Project Progress Report

August 30th, 2009 by David Sasaki

ADVOCACY PROJECT FOR THE PROMOTION AND THE DEFENSE OF THE RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV/AIDS, USING WEB 2.0 TOOLS

Brazzaville & Pointe-Noire, Congo - July 2008 – June 2009

INTRODUCTION:

The first phase of the project Web 2.0 and digital histories for the advocacy for the promotion and the defense of the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in Congo, was implemented in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire in Congo by AZUR Dévelopment with the financial support of Rising Voices. This report provides information on activities implemented from July 25th 2008 to June 30th 2009.

This project, involving people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS as well as health professionals, was aimed at training communication officers from AIDS organizations in digital story telling, blogging and creation of online photo albums (using flickr.com) in order to document stigma and discrimination against people infected and affected by HIV, advocate for the rights of PLWHAs and mobilize resources

This is an innovative project in the sense that it gives people infected and affected in Congo the possibility to express themselves through the internet and to break the fear of discrimination and stigma they face in off line spaces.

The project’s objectives are on their way to be achieved, but we must reinforce the appropriation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) by people infected and affected by HIV.

  1. BENEFICIARIES:

This project directly benefitted 8 organizations,   members of the National Network of Positives from Congo (RENAPC) and 4 HIV/AIDS organizations based in Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire. It also involved health professionals and other stakeholders.

Initially targeted at communication officers in AIDS organizations, it was then made accessible to other groups of people because of the interest it created.

THE ACTIVITIES IMPLEMENTED:

Pre-evaluation of the training needs

A pre-evaluation was carried out in order to assess the project participants’ IT and Internet skills. It’s on the basis of this evaluation that the training programs were done. It resulted from this pre-evaluation that most had some basic IT skills but lacked knowledge on Blogs, digital stories and Flickr.com, for some, it was the first time they heard about Blogs.

Training for Communication officers’ and leaders:

Two training workshops were organized for the communication officers and the leaders of AIDS and PLWHA organizations in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire in July and October 2008. The participants were people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

These training were based on the following agenda

      • Advanced internet options: using email boxes, attaching and downloading attachments;
      • Online translations of texts using Google linguistic tools and Altavista
      • How to do advance searches with Google
      • Blog creation and publishing blog posts
      • Writing  techniques for the Web
      • Importance and different stages of digital story telling using Windows Movie Maker; and
      • creating online photo albums with flickr.com.

It was the first time that training on Web 2.0 tools was hold for AIDS organizations in the country and it aroused genuine interest with other organizations which hadn’t been invited to take part.

We also organized during one month a course on basic computer skills for two female members of a PLWHA organization; who didn’t know how to use a computer or type texts.

Donations of digital  cameras:

In order to allow organizations of people living with HIV/AIDS to better document stigma and discrimination and also to create digital stories, digital cameras had been given out to organizations involved in the project. These organizations didn’t own one before the project.

These cameras were also given out in order to encourage the documentation of their activities with a purpose of resources mobilization.

During the training, the participants who were given the cameras, learnt how to use them.

Blogging:

The project continued to blog about discrimination against PLWHA and the fight against HIV/AIDS in general, on http://aidsrightscongo.org.

The blog posts include interviews of PLWA, leaders, families, health professionals and even journalists.

The articles were drawn from blogs of organizations participating in the project, interviews carried out by the project team and also from articles written in collaboration with AIDS leaders and activists.

The Blog http://aidsrightscongo.org was promoted on the discussion group of the “Réseau SIDA Afrique” (Africa AIDS Network) in Dgroup and links have also been sent to some partners.

Other Activities:

We carried out other activities linked to other projects implemented by AZUR Développement.

  • 16 days of activism against violence towards women within the framework of the APC WNSP’s campaign Take Back the Tech: we organized radio programmes about the violence against women and girls in Pointe Noire which stirred a lot of reactions from listeners through SMS. We also blogged about the issues raised by these programs.
  • Coverage of ICASA 2009 in Dakar: the members of the Réseau Sida Afrique network blogged about this AIDS Conference daily, mentioning important sessions and issues discussed during the conference, thus allowing over 300 members involved in the fight against AIDS; who were not attending this conference to monitor and discuss the raised issues.

III – OUTCOMES OF THE PROJECT:

Outcomes How we know we achieved them
People infected and affected by HIV/AIDS have increased their abilities to use emails, to create blogs, to search the internet and to use online translation tools. - 80% of the participants to the training check their emails at least once a week.

- 80% of the participants use Google to carry out online searches and translate documents online

- All the participants created blogs during the training workshops.

People infected and affected by HIV/AIDS can use ICTs in the work to fight HIV/AIDS Blog posts published by project’s beneficiaries denounce stigma and discrimination against HIV positive women and men

37% of the organizations published articles and photos on their blogs.

50% of the trained organizations asked for further technical support in order to improve their blogs after the training workshops.

50% of the organizations benefiting from the project would like to develop websites and to have  greater access to ICTs

25% of the organizations’ leaders stayed in contact with AZUR Development to work on proposals of common project on the internet.

Information is available on the denial of the rights of the people living with HIV/AIDS in Congo http://aidsrightscongo.org

presents several articles on the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in Congo

People living with HIV/AIDS and AIDS organizations have increased access to ICTs and the internet PLWHA organizations have digital cameras

One of the beneficiary organization has bought a laptop with their own resources and one another is considering to do the same

IV – EVALUATION OF THE FIRST PHASE OF THE PROJECT:

An evaluation was carried out in order to allow us to measure the outcomes achieved during the first activities of the project, and to define the prospects of the second phase. We used for this evaluation some of the steps/content of an evaluation Methodology tool called GEM (Gender Evaluation Methodology) developed by APC WNSP.

We wanted to get from this evaluation:

  • An improvement of the project ’s implementation strategy by reinforcing a gender perspective;
  • an identification of new activities and services to achieve the goals of the project; and
  • the identification of better practices and the lessons learnt from the project.

A. To what extend do the men and women in AIDS organizations use ICTs, with what goal and which access?

It was observed that before the training workshops, the beneficiaries of the project only used the basic functions of the internet. They only read their emails and very few used Google or any other search engine (only 2). Even when they used the internet, they lacked skills in typing text; especially they didn’t have good knowledge of Microsoft Word.

As many men as women were trained by the project. However, it has to be noted that within organizations of people living with HIV/AIDS, intellectual women fear stigma and discrimination and thus, don’t want to take  leadership responsibilities. The communication officers in these organizations, or those acting as such, were men in majority.

All admitted (men or women) having done for the first time blogs, photo albums on Flickr.com. “I discovered blogs through the training, for me it represents a shortcut for our small organization that can’t afford a website”, admitted the Program Coordinator of  Association Aide de Vie.

All the participants now acknowledge (through the evaluation) that ICTs are necessary to achieve their organizations’ objectives. Their average frequency of email checking has increased to 3 times a week.

They think that if they had more funds, they could visit internet Cafés more than 3 times a week. They have to pay on average 1USD per hour spent on the internet. Every trained organization (apart from 3 people) don’t have their own computer or internet connection.

On the other hand, the member of the National Network of Positives in the Congo (RENAPC) can connect in this network’s office. When they were asked if they were using the service, they seemed not well informed on the procedures to access to the Network’s computers. However, one organization confirmed that they were connecting to internet at the Network’s office.

There is also a documentation centre connected to the internet that was opened by the Forum of the AIDS NGOs in the Congo (FOSIC) with the support of the AIDS National Council (main donor of PLWHA of PLHIV organizations in the country); but it is not used by the organizations that participated in the project implemented by AZUR Development.

The reason mentioned for the lack of frequentation of this centre is the proximity; the beneficiaries prefer to surf internet cafés near their home. But another issue may be the lack of information on the centre; e.g. the organizations don’t know whether it’s free or not.

It was also observed that there was a limited possibility of accessing ICTs, even for members of the AIDS and PLWHA organizations; this being a handicap for practicing the skills learnt in the training sessions organized by the project. For example, the reporting of the trainings to their members (about 240 people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS) has only been done in theory.

Two of the trained organizations asked AZUR Développement to give them the possibility to connect to the internet for free at AZUR’s office in Brazzaville; in order to apply and practice the skills gained during the training workshop. Since the end of the training in Brazzaville (July 2008), one of the organizations (Femmes Plus) had regular access to the internet in AZUR’s office; until they decided to buy a laptop with their own resources (AZUR has just provided technical advice) and the change in the way this organization uses the internet is already noticeable.

To what extend are the training needs for Web 2.0 different for men and women in AIDS organizations?

Men seem more comfortable using the internet even months after the training; even though some didn’t update their blogs. Therefore, the lack of technical capacities for men is not the reason behind irregular blogging. There is an issue of lack of will and money, for example, one of them (Association Aide de Vie) said “I go to the internet Café and I use my own money to surf and update our organization’s blog”. As their organizations, like others, don’t have budgets for internet access.

The women, on the other hand, are limited to reading and opening emails and importing and downloading attachments, translating texts online, etc. It seems easier to them. On the other hand, some of them state that they can’t access and post on blogs or import photos from USB keys without help; they find it a little complicated.

But, for two of them, because of their training as journalists, the task is easy.

This raises the issue of Blogging and Web 2.0 being seen by the organizations as something professional requiring prior knowledge. Thus we shouldn’t assume that “everybody can just blog” and that “we only have to teach them”.

There are cultural elements of women seeing technology as a “male” thing. Blogging also requires basic competences, for example, they have problems with file extensions, importing photos, converting files and, the fact that they don’t have the necessary basic computer skills knowledge makes the task more difficult.

Therefore, unless we take care of bridging the gaps in their actual basic computer skills, training and encouraging  the women in AIDS organizations in the country  to blog could even lead them to reject the internet altogether.

It was also easier for organizations to write blog posts during major events or important days such as the AIDS World day. We also found it useful to suggest articles’ angles and topics to project beneficiaries. Because, the beneficiaries also have problems to identify what makes the information. What can be put on a Blog post? For instance, even after the training, many continue to think that they can only post articles about their organization’s major activities (workshops, conference, project launch, etc.).

What we noticed during the evaluation is that the participants didn’t trust their ability to write properly on the internet, and therefore they don’t want to commit.

Finding information to write articles about people living with HIV/AIDS is also a barrier to blogging about stigma and discrimination; because some of them refuse to communicate – they want to be paid to give information (as we were told during evaluation) or they also fear stigma and discrimination; as they are not sure who “controls” the dissemination of the information they are providing. This is a factor that discouraged some of the project’s beneficiaries to blog.

To what extend did the content of the training on Web 2.0 and the creation of Blogs add value to the work of the organizations fighting against AIDS and to the mobilization of resources?

There is a lack of appropriation of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) tools by the communication officers and the leaders of the beneficiary organizations because of a lack of financial means and understanding of the potential of ICTs in general.

One of the mentioned that Google search allows them to find documents on HIV/AIDS; especially information on treatment and research in order to give current information to their group members during the HIV/AIDS support group sessions. However, the percentage of the beneficiaries doing so is still low; only 2 organizations regularly look for information on AIDS on the internet.

The others are still limited to reading emails; and some do so for personal use; because they are not responsible for reading their organization’s emails. The organizations’ presidents or executive directors are often the only people reading the organizations’ emails. There isn’t a work culture of exchange by emails amongst AIDS organizations members and staff in general. Internal communication is purely through physical contact and the internet is seen primarily as a way to communicate externally.

The use of photos to document their activities is not common practice in PLWHA organizations. The communication officers have little room for maneuver within their organizations.

Photos are more used for display on notice boards. The transfer of usual notice boards photos on to the internet as photo albums (like Flickr.com) is not yet seen by the Presidents or executive directors of these organizations as a way to promote the organization’s activities beyond the usual audience.

On the other hand, the organizations of HIV positive people face a real “safety” issue, fearing stigma and discrimination online. Once a picture is on the internet, they can’t control its distribution.

The majority of the communication officers are not involved within their organizations in resources mobilization. They also and some haven’t got the skills. Therefore, they are not making the link between communication, ICTs and mobilization of resources.

However, their increased use of the internet is starting to bear fruit. Thus, two out of eight (8) have found the addresses of foundations since the training workshops; and three (3) organizations have sent project proposals on line; two (2) have secured funding since the end of the trainings.

For the President of Femmes Plus, an Association of HIV positive women, “during the training, I couldn’t see what this training was going to give us concretely, but now, I realize that I can be in contact with people who can fund the projects of our organization”.

To what extend did the project bring changes to the communication and mobilization of resources plans of AIDS organizations?

Regarding the role of the communication officers; it was noticed that the responsibilities of the people in charge of the communication are not clearly defined in their organizations. They are often chosen in the field, on a voluntary basis and they are not committed to the task. i.e. they don’t have a job description.

In practice, we noticed that the job is often done by the organization’s leaders themselves and with very little delegation to the communication officers. It is common to see that, in reality, the Presidents or the Coordinators cumulate all coordination tasks.

There are various reasons: lack of funds to recruit and pay staff, lack of competent volunteers amongst the organization’s members and fear to “disclose” themselves publically because of stigma and discrimination. Because communication involves public disclosure, something that many HIV infected people are not ready to do.

Most of the communication officers don’t have any terms and conditions and work in a “traditional way” and only intervene in communication when a major activity occurs (workshop, conference, etc.). Those acting as communicators in these organizations have almost never been trained and learn communication on the job.

On the one hand, they lack of tools to perform their tasks such as IT equipment and even USB keys.

On the other hand, few resources are allocated to communication in these organizations’ budgets (when they have one), on average 8% of the annual budget is allocated to communication. 60% of the organizations have information leaflets that are not updated. For example, some of the organizations don’t have business cards. Banners are only used rarely for large-scale activities. 40% of the organizations invite the TV, the Radio and the Press to their activities if it is provided in the activity budget.

Besides, these organizations admit that communication is the only way to make their organizations promotion and a good way to develop partnerships. During the evaluation, they asked for communication for organizations to be included in the training modules.

It is understandable to see that blogs are not often updated; since this should be part of the communication strategy of the organization; strategy that doesn’t usually exist. The lack of trained communication staff affects the whole process – i.e. Blogging with the aim to add value to the work of fighting against AIDS is only possible when AIDS organizations could “communicate” regularly.

Thus, the interventions aiming to integrate ICTs in the fight against AIDS should include institutional support for a communication strategy for the organizations. For example, training in internal, uses of ICTs for internal communication (between members and staff, etc.) and not to be limited to technical training on ICTs tools and Web 2.0.

To what extend do HIV positive people feel safe using ICTs?

All the project beneficiaries state feeling the pressure of internet fraud and cyber crime but that, thanks to the advice received, they didn’t fall for it. “We got emails and calls saying that we received a 100,000 Euros funding and that we had to take steps to go to Sweden; but we didn’t do anything” the Association Femmes Plus told us.

Leaders, or those acting as communicators within the organizations admit not to fear using pictures; however, their organisations’ members still fear stigma and discrimination, to the point that they refuse to have their picture published on the internet.

On this point, we discovered through the evaluation that the training should have included photo processing in order to allow the communication officers and leaders of organizations to blur or black out the pictures and to protect anonymity; if they wanted to. However, the training should take introduce FOSS tools.

However, it is difficult to process photos in an internet Café since they don’t always have the relevant software and it requires more surfing hours than they can afford.

Thus, the digital cameras that have been given out by the project are used but the pictures are not published or shared between the project members or partners. Some take pictures only for pleasure because they can’t publish them. Flickr.com has “privacy” options for pictures, but they wouldn’t be useful because the members of the HIV positive people organizations benefitting from the project don’t use enough the internet to communicate among themselves.

Therefore, the appropriate equipment could, for instance, be USB keys, digital recorders to podcast and laptop computers rather than digital cameras, which in the end, are not being used for the purpose it was meant to.

Podcasting represent an important potential, since illiterate members could listen and it could be used off line for educational sessions on HIV/AIDS.

DIFFICULTIES ENCOUNTERED:

In the running of the project, we faced the following difficulties:

  • Organizing the beneficiaries: the organizations benefiting from the project not allocating enough of their budget for communication and not having any trained communicators made the running of the project difficult.
  • Lacking financial means and access to ICTs: the majority of the beneficiary organizations don’t have any IT tools or Internet connection in their offices.
  • The fear of discrimination and stigma for the members of these associations was also a barrier as they didn’t want to give evidence, talk about their story even anonymously or be photographed – which meant that the cameras hadn’t been used as planned by the communication officers.

THE PROSPECT OF SECOND PHASE FOR THE PROJECT:

  • To organize two refresher courses on internal and external communication advanced use of the internet, Blogs, Podcasting, writing techniques for the Web. The courses will be organized in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire.

These refresher courses will be followed by the availability of a computer connected to the internet for the beneficiaries in Brazzaville, who, according to a defined schedule, will come to AZUR’s centre, once a week, to practice their acquired skills (blogging, picture and internet search). For those in Pointe-Noire, the project will have to pay for surfing hours in Internet Cafés in order for them to take in the training in the best possible way.

  • A competition will be organized to reward the best Blog posts of the months with useful prizes (ICT tools: USB keys, printers, and other tools).
  • To continue to encourage writing of articles on the main blog and make several interviews with Podcasting (which hasn’t been done during the first phase of the project) in order to carry further the voices of the people infected and affected by HIV.
  • Monitor the project systematically. For example, calling each project beneficiary once a week to inquire about the progress of their Blog.
  • Looking for funding for and institutional support project on communication for AIDS organizations.

For example, appoint communication professionals to the organizations for at least 3 months and assign them to the development of a communication strategy and its implementation, equip ourselves with minimum ICT tools (laptops, mobile internet, USB keys, digital recorders and printers).

CONCLUSION:

This project implementation allowed people living with HIV to become aware of the importance of communication in general and Web 2.0 tools for advocacy and mobilization of resources. “We now think that communication and the internet are the mirror of our activities, it is through them that an organization can be discovered. As a proof, we are the focal point for a global network” said Mahoungou Jean-Pierre, secretary of the Bomoi Association.

Thanks to this project the people infected and affected benefitting from the project had the opportunity to denounce some violations of their rights both on the internet and the Radio. But also to change the feelings towards ICTs use. “During the training, I had less consideration, but now, thanks to ICTs, I found, as an example, an Australian woman who helps me look for funding for my organization” said the President of the Femme Plus Association.

Project’s main blog

http://aidsrightscongo.org/ – Project Blog of AIDSRightsCongo

Some of the project beneficiaries blogs

http://sita53.wordpress.com/ – Association Femmes Plus

http://aidevie.wordpress.com/ – Association Aide de Vie

The web 2.0 for advocacy of the rights of people living with AIDS

July 24th, 2008 by romeo mbengou

A training workshop on advanced Internet usage, the web 2.0, and creating digital stories was organized for communication officers and leaders of associations fighting against AIDS in Congo from 22 to 23 July at the headquarters of the AZUR Development Association in Brazzaville.

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Having met representatives of seven associations fighting against AIDS, the training objectives were to strengthen the capacity of communication officers and leaders of organizations fighting against AIDS in Congo by using web 2.0 Internet tools; documenting stigma and discrimination of people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in Congo for advocacy purposes, advocacy, education and mobilization of resources.

Indeed, the Internet is not used enough by associations fighting against AIDS, as was recognized by a representative of the association Life Help: “These are methods that are lacking because we do not use the Internet enough.” Many cases of violations of the rights of people living with AIDS, discrimination and stigma are not known by government authorities and human rights groups.

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The workshop enabled the leaders of associations fighting against AIDS and their communication officers to know about blogging, how to create entries, and update their blogs frequently. We also trained them how to use flickr to publishing photographs of their activities. Participants also learned how to create digital stories using Windows Movie Maker.

To enable these organizations to document their activities, digital cameras were awarded to the participants. They did not hide their satisfaction. According to Jean Pierre Mahoungou of the association Bomoyi, “This training allows us to better document our experiences in the fight against AIDS now that we now have cameras to take pictures.”

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This training will lead to the production of articles, reports or stories by digital communication officers.

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Already five of the communications officers have started their blogs: