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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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