Friday, July 31, 2009

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


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