Thursday, June 25, 2009

Back in Ziguinchor


Back in Ziguinchor (in the south of Senegal) as of this morning, after an intense workweek with our hosts in the village of Ouonck, unarguably a “golden child” of Tostan. Judge for yourself:

Ouonck is a previous Tostan center (a recipient of the program thanks to funding from UNICEF, 2005­­­–2007), with a Community Management Committee that remains extremely active to this day (it has actually just procured funding, almost entirely on its own, for a classroom to be shared with teachers from the community school). It has no electricity or running water but boasts a small cybercafé and an algae farm (containing Spirulina algae, which is cultivated in tubs then distributed as a food supplement) and a network of associations—including youths, women and farmers—as dense as a good ceebu jen.

In other words, it’s a dream village for our team.

We conducted four days of training and data collection to help us better understand the behavior of the rural populations of this part of Senegal when it comes to the use of cell phones.

We recognized from the outset an urgent need for communication within the community and the lack of efficiency of the “traditional” social mobilization mechanisms (spreading information by word of mouth and door to door).

Our main concern is the absence of a system for organization between different local development actors (community health workers, literacy trainers, women’s and youth associations, traditional leaders, teachers, etc.). The members of the community are available, active and motivated, but they lack a practical, low-cost system that would allow them to organize and plan events efficiently. As a result, the task of mobilizing the residents of Ouonck for raising awareness on malaria, community clean-ups or even intervillage football games can be a slow and at times discouraging one.

Our plan—rather than seeking to brusquely replace the current mobilization tools (which have the positive characteristic of encouraging human contact) with a foreign system having no real legitimacy in the community—is to introduce a practical, low-cost system that encourages group decision-making among local development actors.

This system, or at least its first version, has been jointly developed by Tostan and ___. It makes it possible to link up and communicate with a community network by simply sending a text message. That means, if a nurse, literacy leader, representative of a women’s association and village imam are looking to inform the community about something important, they can send a message to a number that then forwards the message to all phone numbers belonging to the network—much more efficient than walking from door to door. The system’s commands and options are all available in local languages, and we hope that our emphasis on accessibility will ensure the system’s adoption by the largest number of users possible.

Diffusion of the system should occur naturally: Tostan is training some fifteen “catalysts,” figures who are active in community development, who then contribute to the growth of the network by informally training other members of the community. This service also reflects Tostan’s philosophy on community-led development, with villagers deciding for themselves the size and the focus of their network and also managing possible abuse of the system by defining its limits.

- GD


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Blog adapted by Salim Drame