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This is a guest post by Rebecca Tapscott who, along with Joe Paveyis interning with us in Cameroon for the next couple months. Rebecca wrote a first post about the what and the why of setting up an Ushahidi system in Cameroon to track violence against children and Joe goes more into depth about the technical side of setting the actual system up in his post Digitizing violence reporting. Sounds complicated… because it is!.

Here Rebecca writes about how she and Joe are better understanding mobile phone use and community context by living in the community. She also goes into how the team is training youth on how the system works and getting youth’s input into the design and use of this type of system in their community

Learning what information to include when sending SMS reports on child abuse.

One component of our ICT4D internship with Plan is working “in the field” with the community to help implement the Ushahidi reporting system for violence against children (“VAC”).  To this end, Joe and I are living in Bamessing community, a village in the North West Region of Cameroon, also one of the three program units (“PUs”) hosting the YETAM program.

Bamessing has no running water, limited network coverage, and sporadic electricity.  The region is also known for high rates of child/forced marriage, domestic violence and school dropouts.  If a VAC Ushahidi system can work here, it can work anywhere.

Piloting the site in Bamessing has several benefits as well.  First, we are working with a group of motivated youth who have received extensive training on the four categories of  child abuse and violence against children (physical, psychological / emotional, sexual, and neglect or negligent treatment), as well as their legal rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international and national protocol.

Second, the Bamessing community is saturated with cell phones, and most of the youth in the YETAM group have their own personal cell phones.  Joe and I had a discussion with Odelia, our “land lady” and the 30-year-old widow of the late pastor, who told us that she first noticed cell phones in Bamessing in 2010 (though some say they’ve been around since 2004).  Since then, she has owned five cell phones, although she never uses one to text, and makes only one or two calls a week.  Instead, cell phones seem to serve as a sort of portable doorbell.  Neighbors, friends, and acquaintances “beep” each other (give a missed call, which does not cost any credit) to relay a predetermined message.  Credit is expensive relative to other daily costs and, as previously mentioned, the network here is tenuous.  Texting requires literacy, dexterity, and decent vision, which are limiting factors for many of the adults in the community.

Finally, Cameroon seems to have the advantage of a functioning (albeit imperfect) offline system for reporting and responding to VAC.  I spoke with a delegate from the Ministry of Social Affairs (“MINAS”), who explained some of the system’s weaknesses to me, namely that the ministry is highly underfunded and understaffed.  He also lamented that reporting is lacking, due to inadequate knowledge of civil law (instead, most people are familiar with customary law, which often reinforces certain rights violations), and inability to report violations.  While knowledge of civil law must come from human led sensitization and education projects, the Ushahidi platform can enhance reporting ability in Cameroon.  Through our discussions with Plan staff in Yaoundé, we came to the optimistic conclusion that the government might increase investment in staff, resources, and educative programs in direct response to the number and severity of reports that come through the Ushahidi system.

Given these caveated benefits, our current challenge is to introduce the concept of reporting through Ushahidi to the YETAM youth group, teach the youth how to report incidents, integrate their feedback into the system, get the online system up and running, pilot it, and present it to MINAS.

Our first opportunity to present Ushahidi to the youth was during the YETAM refresher training, held June 22 – June 27, 2011 at a local high school in Bamessing.  Joe and I worked with Georges (Plan Cameroon’s ICT coordinator for the area) and Judith (the YETAM coordinator in Cameroon) to design a module to introduce Ushahidi and our particularized reporting system.  First, Georges and Joe explained Ushahidi and answered questions on a theoretical level.  We then described our intention to use Ushahidi for reporting VAC, what information must be included in reports of VAC, and what information will be displayed on the Ushahidi site.

We created an acronym (ChANGE) to help the youth remember what information to include in text message reports. (C: Community; h: False letter– we said “help” so people can remember, but really nothing should be reported there, A: Age, N: Name of victim, and your own if you are comfortable reporting it, G: Gender, E: Event.)  Then we gave a practice scenario and asked five participants in the class to show how they would report the message. We reviewed each message for number of characters, noting that a single text message is limited to 140 characters, and also checked to make sure that all the necessary components were included.  All five messages were similar, reading something like:

My name is Judith. I beg of you for my friend Mary who is 14 years old and whose father is taking her from school to give to a 60 year old man for marriage in Bamessing community.

Most of the messages ran long, but did include the five required components.  One area of confusion was what level of geographic specificity to include.  We explained that while the report must be as specific as possible to facilitate a response, the Ushahidi site will present a more general geographic location so as to preserve anonymity for victims and reporters.

We asked the youth for feedback on the system, which resulted in more questions clarifying what is appropriate to report, and the level of confidentiality of reporting.  One concern was that often the phone network is down, making it impossible to send text messages.  We clarified that all the old methods of reporting still exist, and that community animators and Plan staff can be sought out to report either by text message or the other ways.  By the end of the training, the youth agreed that this would be a useful system, and some commented that they particularly appreciate the unique level of anonymity associated with SMS reporting.

This month, Joe and Georges will finalize the Ushahidi system, Joe will create brief manuals for system users, and Joe and I will provide additional training on using the system.  We hope to have the youth send sample text messages to the site in the next month to test the system, to train the youth, and to provide sample data to present the site to potential government partners. Our colleague Nathalia (the Child Protection Advisor in Plan Cameroon) also suggested that we create a ‘child and youth friendly’ guide to how Ushahidi works that can be used for training, so we’ll get going on that also.

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This is a guest post by Joe Pavey who, along with Rebecca Tapscott, is interning with us in Cameroon for the next couple months. Rebecca wrote a first post about the what and the why of setting up an Ushahidi system in Cameroon to track violence against children. Here Joe goes more into depth about the technical side of setting the actual system up.

Our first major discussion about the VAC Cameroon site was in regards to how reports should pass through the system. For obvious reasons the information contained within these reports is extremely sensitive, so each step of the workflow process needs to be determined with the best interests of the children involved in mind.

The existing offline system for reporting violence against children was agreed upon through an exhaustive deliberation process with government, community, and local council members. In short, a lot of hard work has gone into making the existing offline system something that all parties agree on and it would not only be negligent, but counterproductive not to use this as a blueprint. For this reason the online system we are working on should respect, support and ultimately serve to expedite the current process, not replace it.

Under this current system Plan serves in the capacity of witness in cases of child abuse. Plan Cameroon has partnered with several governmental agencies to investigate and respond to reports they receive. Which agency this is depends upon the circumstances of the abuse.  Age, gender, and location are all factors in determining which agency will be responsible. For example, abuses taking place in the home are currently handled by the Ministry of Social Affairs, but cases involving female children are handled by the Ministry of Child and Women’s Empowerment.

The current policy also requires that all reports of violence against children received by Plan staff be forwarded to the sector office within 48 hours.

Existing community-level reporting flow

Following this, the report has 24 hours to reach the country office in Yaounde. This one of the processes we are hoping to expedite with the implementation of the digitized system.

Existing flow of next-level reporting - at Program Unit and Plan Country Office

If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. As outsiders who are new not only to the culture, but also to the peculiarities of local bureaucracy, much of Rebecca’s and my first session was taken up with trying to understand the rules and regulations already in place. Thankfully we have Cameroonian colleagues in the local office to help us navigate and understand all of this.

The Ushahidi System

Ushahidi allows three methods for submitting reports: (1) Text Message, via Frontline SMS or another text messaging tool, (2) Email, and (3) Submitting a report directly through the site. These actions can be taken by individuals in the community or by Plan Staff if they are alerted of a particular incident. A fourth means of submitting reports to Ushahidi, via voice messaging, was previously available through a plug-in called Cloudvox. Unfortunately the company that created the Cloudvox plug-in was recently acquired and has suspended this product for the immediate future, and we haven’t identified an alternative voice messaging system. This is unfortunate as we were hoping to be able to offer voice messaging as a reporting method for non-literate youth — although bandwidth limitations may have rendered this impossible anyway.

Information workflow for Plan Cameroon VAC Crowdmap site (updated; this is version 2.)

Based on the information that needs to be tracked and reported on, our current plan is to separate reports into four categories, each with several subcategories as follows:

  1. Form of Violence
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Emotional/Psychological
  • Negligence
  1. Gender of Victim
  • Male
  • Female
  1. Age of Victim
  • 0-5
  • 6-12
  • 13-18
  1. Location of Incident
  • Home
  • Work
  • School
  • Community

Current Crowd Map set up with 4 main categories.

Creating these reporting categories (and each of their subsequent subcategories) will allow this information to be tracked separately, or to be looked at in terms of how categories overlap with each other. Since the Ushahidi platform allows users to choose more than one category or sub-category when submitting an incident report, no data need be lost in the effort to isolate and contextualize information.

For example, by tracking Gender and Location of Incident separately we will be able to more easily visualize how many incidents of abuse are taking place at schools in a certain community, how many of the victims are girls versus boys, and how each of those categories relates to reports from other regions. This will be especially important information to the government who has different agencies in place for tracking violence against children and youth depending on the circumstances. It will also be useful for Plan staff who can then tailor programs and awareness campaigns in a specific community towards the issues that are most prevalent there.

Plan Cameroon staff, partners and youth have create a detailed online map of each council area in which this project will take place, however, mapping of reports will be restricted to a less precise level described to us as the ‘community level’. It’s hard for Rebecca and me to conceptualize just how specific of an indicator this is, though once we are living in the community – a transition taking place this week – it should become easier to measure. The reason for mapping the location of incidents at the community level is privacy. If reports were mapped too precisely they could compromise the identity and safety of a child — a result that would be entirely unacceptable.

On the Ushahidi ‘back end’, each report of an incident will also contain a Description section that will allow information outside categorical parameters to be included in reports. This could be the body of a text message, a summary of a voicemail, or any other details that are deemed to fall outside the determined privacy boundaries (eg., this will allow us to keep identifying information and other details in the system, yet keep it from going public).

Over the course of our week in Yaounde, we engaged in many discussions regarding how we could make the online information workflow match that of the offline system. The conclusion seemed to be that involving community members and Plan staff in initial approval of reports might be possible, but that expecting all six of the varying government agencies that currently respond to such reports to use this digital system would be problematic. At this point we are hoping that the official agreement can be reworked slightly so that only MINAS, the Ministry of Social Affairs would need to be involved in the system.

By week’s end we had drafted an initial proposal for what the workflow for the system could be. It is by no means final and will likely go through numerous revisions over the course of our work here, but it will provide us a good base to build from in the future.

Unfortunately our progress on setting up the site itself has been handicapped by technical issues with the Crowdmap website that cause the site to crash when trying to create subcategories. We have engaged with members of the Ushahidi staff and they are currently working to fix the bug, but we don’t have a timeline as to when they will have the issue resolved.

We have now left Yaounde for Bamessing where we will be initiating our field work on the YETAM project, working with youth on creating short films, performing more community mapping, and we hope that the mobile Internet connection will allow us to continue to work remotely on the Crowdmap site.

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Guest post by Rebecca Tapscott who, along with Joe Pavey, is interning with us in Cameroon.

Joe Pavey and I are here in Yaoundé working as ICT4D interns for Plan Cameroon to help develop an Ushahidi/Frontline SMS system to report violence against children (VAC) and gender-based discrimination.  The project is conceptually the same as the Ushahidi site set up for Plan-Benin that another colleague of ours, Paul Goodman, worked on last month, although we have not completed the planning stages or started to implement.  At the outset, it is apparent that there are certain logistical and systematic differences between the projects, particularly in terms of the role of government partners.

Our team consists of Joe and me, Judith Nkie (the National Coordinator of the YETAM project), Nathalia Ngende (the Child Rights Advisor), Georges Niatchak (South Sector ICT Coordinator) and Charles Chiappi (ICT Manager).  We met for a few hours this past week to clarify some details of the project. (Note: This discussion built on training conducted in late May with staff and partners working on the YETAM project. In that training, the goals of an Ushahidi component to the project were generally agreed on among all. In addition, the information flow was discussed, a role play was done to help clarify roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders, challenges and bottlenecks to work through were identified along with the need for alternative reporting channels for those without SMS access or those are not literate, need to establish a baseline and indicators for success was discussed, protection risks were raised, and sustainability and ways to promote the system and the idea of violence reporting were considered.) 

This post discusses the purpose of the project and how it might be useful in the short and long-term.  Joe will follow up in a second post with some information about the logistics of setting up the Ushahidi site, and some remaining questions and next steps*.

Why YETAM, why Bamenda?

YETAM (Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media) is a Plan project established in 2008 that has been implemented with youth between 12 and 21 in eight African countries (Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Senegal).  Plan Cameroon has three YETAM sites, one in the Northwest region (Bamenda), one in the North region (Garoua), and one in the Center region (Yaoundé).  The Plan team has chosen to pilot the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi project with YETAM for two reasons.  First, VAC is of utmost relevance to youth, so it makes sense to place this new project within a youth-based project.  Second, YETAM participants have shown enthusiasm and passion for the YETAM project, and Plan believes that this energy and dedication can make the Ushahidi reporting system a success as well.

In preparation for this pilot project, the YETAM participants have mapped the towns of Ndop (in the Bamenda PU), Okola (in the Yaoundé PU), and Pitoa (in the Garoua PU), which can be viewed on OpenStreetMap.com.  The Ushahidi component will be new to the project but the team has been thinking about using new tool since last year and learning from the project in Benin.

How can Ushahidi combat VAC and gender-based discrimination?

The VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi site will be used for reporting violence against children and gender-based discrimination.  The idea is to establish a partnership with government ministries, in particular the Ministry of Social Affairs (MINAS) to respond to reports with the necessary legal and social support.  The Ushahidi system provides certain tools that will help make reports actionable for both a government response to individual reports, and a youth-led response to VAC and gender-based discrimination at the community level.

In particular, the ability to map the location of the report and categorize each report by the victim’s age, gender, and the location of the incident (home, work, school, or community) will allow YETAM participants and Plan Cameroon staff to use the information to identify what types of violence are occurring in which communities.  This information can help Plan staff target awareness trainings to serve the needs of specific communities.  YETAM participants can use the information to develop social advocacy campaigns, which are already a part of the YETAM project.

Plan Cameroon also has a broader psychosocial program that works to build resilience and help victimized children reintegrate into their communities.  The psychosocial program can use information from the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi site to better understand where different kinds of violence are prevalent and hold corresponding trainings for social workers and community-based organizations.

Additionally, MINAS recently drafted a child protection code that has yet to be finalized or ratified.  There is resistance to finalizing the code because Cameroon already has a Family and People’s Code, and some people believe that since children are a part of the family, a separate code would be redundant.  However, children face unique challenges and threats that are not addressed in the Family and People’s code.  We hope that the data gathered by the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi site can demonstrate some of these unique problems and serve as special and innovative tool to facilitate reporting of child abuse and gender-based discrimination.

Challenges:

No initiative would be complete without its challenges, and there are some hurdles that still need to be overcome, including

  • Empowering government partners to ensure that perpetrators of VAC are pursued, that justice is served, and that children are protected.
  • Building government capacity to ensure a smooth handover of site management and long-term sustainability for the project.
  • Ensuring that there is a point person in the government (MENAS) who will approve and verify reports in a timely manner.
  • Securing long-term funding for the project.
  • Involving police so that perpetrators will not be released and with the hopes of reducing the child abuse cases.

Note: Joe and I are prioritizing the VAC-Cameroon Ushahidi project for our work over the next ten weeks.  However, we are quickly realizing that the Plan Cameroon team has a strong work ethic, passion, and deep capability.  It is already apparent that establishing this Ushahidi site, training YETAM participants and communities to use it, establishing a strong government partnership for the project, and launching the site will take more than our allotted time.  We will do our best during our time here to support the planning, development, and implementation of the project as it progresses.

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This is a third guest post by Paul Goodman who is supporting Plan Benin to solidify their SMS Reporting and Tracking of Violence against Children (VAC) project. More on the overall project and process via the links at the end of this post.

Plan Benin uses Ushahidi to map reports of violence against children in Benin. The platform is powerful right off the shelf (or right out of GitHub, as it were) and the latest version offers enough features to get the majority of deployments up and running without issue.

One benefit to working with Ushahidi — there are other options for gathering and mapping reports, of course — is that the global Ushahidi team works hard to cultivate a community of software developers hell bent on improving the software and innovating around new use cases. During my month in Benin I took advantage of a number of resources available to individuals and groups using Ushahidi. A few resources I consulted when working on solutions to technical problems:

In addition to making use of Ushahidi’s standard functionality, in Benin we’ve made some small customizations, configurations, and tweaks to that extend the functionality of the system, making it easier and faster to use.

A few tweaks:

FrontlineSMS – after upgrading to the latest version of Ushahidi, we made use of the new Plugin architecture and activated the FrontlineSMS plugin, which facilitates a seamless connection between FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi.

Location highlight – developed by John Etherton, this plugin improves the experience of mapping locations in areas that are not well-mapped. Instead of staring at a blank map, users creating reports can select the program area and nearby city from a drop down menu. Administrators can add as many points or areas as they’d like to aid the mapping process. Furthermore, the relatively slow internet connection in Benin makes loading map tiles and labels a painful process. In many cases, Location Highlight allows users to avoid having to load new zoom levels.

Nested Categories – a visual improvement more than anything, this functionality is supported out of the box. Rather than loading the Ushahidi landing page and seeing 20+ categories, we now see the major categories and users have the ability to drill down on the various categories to filter results.

Custom forms – the use of custom report forms with private fields allows Plan Benin to track information related to cases alongside the public report, allowing Plan staff in disparate geographies to track the reporting and resolution of incidents.

Related posts:

Future-proofing the VAC Benin project (also by Paul)

Update from Benin: charting a course forward (also by Paul)

Revisiting the SMS violence reporting project in Benin

Tracking violence against children in Benin video

Community-based child protection

Tweaking: SMS violence reporting system in Benin

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Fostering a New Political Consciousness on Violence against Children

Related links:

Text messages to help protect children against violence

Plan International case study: Helping children report abuse in Benin


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I’m thrilled to write that we have 4 masters level students (or recent grads) who have been prepping for the past few months for 8-10 weeks of ICT4D, child participation, and child protection work with our teams at Plan Benin and Plan Cameroon.

My last post here on Wait… What? was an excellent guest post by Paul Goodman (@pdgoodman) who has been working with Plan Benin for most of May to help optimize the Frontline SMS / Ushahidi-based violence against children (VAC) reporting system that we initiated a little over a year ago. Paul is a Masters Level student at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to on-the-ground ICT4D experience in Haiti, Pakistan and Bangladesh with DAI, he has worked on several USAID funded projects including the Cuba Development project and the Global Development Commons. Paul has also worked in business development and as a press assistant, multi-media editor and freelance photographer.

Jacqueline Deelstra has just completed her Masters at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. She’s worked overseas in the past with Twaweza in Tanzania and Kenya, World Teach in Ecuador and Tostan in Senegal. While at Twaweza, she focused on citizen reporting, village mobile phone surveys, and the use of mobile phones in development and governance programs. Jacqui will be spending her time in Atacora and Couffo, Benin, learning more about the social context and social challenges surrounding the implementation of the above-mentioned Violence against Children Reporting system in Benin, and looking at its contribution to good governance.

In Cameroon, we will be working with Joe Pavey and Rebecca Tapscott.

Joe (@joepavey) is a Master of Communications student in the Digital Media program at the University of Washington, where the program has an emphasis on storytelling and technology. Joe also spent 7 years at Microsoft, where he specialized on new standards of practice for processing and encoding video content. His undergraduate degree is in documentary film production. Joe will support the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) Project on the technical side, helping youth and local partners in Cameroon to improve video production quality and to streamline the process from editing to uploading. He’ll also work closely with the well-skilled Cameroonian ICT team that is setting up a violence reporting system using Frontline SMS and CrowdMap, based on our learnings from the system in Benin.

Rebecca is a first-year Masters degree student at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, with experience in both development and journalism. She has also worked as an assistant researcher on a story about the Daniel Pearl case, a legal assistant and a production assistant at NPR. She previously completed a 6-month internship with Tostan in Senegal, where she worked closely with staff and program participants to support program implementation and evaluation. She also wrote stories for the Tostan website and blog. Rebecca will support the local partners and youth who participate in the YETAM project, especially with uploading content to the web and growing more accustomed to social media and ICTs in development. She will also be doing research on the traditional practice of breast ironing as an independent side project.

Joe and Rebecca will spend 8-10 weeks in Cameroon with the Plan team. I’m super excited to have Paul, Rebecca, Jacqui and Joe on board, as are the teams in Benin and Cameroon.

Look for some posts from the team on the Plan USA Blog and relevant cross posts here at Wait… What!

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This is a guest post by Paul Goodman, who is spending the month of May supporting Plan Benin’s Violence against Children (VAC) prevention and response project. The post appears on Paul’s own blog and also on Plan USA’s blog.

Elsie, the VAC - Ushahidi Project Coordinator in Benin

I’m working with Plan Benin to support the Violence Against Children project. The team here has established a system whereby victims of violence and observers of violence can send text messages to Plan to report violence in their communities. Plan then processes and maps the messages and works with the government of Benin to investigate the cases. In about a year of operation the system has received more than 80 reports of violence against children. The reports include physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and other abuses including kidnapping, negligence, and so on.

At the beginning of the year the team identified a number of technical challenges that they’re facing using the system, which rests on the foundation of two stellar open source technologies  FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi. Those technologies are the focus of my time here in Benin though along with everything else in life, nothing is black and white.

“Technical” issues are often social, social issues often have no technical remedies, and things become confused. Beyond the division of technical and social, there are many other factors to consider. Thorough problem definition and planning for the short, mid, and long term are necessary to help define expectations, support project evaluation, and improve the chances of sustainability. These themes should be revisited periodically and updated as necessary.

In recent months Plan Benin lost two staff that were key to the day-to-day management of the system. Their departure temporarily disrupted the flow of information through the system but also created an opportunity: with a renewed organizational focus on the system we have an excellent opportunity to revisit the purpose of the initiative, consider the day-to-day functionality of the system, and ask (and hopefully answer) questions about the initiative’s future.

Today I worked with Elsie S., Plan Benin’s Project Coordinator, to chart out the operation of the system. The purpose of the exercise was to clarify the day-to-day operation of the system and revisit the roles and responsibilities of the many actors that interact with this project. Getting a firm grip on all of this information and documenting it for others will make it easier to train staff and partners and build further support inside Plan and within the government of Benin.

Elsie sketching her version of the workflow

A few of the questions we asked and answered today:

— How long should it take for incoming messages to be processed (stripped of personally identifying information, mapped, and so on)?

— What model is best for managing this process? Should the responsibility be centralized at the Plan Benin Country Office? Or should it be distributed to the Plan Benin Program Units (PUs) where the majority of the reports originate?

— How can we modify Ushahidi to support a distributed model, where focal points in the PUs take responsibility and have agency?

— How can we create a shared vocabulary around the various actions within the Ushahidi system? What does “approve” mean? What does “verify” mean?

Me describing my version of the workflow and discussing realistic timelines for different actions within Ushahidi.

In the coming weeks we’ll work with Plan Benin staff to ground truth any revisions to the workflow and modify the system as necessary. We’ll also spend quite a bit of time creating the documentation that will ensure the continuity of operations in the future: reference guides for Plan staff, guidelines for maintaining the privacy of victims, and documentation of the relevant technical aspects of the system.

In parallel, I’ll continue working on some necessary tweaks to Ushahidi including establishing security protocols, enhancing the system’s mapping capabilities (thanks John Etherton for your location highlight plugin and support), and more. In ten days we’ll be joined by Jacqueline Deelstra, a recent graduate of the Fletcher School at Tufts, who will continue these activities and dig deeper on the relevant social issues.

More from Benin soon.

Note: For background and additional posts on child protection, child participation and the VAC Benin project, click here.

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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.

Related posts on Wait… What?

Tracking violence against children in Benin video

Breaking it down: violence against children

Fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children

7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Tweaking SMS based violence reporting system in Benin

Community based child protection

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