June 1. :-)
The official start of my secondment. And no one knows what a secondment is, and I haven't figured out how to explain in a nutshell what I'm going to be doing. But 2 wise people (thank you DK and Lisa) have convinced me I should blog about it. Maybe someone will be interested, and if not, well, at least I have more space than a nutshell to try to explain.
The equipment for Senegal's portion of the project is in my dining room. Amazing how small everything is. Mini cameras, mini tripods. Simple. Tiny instruction booklets with 6 pages instead of 30 like they used to be. I'm liking new media technology and today's short attention span.
e-tickets for Clare and me are folded up and paperclipped to the inside of my trusty planner. Printed 2 pages per sheet and double sided so even they seem small and compact. Fitting.
My arm muscles are still aching from Thursday, reminding me that we're leaving soon. Tetanus. Yellow Fever. Typhoid. Joke was on me - mine were outdated so the vaccine list expanded to include me as well as Clare.
We leave June 14, but work on this started a way long time ago. Finally it's taking off.
I'm on secondment starting today. Wait, what's a secondment? Basically I'm loaned out to Plan's Africa offices to help a new project get going building on work that's been happening for the last few years. Wait, what's Plan? Oh, well it's a global development organization working in some 66 countries to support child centered community development.
You've never heard of it you say?! No worries, pretty much no one has. It's been around since 1937 but in the US it's a very well kept secret -- unfortunately. It's actually more known as a sponsorship organization, but the work on the ground in communities is what hooked me since I started working there in '98 when I lived in El Salvador. (and that could be a blog all of its own!)
The project: Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (or "YETAM" as we like to say. Which sounds like some kind of hybrid creature to me, a cross between a yak and some kind of herd animal from the Lion King). YETAM is funded by Nokia. It's being implemented by Plan's Africa offices in Senegal, Rwanda and Mali together with local partners and communities and youth. Five more African countries will participate in the next 2 years if the funding is approved. The first virtual visit was to Uganda (and it was quite a learning experience -- the videos are difficult to load which really distracts from the experience...), the next 3 were to Togo, Dominican Republic and El Salvador, all done though Plan USA (see the link to the right). Now with this project we're looking at doing more of them and improving on the idea from start to finish.
The challenge: Creating multimedia virtual community profiles in 3 countries in Africa. Making sure the process of media creation is valuable for the participating youth and communities -- as in how does making media build critical skills and awareness? How does it involve and benefit local people? How can it be a sustainable process? And then using that that media in the right ways to engage people in other parts of the world who may not really care about what's happening in Africa. Or who have a skewed view of Africa. How to support a direct conversation between youth in different parts of Africa. And how to bring that conversation also to youth in other parts of the world. And how to do it in places where media is not readily accessible yet is impacting in a multitude of ways. What does social media mean for Africa anyway? I hope we'll find out and something really cool is going to happen in the process.
It's going to be a journey on so many different levels.
Personal. The people and places you meet when traveling and working on innovative projects impact on you in ways you don't comprehend for years to come.
Professional. It's finally a chance to focus on an area I've been doing on the side for a long time. A way to pull together a bunch of stuff that's been floating around. A way to learn and grow in an area I'm totally energized and fascinated by.
Familial. The never-ending dilemma of how to raise 2 children (11 and 16) as a single parent who travels constantly. At least Clare gets to go with me on the Senegal trip (on my dollar of course - which is why Daniel is staying home this time!).
Organizational. Plan is going to really find a way through new media and technology for people to talk directly to each other instead of us being an intermediary. That poses lots of challenges and means things have to change within Plan too. That will be interesting to watch and participate in. How does an organization move into a new way of doing things without alienating those who have been involved for years in the old way? How do we make things work for everyone?