To get a sense of how it was to be a micrograntee, we asked Orsolya Jenei to share some of her experiences. Orsolya was the lead for the Mapping for Niger project, a Rising Voices micrograntee in 2013. The project is ongoing.
How did you shape your project to your own personal experience?
Before moving to Niger, I was working on a humanitarian mapping project in the South of Chad. The idea of working with university students, who are specialized on Geography/Cartography came to my mind during that period, as they are those who could directly benefit from gaining practical experience in geographic data collection and edition. Universities in Chad or Niger cannot allow themselves to give each and every student the possibility to learn to use the devices. So why shouldn’t we involve them? By the time the Rising Voices call came out, I was already living and volunteering in Niger and I immediately had to think about this initial idea. Mapping backed up with social media is a very powerful tool to show and feel the realities of a country. And by realities I mean the good and the bad: the fascinating rural ceremonies, the daily struggles of women, the problems with badly managed natural resources, and the immense positive effect sport can play.
Were there unexpected things that came up during the project, that you hadn't put into your application?
There were many unexpected things, but I believe that we managed to use them in our advantage. Students had to go back to their hometown for the summer holidays: we used this time to collect data and stories from these far away places. I didn’t expect the students being so engaged in the project that they want to work together several times a week either. We multiplied by many the occasions that we worked together, which of course, greatly benefitted the project!
Were there any specifically technological unforseen concerns?
The technology was sometimes a the tricky part! Powercuts. Virus on the GPS. Lack of computers or broken computers. Data loss. Intermittent internet connection. It happened many times that we were sitting in the training room, with our feet in the water, that somehow found its way into the computer room after a heavy rain, waiting for the electricity to come back. I was very afraid that these issues will demotivate the students. But to be honest, as these issues are very common, they dealt with it patiently, waited, re-collected the data, re-started the computers numerous times a day, and worked. They were wonderful.
Were there technological things you would have liked to do more, or less with?
Looking back, I wish we would have include Twitter in local languages, as it is a great tool, that can reach a lot of people through the cell phones. But it is not a lost cause and I hope we can include it this year! We had to work a lot on basic computer skills, and I think by now we established a good base for it. Also the students themselves are able to train others. We had to go slowly and include one tool after the other.
What do you wish you'd done differently having finished the project (if anything)?
I might have tried to involve first only a few people, then with their help get more and more involved. It was quite hard for me in the beginning, considering the low level of computer literacy of the students, who hardly, if ever used the internet before. Working in the initial stages of the project with 15 students all at once is not easy – especially if there are 3-4 people on one computer and the technology is making fun of you:) But after these hectic moments in the beginning, I was happy to have them all around, and also several among them who quickly understood the notions became a big help for me to train the others.
Do you have any general tips for first time applicants writing an application? What are some of the things you thought about when you were writing your application?
I think the application process is really helpful because it allows you to really think through your project, its goals and constraints. However I would advise the first time applicants to really look into the technical part, as it can play a big role in the project. Are those comupters really functional? Is the internet fast enough? Think through the worst case scenarios, because you might face them when you work on your project. Also, leave space for changes and modifications. The beauty of the Rising Voices microgrant is that it doesn’t try to tie your hands, it only depends on you how much you take out of it, how much you do for your participants and the communities.
Anything else you think applicants should know at this point in their process?
If you are not convinced that your project is not the most amazing life-changing experience then those who are reading your project will not be convinced either. You have to believe in yourself and be fully committed. The grantees work with marginalised communities for who the project can give hope. So use your imagination, sit down, and write that project. Because it not only can help other people, but you can learn a lot about yourself.