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Monday, February 9, 2009

Child Friendly Communities

I had dinner last night with those who had arrived for the meeting and then crashed. My luggage came around 3 a.m. so I had to go down to the lobby half asleep to get it! But yay!

Today we went out to the community were we had dropped the radio equipment off yesterday. First we went to a meeting at the Plan office. It was really interesting to hear their strategy which is centered around the concept of Child Friendly Communities. The cool thing is that they work with the community to define a set of indicators that the community is in agreement with. Then they measure where the community is at currently (baseline). Then they work with the community to improve their indicators. The interesting thing is that I have never seen it where the community is involved with setting and tracking indicators of their own development. Really really cool. We heard all the theory about it in the morning when the country director and program manager gave us an overview.

Then we all drove out to the village where the community representatives went through all their community indicators and explained where they were with them. So things like how many mothers are exclusively breastfeeding. How many kids are attending school. Percentage that have good hygiene habits. Etc. etc. We saw a few projects in the community – the early childhood care and development center, the nutrition center, and the women’s village savings and loan project. It was really interesting to see how they work, the impact the projects are having on the health and education of the kids, and also all the work that the women are doing to improve their community.

Photo: Community nutrition center where they weigh children to track their growth. They also work with the mothers to show them how to use locally available ingredients like sorghum, peanuts, herbs that grow in the area, to make high protein, high calorie porridge. The program is based on the concept of positive deviance -- where the mothers who manage to have well nourished children are studied to find out how they do it, and then their habits are replicated/taught to the other mothers.

Stefanie asked the women in the savings and loan group what the men did, because she had seen mostly women doing all the work in all the projects. That really got a good laugh out of the women. The way the development process seems to work is that the men make the decisions about which projects and initiatives that their wives can participate in. Custom allows multiple wives. The men see the advantage of the improved health and education of their children, and the improved financial status of their wives. Mostly the men work in the fields and do the heavy work for project that require manual labor. Interesting dynamic though – when Stefanie asked her question there was a super long and animated conversation among several of the women and the men from the partner local organization that manages the project. None of this was translated for us! Then Thiekoro from Plan Mali just made a very quick summary. Stefanie asked for clarification later….and I’m not sure the real story was revealed then either.

After we talked with all the project groups, the radio project crew – Kids Waves – did a live radio show. The radio project moves from community to community, training the kids and then the develop a half-hour radio show on different topics. They were covering the issue of Violence in Schools. They had invited the local mayor and the director of the school to ask them about the issue and what they planned to do about it. When will children stop being beaten in schools? The officials assured them that they would not beat children any more. Many of the children laughed at that. I didn’t understand much of what was happening because the radio show is conducted in Bambara, the local language. But the kids and the community really really got a kick out of it, and the kids were great. Self assured and really professional.


Photo: Kids Waves radio program.

We stayed until around 4 and then drove back. We arrived quite late due to traffic and I was soooo tired by then. I went out for pizza with a few of the others, Messan from Togo, Carmen from Benin and Francoise from Burkina. Messan and Francoise had participated in the Kenya Social Media for Social Change workshop, and it was great to see them again. One of the best things about working for Plan is when you have a chance to see colleagues again and develop nice friendships and working relationships.

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