Friday, July 31, 2009

Keur Samba Laube, field visit

Guillaume goes over some notes with Awa (in black) and her friends Khoudjia and Binta.

The SMS team, led by its newly named local leader, Awa, meet with village members while taking a walking tour of KSL and explaining the SMS Forum program.

Tostan class members met to better understand the SMS Forum program and the potential for its use in promoting their community activities.

Another house visit with Awa.

Back in KSL

It was great being back in Keur Samba Laube, our inaugural test village. The little urban community on the edge of Mbour welcomed us back for a two day follow-up to our initial visit just over a month ago. It was great getting to reconnect, work, and hang out again with the villagers and our hosts.

Having demonstrated and set up the initial group for KSL during our first visit, we wanted to check back in with them, see how it was being used, clarify any confusions in the system, and see what advice they had for improvements. From Dakar we were able to identify two main problems we were hoping to address: a low volume of messages and slow growth of the network’s size.

Discussions with the villagers gave valuable insight. We quickly confirmed what we had been weary of following our experiences in Ouonk and Badioure, that we had been too restrictive in our initial implementation effort. Instead of limiting system use to large-sized community development activities, we decided to broaden the scope of accepted and encouraged messages to include social events like weddings and baptisms as well as any community-wide discussion that villagers felt was appropriate. In essence we want the system to be used not just as an event notification tool, but as a veritable community forum, free to be used as the villagers deem appropriate.

We are additionally hoping that this increased message volume will help address the problem of slow network growth. More volume will give villagers more interest in joining the network and in recruiting their friends. It will also get them more comfortable with the technology and give them more opportunities to practice their literacy skills.

Youth in particular continued to face the problem of lack of credit and also made clear that they had not been comfortable contributing to a full community discussion. The former remains a problem we would like to resolve with the phone company. The latter we addressed by creating a unique group for the KSL youth or “ksl jeunes”. Hopefully, this will serve as a safe space for KSL youth and they will feel more motivated to use and grow the system.

We also identified and trained two local community leaders, one for the youth and the other for the adult group, to be in charge of helping people join and serving as the first line of problem solving in the village. The local Imam was placed in charge of the adult group while Awa Diop, a 17-year-old college student was handed the reigns of the youth group. As we set up the youth group, Awa took us on a tour of KSL. We were all impressed as she explained to each group of people we encountered how the system works and its benefits in convincing them to join.

Finally, two Tostan facilitators in Mbour were extremely excited by the forum system. While they do not serve in insular “villages” like most Tostan classes, they were excited to use the system as a community discussion tool for their women’s groups. It will be interesting observing how their systems progress with almost nonexistent help in direct implementation from Tostan Dakar staff… stay tuned…

It was clear when we left that the people of KSL and Mbour understood the SMS system much more thoroughly than after our initial visit and that they were more motivated to use it. We’ll be eagerly following their progress.

Pictures: Awa Diop (bottom, in red hat) and the Imam, Ousseinou (top), our two local replicators in KSL

- SH

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How to leave the SMS Forum

System users are not prisoners! For those who leave a given community or no longer wish to remain in the virtual forum, leaving the system is simple. The message again starts with "123" followed by the word "leave" in any of the system's languages (Wolof, Pulaar, Diola, English, or French). Including the community name will tell the system which community you would like to leave (if you belong to more than one), but is ultimately unnecessary.

A simple message of "123 leave" will remove the user from all communities, though they will be free to reenter later should they so choose.

How to send a message to the SMS Forum

Once someone has entered into a community they are ready to send and receive messages with the other users. Now, Fatou only has to write a message and send it to the "magic number" for it to then be distributed to all of the other registered users (represented in green). She pays only the cost of the initial message, while the message replication remains free. Those who have not registered in the system will not receive the message. This serves as a powerful community-wide forum that can be used to notify community members of important events or to engage a broader audience in community dialogue and discussion.

How to join the SMS Forum

Before users are able to send messages to the group and receive messages from other users, they must join an identified "community". This is done by sending a simple SMS text message that follows a certain formula to the "magic number". The message must start with "123" so that the system identifies the message as a system command (ie the sender wants to join or leave the system, or register their name). The "123" is followed by a space and the then word "join" and finally, the name of the community the user would like to join. They are now ready to send and receive messages within the community they identfied. Above, Fatou has just joined the group "tostan".

"Join" can be written in a range of languages including Wolof, Pulaar, Diola, English, and French. Following this initial command, the system will remember this initial language preference and send system messages in that local language (note- content messages sent by other users will remain as they are written, but system communications such as message confirmation/failure, name registration etc. will all be in local language).

Monday, July 6, 2009

SMS poetry

This is a message sent from the Badiouré network (anonymous author). And it's awesome.
"Puvoir tuché tt l monde come si l monde été une ronde: simpl ingégn 1guin d temp TOSTAN ns t some reconéçen"

"Being able to reach the world as if the world was just a round dance: easy, well-thought, a gain of time. Tostan, we are grateful"

And it actually rhymes in French !



The only source of power in the village: the Orange phone tower. A guy is there full time to look after the phones.

Unoken = « enter » in Diola. The hut represents the SMS community. The stick figures represent the participants… Together they represent our attempt to reduce two months of work into a children’s picture.

The first attempt to use the system by Ouonck’s women’s association.

Guillaume’s telephone broke the system! Luckily, Jeff saves the day and repares it without too much complaining.

A quick review of the necessary commands to open an SMS message.

Yoro and Alimatou, our wonderful local Social Mobilization Agents, help a participant.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

SMS social network

Here’s a glimpse of the community SMS service we’re developing…The basic idea for the project is to reinforce the “organized diffusion” social mobilization approach, used to spread development initiatives led by Senegalese communities. The project aims to increase awareness about activities and, consequently, increase their impact.

So how’s it work?
Let’s leave the technical aspects aside for the moment and focus on the overall idea.
Tostan is looking to bring its most enthusiastic community development actors together in a network based entirely on SMS messaging. In other words, through one quick and simple action (sending an SMS to our server), a user subscribes to a service that will simultaneously send messages to multiple users located in his/her village and the immediate surrounding areas.
Everyone can be part of the same SMS community: the community nurse and his/her counterparts in neighboring villages, teachers and student groups, women’s groups, Tostan classes, the village chief, the imam, etc. When one person sends a message to the regular, non-premium number, everyone in the SMS community receives it.
For example, the Community Management Committees formed by Tostan frequently organize awareness-raising events surrounding various themes such as malaria, human rights, income-generating activities or the importance of a healthy environment. The only two real ways to spread the word about such occasions are by word of mouth or going door to door. With the community SMS system, the CMCs can inform the most influential members of the community cheaply and efficiently. These people can then pass on the information within their own circles (during the prayer for the imam, during class for teachers, at weekly youth or women’s meetings, etc.).

The SMS community is open to all and only costs the price of a message. When we went to lead trainings during the program’s discovery process, we were surprised at how easy the service was to use in these communities with such an urgent need for communication. The observed levels of motivation and adoption seemed to be extremely high following the three initial trainings in Keur Samba Lauvé, Ouonck and Badiouré.
With simplicity remaining our main goal, we would like to learn more about the communication needs of the villages in order to develop (incha’allah) other SMS services that are ever more practical and user-friendly, and thus, in theory, accessible to all.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Keur Samba Laubé

Quick video camera training of one youth by Guillaume. The videos will soon be posted, incha’allah!

Sountou Ndiaye (a Tostan supervisor) and Mamoudou Ba (community trainer or “facilitator” in Tostanese), at a meeting where participants gathered to try to come up with the best methods for the system’s introduction into an urban environment.

Keur Samba Laubé youth during the training.

Terra conducts a participant interview (here, with the Imam of KSL), in order to better understand the behavior of our target group when it comes to cell phone use.

Same, here with Annette and a teacher from the community.

Sylvan facilitates a discussion with more advanced users on system usage.

It’s a learning experience for all… Even for the programmers, who learn that the system doesn’t like accents and other irregular characters. That’s a problem when you’re working with Wolof, Pulaar and Diolaa!

Ibrahima Ndiaye, host of the local Tostan radio show, which began in Mbour and aims to combine two approaches to social mobilization.
Blog adapted by Salim Drame