Making Digital Connections With Children Around the World

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.”

scenic view of Dominica

The Nature Isle.

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.

woman interviewing child

A member of the team conducts a Child Status Index interview at a plantain-processing facility in Marigot.

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.

scenic view of Dominica landscape

This picturesque landscape is common around the island, often belying the poverty that exists below.

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.

Taking notes outdoors

The ultrabooks provide needed flexibility in the field.

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.

Better Technology Leads to Improved Services for Children

by Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Coordinator, Americas Regional Office

Yesterday, we met Virginia, a social educator in ChildFund Brazil’s PROCAJ: Projecto Caminhando Juntos (Walking Together Project), in Diamantina. Today, she tells us about her work in a special project, the Child Status Index, which measures child well-being.

Initially, you did an online training using the netbook. What do you think about the online training process? I liked it quite a bit. It was a valuable experience because it is always exciting to learn new things, and, in this case, doing it through a new technology allows you to grow professionally as well. Since I already have computer skills, this was an opportunity to use them in a new and exciting way that will ultimately help us in the field.

After the online training, we then did group work training face-to-face. What did you think about the personal training? I liked the opportunity to talk and present my questions, concerns and doubts and to then receive real-time responses. It was good to bounce ideas and interchanges and interactions with my fellow colleagues, to discuss and come to a consensus.

What do you think about the CSI tool? I think it is a good idea to be able to gather indicators on the 12 factors [e.g., health, nutrition, education, housing] about the well-being of the child. It will be good to be able to track progress individually and on a community level with this tool. I think there are still some things we can do differently to provide more innovation and to see the differences with the different ages of the children, but I am looking forward to seeing the initial results and discussing how to match this to our programs.

Children are curious about the netbooks.

What do you like about using the netbooks in the field to collect data? I loved it. I thought it was really cool and also much more efficient. The netbooks were small — light— and really easy to use. We already do house visits and collect data, but only with pen and paper. So walking into the homes with the netbooks symbolized innovation and efficiency. The children also loved the idea of the technology. It raised their curiosity levels, and you could see them looking at the computers with wonder in their eyes. They do not have much access to technology, so this was a whole new experience for them.

How do you think this technology will improve your job? I think this will make a great improvement…who knows, maybe even 90 percent. This technology will allow us to collect all the data (qualitative/quantitative), and, in general, all of the children’s data and the children’s well-being information will be in the netbook. So this will change how we can use data, run reports, have photos at the moment and keep the information collected. There won’t be any concern about losing papers, getting them ripped, forgetting something that you need back at the office, etc. Everything you need will be in one place. It is all at your fingertips.

How do you think using this tool will improve the situation in ChildFund communities? Because we will be more efficient in our administrative activities, we will have more time to do activities and programs for children and communities. This will open our time and strengthen our outreach. It may seem like a small thing, but it will have big results: more programming, less administration. And then having data quickly available will improve our programming decisions and ultimately the quality of our work in the communities.

Expanding Opportunities for Brazil’s Children

by Karen Van Roekel, Impact Assessment Team Leader

Karen reviews key points with team.

By now you know that the ChildFund team is in Brazil this month to pilot a new tool for monitoring children who are enrolled in our sponsorship programs. The tool was designed by the Measure Evaluation project of USAID, with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Because the tool measures 12 dimensions of child well-being (e.g., food security, nutrition and growth, shelter, care, education) that are closely related to ChildFund’s approach , we are testing how well it works to capture a collective picture of children’s needs in the communities we serve. In addition, we plan to use this data as we work with our partners to design better programs for children.

Yesterday after a brief visit to ChildFund’s Brazil National Office, we spent most of the day driving to Diamantina, where our partner organization PROCAJ: Projecto Caminhando Juntos (Walking Together Project) has its headquarters. It’s a charming colonial town lined with cobblestone streets. Red tile roofs top the white-washed houses.

Training session with PROCAJ staff.

At our meeting with the PROCAJ educator group, we reviewed their questions that stemmed from online training they completed in advance of our arrival. We were pleased with their progress and discussed some sample cases to confirm their understanding of how to use the measurement tool. They also practiced entering data into the custom netbook application we built for the pilot.

Tomorrow we will travel to the communities where ChildFund is working and start collecting data on children.

ChildFund Netbook Project Helps Brazil’s Children

by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Business Development Specialist

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.

It’s 10 a.m. and I’m driving through the cerrado in Minas Gerias, Brazil, one of the most biologically diverse savannas in the world. As we travel higher and higher, though, the landscape becomes starker and less hospitable until, off in the distance, we spot the town of Diamantina, clinging to a hill and falling off toward a valley. A beautiful example of colonial architecture, the UNESCO World Heritage Site certainly lives up to its name — translated in English as “diamond.”

I am here to participate in two pilot projects with our Brazil National Office to test the use of netbooks at the local level as a tool for streamlining ChildFund’s current sponsorship processes. We are collaborating with NetHope and partner companies Intel and Agilix on these projects.

Ron Wolfe

The first pilot is taking place here in Diamantina, where we’ll use netbooks to assist with collection of data on children who are sponsored and enrolled in ChildFund programs in the area. This pilot is called CPR/CSI, since we will use both the Child Progress Report and the Child Status Index – a broad measurement of a child’s well-being within six categories – to capture data on a selected group of children.

ChildFund’s community mobilizers will initially use the netbooks for a CSI training session, learning the theory behind the index and then practicing case study evaluation. Our staff developed all training materials using a software program called BrainHoney, which allows remote users to train on preloaded modules and then send assessment results or ask questions via the Internet. When their training is complete, community mobilizers will then use the netbooks to efficiently collect data during visits to children’s homes.

The second pilot project will be deployed in two locations — in Vespasiano, an urban setting outside Belo Horizonte, and in Turmalina, a rural community 150 kilometers from Diamantina.  In both settings, the goal is to use the netbooks to deliver educational lessons to the children at a ChildFund community gathering, and to streamline sponsorship administration by electronically collecting enrollment updates and facilitating letter writing to sponsors.

Once again, we’ll use the netbooks to train community mobilizers and facilitators on how to plan community activities and deliver ChildFund-designed lesson plans to the children. As part of the lesson plan, children will produce art, plays and music that we will electronically scan or videotape.

Everyone on the ChildFund team is excited to test these innovative solutions with our partners in the United States and Brazil and, ultimately, to enhance children’s learning opportunities.

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