Last week, Guillaume (Project Manager, Tostan International), Malick (Project Coordinator for Senegal) and I traveled to Touba, Senegal, to sit in on classes at four different centers where the Jokko module, which teaches participants how to use mobile technology to improve their lives, is currently being taught.
The majority of participants in Tostan’s programs are women and girls, but in Touba all of the participants in the Jokko module - as well as all of the Facilitators leading the classes - are female. Given the conservative environment of Touba – a holy site that is a destination of pilgrimage for Muslims across the globe – this fact is all the more remarkable.
The dynamism of the participants was unmistakable. Despite the potential distractions posed by the presence of three newcomers with video cameras and lots of questions, the participants remained highly engaged with the Facilitators. In fact, the only time that any of the participants seemed to pay us any attention at all was when they snapped our photos with their own camera phones (!).
What made me think I would be the only one snapping pictures?
The sheer motivation and the level of skill that participants demonstrated with mobile phones in each of the classes we visited was excellent. Over the course of two very productive days, we managed to gather a tremendous amount of feedback and to make important observations that will help us as we scale up and implement new activities in the coming months.
- Khai-ra 2
At the Khai-ra 2 center, the class was working on Session #6 : The Mango Tree Workshop. Participants learn how to navigate the main menu of a standard mobile phone with the help of a visual aid in the form of a mango tree.
A participant at the board explains how to access the calculator function by tracing her steps along the branches of a mango tree representing the different manipulations possible.
Participants walk through a larger, more interactive version of the mango tree excerise outdoors.
Once the session had ended, we interviewed two young women who explained that one of their reasons for participating in Tostan’s program was so that they could learn to read and write in their national language, Wolof. After participating in the Jokko module, they can now compose text messages in Wolof without assistance.
- Touba Bêgg Bamba
At the second center of the day, participants greeted us with a skit demonstrating the cost-efficiency of SMS texting relative to placing a call. An animated discussion with participants brought forth some interesting stories about how the knowledge gained in the classes has affected their everyday lives. One adult participant related how her husband had prevented her from using the household mobile phone, fearing that she would waste the credit, as she did not know how to properly use the phone. Once she demonstrated what she had learned in the Jokko module, her husband began to let her use the phone and now plans on purchasing a second.
Participants who have their own mobile phones - some being relatively sophisticated - bring them to class.
Like at the Khai-ra 2 center, a major theme that emerged from the participant’s personal stories was that of social empowerment. Facilitators and participants explained how friends, relatives and community members now sought their help in using mobile phones and how they frequently shared their newly acquired knowledge with those around them.
Participants also spoke of the sense of autonomy and independence engendered by knowing how to use certain mobile phone functions. For example, several young women explained how before they began the Jokko module, they did not know how to send text messages and were forced to ask someone to send text messages on their behalf. Now, mid-way through the Jokko module, they no longer need assistance to send text messages and appreciate the discretion this allows them.
Boys are eager to get in on the action. The doorways and windows of most classrooms are typically crowded with other community members curious about mobile technology.
- Touba Palléne
Participants follow along on the Nokia 1202 handsets provided by Tostan in classroom.
At the Touba Palléne center, Session 12: "SMS and Health" was being covered. At this point in the module, participants apply the skills they’ve gained to specific themes (such as health, agriculture, and the environment) relevant to their everyday lives. In this session, participants learn how to send text messages to spread news about vaccinations and awareness-raising campaigns, to make appointments at health clinics, and to ask for advice on matters concerning health and hygiene.
- Touba Diémoule
Our last stop was the Touba Diémoule center, where we engaged in a lively discussion with the participants about their experience both inside and outside the classroom. A major topic was access to mobile phones: To what extent do our participants have access to mobile phones outside of the classroom? What kind of barriers to access do they face ? . The more surprising answers we received concerned utility: participants did not fully grasp the usefulness of mobile phones prior to starting the Jokko module. Once they understood that a mobile phone could be used for far more than making and receiving calls, and how functions such as the alarm and the calculator were relevant to their everyday lives, they were much more motivated to use them.
Participants often share mobile phones in the classroom and help one another to learn. However, participants and Facilitators alike expressed a demand for additional mobile phones to use in the classroom.
We’d like to thank Madame Bousso Gaye Diop – Supervisor for Tostan’s Touba Coordination – for her careful planning, Serigne Fallou Fall for his time and for hosting our classes at Touba Pallène, our talented Facilitators – especially N'deye Fatou Fall, N'déye Binta N'diaye, Aminata Basse, Fatou M'backé N'diaye - and all of our highly engaged and motivated participants in Touba.
Contributed by Lindsay Powell, Edited by Sydney Skov