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Posts Tagged ‘VAC’

Ending violence is not as simple as some people (and some famous-journalists-from-the-New-York-Times) might think. It’s not as easy as telling some personal stories of child victims of violence and getting people in the “West” to pay attention and care.  Ending violence against children will involve some very deep and profound cultural shifts that need to be owned by local communities who have decided that they want to end violence. Violence needs to be addressed on multiple fronts over time, taking into consideration very localized contexts that frame violence against children as an accepted norm, and that allow those who commit violent acts against children to continue with impunity.  Violence is not something in isolation of other currents running through a society, and much (most? all?) violence is rooted in unequal power relationships.

Next Sunday, I’m heading to Benin for a couple weeks to work on a project aimed at ending violence against children.  I’ll be training colleagues from Benin and Togo on setting up an SMS based system of collecting incident reports on violence against children and mapping the incidents out. This information should allow for better tracking and understanding of what kind of violence is taking place, and for more informed thinking about sustainable solutions/responses to the violence.

My colleagues and I will then train youth in 2 communities in Benin to use the system.  We’ll also train youth to do some basic audio and video testimonies. Our Togo colleagues will return to Togo to replicate the training with some youth groups there.  This is all part of a larger Violence against Children (VAC) project that has been ongoing since 2008.

One thing that I like about this VAC project is that it trains and engages children and youth themselves as advocates and agents of change to end violence, together with adult community allies.  As those who are experiencing this violence, it’s vital that children and youth are prepared and able to take part in stopping the cycle – it’s in their own best interest.  They also need a critical mass of people locally who are aware of the negative impacts of violence, and a system that can apprehend and mete out consequences for those who commit acts of violence.

After its 4 year running period, the VAC project will have trained some 200 children and youth on the causes, manifestations and consequences of violence; ways to communicate effectively with different audiences to get the message of stopping violence across; the use of cartoons, comics, social media, radio and television to talk about issues of violence; and how to respectfully yet confidently lead intergenerational dialogue around the issue.  After my 2 weeks in Benin, the youth, project staff and other participating community adults will (I hope!) be able to use mobile phones to collect information, pictures, videos and audio testimonies about violence in their communities to share locally, nationally and globally to speak to publics and decision makers.

As part of the preparation for the upcoming workshop, I’ve been reading through some reports and documentation about the project.  One report stated that all children participating thus far in the project have said that there has been a concrete reduction of violence in their lives. They have consciously broken the cycle of violence themselves and have been able to talk to their families and peers, who now exercise less violence against them.  Most of the youth in the participating groups have themselves been victims of violence, sometimes severe, at home on a regular basis.

The pain, the marks on my skin, swelling and wounds are the consequences of violence against me…I lose my composure and all ability to complete a task. Then there’s also the doubt, fear, stress, not wanting to talk about it and shyness. –  female participant, Togo

They in turn they were often also violent towards their siblings and their peers.  Participating in the project has strengthened their “be the change you want to see” mentality around violence.

“The knowledge I have gained from the project has helped me put an end to the violence that I used to carry out against my sisters, brothers, and sometimes other children. My parents have also changed – they are no longer violent towards me.” female participant, Togo

In addition to the personal changes at the level of the participants, the VAC project has built a civil society of youth who engage politically with their peers, families, schools and communities around issues of violence.  The youth have also made violence against children part of the public agenda by partnering with media sources who feed their media into mainstream channels.

Participants are fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children by educating other children and youth about the UNVAC study and how violence compromises their rights. They’ve been able to create alliances between youth and adults to advance their cause and youth have been able to share their experiences and opinions with high-level policy makers, including government officials and the UN Special Representative on Violence against Children.

This project is a great example of how engaging with young people can begin to offer solutions to very complex problems, and how looking at youth, and at people in general, as participants and stakeholders and subjects of rights rather than victims, or beneficiaries, or objects of pity can have much better and more sustainable results.

The United Nations Violence against Children Study examined the violence that children around the world experience on a daily basis and documented children’s own experiences of violence in their homes, school, communities, workplace and institutions. A Child Friendly Version of the report is also available.

The VAC project is co-implemented by Plan and Save the Children in West Africa and takes place over 4 years (2008-2011) in seven countries: Togo, Ghana, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Gambia in partnership with Curious Minds (Ghana), Child Protection Alliance of Gambia, youth and children’s clubs in all these countries, the African Movement for Working Children and Youth, and Planet Jeunes (a popular magazine for youth in West Africa).   Through the project’s work with children, youth, parents and communities, the achievements of the VAC project to combat violence against children are directly helping to realize the UN VAC Study’s recommendations. Several action plans developed by children and youth seek the support and commitment of the UN Special Representative on Violence against Children to continue lobbying governments for change. Young people engaged in the West African VAC project are a valuable resource for the UN Special Representative, ready to support her work in Africa and beyond.

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How do you break down a high level UN study and connect children and youth with the information so that they can use it for their own purposes, engage others and push for a change?  Through participatory arts and media, of course!

My colleague Anastasie (in the photo above) in Plan’s West Africa office is working on a project to stop Violence Against Children (VAC). “We want to make the content and follow up mechanisms of the United Nation’s VAC study widely known among children, youth and their caretakers in West Africa and mobilize a wide representation of children and youth in the region to prevent and respond to violence against children.” Anastasie told me.

“People need to know about the VAC study and its outcomes.  Children and youth especially need to know so that they can participate in finding solutions.  We are working to strengthen the capacities of existing children and youth organizations to play their full role in civil society.  We’re helping develop their capacities to communicate efficiently and effectively about this issue so that they can influence decision making processes.”

What does that actually mean, and what does the project look like?

“We work with the participating youth and children’s organizations and the adults that work with them to build their capacities through producing comic books, cartoons, information booklets, and radio and television programs that inform about the topic of violence against children,” Anastasie told me. “We have a website with a blog to give room to children, youth and adults to share opinions on violence.”  The participating groups have also formed a network and an action plan to focus them as they go forward.

For me, it’s clear that child/youth participatory media is again (disclaimer – I’m obviously passionate about this) an ideal method for both building individual level skills and capacities in children and youth, generating discussion, research and reflection among children and youth on the topic, and identifying real stories and messages that can have a strong impact on viewers and which can be used to share ideas, opinions and generate dialogue.  Social media tools open the project up even further to additional audiences and allow space for those not directly participating to also join in on the discussion. Photo: Youth in Ghana filming opinions about the topic of violence.

The cartoons (go about halfway down on the page click on ‘dessins animes’) and comics (click on ‘BD’) are drawn by the children and youth themselves with the support of partner organization Pictoons (amazing short feature video about Pictoons on Africa Open for Business!).  They are based on real life stories that the children and youth bring to the workshops. Once drawn and animated, adults do professional voiceovers. Currently the materials are only available in French, but they will be dubbed in additional languages to spread their impact further.  The website itself has a wealth of information about violence against children, including statistics, radio discussions, videos, comic books, and the cartoons mentioned above.

In the next phase of the project, additional tools will be incorporated.  “We plan to use SMS, blog and mobile reporting, and maybe Ushahidi and Frontline SMS,” said Anastasie.  “I heard about these tools in a workshop last December at Plan.  I thought these tools would be good for mobilization and monitoring/evaluating the project.”

The idea would be for the youth groups to collect and report on incidences of violence in their communities using SMS.  They would refer people who report violence to institutions that can provide support.  The incident reports would be visualized on maps to show the extent of the problem, and these maps would be used to advocate, along with the other communication materials, to local, district and national decision makers.  “We plan to begin this next phase of incorporating more social media and new technologies starting in January,” said Anastasie. Photo: youth learning to use the computer to share opinions on the VAC blog.

Check out some of the materials made by the youth at the Violence against Children site.  Really nice work!

The Violence Against Children project takes place in 7 countries: Benin, Ghana, Mali, Togo, Guinea Conakry, Cote d’Ivoire and Gambia in partnership with Save the ChildrenCurious Minds (Ghana), Child Protection Alliance of Gambia, youth and children’s clubs in all these countries, the African Movement for Working Children and Youth, and Planet Jeunes (a popular magazine for youth in West Africa).  The United Nations Violence against Children (UNVAC) studywas released in 2006.  It identified 5 specific places where children face violence: home, school, work, community and institutions. Recently a Special Representative on Violence Against Children (Marta Santos Pais) was appointed by the UN Secretary General to look specifically into this issues.

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