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Charles Suglo, Bestway Zottor and Francis Diamenu from Radio Tongu

Sometimes among all the ICT4D hype, we forget about one of the biggest and oldest ICTs there is:  radio.

Last month while in Ghana, I visited Radio Tongu in Sogakofe. The compound where this community radio station sits also serves as a community center, with computer training, a press center and Internet access for a discounted rate.

Plan Ghana staff was meeting with the radio director, Bestway Zottor, and two of the managers, Francis Diamenu and Charles Suglo, to discuss the idea of offering internships for 6-8 youth from the nearby school-based Girls Making Media (GMM) program Plan Ghana and Plan US are supporting.

Charles explained to us that the station gets some 70% of its news from the Internet. The other 30% is sourced from local communities, and recorded on the ground wherever the news is happening. ‘The voice is reality,’ he said. ‘It’s what promises that the news is real. It’s what makes people believe.’ The station broadcasts in 3 languages: Ewe, English and French.

If the youth in the GMM program want to be radio hosts, according to Charles, they need to be well trained and professional, especially since the topics that the youth are bringing up — violence against children and bullying — are sensitive. ‘We have our credibility as a radio station,’ he said. ‘So they need to be well-trained on radio program hosting, know how to manage on air, be skilled on how to ask good questions and follow-up questions.’

There are all kinds of jobs that the youth can do at the radio station, including news, marketing, voice, or running the cafe. Having job skills such as these can begin to give the youth some experiences that will serve them later in life. The training and work they’ve done through the GMM project over the past year give them a foundation for the internship positions at Radio Tongu.

Following the visit to the radio station, we went to the school to meet with the media club. It’s called the  ‘Eye Media Network.’ The group’s slogan is ‘Our eyes are always watching.’

The GMM program began last year with a workshop for 20 of the students on media skills and gender. Following that the Club received a small media kit consisting of digital cameras, voice recorders, a radio, a notice board and Flip cameras. The girls work with 2 advisers and now several boys have also joined the Club. The club plans its own programs and actions, and does a school-wide newscast every Wednesday during the school assembly.

A student reads us the news they've posted on the Notice Board

As part of the program, the Club meets and interviews local and national figures, with a focus on women journalists, government officials and businesswomen. The group has covered school elections and put into place a ‘Walk your Talk’ Accountability initiative.

They conducted a bullying campaign with the goal of reducing the incidence of bullying by 30%. After the campaign, which included posters, educational sessions and other outreach, the Senior Housemaster claimed that bullying had been reduced by 90% compared to the year before. They will begin a campaign against sexual harassment in the coming year.

Some of the challenges that the group faces include posters being ripped down, friends trying to discourage them, boys suffering discrimination for belonging to the “Girls Making Media” club, and not having enough equipment. The club hopes to obtain their own modem, computer, printer and more cameras.

The first week of August, select students from the GMM group participated  in social media training, where they learned how to shoot video, subtitle, access different social networking sites to post their content, and stay safe while online.

The girls in the club said the project has helped them to build confidence and take up leadership positions. ‘We learn how to find information and to bring out problems and get solutions,’ said one girl.

Another said ‘We took bullying as a normal thing. Now we know that bullying is not normal. Now when we see something, we are alert.’

‘I used to walk around without seeing,’ added another ‘but now I see everything because I am looking for news. My mind has been opened.’

The Girls Making Media program covers 7 schools in Ghana. Several other groups in Togo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone also participate in the GMM program.

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I spent a few days in Nairobi early last week with our education and our ICT staff from Ghana, Uganda, Senegal, Mozambique, Kenya, Egypt and a few other folks, including the brilliant Mika Valitalo from our Finnish office and people from regional and headquarters levels. We were looking at goals and challenges in our education programs and thinking about where ICTs might play a role.

The process was really interesting. Starting a few months back, each country shared their education context analysis onto a wiki. In a second round they narrowed down to a specific area in education, looked at the information and communication flow and gaps, and identified areas where there might be an ICT solution. They focused mostly on mobiles, but in many cases mobiles were supported by computers, servers and laptops as well as non-digital information and communication tools and also solar technologies. Each country team met by Skype with Mika and an external consultant to discuss the concepts and get ICT advice and support. Then they updated their concepts and got additional feedback. For the third round, they added rich pictures to show what the specific ICT solutions might look like. Everyone had an opportunity to give input into everyone else’s ideas via the wiki.

At the meeting in Nairobi, we spent a day sharing the concepts with each other for clarification and focused input. Colleagues shared the broader education context in their countries and specifically in the communities where they are working. Then they illustrated the specific education issues and the ICT solutions that they were suggesting and/or the places they felt ICTs could help. Some of the ICT solutions focused on a very specific technology or device. Others showed how different types of ICTs could be integrated at different points in the process. Others required development of a totally new ‘solution’.

Some of the areas where colleagues thought ICTs could support education included: teacher training for those working in remote communities, adult literacy (especially literacy retention post literacy training), improving exam scores, livening up and improving in-class curriculum, and transparency and accountability in education. We spent 2 days then working in different small groups on the concepts, cross-pollinating ideas and deciding which of the concepts were most relevant to all 6 countries (in order to make it more possible to scale them) and which were most feasible and do-able.

The ideas were all a good fit with our global education strategy (see page 9) which focuses on service delivery (in partnership with local governments and communities); organizing and empowering rights holders; and grassroots participatory advocacy to influence education policies, financing and practice. The strategy prioritizes actions around equal access to education, quality of education, and education governance (see page 10).

Accountability and transparency in education

One of the concepts that captured the most interest from the whole group was that of using ICTs to improve accountability and transparency in education. Education is one of the areas where “Quiet Corruption” is often found. ‘Quiet corruption, which can take the form of absenteeism among teachers or doctors, the distribution of fake drugs, or the sale of diluted fertilizers to poor farmers, is having a damaging effect on people in Africa, according to the African Development Indicators report released by the World Bank….’ (March 18, 2010 article)

It's time for class.... where is the teacher to be found?

Edison, Charles and Erik, our colleagues from Uganda, did a short skit illustrating the different points in the primary education system where corruption happens. Their points correlated well with this summary of quiet corruption in education from a July 5, 2010 article in the Independent:

‘Early this year, the Transparency International (TI) Africa Education Watch Programme report: Africa Education Watch: good governance lessons for primary education showed that the government’s perception that massive enrollment is a sign of success of the UPE [universal primary education] programme must be revised to address the problem of overcrowding in classrooms, studying under trees, poor financial management, illegal fees, and lack of school inspection. The report exposes irritating embezzlement of UPE funds and abuse of authority by head-teachers who charge illegal fees, make students offer labour on teachers’ projects, sexual harassment, and systematic teacher absenteeism. The report noted that 85% of schools surveyed had either deficient accounting systems or none at all. In most cases, financial records were either unavailable or incomplete. The survey found limited financial documentation at district education offices and at schools. Most people who handle school grants had no training in basic finance management.

Another survey titled, The Efficiency of Public Education in Uganda, conducted in 2007 by the Ministry of Education to determine efficiency in provision of education services found an average rate of teacher absenteeism of 27% in Uganda, compared to other countries like Zambia (17%), and Papa New Guinea (15%). The aggregate loss caused by this absenteeism constituted 19% which translates into Shs 53 billion out of the Shs276 billion of the Education ministry’s wage bill.

In a swift headcount at the beginning of this year, the Education ministry established that the number of pupils listed in primary school registers was 25% higher than those actually studying. Similarly, the report established that the number of students in lower secondary schools had been exaggerated by 12%. For instance at Amaji Primary School last year, the school register had 816 pupils. But when the headcount was conducted the school administration could not account for 302 pupils.

It is reported that many districts’ chief administrative officers have failed to show proper accountability for the UPE and USE funds.’

The Uganda team also explained that:

  • Parental interest in education is very low because since Universal Primary Education launched, parents feel it’s the government’s responsibility. Some youth we were working with in Kenya last year made a short film about poor performance in primary schools covering the same issue  (see below).
  • Teachers’ salaries are paid directly to their bank accounts, and there is no way to punish them if they don’t show up.
  • There are mechanisms to ensure that donor funds go from the national level to the district level and then on to the school, but no accountability mechanisms to ensure that they get from the school to the classroom and are translated into quality education for children.
  • District level government authority and accountability ends when they transfer funds to the schools; school directors can report to them that they have received funding and that everything is going fine when it’s really not.
  • Local school committees are often made up of people who are not neutral and who do not have the best interest of the children in mind. In some cases, school committee positions are used for personal gain and to launch individual political careers and political campaigns.
  • Lack of parental and community involvement in the education process and in school governance means that no one is demanding accountability from teachers and schools.
  • Sexual and physical violence in schools is very common and underreported. When it is reported, often nothing is done about it.
(Start playing the video, then click the small ‘cc’ button to turn on captions in English)

Colleagues from the other countries face the same challenges in their work and in their own children’s education.

Can ICTs play a role?

What is the solution then? Colleagues suggest that motivating parents and the community to get more involved in school governance and demanding transparency and accountability can begin to change the situation. This obviously requires a lot more than ICTs. So several different actions would be taken to engage and motivate parents and the community to take a bigger role in their children’s education. Then ICTs can be integrated into and support the process for sharing education information with parents, such as student absenteeism, grades, parent-school meetings, exam dates and scores, etc. Parents and students would also be able to report when teachers do not show up or suspected corruption. Students could also report abusive teachers, absent teachers, and other issues they are not happy with at the school. A neutral party would manage and hold the information that flows in and out to protect students from reprisal and to protect teachers from any abuse of the system in case fraudulent or incorrect information is reported. Commitment from those responsible for overseeing education to respond to the issues raised and take serious action is also needed, and this may be the biggest challenge overall. Plan can play a role there, leveraging existing relationships with local and national governments and Ministries.

The idea needs quite a bit of further work, a closer look at feasibility, and more research and input from local communities and parents. As mentioned, the ICTs are actually a small, but potentially very important, part of a much larger initiative to get parents and communities involved in school governance to demand transparent, accountable and quality education and budget spending.

Challenges in the process

Some of the challenges that we had to manage well during this initial piece of the longer process included:

  • We needed to ensure that we were starting with the context and the need for better information and communications, not starting with the technology and devices and building initiatives around them. Yet we also had to avoid getting lost in the overall context and missing the opportunity to pinpoint potential ICT solutions at specific places within the context. Role play and flip chart illustrations of the  ‘problem’ and the ‘solutions’ were very useful for getting more concrete (“So, Kofi is here in his community and he wants to …. So he uses xxx to do this, and then this happens and then….).
  • Though we wanted to specifically look at places that mobiles and other ICTs could support, it was important to list out all the factors that needed to be in place in order for the ICTs to work and to think clearly about the constraints we might face during implementation. One good question to help with that was, after seeing an idea or ICT solution presented, to ask “What needs to be in place in order for that to happen?” Then you start to remember critical things like community motivation, government interest to actually resolve a problem, electricity, someone to set up and manage a server, a strong enough network to download multimedia content, mobile versions of websites, educational content re-design for mobiles, teacher training on how to integrate ICTs in the classroom, limitations of SMS for doing something other than rote learning, higher versions of a mobile operating system, a smart phone, etc.
  • We had input from a potential corporate partner during the process. We learned that corporations are thinking several years ahead to what will be coming down the line; however non-profit are normally working within existing constraints and trying to find solutions that work here and now in the resource poor places where we work or ways to get around those constraints. Multi-level solutions seemed to be a good possibility; eg., ideas that can rely on SMS today, but have potential to expand as networks expand and data enabled mobiles become more available.
  • A corporation tends to think in terms of vendors, results, timelines, launch dates, price points, return on investment whereas a non-profit (at least ours) tends to think in terms of community members, organizations, process, participation, local context. Our facilitator even told us that a corporation normally does a presentation by starting with the solution, and then spending the rest of the presentation showing why that is the right solution. A non-profit usually starts a presentation by sharing all the context and background, and showing the process that led to eventually reaching the potential solution, including every step along the way, how ownership was achieved in the process, why different decisions were made and who participated in them. So keeping corporate vs non-profit cultures and languages in mind is also important when working on joint initiatives.
  • We need to remember to establish measurable indicators of success so that we can tell if this new type of intervention has a different/ better/ greater / lesser impact than carrying out a similar process without ICTs or with a different set of ICTs. This is something we will address once the full idea is developed. Impact measurement is very important to both corporate partners and development organizations.
  • This was the first time many were involved a process of this kind, so keeping the balance between technology and development goals was a constant challenge. We sometimes veered too far towards focusing on all the details of the context and then back to focusing too much on that piece of the context where a potential technology solution was seen. I think we were moving toward a pretty healthy mix of both. The process is nowhere near complete, and as we continue to work on the ideas and look at feasibility and actual implementation, we should find the sweet spot.
The work above was guided by Plan Finland’s recent publication ICT Enabled Development – Using ICT strategically to support Plan’s work.  On the whole, it was a great learning process for everyone involved, and we came up with some good ideas that we will flesh out in the coming months. Having the opportunity to patiently and carefully think through areas and ways that ICTs can support program goals around education and discussing the ideas at length with colleagues was a capacity strengthening exercise for all involved and will mean that we will be more prone in general to thinking about incorporating ICTs in our work going forward.

Resources

ICT-Enabled Development

Plan’s Education Strategy 2010-2013

African Development Indicators Report by the World Bank

Africa Education Watch: Good Governance Lessons for Primary Education by Transparency International

The Efficiency of Public Education in Uganda by the World Bank

Learn without Fear Report on School Violence by Plan. Summary and Full Report (also available in French and Spanish).

Painful lessons: the politics of preventing sexual violence and bullying at school by the Overseas Development Institute

Expel violence! A systematic review of interventions to prevent corporal punishment, sexual violence and bullying in schools by the International Observatory on Violence in Schools

School violence in OECD countries by Karen Moore, Nicola Jones and Emma Broadbent

Update: Owen Barder published an interesting post called Development 3.0 – is social accountability the answer, which refers to social accountability in education in Uganda and links to 2 other quite interesting papers: Fighting corruption to improve schooling: evidence from a newspaper campaign in Uganda; and a 2007 paper by the Center for Global Development challenging the findings of that paper: Putting the Power of Transparency in Context: Information’s Role in Reducing Corruption in Uganda’s Education Sector

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This is a cross-post of an article written by Shawn Hayward, who interns with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) via the International Youth Internship Program (IYIP). You can read Shawn’s original post here.

It’s easy to get jaded seeing sign after sign in the streets of Accra pointing the way to one NGO or another. Despite the slew of development organizations here, people continue to live with poor drinking water, low incomes and lack of decent health care.

One NGO (besides jhr, of course) seems to be taking a step in the right direction. Plan Ghana has been working with children in the country since 1992. The goals, according to their website, are to provide quality education and teacher training, create awareness of children’s rights and ensure food security for children.

Anyone can state goals on a website. It’s much harder to find effective ways to achieve them. Plan Ghana held a forum this week as part of a week-long workshop on the status of children in the country. They flew in 80 youth delegates from all over West Africa. It had real results.

This wasn’t an event where adults tell kids what they should think. The young delegates posed questions to the forum guests, including the United Nations Representative for Violence Against Children, Marta Santos Pais, and the Ghanaian Minister of Sports and Youth, Akua Sena Dansua.

Most importantly, the kids got a chance to tell their stories to a wide audience, and the media and representatives from various NGOs had a rare opportunity to hear well-spoken, motivated youth describe their experiences with children’s rights abuses.

One girl from Cote D’Ivoire told us in her native French how girls in her country are beaten by child traffickers when they refuse to prostitute themselves, and how a three-year-old girl was sexually abused by a neighbour. Police jailed the man for 72 hours and released him.

Outside the auditorium, Plan Ghana displayed pictures made by West African children that illustrate the abuses they’ve seen during their young lives. There were images of people being beaten, stabbed, raped and murdered.

I remember drawing snowball fights and monster trucks when I was their age, maybe the occasional army tank. No one being murdered though, or raped—I was lucky enough to grow up far away from that.

The forum was effective because the kids were active participants, not mere objects to be educated. We learned as much as they did during the forum, if not more. These kids came away with the pride of knowing they played a role in shaping their future, and Plan Ghana distinguished itself as more than just another NGO with a bunch of goals posted on its website.

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the Ghana team: row 1: Steven, Joyce, Yaw, Samuel; row 2: Bismark, Maakusi, James, Chris, Dan

I was in a workshop in the Upper West Region of Ghana this past week.  The goal was two-fold.  1) to train a small group of staff, ICT teachers and local partners on social media and new technologies for communications; and 2) to help them prepare for a project that will support 60 students to use arts and citizen media in youth-led advocacy around issues that youth identify.

I was planning to talk about how social media is different from traditional media, focusing on how it offers an opportunity to democratize information, and how we can support youth to use social media to reduce stereotypes about them and to bring their voices and priorities into global discussions.  But all those theories about social media being the great equalizer, the Internet allowing everyone’s voices to flourish and yadaya, don’t mean a lot unless barriers like language, electricity, gender, and financial resources are lowered and people can actually access the Internet regularly.

Mobile internet access is extremely good in this part of Ghana, but when we did a quick exercise to see what the experience levels of the group were, only half had used email or the Internet before.  So I started there, rather than with my fluffy theories about democratization, voice, networks and many-to-many communications.

We got really good feedback from the participants on the workshop.  Here’s how we did it:

What is Internet?

I asked the ICT teachers to explain what the Internet is, and to then try to put it into words that the youth or someone in a community who hadn’t used a computer before would be able to understand.  We discussed ways in which radios, mobile phones, televisions are the same or different from the Internet.

How can you access Internet here?

We listed common ways to access Internet in the area: through a computer at an internet café or at home or work, through a mobile phone (“smart phone”), or via a mobile phone or flash-type modem connected to a computer (such as the ones that we were using at the workshop).  We went through how to connect a modem to a computer to access internet via the mobile network.

Exploring Internet and using search functions

Riffing off Google search

We jumped into Internet training by Googling the community’s name to see what popped up, then we followed the paths to where they led us. We found an article where the secondary school headmaster (who was participating in the workshop) had been interviewed about the needs of the school.

Everyone found it hilarious, as they didn’t know the headmaster was featured in an online article.  This lead to a good discussion on consent, permission and the fact that information does go global, but it doesn’t stay global, because more and more people are able to access that same information locally too through the Internet, so you need to think carefully about what you say.

The article about the school had a comments stream. The first comment was directly related to the article, and said that the school deserved to get some help.  But the comments quickly turned to politics, including accusations that a local politician was stealing tractors.  Again this generated a big discussion, and again the local-global point hit home.  The internet is not ‘over there’ but potentially ‘right here’.  People really need to be aware of this when publishing something online or when being interviewed, photographed or filmed by someone who will publish something.

Other times when we’ve done this exercise, we haven’t found any information online about the community. In those cases, the lack of an online presence was a good catalyst to discuss why, and to motivate the community to get the skills and training to put up their own information. That is actually one of the goals of the project we are working on.

We used a projector, but small groups would have also been fine if there was no projector and a few computers were available. We generally use what we can pull together through our local offices, the small amount of equipment purchased with the project funds, and what the local school and partners have, and organize it however makes the most sense so that people can practice.  4-5 people per computer is fine for the workshop because people tend to teach each other and take turns. There will be some people who have more experience and who can show others how to do things, so that the facilitator can step out of the picture as soon as possible, just being available for any questions or trouble shooting.

Social networks and privacy

When we Googled the name of the community, we also found a Facebook page for alums from the secondary school.  That was a nice segue into social networks.  I showed my Facebook page and a few others were familiar with Facebook. One colleague talked about how she had just signed up and was finding old school friends there who she hadn’t seen in years. People had a few questions such as ‘Is it free?  How do you do it? Can you make it yourself?  Who exactly can see it?’  So we had to enter the thorny world of privacy, hoping no one would be scared off from using Internet because of privacy issues.

One of the ICT teachers, for example, was concerned that someone could find his personal emails by Googling.  I used to feel confident when I said ‘no they can’t’ but now it seems you can never be certain who can see what (thank you Facebook).  I tried to explain privacy settings and that it’s important to understand how they work, suggesting they could try different things with low sensitivity information until they felt comfortable, and test by Googling their own name to see if anything came up.

Online truth and safety

Another question that surfaced was ‘Is the internet true?’ This provoked a great discussion about how information comes from all sides, and that anyone can put information online.  And anyone else can discuss it.  It’s truth and opinions and you can’t believe everything you read, it’s not regulated, you need to find a few sources and make some judgment calls.

A participant brought up that children and youth could use Internet to find ‘bad’ things, that adults can prey on children and youth using the Internet.  We discussed that teachers and parents really need to have some understanding of how Internet works. Children and youth need to know how to protect themselves on the Internet; for example, not posting personal information or information that can identify their exact location.  We discussed online predators and how children and youth can stay secure, and how teachers and communities should learn more about Internet to support children and youth to stay safe.

We discussed the Internet as a place of both opportunities and risks, going back to our earlier discussions on Child Protection in this project and expanding on them.  I also shared an idea I’d seen on ICT Works about how to set up the computers in a way that the teachers/instructor can see all the screens and know what kids are doing on them – this is more effective than putting filters and controls on the machines.

Speaking of controls: virus protection and flash drives

The negative impact of viruses on productivity in African countries has been covered by the media, and I enthusiastically concur. I’ve wasted many hours because someone has come in with a flash drive that infected all the computers we are using at a workshop.  Our general rule is no flash drives allowed during the workshop period.  I have no illusions, however, that the computers will remain flash drive free forever.  One good thing to do to reduce the risk of these autorun viruses is to disable autorun on the computers.  This takes about 2 minutes.  After you do that, you just have to manually access flash drives by opening My Computer from the start menu. A second trick is to create an autorun.inf file that redirects the virus and stops it from propagating on your machine. Avast is a free software that seems to catch most autorun viruses.  Trend Micro doesn’t seem to do very well in West Africa.

Hands on, hands on, hands on

I cannot stress enough the importance of hands on. We try to make sure that there is a lot of free time at this kind of workshop for people to play around online.  This usually means keeping the workshop space open for a couple hours after the official workshop day has ended and opening up early in the morning. People will skip lunch, come early, and stay late for an opportunity to get on-line. Those with more experience can use that time to help others. People often use this time to help each other open personal email accounts and share their favorite sites.

No getting too technical

People don’t want to listen to a bunch of theory or mechanical explanations on how things work. They don’t need to see the inside of a CPU, for example. They need to know how to make things work for them.  And the only way they will figure it out is practice, trial and error, playing around.  If a few people in the workshop are really curious to know the mechanics of something, they will start asking (if the facilitator is approachable and non-threatening), but most people for starters just want to know how to use the tools.

No showing off

I’ll always remember my Kenyan colleague Mativo saying that in this kind of work, a facilitator’s main role is demystifying ICTs.  So that means being patient and never making anyone feel stupid for asking a question, or showing any frustration with them.  If someone makes a mistake or goes down a path and doesn’t know how to get back and the facilitator has to step in to do some ‘magic’ fixing, it’s good to talk people through some of the ‘fix’ steps in a clear way as they are being done.

My friend DK over at Media Snackers said that he noticed something when working with youth vs adults on Internet training: youth will click on everything to see what happens. Adults will ask what happens and ask for permission to click.  [update:  Media Snackers calls this the ‘button theory‘].  Paying close attention to learning styles and tendencies of each individual when facilitating, including those related to experience, rural or urban backgrounds, age, gender, literacy, other abilities, personality, and adjusting methodologies helps everyone learn better.

Have fun!

Lightening up the environment and making it hands on lowers people’s inhibitions and helps them have the confidence to learn by doing.

**Check back soon for a second post about photography, filming, uploading and setting up a YouTube account….

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On the road up to Wa (Upper West Region of Ghana) last week, I noticed something. I tried to capture it on the way back to Accra, yesterday. I snapped the shots from a moving vehicle, so they are not great quality. I posted several, because the remarkable thing for me was their sheer quantity.  (I am only posting about half the shots, and I was asleep for about 4 of the 10 hour drive). See for yourself. As far as I could tell these are not mobile phone company offices or kiosks, but houses and buildings used for advertising. Reminds me of political graffiti or turf wars you see between gangs.  [Note – if you have similar shots, please add a link in the comments!]

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The basic premise of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (referred to as the ‘CRC’) is that children are born with fundamental freedoms and the inherent rights of all human beings.

According to the CRC, the 4 main categories of rights that children have are survival, development, participation and protection. The CRC’s guiding principles help further shape the way that child rights should be interpreted. These are non-discrimination, the best interest of the child, right to life, survival and development, and respect for the views of the child.

Child protection concerns a child’s right not to be harmed and to protection from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.  It involves the duty of care placed on those that work with children or that come into contact with children.  It encompasses the responsibilities, measures, and activities that must be undertaken to safeguard children from both intentional and unintentional harm.

Child protection encompasses many different areas, such as juvenile justice systems and a child’s right not to be tried as an adult or incarcerated with adults; special care needed by unaccompanied children; protection from sexual exploitation and dangerous forms of child labor; prevention of trafficking and harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting; support for children in emergency and conflict situations; prevention of exploitation by the media; the right not to be abused or taken advantage of by family, caregivers or institutions; and so on.  This link gives an explanation of a protective environment, and this one offers an excellent broad overview of child protection.

Child protection policies and strategies create mechanisms to prevent any type of harm to a child.

Child protection in youth media programs

The organization where I work frames its efforts within the CRC.  Most of the programs that I focus on are related to child participation and child protection.  These two areas go hand in hand, because good participation initiatives need to take child protection into consideration, and good protection initiatives are only successful when children participate in designing them and in protecting themselves.  Children should both know what their rights are and take an active part in achieving them and in protecting themselves.

This week, for example, I’m at a workshop with a small group of colleagues, teachers and local partners from the Upper West Region of Ghana. We’re preparing for a youth arts and media project that they will implement in June. By the end of this facilitator workshop, we will have a localized training plan that fits the context of the community and the youth participants, and the facilitators will have learned some new media skills that they will train the youth on when the project starts.

As part of the facilitators’ training, we cover the CRC, going in depth on child participation and child protection.  There is always a certain tension between these two areas. We want to encourage children to participate to their fullest, yet both children and adults need to be aware of potential risks that participation can bring with it, and know how to mitigate and manage them.

Three child protection risks that we are focusing on with facilitators at this week’s workshop are:

  • Intentional or unintentional abuse by staff or local partners
  • Retaliation or harm to a child who appears in a media story or art piece on a sensitive issue
  • Retaliation or harm to a child who authors or creates media or arts on a sensitive issue

Internal child protection policies

To begin our sessions on child protection, my colleague Joyce covered our organizational Child Protection Policy, which clearly states our intention to protect children from harm and advises that we will take positive action to prevent child abusers from becoming involved with the organization.

Joyce explained that child abuse is never acceptable:

  • Child abuse in our case is defined as:  All forms of physical abuse, emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse and exploitation, neglect or negligent treatment, commercial or other exploitation of a child and includes any actions that result in actual or potential harm to a child.
  • Our child protection policy applies to staff at all levels, including board members, volunteers, community volunteers, supporters, consultants, contractors; partner organizations, local government people who have been brought into contact with children via our organization, visitors, donors, journalists, researchers and any other type of person or institution associated with us.
  • We recognize that child abuse may be a deliberate act or it may be failing to act to prevent harm. Child abuse consists of anything which individuals, institutions or processes do or fail to do, intentionally or unintentionally which harms a child or damages their prospect of safe and healthy development into adulthood.
  • We follow through on cases of child abuse to the fullest extent of the law.

Point three, unintentional abuse, refers to situations where someone has good intentions but their lack of planning, knowledge, foresight, or their recklessness puts children in harm’s way.  As Joyce explained, “It’s  like an excursion that is not well planned.”  The good intention is to take children out so that they could have some fun.  But if proper care is not taken to plan the trip and ensure children’s safety during the trip, then unintentional harm could be done. A child could be lost, a vehicle could be unsafe, a child could drown.  Though the good intention of the person planning this event is not in question — they wanted the children to have fun and enjoy themselves — if proper planning is not done and something happens that causes harm to a child, it is still considered child abuse.  Good intentions are not enough.

Here are some resources on institutional child protection standards and an excellent overview on minimum participation and protection standards when working with children and residential events.

Use of children’s images in the media

Since this is a youth arts and media project, we need to think about the use of children’s images and identities in the media: print, broadcast, radio, internet or visual arts. The CRC asserts that every child has the right to privacy, and this extends to the right not to have their image used for any purpose for which they have not given consent.

Key points related to the use of children’s images and working with children’s stories include:

  • If the person is below 18, you must seek the consent of the parents/guardians
  • Consent forms must be kept securely for future audit or proof purposes
  • A child’s real name should not be used in publication or broadcast unless they would benefit from increased self-esteem by seeing their name in print
  • The information given about the child should not allow their precise location to be identified (either directly or indirectly)
  • A story should not be published, with or without names or identities altered, if it could put a child, siblings or peers at risk
  • The best interest of the child comes above all else

Helping people see the implications

Expanding on the aspects above, Joyce offered ideas on how to discuss and ensure that children and adults that might portray others, or be portrayed in media, are aware of all the implications and potential risks:

  • Today’s media is global and can be accessed anywhere in the world through the internet.
  • When you talk to the media nowadays, you are talking to the world. The story may not reach everybody in every country, but you can be sure that it will reach further than you can imagine.
  • Ask yourself the following:
    • How would friends and family react if they saw the story, or found out that it had been published?
    • Think through who might be harmed.  Would the subject of the article, artwork or video be at risk of any harm if someone saw it?  Could this story or artwork put anyone in danger?
    • This story can stay documented for years. How would the person feel if their children were to read the story in a few years?
    • There is no guarantee that this story cannot be seen by people whom you do not want to know about it.  Help people thoroughly understand the implications of sharing their stories. This protects not only the subject of the story, but the person who is authoring the story.
    • Are there people we need to protect when telling our story? Friends that we need to protect?  What needs to be edited out so that nobody is implicated in the presentation of the work?

Here is an excellent resource on use of children’s images in the media, and a guide for journalists reporting on children, and guidelines for reporting on children in the context of HIV/AIDS.

Stories that cause unintentional harm

To illustrate some of the points above, we used 2 examples.  A New York Times/Nick Kristof article that identifies a child from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who was raped and his opinion piece on why he believes that was OK, and a scenario where a film is made of a girl who reports that her mother beats her and doesn’t allow her to attend school.

General consensus from the group in our workshop on the New York Times case was that child protection and media guidelines were not followed, and that Kristof was reckless and unintentionally put the girl at risk.  Workshop participants felt that appropriate respect for the child was not shown. “The journalist would never be able to do that in the US”.  One participant exclaimed “So, he didn’t feel that any Congolese would ever be enlightened enough to access the story?”  It was recognized that “his intention was good, that people should know about these terrible crimes, but there is no need to share all the specifics.” Participants wondered whether this was in the best interest of the girl, and how she would feel in the future if someone she knew found the article.  “In our culture, this type of thing can be very stigmatizing.”  Participants asked why technology wasn’t used to cover the girls’ face and disguise her voice, or why she wasn’t filmed from behind to conceal her identity.  The conclusion was that this story could have been told in a way that protected the child and had equal impact on readers.  [Update: Laura over at Texas in Africa has a great post on Connectivity and Child Protection which comes to the same conclusions.  You can also find related posts from awhile back on Wronging Rights.]

In the second scenario, consensus was that the story could create difficulties for everyone involved.  One participant commented that the mother might get angry and beat the child even more.  Another said that it the whole village might feel betrayed by the child exposing the story. “When a child does something, people ask – from which village are you? From which house?  From which family?  Whatever you do to a member of the village you do to the whole village. This can cause a threat to the child by the whole village.  Those who give out the story, if they are known by the village, will also be at risk.”  Another issue was that the community might say that the children are given too much power. “They will wonder who is behind it and may not wish to work any longer with the organization that is supporting the project.”  It was suggested that if a story like this were filmed, it should show a resolution, a happy ending, so that it could be used as an example. “That way you can favor all who are involved.”  The group concluded that when topics are quite sensitive or individuals are implicated, the story should be altered to protect identity and the same situation could be brought out using simulations, song, theater or drawings.

As we are training children as citizen journalists in this project, case studies that highlight the potential risks and impact of a story are critical learning tools.

In conclusion….

Child protection needs to be considered whenever children are involved.  Adults and children need to be aware of potential risks and thoroughly discuss how to mitigate them. Mechanisms need to be in place to address any intentional or unintentional harm that could be caused to a child or children.  There are plenty of good resources around on how to do this, so there is really no excuse not to.

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The Child Rights Information Network provides excellent all around resources on child protection and child rights, and a list of over 1000 global resources on child rights

Keeping Children Safe offers a toolkit for developing your organization’s internal child protection policies

The International Federation of Journalists has created Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Issues Involving Children

Related posts on Wait… What?

Child protection, from emergency response to a sustainable mechanism

Children in emergencies: applying what we already know to the crisis in Haiti

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the road to Wa

I’m in Ghana this week for a workshop in Wa, the district capital of the Upper West Region.  I wasn’t too excited about the trip from Accra (the capital of Ghana) to Wa when I heard it was a 10-12 hour drive. I figured it took so long because the road was in bad condition, but I was wrong, it’s just a long trip and there is a lot of traffic. The road to Wa is paved.  Not with gold. Not with good intentions, just paved.  And what a difference that makes.

All kinds of vehicles and travelers use the road. Motorcycles, cars, taxis, 4x4s, Land Cruisers, big trucks, small trucks, semi trucks with trailers.  People walk and bike alongside the road.  I even saw an adolescent boy trying to rollerblade – he wasn’t getting too far in the gravel but was pretty determined regardless.

All kinds of people move in and about and around all the shops and businesses along the road… people making purchases, moving supplies, carrying firewood and water, socializing, flirting, arguing.  Vendors sell fruits, clothing, electronics, car parts, prepared food, plastics, new clothing, used t-shirts.  There are tons of stalls selling airtime  for mobile phones and entire buildings painted bright red with the white Vodafone logo on the side, not to mention doorways, sides and fronts of buildings, market stalls and taxis similarly painted.  Tigo, Glo and MTN also have their noses in the business with signs, billboards, stalls, buildings and such – obviously a lot of competition for mobile phone customers.

collision

The road holds both opportunities and dangers. Some people go very fast and others crawl along, creating accident potential as drivers try to pass them on curves and hills.  As in many countries, a good number of crashed vehicles dot the roadside; though unlike past road trips, this time I didn’t see anyone get hit or observe any bodies lying on the road after being hit, a small crowd around them, fresh blood pooling around their head and twisted frame.   Every so often on this road to Wa, there are toll booths and customs check points.  Speed bumps slow you down as you enter towns.  Police officers stop you for no reason wanting bribes. The road is really happening.

Aside from the rich and fertile rolling hills in between the towns as we got further north, the most striking thing to me was the image of the funeral crowds. You see large groups of people on both sides of the road dressed in very fine black West African clothing with accents of red: black for mourning and red if the person who passed away was strong and in their prime; sometimes white if the person was very old.  Stunning. My colleague Stephen said that funerals happen on Saturdays and that is partly why the road is so busy on weekends.  He also said that politics paved the road, because the current vice president lives in the north and made this road a priority, helping him win the elections.

While driving, we listened to a lot of political talk radio.  Obama’s honeymoon is definitely over if those who were talking are any indication. “We thought there would be a change with Obama, but his foreign policy continues along the lines of Bush.” The commentators argued for nationalization and control of Ghana and Ghana’s resources without foreign intervention and without selling off resources to foreigners, a shaking off of old colonialism.  They heavily criticized the US’s current strategy of opening military bases in West Africa and the US’s failed and reckless policies in the Middle East. References to Chile, Castro and the CIA reminded me of the kinds of conversations you hear in Latin America.  I need to read up more on this, and find out who Kosmos (Cosmos?) is, and what their relationship is with Bush, Exxon Mobile and Ghana’s oil.  [Update: here’s some background on that: Ghana blocks Exxon Oil-Field Deal.] I miss being in Central America where I knew the history of all the politicians and movements, and could read beyond fiery words to interpret motives; where I could read my own truth into things.

As we drove along I thought about the road, and all the activity that it enables. Before my flight to Accra, I visited the  Museum of Modern Art in New York with my brother who studies biology, and we saw an exhibit about Design through the Ages.  Some of the modern pieces showed graphics or moving visualizations of communication networks and systems.  One piece tracked and visualized the movement of taxis in New York City.  Another showed internet connections across the world.  My brother and I talked about our fascination with micro and macro networks and systems… synapses in the human brain, the flow of blood in the body, the New York subways, sewers.

dusk settles on the long drive north

Looking out the window of the car on our seemingly endless drive north, I thought about the similarities between this highway and the internet — road networks and communication networks.  All the people traveling down and alongside the road to Wa. The communication among and between them.  The small and large businesses that have sprung up and are prospering because the road is there allowing access.  The opportunities and dangers, the police and the periodic barriers to speed.

I’m sitting here, 12 hours north of the capital city, uploading this post, with photos even, using 3G wireless internet. Not long ago that wouldn’t have been within my capacity to imagine.

I know there is nothing new in comparing communications infrastructure and networks to a road system. But I am struck today, after the drive to Wa, with the similarities — and the vital need for both. I’m convinced that, just like the roads that provide a basis for connection, communication and commerce; Internet, via undersea cable or mobile or whatever, is essential infrastructure for development.

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