about female circumcision. It discusses the medical complications of circumcision in a married woman during her 1st birth. The complications were due to excision, done in infancy, and resulted in vesico-vaginal fistula. Rejected at first by her husband, the woman is eventually accepted after the husband’s becomes aware of the existence of appropriate care (free in Mali) and the commitment made between spouses at marriage.

Engaging the public and local authorities through arts and media
Through the training workshops and the production of the different arts and media materials, youth were able to form their own opinions, messages and ideas for solutions to the issues that they had prioritized.  They organized a public event in the community where they performed their drama, songs and poetry pieces, showed their film, and held a panel with local authorities to discuss how to improve the four areas that they had identified.  Photo:  youth performing a drama piece in the village.

Short term results to build upon
According to Bedo, “Integrating the YETAM methodology with the school environment enabled teachers to learn to address and manage issues with children and youth in a participatory way. The education methods have changed and the student / teacher relationships have become less tense, especially when it comes to discussing subjects such as violence at school or practice of female circumcision.”

Bedo explained that “the introduction of the ‘violence in school’ theme by the students initially caused some frustration among teachers. At first, they felt directly targeted. But when we integrated the teachers into the process, their frustration dissolved and trust began to grow between students and teachers because teachers are discovering another way to teach and discuss sensitive issues – they are behaving as coaches.”  Bedo also said that since the discussions took place at the school, the education authorities have become more interested in the topics and the project.

“At the community event,” said Bedo, “the mayor declared that the council was taking all steps to ensure that all children have birth certificates.  He also addressed the migration of young people from the rural to the urban areas, saying that one of the main reasons is lack of employment. He promised to create jobs to reduce the mass exodus of young people.” Photo: Children interviewing local authorities.

One of the most extraordinary things that happened as a result of the youth’s education and advocacy, according to Bedo, was that “the village chief also made a pronouncement….  He announced that ‘The practice of female circumcision is part of our traditions. As it has adverse consequences on the health of women, I have decided to end female circumcision in the village.’”

Teachers are engaged
Teachers have been happy with the new ways of teaching and the integration of the YETAM project within their school curriculum. One teacher told Bedo that “there have been developments in many areas, especially in the areas that teachers and students developed together – birth registration, rural-urban migration, female circumcision and violence at school.”

The teacher explained that the youths’ messages have extended to parents and those who practice these phenomena.Those who practice circumcision have pledged they will stop it. Corporal punishment is now prohibited by school rules, because we now know that violence undermines the intelligence of the child. The teachers have agreed to end it. They are ready to make every effort to pass the message of awareness among their colleagues so that together we can make every effort to end school violence….”

Youth see concrete results
Participating children also commented that they think that there have been improvements due to the project’s integration into the school. One 14 year old participant in the project said “With this new formula of YETAM, the suffering of children through corporal punishment in schools and the harmful practice of female circumcision has decreased. Before, we children, we could not stand before the public and parents to discuss the subject of female circumcision, but now we can do it. This has greatly reduced the practice of female circumcision. In our village, many people practiced circumcision, but now they say they will stop because they have learned from our messages about the harm it causes.

Another participant, who is 12 years old, commented that “with YETAM, teachers have ceased to beat us in school. Many of our schoolmates have their birth certificates. We are noticing an improvement in our situation.

Next steps
Bedo says that given the positive impact so far of the project, they will ask school authorities to institutionalize an annual special day for each of the 4 topics.  They will continue to support the work that the youth are doing and try to involve more youth, teachers, community volunteers and surrounding villages in this type of project.  Plan Mali also has plans to conduct a participatory assessment with stakeholders to evaluate the project so far and learn how to improve it.

Within the next month or so, the overall project website will be complete, and the maps, art work and videos of all 6 participating countries will be uploaded so that youth can connect with their peers in Africa as well as share ideas with youth in non-African countries.  A curriculum for teachers and youth groups based on the arts and media work that the youth have done around their priority topics is in the works and will be available for schools in the participating countries.


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I got into Maputo (capital of Mozambique) around 3 on Friday and stopped by the Plan Mozambique office to meet the staff on the way to my hotel. The office here is small. Plan’s only been working in Mozambique since 2007 and in one province only so far. Maputo is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s calm, not at all crowded, and on the coast.

I’ll be here for about 3 weeks working on the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) project in a community near Maxixe, which is a 50 minute plane trip north. The coordinator for the project in Mozambique is Pedro, the IT Director, and we had a nice discussion today over lunch.

Pedro is from the IT sector and used to work for a government ministry and came to Plan right when we opened here.  He’s convinced that “Plan is not in the IT business.  We’re in the business of community development, so our IT has to be in service of community development, not just the office.”  So ICT4D is high up on his list of interests, and he’s hoping that over the next few weeks we can share lots of ideas.  We discussed how just like media, ICTs are becoming more easily accessible for people, so a good ICT person should know how to support and train other people, to take the mystery out of ICT.  He or she also has to know how to see the trends coming down the line to stay ahead of the game.

Aside from lunch, we spent most of the day installing software on the computers that we’ll be using in the media project.  We got the anti-virus going on all of them – a lesson learned and never forgotten on my part.  We also got the Nokia phones and laptops synced so we can use them for mobile internet while in the community.  Pedro said that mobile internet is a huge eye opener.  “If it works there, communities will know that if they can get the phone, they don’t need to go all the way to the city to access the internet.”  I’m crossing my fingers that the signal will be strong enough to make this a reality.  We shall see….  That social media session I have planned will not make much of an impact if we can’t get online.  Which reminds me how great it always is to get your feet back on the ground and adjust ideas to reality.

Related posts:

It’s all part of the ICT jigsaw: Plan Mozambique ICT4D workshops
Inhambane: land of palm trees and cellular networks


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Mid week the first week of the community youth training, the youth chose what they wanted to do: arts or video/photos, and they split into groups for more focused training. The media group further split into 6 small groups of 4-5 people (one for each set of equipment) to then develop their interviews and ideas for their short films, based on the list of topics that had been created earlier by the youth and community members. The arts group chose topics from the list also to develop out. Photo: Some of the arts group.

The first Saturday (after 4 days of theory and practice) we did a community field visit to get a better sense of what to film and to make appointments with resource people for interviews. The arts groups did rough sketches of the things they wanted to draw. On Sunday the groups started filming and working more closely on their chosen drawings. We filmed for about 3 days in small groups, and by the 2nd day had some groups stay back to learn editing, then switching and going to film in the afternoons while another group stayed back to edit. The arts group worked in watercolor and gauche to finalize their works. By the end of the week we had 15 films and about 12 really nice drawings! Photo: Filming on Birth Registration

The films that we finished included:

· Meeting Places/Community Resources

· Alcohol Abuse

· A quick trip around the rural areas

· Forest resources

· Universal Birth Registration (and issue of not declaring births)

· History of Mva’a

· Installation of the church in Mva’a

· Water

· How mud houses are constructed

· The market

· Raising pigs

· The long walk to school

· Relationships between parents and children

· Agriculture

The drawings were really powerful, touching on themes that went deeper than the films, due to the nature of the two media. Drawing topics included Alcohol Abuse, A family losing their home to high winds/storms, Church, Long walk to school, Education, Hunting, Distance to health centers, People working on Sundays instead of attending church, Water, People not using latrines, Dangers of transport means, Recreation, Well/water sources, and Child abuse/Child labor

We closed out with a community film showing where the Mayor and community members and parents were invited to see the work of the youth. The youth, teachers and community members worked on an action plan to determine how they will follow up via concrete activities in the coming 6 months. Plan Cameroon is hoping to expand the program to additional communities, so it was important that the Mayor’s office attended as maybe they would have funds to support project expansion….

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