Sunday, September 12, 2010

Combatting fear in clothes that fit.

“What should I wear if I do not have a long, loose dress? haha… that may sound trivial but I want to be respectful. Do you get my question?”

Now I generally do not wear dresses, but I did get her question. Molly, a 17 year old student and leader in Mercy Corps’ Global Citizen Corps, is getting ready tolead more than a dozen other students from her high school to a

Global Citizen Corps leader Molly Mus at Mosque

press conference and tour of a mosque in Seattle Washington today.
It’s September 11th, a day of remembrance, and one in which Molly and her group want to recognize as a day to build bridges to
understanding as an antidote to fear and distrust.

I understand her question all too well because earlier this month I faced a similar dilemma.

I had been invited by Charlene Teters, a high school classmate, to come to her annual Pow Wow for her tribe, the Spokane Indians. I had connected with her at our 40th year class reunion last month. We didn’t know each other well in high school, but I did remember her brother George quite well. He was the guy who beat me with uncompromising regularity in competitive wrestling throughout high school!

At the reunion, I learned that over the years Charlene had become a nationally prominent activist, leading to major policy changes so that today most professional and university sports teams no longer use Indians as mascots for their teams.

As I got ready that morning to pack and go to the Pow Wow I realized I had nothing to wear that would work.
I pulled out my one clean white t-shirt, with a Seattle Mariners emblem on the back (that seemed ok) but the logo on the front was of Alaska Airlines, with a Native face. I grabbed another t-shirt I had gotten at the Grand Canyon some years ago, and then noticed the image of Kokopelli, a fertility deity worshiped by some Native American tribes in the Southwest. Not ok?

Charlene leading granddaughter in her first Pow Wow dance

I grew up in Spokane, a western town of sorts, so decided to grab my leather belt and leather hat I had gotten in Peru a few years back. Both hand-made. And both etched with what some believe to be religious animal symbols, called the
Nazca Lines, from the ancient time of the Incas. Another commercial exploitation of Native culture?

My last option was to go a little fancier, and pull out my best western-looking shirt, a black, decorative Cowboy shirt. Eek! Now that would be a real poke in the eye.

We really know so little about each other. Maybe none of this would be offensive, I really don’t know. And I didn’t fully know what to expect at the Pow Wow, or, for that matter, what we will see and learn when we go to the mosque today. I have traveled to 26 countries so far in my life, a good number of them in the middle east, and in all that time, I don’t think I have ever stepped foot in a mosque.

Today is a day to take another step toward understanding. It’s a good day to live.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"Making Globalization a More Human Experience"

This is a guest post by Sarah Standish, a Global Citizen Corps staff member.

Hundreds of volunteers sustain the work of the NGO Global Voices Online, and have done so for years. Why do people from all over the world devote so much time to the organization? Is there some secret to making it work? At the most recent Global Voices Summit, I tried to find out.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Role of Citizen Media in Development Work

This is a guest post by Sarah Standish, a Global Citizen Corps staff member.

Let’s face it—citizen media projects quite often focus on one of a few common goals, like giving voice to a marginalized people, or freedom of speech, or promoting government transparency. These are all extremely valuable goals, but they’re more concerned with politics than development. Does that mean social media has nothing to offer to development issues, like the ones that Global Citizen Corps leaders work on?

Of course not! Citizen media can also be very beneficial to development projects, and some of the projects highlighted at the 2010 Global Voices Citizen Media Summit proved that in a number of fields.

Environment: The Nomad Green project in Mongolia trains citizens to use social media to report on environmental issues using blogs, mapping, videos, and podcasts. Nomad Green now has dozen of authors writing about environmental issues in the country, and a map where citizens can report environmental problems. They also translate many of their articles into English, Chinese, and other languages—because environmental problems don’t stay within one country’s borders. As the Nomad Green website notes, “There are almost no similarities between Taiwan the small island country in Pacific ocean and Mongolia the second biggest inland country. However, the dust storm that originates from the ever expanding desert in Mongolia affects millions of Taiwanese during winter.” That’s just one reason sharing information and techniques between different communities of environmental activists is important.

Health: In the Congo, the organization AIDS Rights Congo uses social media like videos and blogs to document the stories of people affected by AIDS in Congo, and then employs these materials as part of an effort to educate others about the disease and advocate for their rights.

Environment: In Madagascar, citizen journalists also contributed to raising awareness of illegal logging in their national forests by blogging about it.

Education & Conflict: In Medellin, Colombia, activists combined blogging workshops for youth with a public outreach program at their local libraries. The result was a project called HiperBarrio, which combines library time with a program that allows participants—many of whom come from poor neighborhoods rife with violence—to blog about their lives.

Conflict, Education, & Environment: The NGO Bosco Uganda believes that the Internet can provide a way to help communities recover from conflict. This project provides Internally Displaced Person camps in Northern Uganda with internet connections and training, using technology especially suited to such rural communities: solar-powered computers connected to long-range wireless networks. According to the organization’s website, “User groups are trained to produce photo essays and to use Picasa and Flickr to store their pictures. Sharing their story with the world has been a form of therapy in itself helping users recover from the trauma of war.” Bosco Uganda also carries out classroom-to-classroom partnerships with schools in the United States to help students in both countries learn about gathering data and mapping water resources.

Citizen media projects are often designed to collect and aggregate information about a particular issue or make information more accessible. But how do you turn that information into action? Check out the fantastic Ten Tactics For Turning Information Into Action website for more ideas!

Photo: The Mongolian landscape. By tiarescott (flickr)

This is a guest post by Sarah Standish, a Global Citizen Corps staff member.

One of the many interesting discussions at the 2010 Global Voices Citizen Media Summit was a discussion about the relationship between youth and media that raised some provocative questions.

Is digital communication bad for youth? Anne, a professor at Columbia University, worried that spending so much time online was making it harder for youth to develop other skills, and that it was exposing youth to ideas they were too young for. Others focused on online bullying, saying that the issue wasn’t getting enough attention outside of the United States. Some participants, however, believed that none of these problems were worse on the Internet than they had been before it, and one even argued that the Internet provided a new way for students who were being bullied to fight back.

Do youth really want their voices to be heard? While the discussion moderator, Emily, believed that the most important function of youth organizations was to give youth a way to make their voices heard, Juliana, the Global Voices video editor, disagreed. She explained that while she believes youth have distinct voices, she questions the assumption that youth want the world to hear these voices. She thinks instead that youth often prefer to communicate with each other in ways that are not meant for adults to see—whether by passing notes in class or writing to each other on Facebook.

Nishant, an Internet researcher from India, believed that youth do want to make their voices heard, but not necessarily on the topics that adults want them to talk about. He cited the example of the Back Dorm Boys, a Chinese duo whose performances consist solely of lipsyncing to songs originally performed by the Backstreet Boys. Most people may think of this as a silly activity, but the Back Dorm Boys became very popular on YouTube. When Nishant interviewed the duo, they told him that they saw their work as a profound rebellion against dominant Chinese culture, but that they were rarely given the chance to express that idea. From this experience, Nishant concluded that what youth want to talk about is actually incredibly important, and that adults should give them a wider space to do so.

Victor, a Malawian journalist and Global Voices author, agreed with Nishant on this point—that youth do want unedited platforms to express themselves. However, he pointed out that there may not be one platform that appeals to all kinds of youth and noted that in his past experience working in youth media, some youth seem very interested in Facebook and others very enthusiastic about radio, but few were equally interested in both.

Is a short attention span a bad thing? One participant from Egypt expressed frustration at the fact that youth generally stop participating in her online feminism project after just a short while. Others, however, said that this was simply the nature of youth participation and not necessarily a bad thing.

How do youth participate in politics? Emily wanted to find ways to involve youth in mainstream political debates, nothing that she saw as particularly important since youth don’t have full legal rights. Nishant, on the other hand, believed that today’s youth have already have a different way of being political than other generations did—so different, in fact, that contemporary adults might not recognize it as political most. In fact, he believes that youth’s use of new media tools, like Facebook and YouTube, often has a political dimension that adults just don’t see.

The discussion ended with many questions raised, and few answers. How would you respond to questions like these?

Photo: stampcny (flickr)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

When an Internet Connection is Just the Beginning

The Global Voices team in Santiago

This is a guest post by Sarah Standish, a Global Citizen Corps staff member.

A stranger called out my name in the lobby of our hotel in Santiago. Waving me over, she introduced herself.

“How did you know who I was?” I asked.

“You look exactly like your Twitter picture,” she told me.

This wasn’t the only time such a scene was repeated during the Global Voices 2010 Citizen Media Summit in Chile. The Summit was a time to put screen names, Twitter handles, blogging pseudonyms, and email addresses with faces—to meet people I’d only ever communicated with online, as well as to see faces unknown to me from the Internet or anywhere else.

As interesting and fun as these interactions were, they also presented a question: if you’ve already met someone online, how important is it to also meet them in person? The internet, after all, allows us to access the news, thoughts, and feelings of people all over the world—to be global citizens while staying close to home. So should we meet these far-away strangers? Let’s not forget that if you come from two places that are very far away, traveling to meet comes with a significant cost in time, money, and environmental impact. If you have the option of dealing with people entirely over the internet, is it worthwhile to meet?

For Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zuckerman, the answer is a resounding yes—meeting in person is crucial. When I asked him what made Global Voices so successful, he immediately said, “Beer!” Elaborating, he explained that one of the keys to making a virtual organization work was meeting in person and having drinks. (Younger readers and non-drinkers: you could make the same connections over coffee, tea, fruit juice…you name it!). People who work together can get more done face-to-face, and build personal connections that help their work.

Environmental reservations aside, I’d have to agree. Online communication is usually broad and unlikely to be deep in the way that face-to-face conversations can be. (Just because it can be deep—I know people who’ve fallen in love entirely online—doesn’t mean it usually is.) A few minutes in person can also tell you about the depths of someone’s personality in ways that don’t come across in a carefully constructed online persona. While some people complained about how few Chileans spoke English, I was impressed when I saw an Egyptian blogger patiently practicing his Spanish with them—and given that he did so very well, I was even more surprised to learn that he’d only studied the language for a few months! Conversations with another Moroccan blogger I’d known from Twitter revealed the depth of his commitment to highlighting marginalized voices in a way I hadn’t previously realized.

In the best of all possible worlds, online interactions can set a more meaningful stage for personal interactions. If you put a bunch of strangers in a room together, I’d bet they’re more likely to comment on the weather than debate global warming, more likely to exchange platitudes about their children than discuss overpopulation. But if they already know each other from the Internet, then they’d have some ideas about the others’ interests and backgrounds—enough to start a better conversation. And better conversations, whether they happen on or offline, are what makes communicating with anyone—in any format—worthwhile.

Photo by Oso: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Citizen Media, Me, and You

This is a guest post by Sarah Standish, a Global Citizen Corps staff member.

I started out at as a casual reader at Global Voices Online, an organization that publishes articles about what bloggers are saying all over the world. Little did I know that a year later I'd be recruited to volunteer for the project as a translator, and that only a year after that I'd be participating in GV's bi-annual summit--something that I couldn't be more exited about!

The Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2010 will take place in early May in Santiago, Chile, a location chosen because of all the fantastic citizen media projects that are going on there.

But wait a minute. What's citizen media?

Basically, citizen media is content produced by citizen journalists--people who aren't professional journalists but who still work to spread news and opinions by blogging, starting a website, making a video, taking photos, or engaging in a huge range of other activities. They do this in order to make space for news and opinions that don't often appear in the mainstream media.

When writing about global news, for example, newspapers tend to quote powerful government officials and senior analysts, but not the average citizens of the country where an event is taking place. Global Voices, on the other hand, is there to summarize and translate some of those citizens' opinions when they're written up in blogs.

This kind of citizen media isn't intended to replace newspapers and television stations, but to complement them, and the two can work together, like when the BBC cooperated with Global Voices after the recent earthquake there to report on the fact that Chilean bloggers were unhappy with the way the media was ignoring the devastation that indigenous communities had suffered.

I'll be blogging more about citizen media before and after the summit--what I've learned, and what citizen journalists from around the world are working on.

Keep in mind, though, that citizen media isn't just something other people do. Is there an issue in your community that the media isn't paying enough attention to? You can be a citizen journalist and do something about it too.

(Photo: The 2008 Global Voices Summit, from carribeanfreephoto on flickr)