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Group work at a regional consultation

Children and adolescent’s participation in decisions that affect them is key. More and more, decision makers are realizing that they need to consult with children when they are making decisions about children, meaning that children have more opportunities to weigh in on issues that impact on their lives.

Not knowing how to manage a good participation process or not listening to past lessons learned, however, can make it difficult for children and adolescents to take advantage of opportunities offered them to input into these decisions.

Children’s rights to participate

A child is anyone under the age of 18.  According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), in addition to survival, development and protection rights, children also have participation rights.

  • Children have rights to be listened to, to freely express their views on all matters that affect them, and to freedom of expression, thought, association and access to information.
  • Participation should promote the best interest of the child and enhance the personal development of each child.
  • All children have equal rights to participation without discrimination.
  • All children have the right to be protected from manipulation, violence, abuse and exploitation

from the “Minimum Standards for Children’s Participation 10th draft”, written by Helen Veitch,*drawing on Articles 2, 3, 12, 13, 17, 19, 34 and 36 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

What are the principles of participation? (Summarized from the above document)

An ethical approach: transparency, honesty and accountability

Adults involved need to follow ethical and participatory practices and put children’s best interests first. Because there are power and status imbalances between adults and children.  An ethical approach is needed in order for children’s participation to be genuine and meaningful.

A child friendly environment

The atmosphere should be safe, welcoming and encouraging.  Because in order for children to feel comfortable participating they need to feel safe and supported.

Equality of opportunity

Space should be ensured for those groups of children who typically suffer discrimination and are often excluded from activities. Because children, like adults, are not a homogeneous group and participation should be open to all.

Participation promotes the safety and protection of children

Child protection policies and procedures are an essential part of participatory work with children. Because organisations have a duty of care to children with whom they work and everything should be done to minimize the risk to children of abuse and exploitation or other potentially negative consequences of their participation.

Child participation in national, regional and global consultations

Children’s right to participate is key. However in practice, a safe and open environment for child participation at national, regional and global events can be difficult to ensure. It requires resources as well as a great deal of preparation.

Over the past several years, I’ve participated in some disappointing events where:

  • lessons learned about effective child participation and child protection were ignored
  • those tasked with ensuring child participation and protection were powerless to influence event organizers to ensure quality and safe participation
  • those organizing the event or sending children to it simply had no idea that there are standards and protocols and plenty of lessons learned that they should have taken into consideration.

Minimum standards for child participation

For example, back in 2005, several organizations in East Asia and the Pacific* collaborated to produce minimum standards for child participation in national and regional consultation events. These were initially developed for the UN Study on Violence against Children.

They offer a comprehensive overview of how to manage child participation and can be used as a guide for other national, regional or global events where children participate.  They should be considered whenever organizing, hosting or participating in an event where children are being consulted or their participation is desired.

You can have the most amazing and wonderful children present and the very best intentions, but fall very short of your goals of quality child participation because logistics and organization are poor and/or child participation and protection protocols are not followed.

What often goes wrong?

Child participation holds tremendous value, but when it’s not properly facilitated or supported; results can be negative on many levels, including:

  • Children are tokenized or used
  • Poor organization gets in the way of participation
  • Important opportunities are missed
  • Children become frustrated
  • Children are put at risk
  • Money and time are wasted

Oh, the things I’ve seen…

Mistakes those new to organizing events or supporting child participation in events often make:

  • Having singing and dancing in traditional costumes be the main role for children
  • Setting up totally new groups to participate in an event rather than working with existing groups
  • Not understanding the concept of ‘representativity’ and not ensuring democratic and fair selection processes of those children who participate
  • Not realizing (for global events) that the visa application process takes a very long time, and requires visa invitation letters and appointments in advance
  • Forgetting to get children their required vaccines
  • Not realizing that children may not have birth certificates or passports, meaning the visa process takes even longer
  • Not preparing children well for visa interviews, including the possibility that their visa request will be denied
  • Not allocating time and budget for travel necessary to obtain visas, permission from parents who do not live with the child (child trafficking laws often require this now) and other documentation
  • Not obtaining permission slips, medical histories, media releases from parents and/or not obtaining travel insurance for children
  • Not getting the above materials translated into a language parents can understand
  • Not having child protection policies in place and adhering to them
  • Not doing background checks on people who will be working with children
  • Thinking it’s OK to send children overseas without a chaperone, not budgeting for chaperones
  • Forgetting that not all children speak a major language like English, Spanish, Portuguese or French and will require translation of all materials before the event as well as constant translation during the event, and support following the event if they will continue to participate in event follow up

Children's responses on what they feared at an event.

Mistakes that even experienced child participation facilitators make:

  • Influencing too much on what children will say
  • Using children to promote the sponsoring organization or INGO’s agenda
  • Having children represent an NGO or INGO rather than representing themselves, their own groups or their communities
  • Having children wear NGO/ INGO t-shirts, caps and other branded items
  • Asking children from some countries (usually those from countries deemed ‘exotic’) to bring traditional costumes and share their culture, but not asking the same from other countries
  • Creating/building up ‘professional’ child participants and creating child star speakers
  • Relying on the same children all the time to represent because they have passports or visas or prior experience
  • Only bringing children who speak a major language or live in the capital to events
  • During sessions, not organizing group work in ways that facilitate communication across different languages
  • Sending any adult as a chaperone, rather than sending the best or the right adult as a chaperone
  • Not planning ahead on how children will be supported when they get back home to continue inputting into global networks and processes
  • Not ensuring a space for children to share their experiences with home offices and groups
  • Making children work long hours to fit everything in
  • Not giving children pocket money so that those with less means can also purchase small things for themselves or for family members
  • Housing children in fancy hotels with fancy food that they may not be used to; (not cooking enough good quality rice at lunch and dinner!)
  • Not realizing children may need to be shown how to use things like hotel showers, air conditioning, toilets
  • Not realizing that children may not want to sleep alone in a room
  • Not providing additional warm clothing for children if the conference climate is colder than their own
  • Not realizing that a trip overseas creates culture shock, children may feel lonely for their families
  • Not ensuring that children have the means to call home as soon as they arrive to an event and periodically during their stay
  • Not realizing that those facilitating child participation or working on child protection may not have the power to influence event organizers, especially if events are being organized in hierarchical ways with governments and high level committees involved
  • Not establishing at what point enough is enough, and children shouldn’t participate because conference organizers simply haven’t created favorable conditions, and children are put at risk or their participation will not be of good quality or have any real impact

Mistakes I’ve seen conference and event organizers repeat over and over:

  • Focusing on number of children participants rather than quality of participation
  • Not providing information with enough lead time for it to be translated and shared with children, or for good planning and selection processes to be done
  • Segregating children in parallel events where they don’t interact with adults
  • Not giving children space to lead sessions or engage with adults; offering them the last spot in the opening /closing speeches, and giving them a small percentage of the time that the adult speakers are given; or reducing children’s participation time because adults have gone over their allotted time
  • Patronizing children by clapping every time a child says something, or saying “oh that’s such a great idea!” not treating children respectfully as equals
  • Encouraging adults to get their photos taken with ‘exotic looking’ children in costumes
  • Not balancing the number of local participants and global participants
  • Not understanding that they need certain conditions to be available to fulfill child protection protocols (eg., children and adults need separate rooms; boys and girls as well as older/younger youth need to have separate rooms; the venue selection needs to have a measure of safety/security to prevent outsiders from taking advantage of any of the participating children, etc.)
  • Packing too many activities into the day and leaving children no time to rest
  • Not allowing any time for sight-seeing or recreation
  • Thinking all children have access to internet and computers to fill out registration forms, etc. and to participate in networks post conference
  • Not realizing that they need to listen to child participation and protection committees and adjust their ideas for their event so that children can effectively participate and are not put at risk
  • Thinking they can hire just anybody to manage child participation at the event
  • Not including a child participation/child protection point person in the organizing committee

So, what then?

I do honestly believe that children should participate and have a say in these issues, and that only by listening to children can decision-makers ensure that they are coming to the best decisions that benefit, resonate with, or have the best impact on children’s lives.

However unless proper organization, logistics, preparation and care are taken, these opportunities can be frustrating or a waste of an opportunity for everyone involved, and the validity of the efforts can easily be questioned.

Child participation needs to be taken seriously, not as an add-on or nice to have or cute to have. Unless and until regional and global events can ensure that this is happening, it might be a better investment to work with children at local and national levels.

Event organizers and child participation facilitators need to look at existing protocols, documentation, minimum standards and lessons learned and use them. Organizations shouldn’t be coming up with the same ‘lessons learned’ after every event and repeating the same mistakes at the next one. Surely we can do better than that.

What guidelines does your organization have? What mistakes have you made and learned from? What recommendations can you give? How can we get it right? Please share your thoughts in the comments section…

Download

Minimum Standards on Child Participation

Protocols and documents to use to help ensure good quality participation

*The following organizations participated on the steering committee that elaborated the Minimum Standards: UNICEF East Asia Pacific Regional Office, World Health Organisation, Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ILO IPEC Asia and the Pacific, NGO Advisory Panel on the UN Study on Violence Against Children, Save the Children Alliance, Child Workers in Asia, ECPAT International, World Vision International APRO, Plan International, Terre des Hommes Germany, ASEAN Foundation.

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I never know where to sit when I get into a car driven by a hired driver.  Do I sit in the front seat? The back? What does it mean when I sit in one place versus another?

And then there are those times when the driver’s side is on the right instead of the left like I’m used to, and I wait stupidly next to the driver’s door until he says ‘Oh, you want to drive, eh?’

I realize I have issues if these are the things I worry about, but the only drivers I’ve ever hired are street taxi drivers, and I’ve always just sat in the back unless the taxi was exceptionally crowded.

When I’m traveling and it comes to a riding in a vehicle with someone who’s hired by an organization and whose full-time job it is to drive, I’m never quite sure what to do. Do I sit in the front seat because I believe we are equals despite our position in the hierarchy? Or is that being ridiculously silly and American? And actually, which seat actually holds more status? The back or the front? And if I sit in the front, do I end up just embarrassing the poor guy with familiarity and friendliness when he’d rather I sit in the back so he can just do his job and go home? Or is it rude to hop in the back? And in the end, does the driver even care?  I  am probably being self-important to think it matters. Visitors come and go.

I Googled “where to sit hired car driver,” to try to find out, and nothing. What’s a girl to do?

And what about when there are more people than just me and the driver? What then?

Sometimes when traveling in different countries where my organization works, people offer me the front seat, but I never totally know what that means. Do they think I expect it because I’m a visitor, or from the US, or working with the regional office, or all of the above? If I don’t take the front seat, am I offending people by not accepting a gesture of respect and welcome?

Other times I end up in the back seat with 2 or 3 other women. I imagine it crosses all of our minds to try at least a little to avoid the cramped middle seat. Or we wonder if we should secretly engineer it so that a female colleague we want to show gratitude or respect to can have a window seat while we suffer with no legroom.

I don’t think I’m the only one that notices, because normally there is some kind of banter about who’s sitting where and whether they are fat or skinny and whether we all fit.

This afternoon was tricky because it was just the driver, a female colleague and me.  She said ‘Oh please, do sit in front!’ I said ‘Oh no, it’s fine, let me just sit here!’  She got in the front and I sat in the back seat, on the right hand side. Since she’d earlier been identified as my sister, because she had just gotten her US Passport, I thought it would be OK to ask her about car etiquette.

Of course, it turns out that there is etiquette. The higher status person should sit in the front, just like in the US, where parents or people being shown respect get the front seat.  (I forgot to ask if it’s common to yell ‘shotgun’ on the way to the car when everyone is of equal status to determine who gets the front seat….)

My colleague told me that in some parts of Cameroon, men always get the front, ‘because women are just getting to a place where they might think about sitting there’. Sometimes though, someone will offer you the front seat as a gesture, in which case you should take it.

She explained that if the owner of a car has a hired driver, the owner normally sits in the spot where I was sitting (right hand side, back seat). ‘This lets everyone know that he is the owner of the car…. If he’s a big man, his bodyguards will then sit in the front seat and to the left of him in the back…. And if you are riding with a group of people, you might ask or wait to be instructed where to sit so as to ensure you are not sitting in the owner’s spot or offending anyone.’

Makes total sense.

In the end, I suppose there will be slight variations to car etiquette, but it’s pretty much the same everywhere, and I should just go with my gut feeling.

But I still don’t know if I’m supposed to get in the front or the back when it’s just the driver and me, and he doesn’t indicate by nodding or opening a door.

Help.

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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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