Tag Archives: Africa

Lessons Learned in Dakar

Two weeks ago, I was getting on a plane to Dakar, Senegal and a week after that, I was helping to launch the first conference on Child Protection Systems Strengthening in Sub-Saharan Africa. In that short time frame, I have learned an amazing amount about child protection and the unique issues its pioneers strive to overcome; the challenges of bringing new technologies to sub-Saharan Africa; the power of technology for global communication; and even a bit about the city of Dakar.

Working out of the UNICEF office in the days leading up to the conference.

Before I delve into some of the amazing experiences I had in Dakar, I’ll give you a little more background about what I was doing there in the first place. Working as a Technology and Education Consultant for Wellspring Advisors, LLC, I have been designing a social media campaign and building a wikispace to house the discussions and documents related to this conference over the past few months. Through numerous Skype meetings and emails, I worked with international agencies to organize what would ultimately be a conference of 350 people from 40 west African nations. It was exciting to see so many agencies, organizations, and funders come together around this topic. We had representatives from UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan International, The African Child Policy Forum, Terre des Hommes, REPSSI, RIATT, Oak Foundation, and other funders.

Conference on Child Protection Systems Strengthening in Sub-Saharan Africa – Promising Practices, Lessons Learned and the Way Forward

During the conference, I introduced attendees to the new technologies associated with the conference and helped them to actively use the wikispace to share session notes, upload documents, and ask questions or make comments. I learned that there is no pre-existing repository of documents on child protection (e.g., child abuse, exploitation, welfare, justice, marriage) in sub-Saharan Africa so our wiki now serves as a space to collect these from each country.

Additionally, I had the privilege to help many attendees join Twitter and Facebook for the first time so that they could begin sharing their knowledge and thoughts on child protection issues with the larger world via social media. It was inspirational to be reminded of how empowering it can be to gain access to a platform that allows you, with the click of a button, to connect and dialogue so easily with other people around the world. It was also very powerful to see the energy people had as I worked with them to resolve tech glitches and help them access these new spaces for expression and sharing. For many, it was a new experience to learn how social media could be used for professional networking and they were surprised to see how many people and accounts were following the conference online via the tweets and posts I made during each session.

@JNdyeta sends her first tweet after joining Twitter and Facebook at the Conference

Working in Dakar, I was also reminded about the challenges that arise from working abroad. We had a minimum of three languages at the conference (i.e., French, English, and Portuguese) and at times only one router for 350 people. And while Google Translate widgets can be a life-saver they’re still more of a tool than a full-fledged solution – as we discovered when attendees clicked the “edit” button in our wiki and all of their translated text converted back to English. I also encountered issues with firewalls trying to block Internet access and conference websites, problems pasting text into our wiki from foreign computers, and some other minor things that you come to expect when working with technology.

Attendees responded to reflection questions on the conference wiki

Yet, amidst all of the tech troubles, I think for me, the key of the conference was adaptability: Transitioning from “Thank You” to “Merci” in a French speaking nation; re-wording the benefits of Twitter in ways that made sense in our child protection conference context; and re-defining a wiki to fit the needs of attendees. Buy-in is always one of the most important pieces when you introduce a new technology but to have buy-in and the resulting motivation and hopefully momentum to continue its use, you need to communicate things in a way that makes sense. You need to adapt your own understanding and way of explaining a tool to fit the linguistic, geographic, cultural, and technical context in which you are working. This can take time, reflection, and a bit of mental exertion, but I can promise you, it’s worth it.

To see some of the amazing dialogues that occurred at the conference and which were then shared through social media, I invite you to visit the slideshows on our wiki.

And finally, I leave you with one of the many photos I snapped from the most western tip of Africa, because for me, regardless of the continent, the ocean will always be home.

The Western Most Tip of Africa in Dakar, Senegal.

Another Year Gone By

Wow, another year has gone by and we’re already three days into 2012! With the start of a new year, I wanted to take some time to reflect back on 2011 and things that I learned, accomplished, and hope to carry with me into the new year.

I think one of the most memorable things of 2011 will always be my first trip to Africa. As part of one of my master’s courses at American University, I traveled to Nigeria for two weeks in May to conduct research on the early childhood education available in the small town of Yola. I was amazed at the range of education practices and facilities I saw, ranging from mud buildings with a few tables and crayons to a fully-resourced, air-conditioned facility connected to the American University of Nigeria. The trip was a great reminder that no matter how many books you read or perspectives you hear on a country, there is nothing like walking into a new culture, hearing new languages and quickly trying to adapt to the local customs, food, weather, and everything else that goes with international travel! Some parts will always be easier than others, such as getting down on the dirt floors and playing with the children at the various schools I visited. Whereas trying to stay silent and honor the accepted cultural practice of corporal punishment (i.e., watching a four-year-old be repeatedly hit with a large, thick stick) is much, much harder. Overall, the trip was extremely educative. I learned a great deal about life in Nigeria, the education system there, and the importance of traveling with a flexible, supportive group (and protein bars … for when you can’t take one more day of rice and chicken!).

Aside from my international travels, I had some great developments in my professional life in 2011. I had the opportunity to spend the summer working as a teacher at the Penn Children’s Center and loved getting to work closely with one preschool class. Our adventures included “traveling” from Japan to England, learning about the royal family, creating castles of all shapes and sizes, growing flowers and vegetables in our garden, and enjoying many days of water play!

Earlier this fall, I was able to start working as an Education and Technology Consultant, which has allowed me to learn a lot about webinar management, utilize more of my tech skills, and be more active in the field of early childhood. Consulting has allowed me to work with some great new colleagues, including @FSSimon and @KarenNemethEdM, which has been a real privilege. I’ve also really enjoyed helping to facilitate the Early Childhood Investigations webinars and if you haven’t checked them out, I’d highly recommend them, they’re free

I also grew a lot as a learner and educator in 2011 through my master’s courses. I especially enjoyed Models/Methods in Early Childhood Curriculum; Global & Multicultural Education & Training; Training Design; and Critical Educational Psychology. These courses helped deepen my knowledge of approaches to literacy education in early childhood, critical theory and ways it applies to education and psychology, and how to design a meaningful training. I was able to take a fresh look at the works of Freiere, Vygotsky, Piaget as well as many new theorists and I had the chance to read a number of great texts. I would particularly recommend: Making Literacy RealCritical Multiculturalism: Theory & Praxis, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.

Of course a big part of my past year has involved a continued exploration of tech tools. As I wrote about in my first post, I discovered Storify not long ago and I have also been testing out Symbaloo, a great way to compile your favorite sites, as well as exploring new uses for the virtual cork board Lino. I also began using Picnik so I could add a watermark to the photos in my new Etsy shop. After following and reading many other papers, I finally decided to create my own #Tech, #GlobalEd & #EarlyEd  paper.li and after being fairly inactive for a bit, I jumped back into LinkedIn in 2011, creating two new networking groups for my master’s program and finding other professional groups where I could join some great dialogues. Twitter was also a major part of 2011 for me, as I traveled to New Orleans to present on Twitter in liberal arts classrooms at the annual meeting of AERA, connected with more educators around the globe, began participating in more great chats like #kinderchat, and started tweeting for my program @ITEP_AU.

All in all, it was a pretty great year! I’ve loved the discoveries I’ve made, whether they’ve been in the field of international education, early childhood, or technology and the connections I have built will definitely be a big part of this new year. I’m excited to see what 2012 will bring and to start charting new waters, either here or abroad, so that I can continue to learn and grow and to connect educators around the globe.