netbook technology

Children Are the True Innovators

by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Business Systems Analyst

houses in a narrow alley

The favela is a maze of alleys.

The day was coming to an end, and our last home visit was accessible only through one of the many narrow and dark alleys that crisscross the favela (urban slum) on the edge of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Above me, though, a young girl leaned out a window, grinned, and rushed to open the door. As we entered, she held up her finger to ask us to wait one minute, ran up the winding stairs to the upper floor, and returned with a pink, plastic toy computer. She smiled at us again and said proudly, “Netbook!”

girl with toy computer

Children love technology.

While deploying technology pilots over the past two months in Dominica, Zambia and Brazil, it has become clear that technology has a universal appeal. The appeal, though, is strongest among the children.

Staff from ChildFund International and ChildFund Brazil spent a week in Villa Ventosa, a village in the Nova Barroca neighborhood to continue the mobile application tests that began in the Caribbean in April. We worked with our affiliated partner, GEDAM (Grupo de Educação Desenvolvimento e Apoio ao Menor), to evaluate an Android application created at our headquarters and loaded onto tablet computers. The app synchronizes existing child data acquired during a home visit with geospatial information so that we can better analyze geographic patterns among our enrolled and sponsored children. This data is then combined with a photograph of the child’s letter to his or her sponsor, which was captured with the tablet’s built-in camera and sent to a database in Richmond, Va. In the future, this image will be queued into a translation database accessible to our translators around the world.

an urban slum

The favela covers a vast expanse of land.

In Brazil, GEDAM currently implements programs for approximately 500 ChildFund sponsored children. During the pilot, the team, consisting of representatives from ChildFund International, the Brazil office and GEDAM, set a goal of reaching about 20 children over three days in the field. Each day was split into morning and afternoon home visits where the two teams walked the dense neighborhood amid stray dogs and hollow clay brick houses with corrugated roofs that extended beyond the horizon.

The participating community mobilizers were immediately excited by the potential impact these devices could have on their work. Their day is often filled with administrative tasks that, if streamlined, would give way to more child-centered programming and an improved child/sponsor experience. As seen during previous pilot tests, the mobilizers came up with multiple ways in which properly focused technology could advance ChildFund’s mission. These insights will guide future applications and ChildFund’s broader mobile platform strategy.

children with tablet computer

The tablet immediately attracts children’s interest.

Every child we met during a home visit seemed drawn to the tablet. Some intuitively reached for the glass surface and used the standard gestural commands to interact with the device. Some simply smiled when they realized that this home visit was different, and they were participating in a unique experience.

One thing became immediately clear: although we consider our work in mobile technology to be innovative, the children are the true innovators. It comes natural to them.

On the way out of her house after we captured an image of the letter she had just handwritten, a teenage sponsored child turned to the team and said, “Next time, give me the tablet and I’ll type the letter directly to my sponsor.”

Teamwork and Communication Yield Stronger ChildFund Programs

by William Oscar Fleming, ChildFund Program Quality Team Leader

Facilitators discuss experiences with colleagues.

Editor’s Note: A ChildFund team is working in Brazil for several weeks to carry out two pilot projects with netbook technology.

Voices rise with excitement, reverberating off the room’s concrete walls and painted tiles, as staff and volunteers with ChildFund Brazil’s local partner GCRIVA embrace the challenge of improving programs for children and the community.

The discussion is lively, though sometimes quiet, and often punctuated with laughter and expressive hand gestures. These young men and women, who mobilize communities, are eager to develop new skills through ChildFund’s pilot projects using netbooks and software. The end goal is to streamline our child sponsorship processes and effectively deliver educational programs.

Yet, through these pilots we’re learning valuable lessons about how to improve the skills of our partners in the field.

Participants share their evaluations of work to date.

Working in teams is new for these ChildFund partners. It requires them to define and assign individual roles (such as primary facilitator) and develop detailed lessons plans for each activity planned with children. Some mobilizers are working with different age groups than they would in their normal roles, and most volunteers have not previously been involved in group activities.

Working in this new way, team members were initially quite nervous about their ability to complete a lesson plan with children. Yet, thanks to their dedication and the training support they received, each educational session went very well.

As they worked with the children, the mobilizers and volunteers encountered several unexpected circumstances. In one early session they noted that the age mix was too broad and the total number of children too large to realize full participation. They quickly talked among themselves and subdivided the group by age, splitting facilitation and support roles, to ensure that children could actively participate in the lessons. At other sessions, the facilitators changed seating arrangements to make settings less formal and involve children in the lesson, effectively channeling their energy. Despite being unsure at times, each team demonstrated the ability to adapt and react effectively to the needs of the audience, increasing the success of the lessons.

As their skill and comfort levels grew, several teams revised the lesson plans to try new approaches to working with children. However with these adaptations the community mobilizers soon learned the importance of broadly communicating the proposed changes so that all team members felt included in decisions.

After each session with the children, the teams met to discuss what went well and what changes were needed going forward. Team members came to realize that how they worked together directly affected the success of the learning activities they were implementing. They also grew closer and developed mutual trust as they identified and overcame challenges together.

Through our pilot projects in Brazil, ChildFund has verified that supporting young leaders in interpersonal skill development and program implementation is just as critical as the content of the programs we’re designing for children and families. As we work with our partners to deliver programs, we are paying close attention to their capacities and needs so that we can provide corresponding support.

Using netbooks to share training materials will likely prove to be as useful for building the skills of our implementing partners as delivering programs to children and families.

Youth Rise to Challenge of Leadership

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, Americas Regional Office, and Ron Wolfe, Business Development Specialist

Turmalina, an agricultural area in the northeastern part of Minas Gerais, Brazil, is the site of ChildFund’s second pilot project using netbooks.

We are preparing our local partner staff and volunteers to hold small community events where youth, children and infants with their caregivers will be invited to participate in educational activities. We’ll also be attending to various child sponsorship activities such as enrolling children in programs, helping them write letters to sponsors and updating child photos. The goal is to join our educational programming and child sponsorship efforts so that they are more efficient and engaging. To plan these events, we have used netbooks to train staff and young volunteers.

Roberta, Nathany and Thais (l to r) are gaining leadership skills.

Thais, 16, Roberta, 16, and Nathany, 15, gather nervously to discuss the upcoming community activities. They are all members of the local youth group but have not held leadership positions. Soon they will stand before 25 of their peers for one hour and lead group discussions, activities and workgroups. They are evolving from participants into leaders.

We chatted briefly with the trio, who preferred to give their collective feedback on the training and their expectations for the days ahead.

Did you enjoy training on the netbooks?
Yes! They are so cool. They are so small and we loved learning on them. We have done trainings before, but never like this. We love it. We have a small computer lab, but they are all old and some are broken. There aren’t enough for us to use so we mostly don’t know much about the computers at all. But these were so fun. We moved things all around, followed the training and learned a lot. We can use these in so many different ways.

What opportunities will you gain from this experience (past training and future activity leadership)?
Courage. We will conquer our fears of public speaking and be leaders. We will know how to interact with our peers, prepare presentations and have a better understanding of our friends’ feelings about our community.

There are so few opportunities for youth in our community to meet, discuss important things and even lead these discussions. This is a great opportunity for us individually and as a group. We will speak up and be heard.

What are your concerns?
We are nervous about standing up in front of our friends and other youth. We often discuss things with our friends in small groups, but never in front of 20 or more people. What if we say the wrong things? What if our friends laugh at us? What if no one shows up to the activity? What if they do not like we do? We are nervous. But we are also excited. We think it will get easier the more we do.

The young leaders apply themselves diligently in training sessions.

The lesson plans you selected are about how education is important in making healthy life decisions and about setting future goals. What other topics do you think would be important or interesting to discuss among the youth?
There are lots of topics that we don’t usually have the opportunity to talk about among ourselves in an informed way. Important topics would be drugs, environment, healthy bodies, violence and so many others.

Sometimes we have adults who will talk to us about these things, but sometimes it is hard to be honest with them because we are not comfortable telling them our personal thoughts or experiences. Sometimes we just get too nervous and never say anything at all.

And then sometimes we talk about these things among ourselves, but we don’t always have the right information we need or don’t know how to say things.

So it would be good to have the right information that we can talk about in these activities like we are doing next week. In the future, we can lead discussions and activities on these different kinds of topics. Or other youth can lead and we can participate. It will be good either way.

Sponsorship First Step in Lifelong Changes for Brazil’s Children

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, Americas Regional Office

Editor’s Note: A ChildFund team is working in Brazil for several weeks to carry out two pilot projects with netbook technology. We’ll be hearing from the team regularly.

ChildFund works with more than 100 local partner organizations spanning 883 communities in Brazil. One of them is PROCAJ: Projecto Caminhando Juntos (Walking Together Project) in Diamantina, about a six-hour drive from Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais and the location of our Brazil National Office.

PROCAJ works with 22 rural communities outside of the city of Diamantina. It can take hours to drive to any given community, along dusty dirt-packed roads and over shaky wood-plank bridges. Some communities are only accessible via horse, which the PROCAJ staff borrow when they arrive at the outskirts, where the dirt roads end and the steep terrain begins. It is the dry season now, so many of the plants are wilted and brown, and everything is covered with red-clay rust.

Virginia at PROCAJ headquarters

Virginia is a social educator with PROCAJ and is participating in the Intel Child Status Index (CSI ) pilot. I first met her in March, when she came to Belo Horizonte for an initial discussion about the pilot. She made an immediate impression on me — outspoken, confident and focused on the well-being of the children. Now I am here in Diamantina for the pilot implementation and am going community-to-community with Virginia for the data collection.

I took the opportunity to sit down and do a quick interview with Virginia so you can know more about the faces of ChildFund in the communities:

How long have you lived in the area? Since childhood. I was born here. I am from here — I am Diamantina. I worked briefly in Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte some, but mostly only in Diamantina. This is my home.

You can feel the happiness of the children, and you can see the program results in their lives.

How long have you worked in the social development field? Six years: one year as part of my university research and field work and then five years with PROCAJ.

How did you decide to work with PROCAJ? I saw an announcement in the paper and was already familiar with the good reputation of PROCAJ and of Fundo Cristao para Criancas (ChildFund Brazil). I wanted to give back and to work more in the rural communities to make a difference. When I first began thinking about poverty and social work while in university, my interest was awoken. I knew what path I wanted to take, I was committed to social action and I knew I had to apply for the position.

How many families/communities do you oversee? I oversee four communities, representing more than 200 families. I work not only with the children enrolled in ChildFund, but their siblings and other family members as well.

What do you like about your job? I like being in the field, in the communities with the families doing the program activities. I like the direct contact with the families because you can see and feel their reality. You can feel the happiness of the children, and you see the program results in their lives. You dream it in the office and you realize it in the field.

How do you think child sponsorship creates change in communities? Sponsorship is a positive thing. It is a resource — financial, professional, personnel — and it brings the development to the people. It is the first step for lifelong changes. And when sponsors write, the children have a new friend far away.

Learn more about Virginia’s work in the CSI pilot in tomorrow’s blog post.

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