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Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 2.40.51 PMLast week, 600 exceptional youth activists from 80 countries arrived to New York City for a UN Takeover, where they called for urgent action by member states to meet Millennium Development Goal 2 on education by 2015. The youth’s inputs will feed into setting the agenda for global education priorities post-2015. One of the highlights of the week was this inspiring talk by Malala Yousafzai, who made her first public address to the UN on June 12th, her 16th birthday.

Seven of the youth participating in the UN Takeover with the support of Plan joined us as lead discussants for our July 10th Technology Salon. Agung, Dina, and Nurul from Indonesia; Kamanda and Fatmata from Sierra Leone; Tova from Sweden; and Frank from Uganda told us about ICT access and use in their communities and countries. We also heard about their work as youth activists on issues of child marriage, school violence, good governance, and education, and whether ICTs are effective outreach tools for campaigning in their contexts.

The realities of access

In both Sierra Leone and Uganda Internet access is quite difficult. Traveling to Internet cafés in urban areas is too expensive for rural youth to do regularly, and it is unsafe for young women to travel in the evenings. There is not enough equipment in schools and universities, and youth have trouble affording and finding regular access. The majority of primary and secondary schools do not have ICTs, and non-governmental organizations are unable to reach everyone with their programs to supply equipment and training. Although there are often funds given to governments to build computer labs, these tend to benefit urban areas. In some cases projects and funds are used for political gain and personal favors. Even at university level, student access might be limited to 1-2 hours per week at a computer lab, meaning they end up doing almost everything on paper.

Lack of ICT access impacts on job prospects for youth, because jobs exist but employers are seeking people who know how to operate a computer. Many of these job applications have to be submitted online. This puts jobs out of reach of youth in rural areas. Basic infrastructure remains a problem in rural areas. Although telecommunication lines have been laid, electricity for charging mobile phones is still a problem and often electricity is dependent on a solar panel or a generator, making it difficult to run a computer lab or Telecenter.

ICTs are heightening the development divide, noted one Salon participant. In schools near urban areas, parents pay more in tuition and school fees and their children have better ICT access than rural children. This creates inequality. “Students going to these schools have access and they will even study computer science. But when you go to a rural village you might only see one small room where children can access a computer, if anything at all. Teachers themselves don’t know how to use computers.” In cities, parents know ICTs are important. In the rural villages, however, many people are skeptical of technologies. This inequality of access and education means that youth in rural areas and the poor are not able to meet requirements for jobs that use ICTs.

One discussant noted, “It is possible to access Internet through mobile phones. You can use some phones to access Internet, Facebook, etc. In the villages, however, you find that you can only receive calls and make calls. There is no Internet. When I went to Nairobi and saw everyone with smart phones, I wondered, ‘What is wrong with Uganda?’ We don’t have many smart phones.” Another discussant commented that her university has a wide area network, but it is only available to lecturers, not to students.

Most of the youth discussants considered that, among their peer groups, more girls than boys had mobile phones, and more girls were active on the Internet and Facebook.

Access brings concerns

In Indonesia, it was noted, Internet is very available, except for the more remote islands. In Java, commented one discussant, “every young person has a smart phone. They use Facebook and Twitter and can get all kinds of information, and those without smart phones can use Internet cafés.” Internet access, however, is creating new problems. “Parents are proud that their kids are going to the Internet shop to get information, but they also worry about increased access to pornography.” Internet is believed to contribute to an increase in child marriages. The youth discussants said they would like more guidance on how to filter information, know what is true and what is not, use Internet safely, and avoid exposure to offensive content. One discussant from Indonesia mentioned that parents in her community worried that if girls went to Internet cafes or browsed online, they would be exposed to inappropriate materials or prostitution through Facebook.

In Sweden, access to Internet and smart phones is universal. However, parents may buy children a smart phone even if they cannot really afford it. Although many children learn English early because they can easily access Internet, many also do not learn how to write properly because they only use computers.

When phones are available but there is no capacity to purchase them, additional problems also arise. According to one discussant, “Some girls want to have big things before their time.” This can lead to young women offering sex to older men in return for money, fancy phones and airtime.

ICTs in formal education

Youth discussants all said that they are increasingly expected to have access to the Internet and computers in order to complete their school assignments, and they felt this was not a realistic expectation. In one of the youth’s schools in Indonesia, computer class is offered for 4 hours per week and a computer lab is available with 30 desktop computers. In another school in Jakarta, however, every child is expected to have their own laptop. “Our problem is different than in the remote areas. Every teacher in Jakarta thinks that a smart phone or computer is ‘the world in our hands.’ They think we don’t need education about the computer itself. They think we can learn from the Internet how to use computers, and so we have to search and learn this all by ourselves with little guidance.” In Sweden, “if you don’t have Internet access, it will be very difficult to pass a course.”

Effective ways to reach and engage youth in campaigns

Discussants were asked about the communication channels that are most effective for campaigning or engaging youth and communities. In rural Sierra Leone and Uganda, face-to-face was considered the most effective outreach channel for reaching youth and communities, given low levels of access to computers, radios and mobile phones. “Most times our campaigns are face-to-face. We move to communities, we use local language to be sure everyone gets the message,” said one youth discussant. In Jakarta, however, “it’s easy to use online means, it never sleeps. Young people in Jakarta are too lazy to attend workshops. They don’t like to listen to speakers. So we share by social media, like Facebook and Twitter.”

Digital media is only useful in urban areas, said one youth discussant from Sierra Leone. “We mostly use radio to do advocacy and sensitization campaigns. We also do it face-to-face. For secondary schools, we do talks. We tell them about documents signed by government or NGOs, what is in place, what is not in place. We give advice. We talk straight about health, about sex education. You just wait for the light in their eyeball to see if they are understanding. We also do dramas, and we paste up wall bills. We do all of this in our local languages.” Youth groups and youth networks are also useful channels for passing along messages and building support.

Radio is effective in theory, but one discussant noted that in his district, there are only two radio stations. “You take your information or announcement there, and they say they will pass it, but you stay waiting… it’s a challenge.”

Campaigns must also involve engaging local decision makers, a participant noted. Often chiefs do not understand, and they may be the very ones who violate the rights of girls. Youth noted the need to be diplomatic however, or they risk being seen as impolite or trouble-makers. “You have to really risk yourself to do rights work in the community,” noted one discussant. Another commented that having support and buy-in from local leaders is critical in order to be taken seriously. “You need a ‘big voice’ to back you and to convince people to listen to you.”

INGO staff can help legitimize youth work in some cases, but there are also issues. “Local leaders always ask for money,” noted one discussant. “When they hear Plan, UNICEF, Care, Save the Children, they think these organizations gave us money and we’ve taken it for ourselves.” Youth often resort to using external INGO staff as their legitimizing force because “we don’t have other role models, everybody wants money. The politicians say they will help us but then they are always too busy. We have to take the lead ourselves.”

Conflicting information and messages can also be a problem, commented a Salon participant. “One year, it’s the ABC Campaign for HIV prevention, the next it’s condoms, and then it’s prevention. Sometimes youth don’t know who to believe. The NGO says something, the government says something, and local leaders say something else. We need consistency.” In addition, he noted, “INGOs come in with their big range rovers, so of course local leaders and communities think that there is money involved. INGOs need to think more carefully and avoid these conflicting messages.”

What would youth like to see?

Going forward, the youth would like more access, more ICT education, more transparency and accountability in terms of how governments spend funds directed to ICT programs, and more guidance on filtering information and ensuring it’s veracity so that children will not be taken advantage of.

*****

Thanks to the Population Council for hosting us for the Salon! Join us for our next Salon on July 25th: How can we scale Mobiles for Development initiatives? 

The Technology Salon methodology was used for the session, including Chatham House Rule, therefore no attribution has been made in this summary post. Sign up here to receive notifications about upcoming Salons in New York, Nairobi, San Francisco, London and Washington, DC. 

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I was chatting with my pal Ernst Suur from War Child Holland and he alerted me to this instructional video they’ve made about using participatory video for monitoring and evaluation in Northern Uganda.

“A PhD student working on video diaries with children commented: ‘What fascinates me is that there is a whole lot of data that they can give me, that they can share, but I cannot always see what it is, or know how to ask for it, or know it exists, and that is what the video diary does.'”

“Video diaries can enhance our transparency, as youth can communicate directly with a wide variety of people; providing field workers, project officers, headquarter staff and even donors with tangible insights into progress made at the individual level.”

Take a look. It’s worth it.

Hint: Flip video cameras are fantastic for filming, but the Flip video format is incompatible with a lot of (most?) video editing software. According to Ernst, if you’re using Flip video cameras and need to edit, Windows Movie Maker Live is the way to go.

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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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As part of our ongoing work around using ICTs (information and communication technology) in our programs and general operations, 10 staff in Plan Uganda did a 2-day workshop in March, 2010.  The workshop was based on a distance learning pack that my colleague Mika Valitalo (Plan Finland), Hannah Beardon (Mobiles for Development report) and I put together. It includes some narrated slide shows, short videos, and a series of questions and exercises to guide discussion around strategically incorporating ICTs into our work where and when it is appropriate and feasible.  So far the workshops have been conducted in 6 countries with 2 still to come.

Anthony Makumbi, from our Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa, facilitated this Uganda workshop (and credit for the information below goes to him). Anthony is the Regional Community ICT Advisor and has a long experience working on ICTs and ICT4D in the region.  He’s also just written up a pretty impressive draft document which will guide Plan’s ICT strategies in Eastern and Southern Africa.

“We initially thought that when you talked about ICT you were referring to the computer guys, but our minds have now been opened further on the topic. We’ve learned that ‘ICT’ does not equal ‘computers’. Instead, the term ICT encompasses any technology tool that enables information flow and communication.”  (participant)

This always seems to come up in these trainings – people realize that thinking about and using ICTs is not something that is limited to technicians, geeks, network specialists, programmers, the IT Department, etc.  Demystifying this term is so important in order to get people interested and to open up to thinking about how ICTs can support their every day work.

Staff also said that they needed more exposure to new ICTs and innovations. “People need to be informed of something in order to be able to seek further information about it.  If we know about available technologies and what they can offer, we will further explore them.”

——————–

Below is a summary of the Uganda team’s general reflections from the workshop:

Multi stakeholder approaches are necessary to promote innovation and a favorable climate for integration of ICTs.  It is vital to work with governments as the main regulators, the private sector to effectively explore the use of technology, and civil society to ensure that the services are accessible to the population. (For example, the Seacom cable was meant to reduce the Internet costs yet there has not been a notable reduction in costs for the general population – what is the role of civil society in making sure this happens?)

Participatory community assessment around trusted information sources. Before embarking on a community ICT initiative, it’s critical to do a participatory assessment of what the trusted information sources are at the community level. This is important especially if you plan on building awareness on particular issues within a community and would like this information to reach as many people as possible.  A participatory assessment can help gain a better understanding of how people communicate and what communication tools  are most effective to reach a particular goal.

Access for women and girls. Cultural practices, the availability or cost of acquiring a tool, and access to that tool or source of information need to be taken into consideration.  Women in many areas are excluded from accessing ICT tools because they do not handle money. A key focus in ICT programs in Uganda should be to strengthen access to information sources, including programs that mitigate women’s and girls’ barriers to use and access. Another tactic might be programs that promote access to basic information for women so that they are also informed and able to utilize information for their own purposes: eg., nutritional information for their children, the need for girls to go to school or avoid early marriages; programs that share information from other sources that influence women’s decisions.

Building on what is available.  Organizations should look at what is around them and leverage available opportunities. In Plan Uganda’s case, for example, this could mean looking at mobile money transfer services linked to Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA); closed user group (CUG) services that define private networks and allow calls made within the private network at large discounts; and services such as the Pakalast promotion on Warid Telecom, which gives users access to each other on the same network for 24hrs for about 80 cents. Awareness should also be built about tools that can provide radio signals apart from a radio, such as a phone with radio access.

Literacy levels and local language. In Uganda, literacy levels are low.  Many people do not manage English. Technologies need to be made available in local languages. Fast track learning could also be considered, such as the development of an integrated education program to address technology and literacy. A close look at mobiles phones — which have taken off at their own pace with the existing literacy levels – could help us to think about how other technologies might fare similarly well.

Electricity.  Solar power should be built into all of our initiatives.

Mobile tools. Mobile data collection could be used instead of paper systems that are currently in place and very laborious. Services like use of SMS for accessing national exam results could serve as a stimulus to further expose communities on what these technologies can do for them.  SMS services could also be used to acquire basic quantitative data in, for example, VSLAs to collect information about group portfolios, or gender ratios or youth participation by age. This can then be vital for designing further programming.

GPS. This could be a useful tool in a program like Community Lead Total Sanitation (CLTS). Latrine coverage could be mapped at the start of a CLTS project in a community and after the project has been implemented over time. This could be linked to health programs that could track a reduction in diarrhea cases in the community, and then this information could be linked to home improvement campaigns as evidence based approach.

ICTs in Governance. ICTs can give communities a platform to provide feedback on services rendered and also know of services available to them.

New ICTs or ICT applications that staff found most interesting:  SMS and mobile data gathering, platforms such as Village Diary for managing confidential legal services and potentially HIV/AIDs program information, blogging to open up channels for discussion on issues and bringing together social movements and organizations working on similar issues, wikis for writing reports, podcasting which could be used in capacity building interventions for multiple groups.

——————–

Plan Uganda staff felt that this type of training on ICTs should be expanded to more people in the organization, and to partner organizations, to build more buy in. They recognized the importance of organizational commitment to moving forward in this area, and asked for continuous training on new ICT tools and innovations.  Ongoing evaluation was suggested to measure the value added by ICTs to program activities, and a follow-up workshop was requested to check progress on the ideas that were generated.

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