Australians to Teach Slum Dwellers How to Blog.

Two Australians are being sent to Bangladesh to teach slum dwellers how to blog. Joel Katz, an English teacher and Sharna Bremner, a university student, will be based in the capital Dhaka, where they will teach youths living in poverty how to use social media, including blogs, Facebook and Twitter. The money for the two week project was raised by donations from the Australian social media community, and it is being organised by the anti-poverty agency ActionAid Australia. One of the bloggers, Sharna Bremner, acknowledges that going to Dhaka is going to be a challenging experience.

The article was in Radio Australia

I just couldn’t believe this when I read it. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of. Do slum dwellers have computers? If so how many of them have computers?  I know that in some of the slums there isn’t any electricity, and certainly no money for batteries. Surely there is a stack of other ways we can help these people, I just can’t see how this is going to help these people at all.  Why on earth would you go all that way just to teach blogging, facebook etc.?

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18 Responses to Australians to Teach Slum Dwellers How to Blog.

  1. Ron says:

    I’m glad I didn’t donate any money to this mob.

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi Ron,
      Yes it seems a waste on money to me as well. I think the donations would of been better spent if they taught these people some skills maybe, or at least some way of earning some money.

  2. Mark Chenery says:

    Hi Ron and Magsx2.

    I totally see your points. Why teach people to blog when we could be helping them gain skills that will help them earn a living? Well, as it happens, we’re doing both.

    In fact, we’ve been working in this Dhaka community for almost ten years – providing livelihood training to women and helping the community fight for their rights.

    Often people living in poverty are marginalized by the mainstream community and ignored by their governments. They may have a right to school, for example, but in practice this is not provided by the government. In this way, poverty is much more about a lack of power than a lack of resources.

    That’s why we initiated the blog training program – it’s all about giving poverty a voice, because after years of working in this community, that’s what its members told ActionAid they wanted – a voice.

    Everyone has a right to be heard, and they saw the internet as a frontier they could use to get their voices heard not only in Dhaka, not only in Bangladesh, but around the world.

    They already publish a newsletter in their local community discussing common issues the residents of the slum face and use this as a vehicle to get the mainstream Bangladeshi media interested in the human rights abuses they suffer. The blog is just another tool they can use to talk about their problems and explain their vision for the future.

    Out of context, though, teaching slum dwellers to blog seems like a random – if not stupid idea. But when you start to understand what is happening in these communities, you see that it’s really a practical tool for people who want their stories to be told.

    And yes, ActionAid is providing computers and internet access to ensure that the community can continue to use their blog for years to come – or as long as they see the need.

    Mark Chenery
    ActionAid Australia

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi Mark,
      Thank You for your input into this situation. But I’m sorry I still do not agree that blogging is the way to go. Yes it does give people a voice, but is anyone listening? Even if people read what others are saying I can still not see how this is going to help the people at all. You mentioned the Main Stream Media, surely the organization has already been to the radio stations, news papers etc.

      You mentioned that your organization has been working in the area for almost 10 years. That is a long time, and still nothing has changed for these people? Would it not be better to put the money into say setting up a school in the area so people can go and learn if they wish? Having a voice is one thing, but being able to get out of the situation they are in is another. Without some sort of labour skill, or some way of earning money, I cannot see the situation changing.

      Again Thank You for taking the time to explain what your organization is actually doing.

  3. Winton Bates says:

    An interesting exchange!
    Apart from the points that Mark raised, I imagine that this program would appeal to some of the brighter young people in these communities. The digital divide could be a barrier to their future employment prospects.

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi Winton,
      Nice to hear from you again.

      Yes I see your point. But would the money be better spent as I suggested on a school as such, not so much a building but somewhere the people can all get together and learn from experienced people, in there own area. I agree computers should be a part of that, but not for blogging, facebook, or twitter. Remembering this is all donated money. Imagine what could of been achieved in the nearly 10 years that they have been there.

  4. Ron says:

    It would be interesting to know exactly what has been done for the people over that long period of time. 10 years is a lot of donated money. Mark your comment sounds a bit political, and even though it would be great if the Government stepped in, it is just not going to happen. I agree with Winton to a certain extent, yes you do need computer skills, but I didn’t see computer skills mentioned only social interaction, but skills is what is needed I feel.

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi Ron,
      That is right, computer skills were not mentioned, I still feel by giving the people a voice is not going to achieve much in the sense it will not change the situation they are in.

  5. travelrat says:

    Yes; I agree with the need for computer skills … after all, nobody would argue with anyone wanting to teach disadvantaged people to read and write, and I’d say it’s only a matter of time before anyone without these skills is in the same position as an illiterate.

    But, I have my doubts about blogging and social networking. Certainly they should have a voice, but it needs to be a bloody loud one to make itself heard over the trivial, shallow babble out there.

    • magsx2 says:

      HI travelrat,
      It just seems to me that teaching these people is not on the agenda. It is more to do with having a voice. It’s good these people will be able to tell their story, but that is not going to put food on the table.
      I personally feel, teaching people the basics, reading, writing, maths, then introduce computers, but use the computers for further education, not for what is being proposed.

  6. Winton Bates says:

    Just a couple more points:
    First, if people want to donate money for such purposes then that is up to them. I’m glad it isn’t taxpayers’ money. I prefer to donate to Opportunity International , which provides loans for poor people to enable them to help themselves.
    Second, people in poor countries are using new technology in ways that might surprise us. For example, there is extensive use of mobile phones to conduct small scale business. I have heard of extensive use of email for similar purposes. Buying and selling online can bypass deficiencies of banking systems. I don’t know how they might use a web page – perhaps it might be a substitute for a shop front.

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi Winton,
      What a fantastic idea, to loan money, it wouldn’t work for everyone of course, but what a great start for others. There are a lot of people out there with so many talents, but have no way of getting those talents recognized.

      I seen a story once many years ago now, of a Lady I think she was in Africa, she made the most beautiful things with her hands, she got most of her items if I remember correctly from the dump. Someone gave her the means to start a little business, and from there they showed how her children was now going to school, and there was plenty of food for the family, it made a big difference in not only her life, but those around her.

  7. Jill says:

    Things like this remind me of that old saying,

    Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

  8. EternalForms says:

    This is a great exchange – sorry I’m a little late coming into it.

    Personally, I have a hard time with organizations like this. On their website, there is a lot of information about “Who” they are and “What” they DO, but little to no information on what they have actually DONE and accomplished. I mean, there are vague statements about the work they’re doing, but no concrete/measurable examples of things they’ve accomplished as far as improving life for people. One can donate to the organization, but what does that donation do?

    I am in agreement with many commentators here. It seems that there are better uses of time and resources than teaching impoverished youths how to blog and use social networking sites. There is much more to life than sitting in front of a computer. How about how to read and write? What’s wrong with journaling and/or writing their own personal stories in book form? Why not teach them these valuable life skills and use money to put together a collection of stories in a book and get that out to the public and use any proceeds to help the children and communities that shared their stories?

    So what if they know how to blog. There are millions upon millions of blogs out there and most of them have little to no audience. Sure, there is a technological divide between classes and that is quite severe between wealthy communities and impoverished ones. Yet, I can think of a long list of more important areas of focus than providing technology training to these individuals. Magsx2 you mentioned electricity and general education as two of those more important areas. How about nutrition? Food? Healthcare facilities? Skill/trade-development?

    Seriously … blogging? Is ActionAid providing computers and internet access as well? How readily available are these resources to impoverished kids? Is there one public computer with a month-long waiting list for use???

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi EternalForms,
      Exactly, there is no information on what they have actually done. I have stated in comments above, that I thought the best idea was a school, to teach the basics (reply to Mark, and reply to travelrat).
      What I’m finding very hard to understand, it that Mark stated that they have been in the area for nearly 10 years, 10 years and still nothing has changed for these people, something is not right, and it certainly doesn’t add up.

      If a school had of been started 10 years ago, just imagine what may have been for some of the people. In story’s that I have read about some slum areas, there seems to be a pattern, where the people never seem to be able to get out of the area, and the kids seem to follow, and it goes on down the line, and the area gets bigger. I strongly think education is the key. I’m sure if you helped these people get some sort of education, they in turn would be able to find work, and it just gets better for them from there.

  9. Mark Chenery says:

    I’m loving the feedback and points raised in this blog! No really. So many of your questions are spot on.

    Here are a few answers that I think will help for background, and an important acknowledgement of imperfection as well…

    Firstly, yes, ten years is a long time. But I never said we hadn’t achieved many things in that time. In fact, we’ve done bucket loads of awesome work over the years.

    You ask why we don’t just build a school? Good question. While we haven’t built a school in the area (see below for our reasons why), we do operate five child learning centers that are helping to get kids off the street and teaching them valuable literacy skills. Each centre has a library and trained staff who teach children to read, draw and express themselves. Over 700 local children are directly involved with the centres, although many more also benefit.

    Apart from the centres, we’ve also established close to 100 groups for adolescent girls to teach them skills they can use to earn an income – including embroidery. Many of the groups go on to establish cooperatives that take orders collectively from local businesses, earning their members solid monthly incomes.

    We’re also working with women in the area to teach them business skills so they can own and operate their own small enterprises. We focus on women, rather than men, as they are the most important forces for change in their community (and also the most marginalised). This is similar to the programs run by organisations like Opportunity International, although in this case, our focus is on business skills building rather than providing seed funding through micro-finance (although we often do use micro-finance with communities like this). Over 20 women’s self help groups have been established catering to over 430 women, with members given training in business selection, planning and management. Of these women, 60 have also been given training in leadership and group management so that they can take charge of the groups and 40 women have been given training in accounting. This is all about ensuring these groups are sustainable into the future – “give a man a fish” has become “teach a woman to run a business”.

    We’re also mindful of the serious lack of healthcare facilities provided by the government in the area, so we have helped families access medical care – including taking sick children to both government and private hospitals as required. Often parents would avoid taking their children to hospital out of fear of crippling doctors fees. ActionAid is helping to cover these so that the children get the health care they need to grow up strong.

    We’re also working on preventative health care by implementing a vaccination and vitamin supplement program in the area. As a result nearly all children have been brought under immunization against deadly polio – a serious concern in the crowded slums of Dhaka.

    All these programs are aimed at addressing the education, health care and livelihood needs of the people with whom we work. As a result, those participating in the program are better educated, earning higher incomes and a lot healthier and more resilient to disease.

    At the same time we’re lobbying the government to provide many of these services to these people themselves. And it’s working. The government and local authorities are increasingly recognising the rights of slum dwellers to decent education, health care and livelihood opportunities – the same as every other Bangladeshi. And new legislation has passed that makes it easier for people living in slums to hold their governments to account for providing these services.

    I said earlier that we hadn’t built schools and there’s a good reason why. Where aid has failed in the past is where organisations (including ActionAid previously) have gone ahead and provided services that the government is actually responsible for. It may seem like a good idea on the surface to provide schools for kids who don’t have one, but what effect do you think this has on government spending priorities? Clearly, if someone else is providing schools for its citizens then the government won’t priorities schools in its budgets. That leaves more money for the army, the oversized bureaucracy and a little here and there for the politicians and their families. The result, of course, is that even less funds and priority is placed on schools, teachers and teaching materials. It becomes a downward spiral that locks charities into spending all their money on providing services that the government should be providing. And trust me, they can afford it. And where they need extra funds, ActionAid lobbies governments like Australia to pitch in through our official aid program.

    That’s why ActionAid only ever provides services as a temporary measure aimed at showing governments what can be achieved with well designed and managed programs. It’s what we call the “new school” approach to development. IF you want more detail on this, there’s a nicely written blog post by our CEO on the matter here: http://blogs.actionaid.org.au/archie/2010/01/06/how-would-you-want-your-100-spent/

    A final couple of points.

    As I said in my original comment, we are actually already giving children the opportunity to communicate with their local community through offline means – a community newsletter. To do this the community has established a so-called “citizen journalist group”. Although, I’ve got to say, I love EternalForm’s idea of collating these stories into book form – it’s something we’ve done in other countries and is a powerful communication devise. The blog is only an extension of this.

    And just to clarify, the funds used to run the blogger training came from Australian bloggers who believed in the power of blogs as a tool for deepening democracy and human rights. We didn’t use any funds from our other supporters – as we agree with you, that not everyone would want their money spent in that way (even though we at ActionAid might think it’s important).

    And finally, I’ve got to admit that EternalForms is absolutely right, our current website http://www.actionaid.org.au has done a miserable job of actually providing examples of our work in action. We talk a lot about the WHAT’s and WHERE’s, but don’t provide nearly enough practical examples of what we’ve achieved.

    But, I promise you we’re working on it. As we’ve only just launched in Australia (June 2009), and we’re a small team so far, we have a lot more work to do in compiling and providing practical case studies of our work. Luckily, we have a small, but growing, team of volunteers in our Sydney office, who are working on sourcing case studies of our work from around the world (ActionAid has been around internationally for some 30-odd years). I know that we’ve achieved amazing things – I’ve visited some of our projects in Cambodia and I’ll be seeing our work in Kenya shortly.

    But you’re right, we need to show and not tell. All I can say is that a website revamp is on the cards and you can expect to see a lot more information on our actual work coming soon. I promise you, we have amazing success stories to tell.

    Thanks to everyone who’s posted comments on this blog. You’re asking all the right questions. Keep them coming.

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi Mark,
      Thank You for the follow up comment, it’s nice that you took the time to give the people who commented here as well as the readers some more information.

      I am happy to hear that ActionAid Australia has achieved some things at least. You should seriously look at doing something to show people what has been achieved, say short story’s on You Tube maybe, or something similar and put these video’s on your web site. My personal view, I have been stung by a couple of charity’s, that I have found over the years to have said one thing, but you find out down the track that what has been said, and what was reality was 2 different things.

      http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/stories/s139045.htm

      But I stand by what I have said above, I think blogging is a total waste of time for these people, I feel the same way about facebook and twitter. There is still a lot of money involved in teaching these things, for instance, flying 2 people over there, purchasing computers, running the computers etc. and I personally can’t see it helping out these people at all. I feel this money could of been spent in a much better way.

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