Jul 28, 2008
What I actually expected on forehand I do not recall, but to act as one of the main presenters and main resource person at a w...
What I actually expected on forehand I do not recall, but to act as one of the main presenters and main resource person at a workshop and present in French on how to write for the web was not as hard as I expected it to be. Maybe it was the people who participated; maybe it was the heat that makes you automatically slow down and become more relaxed. We simply kicked off and the workshop immediately took its own course.
The workshop ‘Ecrire pour le site web’ was organised to meet the demand of the members of the thematic network group on ICT and agriculture. The members, all project partners of IICD in Mali who had started to use ICT to improve and strengthen the activities of their own organisation, wanted to improve their writing skills to better document and share their experiences with others. Some of the participants had some experience with writing, others not: but all were eager to learn more.
Though I had proposed to hold this workshop, it was not completely without self-interest. As a member of the communications team my constant concern is how to get interesting stories about IICD’s work on the ground. Stories that give our stakeholders a better idea of how ICT can help to overcome the shortfalls of basic public services like health care, education, but also the lack of good governance and the obstacles that prevent small entrepreneurs from earning a decent income. Not an easy job if you are miles away from the place where everything happens. It is even more difficult as we do not know all the people who work on these projects in person. Hopefully, giving the project partners and members of the thematic network group some experience with writing would result in a growing number of interesting stories published on their organisation’s website or on www.mali-ntic.com, which could feed into IICD’s website.
Full of good spirit I had started my preparations, but the closer I came to the date of departure to Mali and Burkina Faso, the more nervous I got. It was years ago since I had spoken French and how much experience did I have anyway with workshops? And what about cultural differences: would they respond to what I was saying and ask if something was not clear? And if they attacked me with questions, would it be possible for me to answer them all? Or would there be no interaction at all: me being the only one talking, trying to encourage people to come forward with their ideas? My colleague Bénédicte Marcilly reassured me: yes, the participants were used to people who were not at ease in speaking French, and no, I did not need to be afraid of silent intervals. Still, I had my doubts whether I would withstand or fall.
What discouraged me a little was the fact that there was unfortunately no opportunity to discuss the programme of the workshop with the other resource person of the workshop, Filifing Diakité, in advance. His role was quite essential: not only would he explain about the sort of content on ICT and agriculture he was focussing, he also had to keep the fire burning directly after the workshop by following up on the articles participants of the workshop were supposed to finalise for the website. But Filifing Diakité was not able to arrive before 10 am on the day of the workshop itself due to other pressing matters.
But then on the day itself: all my worries and foreseen problems disappeared one by one. The people showed up, and on time. Filifing Diakité arrived during my own presentation. He showed his flexibility by changing his presentation on the spot; he presented some very interesting showcases of how to write articles. My French was of course lacking, but somehow with the help of Bénédicte Marcilly and the participants themselves, we were able to understand each other. The attaque of difficulties turned out to be nothing more than an introduction to an article, my downfall - the chute - was nothing more than a round-up of the whole article. It was a good learning experience: not only for our partners, who participated in the workshop, but also for myself. Never be afraid of something what you do not know.
Oct 29, 2007
More than 10 years of experience in applying information and communication technologies (ICT) to education, healthcare, gover...
More than 10 years of experience in applying information and communication technologies (ICT) to education, healthcare, governance and livelihoods in developing countries taught us that modern ICT make a difference and helps to improve the quality of life of people in developing countries. Still, one of the problems to overcome for successful implementation of ICT is connectivity. That is why looking for innovative solutions to ensure connectivity is an important aspect of our work.
It was at the eChallenges Conference in The Hague that my colleagues and I hoped to meet potential partners to help us solve this connectivity problem. This annual Conference, which took place from the 26 – 28 of October brings together research institutions, private and public sector partners to stimulate innovative information and communication solutions. To encourage innovative partnerships, the European Commission has set up a fund, CORDIS, for research activities that focus on specific problems, like for example healthcare improvement or citizen partnership.
Being responsible for representing IICD at the exhibition I was full of hope that I would encounter a lot of interesting people with challenging ideas about ICT-innovations that would make a real difference. And I did! Truly innovative solutions were presented for example on health checks at a distance which could be of use for elderly or disabled people who have difficulties getting out of the house. Or solutions to increase citizen involvement. But I could not stop thinking whether all these innovative solutions would really make a difference. Some technical solutions seem to be developed just for the sake of coming up with something different, something new instead of meeting a real need.
Like the digitisation of the pen; isn’t that just re-inventing something that already exists, but than packaging it into an electronic device that competes with, in this specific case, track changes within Word? I don’t know, but it made me feel sad. There are some real problems going on, like people who have no access to education or markets to sell their products or are unable to voice their needs. We need to get these people connected. We need to give them access to information and enable them to communicate. They don’t need gadgets. They need real innovative solutions to help them overcome the digital gap.
So let’s not talk about innovation just for innovations’ sake, but let’s talk about innovation to solve real problems.
Jun 22, 2007
Monday morning 7.30: while I am finishing my breakfast, Christoph, member of the Burkina NTIC network and teacher at the Bogo...
Monday morning 7.30: while I am finishing my breakfast, Christoph, member of the Burkina NTIC network and teacher at the Bogodogo College, enters the court yard of the hotel to pick-me up for a visit to his College. Aside of his teaching Christoph is also responsible for the maintenance of the computers and the training of staff and today he is going to show me how his school makes of ICT. A few minutes later we are on our way. It must have been a funny sight: a big man and tall, blond woman on a small motorbike cruising through the streets of Ouagadogou.
School normally starts at 7.30 but as the lessons had ended but a few pupils and teachers are at school to finalise the paper work and waiting for their end results. I am kindly introduced to the head of the school who tells me, before he rushes off to a meeting, that his school has a partnership with a French college. We also stop by at the secretariat where Mme Soulema, a kind, but severe looking lady who is responsible for the administration and registration of the results. Until three years ago all the paperwork was still done by hand. She shows me on the computer how they have organised the student administration. I ask her if she is happy to have a computer to process all the information. It surely must save a lot of time. A little cross she answers that she now has more work to do than before. Before they started using the computers teachers themselves where responsible for filling out the end results of pupils and to double check all the grades. Now she is the one to enter all the data which includes chasing all the teachers to deliver the information on time. What adds up to it, is that she used to share her work with another colleague, but the other colleague has left and the position is still vacant.
Christoph shows me the computer room, a former class room. Next year, he tells me, the computer room will be extended, if all goes to plan. There are 10 computers available in the computer room and one in the library. All have access to the internet which is paid for by the state. It is the College who pays for the hardware. Christoph wants me to show the website of the school, but there is very little connectivity today, a problem which occurs more often. Not only at the College, but in the entire city of Ouagadougou. Especially after heavy rainfall it takes time for the internet is up and running again. All teachers and pupils have access to the computers and know how to use them, though the pupils can only use the computers under supervision of a teacher.
I talked to one of the pupils at the College, Clotaire Minounga. He is happy with the computer facilities at school, though he wishes he could make more use of them. As there are but a few computers available for a little less than 1,000 pupils most pupils spend no more than an hour a week behind the computer to do research on the internet for one of their subjects. Outside school he often visits telecentres: places that offer services like photo copying, fax, phone, but also internet access. While he uses the computer at school only to do homework, at the telecentres he spends all his time to email with friends.
Then Christoph is suddenly asked to come and help out to sort a problem with the printer of the secretariat. Mrs Soulama, head of the secretariat, is a kind, but severe women. She is responsible for the registration and administration of pupils and their results. The director of the lycee has asked for the results of some of the students which have to be discussed in a meeting with teachers. The printer itself works, but somehow the connection between printer and computer fails. Christoph checks everything: he replaces the cable, re-installs the software of the printer and replaces the ink cartridge. Several teachers, students and other staff drop by, but no one seems to be able to solve the problem. An hour goes by. Then suddenly, the printer ‘decides’ to print exactly those pages that where asked for by the director. Mrs Soulama and Christoph, are relieved. But to make sure everything is in order, Christoph calls one of his cousins, who is a computer engineer, to stop by and check the printer connection.
I decide that it is time to leave. It was a busy morning at the College. The introduction of ICT and computers at the Bogodogo College has surely benefitted both teachers and pupils, but brought along some challenges too.
When visiting the Sahel desert during a road trip from Ouagadougou, Burkina faso, I noticed that the Sahel is looking greene...
When visiting the Sahel desert during a road trip from Ouagadougou, Burkina faso, I noticed that the Sahel is looking greener than I had imagined. Even at the end of the dry period in May, trees carried green leaves and some bushes even flowered. I wondered what the Sahel would look like in three months time, after the rain season.
I was travelling with a group of Burkina NTIC, the national network for advocacy, lobbying, knowledge sharing and awareness raising on the use of ICT for development that is supported by IICD. My IICD colleague Miep, who is supporting the network, and I were invited by the network to come along on a Road Trip to Bokin in the North Central of Burkina Faso. In Bokin the network was planning to visit several communities to explain and show how beneficiary the use of ICT can be.
Bokin, a place about 100 kilometres up north of Ouagadougou in the Sahel, is the administrative seat of the department of Bokin, an area covering about 50 square kilometres with over 50,000 people. Life expectancies are low and facilities are scarce. Most people are living completely isolated, struggling to produce enough food to feed their own families. In dry season temperature rises up to 45 degrees Celsius which makes life even more unbearable. Red dust is covering everything.
In this area resides Sahel Solidarité, partner of IICD and member of Burkina NTIC, which is working in the area of water sanitation and hygiene. An important part of their work is informing local communities about how they can prevent diseases and illnesses by taking care of their personal hygiene (e.g. washing hands before dinner) and organised places for washing and cooking. In their work they make use of multi-media to show good and bad examples of hygiene.
Together with them we visited several communities in the department of Bokin. One of the stops was in Bokin itself where we met health care prevention workers and local officials. Sahel Solidarité showed them how ICT could help to make people more aware of dangerous health situations by using digital cameras to register ‘good and ‘bad’ hygienic situations which were shown on a large screen in the evenings in different communities. How effective using multi-media is for their work we could see with our own eyes later that evening. Just a few kilometres outside of Bokin Sahel Solidarité had set up a film screen made out of two poles and a white sheet on which they projected images. People living in villages nearby were invited to attend this presentation. It was pitch black and for me it would have been impossible to find my way, but around 8 pm we saw lights glowing up in the dark, coming closer and closer, announcing the arrival of many a person on bike. From far and near they had come. They were impressed with what they saw. Perhaps it was just the magic of a ‘son et lumière’ show outdoors, but the pictures showed them what simple measures they could take to avoid risks of infection. Amazing how a simple presentation of pictures can make a difference, especially for people in areas like Bokin, who have difficulties with reading and writing.
More striking though was our visit to the community of Pourra where a local entrepreneur had started to broadcast news and information on water hygiene, vaccination programmes and other relevant activities in the area. He had been inspired by the work of Sahel Solidarité to start using radio to improve the information to and communication with local people. People could even call during the programme to ask questions or announce something. The radio station resided in his shop, but in the midst of the dust, dryness and immense heat that what was done in that small building made all the difference to the people. Having access to information and being able to communicate, to ask questions about how and when, gave people the opportunity to change something for their own good.
For the first time I witnessed what information and communication can do to people living in isolated areas like the Sahel. Like the first green leaf on the emergence of spring, it gave them hope. Hope and trust in the fact that something would change, that they could do something. The Sahel is getting greener day by day.