I went to a really good conference a couple of weeks ago. It was actually billed as a “foire au savoir”- loosely translated as a “knowledge fair”, I guess.
I went to many sessions, but here are some that are more popular. One of the reasons I topics I really wanted to see was the session being presented about Dimitra’s (FAO, www.fao.org/dimitra) radio clubs for women that they support in Niger. The clubs are run in conjunction with local literacy centres, and are primarily aimed at women because it’s usually men that have access to radios, so the women’s groups are supplied with solar and hand cranked radios. As a group, they decide on the topics they would like to either communicate about or know more about. The programs are then produced by the local community radio stations or by the women themselves. After listening to the programs, the women discuss and go to the literacy centres to write about what they heard. The radio can also travel among families, and the group is also provided with a cell phone that they can use at a low cost to communicate among local villages on the project, as well as call their community radio stations with questions about the topic and debate the topic. This aspect has also served to break the isolation that the women feel in their communities. The community radio stations also appreciate the project because it can provide them with some extra funds and training. The topics they cover include malaria, marriage issues, girls’ and womens’ education, land issues, sanitation issues and so on. The women who participate pay small fees to participate, and in once instance, one woman mentioned that the village chief kicked in some cash to support it.
So what’s the big deal? Well, these are rural women who have never had the opportunity to go to school, and in addition to the direct results of increased access to information and literacy skills in their local language, the women involved gain the opportunity to participate in a more democratic process then they usually do, organise meetings and have their opportunity to speak, etc. The women spoke eloquently (through translation) about the impact the program has had on them, one stating that “they had never had an experience that opened their spirit the way that this program has” and another that it reinforced the solidarity among them. The program now also runs some clubs for men too, but of course a question was raised as to why the women had a separate club (which I thought was obvious, but I guess some of the answers bare repeating here.) The separation of the men and women reflects the realistic context to how they interact here, generally men and women don’t socialize together. Also, one participant plainly stated that men and women can’t work together and another stated that they have more confidence when they are among themselves. Apparently, the villages’ men were quite surprised that women could speak up. They certainly did during these sessions! So pretty great.
The session held on micro-gardens was very popular, despite the apparently simplicity of the idea. The raised gardens demonstrated involve a few rocks at the base, some good soil (presumably not sand), peanut shells, and rice husks (skins?). Then plant!The gardens – built on tables- also include a way to preserve water through a spout. What I found interesting was that this was a conference with many rural attendees, and the country does have quite a bit of agriculture, so why was it so popular? I can just guess, but one is that urban attendees were interested in how to grow there own vegetables and herbs in a city that is built on sand, and that even in rural areas women don’t always have access to land, and this takes land access out of the equation. I would also think that these raised little gardens keep the greens out of the way of the goats and sheep that would nibble at anything at ground level.
Among other things I did at the Foire, I also attended the screening of a couple of good short films. One was about a literacy program in Burkina Faso that started out as a correspondance course using technical and agricultural subjects as its base. The organisation found that the problem was that after taking the program people didn’t have access to anything else to read, so that lead to the creation of a newspaper and then to small libraries (which were more like cases of documents- like the malles mentioned in an earlier post.) The libraries, run by volunteers, also coordinate reading circles and work with local literacy centres. The materials are available in the local languages and French, and are focused on the local needs, especially surrounding agriculture. One group of users were so successful at raising chickens thanks to the documents they read from the library, they gave the library some chickens, which bread to the point the library had a 1000 chickens, that they could then sell to buy more documents!
A second film was one on “Les Ecoles practiques d’agriculture et de vie” (Practical agriculture and life schools?) in Mozambique. The schools train children that have lost at least one parent to AIDS in agricultural practices, because for many of them the parent’s illness and death interrupted the traditional practice of children learning cultivation practices from their parents. They also learn life skills and well as traditional cultural songs and dance. After the training, they return to their villages to put their new skills into practice, hopefully reversing the trend of young people to gravitate towards the cities. Apparently, schools like this are popping up everywhere, and as of 2009 20,000 students were trained in 545 schools around the world, from Uganda to the Gaza Strip.
Trust me, this was all more interesting in person that when I relate it!
An overarching theme to the conference was knowledge management, and if you’re interested in knowledge management in development, there is a fledgling online network at www.k4dev.org that looks at how social networking and community radio, for example, can be used in development.
Not to neglect the maternal health issue now that the G8/20 is over, I thought I would pass along the link to the special series that the Sunday Edition (CBC) is doing on the issue. I haven’t had the chance to listen to all of the entries yet, but the ones I have heard are interesting. http://www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition/2010/06/hardlabour.html
Anyway, I better just post this instead of procrastinating….
Home in a few weeks.