by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Business Systems Analyst
For the past two weeks, staff from ChildFund International and ChildFund Honduras have been in Dominica, collaborating with the ChildFund Caribbean office to test a new child survey tool loaded onto ultra-portable computers. This pilot project, which is funded with support from Intel, will help determine the feasibility of collecting and transmitting digital data in all of the countries where ChildFund works.
Climbing the northern mountains of Dominica early on Sunday morning, our caravan tried to outrun the impending downpour. After another hairpin turn near the summit, we slowed and began to see villagers dressed beautifully, walking uphill with a purpose. And then we heard the music.
Our team had arrived in Penville. Perched on a promontory overlooking the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, we found a small green-painted church that seemed to be the center of the universe. The mass was about to begin, but the congregation, still arriving, first had to weave its way through a crescendo of song.
Music is a vital part of life here, especially sacred music rooted in American gospel and blended with diverse cultural variations found uniquely on the island. The melodies and harmonies also provided our team a peaceful way to decompress from the drive, as we waited for the service to end and our next round of child status interviews to begin. While pausing outside of the church, I began to reflect on the work completed to-date and those whose participation was so vital to its success.
Among the data collectors that day were Clasia, a ChildFund-trained community mobilizer for the West Federation in Dominica, and Valarie, a community volunteer from the Northeastern District. ChildFund has organized its programs on the island into an East and a West Federation, with each serving approximately 2,000 enrolled and 1,500 sponsored children.
Clasia has worked with the West Federation for just more than a year and is responsible for reaching out to 332 children who are enrolled or sponsored through ChildFund. “I am getting to know each one,” she says.
As a youth, Clasia enrolled in the Dominica Business Training Center, a second-chance learning institution. Through the center, she became familiar with ChildFund’s work and later accepted a job, knowing that her passion is working to better the lives of children. “It’s wonderful to see how [they] react to us,” Clasia says, beaming. Even the casual observer can see that the children feel comfortable around her. As a result, they talk about the things that matter most to them. “It takes a while, though, to gain their trust,” she says.
Technology in the form of ultra-portable computers should help Clasia become more efficient in her job in the future. She was impressed with the initial tests and looks forward to future technologies as they are rolled out. “When you are in the field all day, you have to go back to your sub-office [to file reports]. You have to think about what to do next, and you have to put your information into the office computer. Now, it’s already there. It’s much easier. The next day [after being in the field] you can just continue with your work.”
Valarie, a community volunteer whose poise belies her young age, didn’t know what to expect when she signed on to collect data for the Child Status Index pilot. One thing she didn’t anticipate, though, was to “work such long, hard hours for so many days,” she says. “I found the motivation to move on, though,” Valarie adds, “to wake up every morning and face it again. And to be honest, I could do this all over again.”
Watching Valarie engage with a family that she’d never met and ask questions that, at times, could get personal, it was easy to see that the work came naturally to her. Children opened up and answered questions as if they were continuing a longstanding conversation.
“My best experiences were the home visits,” she says, “getting the opportunity to meet and dialogue with people in my country—and being touched by it.” Valarie is at the point in her life where she’s deciding on career paths. “I definitely will consider this field,” she says. “Whatever path I choose, though, I will always desire to be a volunteer and give back to my country. This was a life-changing experience!”
As the music died down, it was time to carry on with our work, but, for a brief time, we were able to clear our heads, rest our feet and imagine ourselves entwined in the daily existence of Penville, Dominica.
by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Business Systems Analyst
According to legend, upon Columbus’s return from Dominica in 1496, Spanish Queen Isabella asked him what the island was like. He crumpled a piece of paper, laid it on a table, and said, “Like this.”
Known as the Nature Isle of the Caribbean, Dominica is formed by towering mountains climbing through the clouds, deep gorges, often interrupted by picturesque waterfalls, and boiling lakes, heated by volcanoes that dot the landscape. With 70 percent of the island still covered by rainforest or other vegetation, Columbus would still recognize the island he so aptly described.
This week and next, staff from ChildFund International and ChildFund Honduras are in Dominica, collaborating with our colleagues in the ChildFund Caribbean office. We’re testing a new child survey tool loaded onto ultra-portable computers. This pilot project, which is funded with support from Intel, will help determine the feasibility of collecting and transmitting digital data in all of the countries where ChildFund works.
By the end of this week, our team of community mobilizers and interviewers will have spoken to approximately 300 enrolled and sponsored children. These interviews will cover a number of child status evaluation factors, including education, nutrition, emotional health and access to health services. As we gain additional knowledge of the most critical issues impacting Dominica’s children, the data will be used to guide ChildFund’s future programs here.
Earlier this week we travelled from Roseau, Dominica’s capital, to La Plaine on the Atlantic coast to interview families in surrounding communities. As if to confirm Columbus’s description of the island’s topography, the team drove for more than an hour and a half through the mountains on twisty roads and hairpin turns to reach our destination, which was only 15 miles away on a straight line. As the caravan of cars and a mini-bus filled with data collectors and support staff climbed the mountains and entered the forest, it began to pour, only reinforcing the prehistoric feel of this untouched landscape.
Arriving in La Plaine, the group split into teams and walked the village to meet with selected families. Each group carried an ultrabook computer, equipped with a data-collection program developed by ChildFund International’s IT staff. This program facilitates both online and offline (or asynchronous) data collection—a necessity while working in ChildFund communities.
We met children in their homes, their parents’ places of business or under a tree. Once the data was collected, our teams returned to the La Plaine Child Development Centre (ChildFund’s local partner in this community) and, through a wireless Internet connection, immediately transmitted all data back to ChildFund’s Richmond, Va., headquarters for analysis.
With its rugged landscape and secluded communities, Dominica provides a challenging environment to test ChildFund’s initial assessment of asynchronous technology. As the next two weeks progress, we will continue to report out on progress toward digitally linking children in our programs with the world.
by Chris S. Thomas, Chief Strategist and Director of Architecture, Intel World Ahead Program
Today I delivered the keynote for the e-Inclusion track at the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) 2010, discussing how education and access to technology are key to creating future generations of innovators.
During the keynote, I had the privilege of participating in the announcement of Intel’s collaboration with ChildFund International and NetHope in developing a “Graduate Program” that helps prepare young people to enter the job market as informed and entrepreneurial digital citizens.
Because of the global recession we all face, millions of youth are entering adulthood at a time when few jobs are available. The “Graduate Program” initiative is aimed at teaching youth critical digital skills and providing digital access. Along with helping youth get government-issued identification, the program intends to give them access to electronic banking, job skills training and lessons on using technology for business and marketing activities. The “Graduate Program” strives to create young entrepreneurs who not only can create their own jobs, but also help create jobs in their communities. For example, by being able to access services such as eBay and Kiva via the Internet, young people can create and fund their own businesses.
Initiatives like the “Graduate Program” can help prevent youth from being swept under during today’s economic straits. Through education and access to technology, we can provide youth with the 21st-century skills needed to innovate their way into creating their own jobs.
ChildFund International reaches more than 15 million children and their family members; Intel designs and builds the technology that powers the world. By bringing together education and access to technology to the hands of youth, we are helping to ensure a future where self-sufficient, proactive young people have the opportunity to innovate and create jobs – no matter what the economic times.
Chris S. Thomas is considered one of Intel’s visionaries charting future directions for industry and computing. A driver of key technology initiatives, he directs a worldwide team of solutions architects developing starter kits, workshops and architectures for education, health care, small business and other solutions. He is engaging NGOs and development agencies worldwide in effective use of IT for emerging markets and is an active participant in World Economic Forum IT and Cloud Computing activities. He is also co-author of the book Mashup Corporations, providing the less technology aware with a very human perspective of the implications of Web2.0 and Services Oriented Solutions.