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Life is Sexually Transmitted

 

“We
are all products of sex and we should not feel ashamed talking or reporting
about it”. These were the opening words of Lisa (Not real Name). She was
speaking to Journalists and Communication officers at a training on reporting
health at Voice of America (VOA) offices during the AIDS2012 conference in
Washington DC, which I was privileged to attend. Lisa was HIV positive and she
said that she was not happy about the little attention that’s given to
reproductive health issues by mainstream media. Her argument was that; many
people are not comfortable talking about SEX.
Asked why, she said that’s her mission now, to find out the big
“WHY”.

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DISABILITY is not INABILITY: Women,ICTs and Disability in Northern Uganda

“I am not good at videography especially editing but I believe you will all get the message clearly.”
The convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPF) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 December 2006. A major milestone for all persons living with disabilities around the world, it is the 8th Universal Convention on Human Rights of  which majority of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) member States are signatories to the convention.
Article 9 of the CRPD defines ICT accessibility as an integral part of accessibility rights on par with transportation and physical environment for PWDs. There are indeed so many challenges for PWDs to realize their fundamental Human Right of access to information especially in the developing countries
These challenges include but are not limited to;
  • · Low education levels of  PWDs especially in the developing countries,
  • Absence of assistive technologies to help even the educated PWDs,
  • The absence of clear intervention strategies by governments, local disability leadership and other    stakeholders to save the situation,
  • The fact that majority PWDs live in the most rural parts of Africa and therefore can’t be covered by the available ICTs.
And although the Mobile telephone technology is greatly improving accessibility to information in Africa, its applicability for use by people with disabilities is still highly wanting. There are barriers to accessibility mainly because of the different designs of  ICT tools used by people in the mainstream which are not adaptable for use by the PWDs.
In one of the resent trainings for PWDs in Gulu which was organized by Women of Uganda Network with an aim to increase civil society organisations’ use of  and interaction with various forms of media especially PWDs who since time immemorial have been left out of ICT related programs and projects, I was privileged to facilitate a number of session on how ICTs can be used by and for PWDs. The training took place at Gulu Union of Persons with Disability on December 2010 and it was specifically offered to Gulu Landmine Survivors, A local Women’s group in Gulu. The level of enthusiasm and zeal portrayed by the woman was overwhelming. They were eager to learn, listen, implement and share. They wanted to share their stories with the entire world and be heard.
I was drawn to two particular participants, Ms. Adong Lucy a blind Woman and Ms. Jenifer Arach a deaf and dumb Youth. For Lucy, being disabled was not the issue, her issues was about the unfriendliness of ICT tools towards the PWDs especially the blind. She cited an example of airtime cards which are very user unfriendly to the blind. She said that Telecommunication Companies should be sensitive to the PWDs and produce airtime cards with the digits written in braille. In this way, even a blind person would be in position to load credit to their phone without being manipulated. In this video, Lucy shared with me why ICTs have to be user friendly to PWDs.

Jenifer Arach a youth from Gulu on the other hand said that despite the fact that she is a school dropout dumb and deaf, she is very interested in learning especially typing. She said that she wants to own a phone to ease her communication (Mainly SMS) and to increase on her networking opportunities. She shared her story with me.

Why the need to improve web/ICT accessibility for PWDs
Since time immemorial, PWDs all over the word are faced with the problem of exclusion and Isolation. This has contributed to their low levels of education therefore exclusion from majority of social services. During this training, it was noted that there is need to improve ICT accessibility for PWDs and this could be done through the following suggested ways:
·   Easy access to the web which can be used for news, information, commerce & entertainment among others though aiding devices like the Braile for the blind and speech software.
·       Adopting new technologies like real time captioning which is very relevant for the deaf.
·        Using other assistive technologies like mobile phones which are speech and visual aided. 
Proposals and plans of actions Identified at an ITU/UCC workshop held in 2010 in Kampala to address these challenges;
a) As a means of inclusion of persons with disabilities in the development of infrastructure; it was proposed that a universal access fund for Infrastructure especially geared to underprivileged areas, and disadvantaged groups including women, youth and persons with disabilities be established;
b) Governments in partnership with civil society should  increase opportunities for training of women and persons with disabilities through education, training and human resource development taking into account special consideration of underprivileged areas;
c) As part of policy development process, the participation of women and other disadvantaged groups should be facilitated and encouraged in the ICT policy development and implementation process.

I weep for my nation Uganda: Our Education system is failing us.

I only heard, learned and studied about them in high school back in Africa; The Atlantic Ocean, the snow, the Hudson bay, Appalachians …….. e.t.c and now  am right here seeing them with my very own eyes and having the actual picture of what I only had an opportunity, to see in text books and on Television some years ago. Yes, I am writing this from Nova Scotia Canada.
When I left Uganda on 1st January 2011 for North America, in pursuit of a Masters’ degree, all I could think about was, what lay ahead of me and how I would cope with the new education system which I believed was so different from that in Africa, specifically Uganda.

Just one week and a half into the semester at St. Mary’s University Halifax, http://www.smu.ca/ My thoughts are turning into reality. The education system, the style of lecturing and the reading culture are not only different from those in Uganda but far way advanced.  On the first day of my class, I missed two lectures because I was not up to speed. I was still figuring out how to register myself online for the courses I was supposed to take, which I did not complete in time to attend both lectures. When I finally got registered and started attending my very first class (Human and Computer interaction), I was impressed by the method of teaching, it was so inclusive, participatory and practical (though with gender issues in terms of students taking on the course). It even involved live streaming of vidoes on Youtube  about the importance of  observing human behavior when planning to design a system . See highlight of Vidoes 

Lots of interesting sessions followed.
But the only thing that came to my mind was Uganda’s education system. It’s true that it  experienced a major expansion when it started implementing the Universal Primary Education programme in 1997. Enrollment figures increased enormously and there are now about 8 million children enrolled in Primary schools but quality didn’t improve at the same speed. Current characteristics of education in Uganda include high absenteeism rates for pupils and teachers (up to 20%), low completion rate (54%) especially for girls, prevalent violence against children in schools and lack of sanitation (1 latrine for 66 pupils)-UNICEF, Kampala. I just had to lament to myself.
Until now, even as I write this short blog, I can’t help but weep for a nation full of young energetic and brilliant citizens whose energy is wasted as a result of unemployment that stems from the poor education system (FYI, I have been through the whole system) and who are being slowly but surely weakened and killed by the AIDS epidemic.
“The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda: 1.2 million HIV-positive adults, 150,000 HIV-positive children, 120,000 new infections per year, 64,000 deaths per year, 6-7% of adults HIV-positive, 350,000 in need of antiretroviral drugs and 1.2 million Orphans due to AIDS”
As a young woman, I will devote my time and energy to try and help fellow young people in my country change the future of our nation. FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY!

Information Poverty: A barrier to Agricultural Productivity in Rural areas.

The agricultural sector is one of the most under exploited in many African Countries today. In Uganda alone, about 80% of the now approximately 32 million people http://data.worldbank.org/country/uganda  are rural based and depend almost entirely on Agriculture at various Levels of livelihood.
Information poverty is the absolute lack of accurate and timely Agricultural information to effect positive change in this case in the Agriculture Sector. Much as it is believed by many, that access to timely information by rural communities cannot only increase agricultural productivity but enhance social and economic development, many farmers in rural areas lack even the basic access to information.
Can ICTs bridge the Information Poverty gap?
Technologies affects all aspects of life be it social, economic or political. It’s therefore important to understand the role technology can play in Agriculture; to increase productivity, reduce costs as well as increase on the customer base. ICTs have been used as enablers in other sectors like Education, Entrepreneurship, health and sports but their adoption, usage and application in Agriculture is low despite the big role agriculture plays in society.
The inability to access accurate and timely information by rural farmers on climate change, market prices and best practices has negatively affected the final out put in terms of yields and profits. ICTs can play a big role is solving the problem of information poverty among rural farmers. The mobile phone whose penetration into Africa alone is over 500M http://ht.ly/37Ks7 a hand tool that can be used for several purposes because of its ability to combine text, Audio and Video functionality in addition to its ability to cut across literacy levels(Farmers are able to communicate in their local languages). The community radios, Telecenters/Information resource centre and print Media like farmer Magazines are all ICTs that farmers can use to access agricultural information.

MobileActive Video: Mobile phones in rural development & agriculture

Way Forward

Despite a number of challenges faced by the Agricultural sector, there are some things to consider inorder to bridge the Agricultural divide. Some of them are;
·          -Actively involving the Youth in Agricultural initiatives because being the biggest users of ICTs, their potential can be tapped into to divert their skills to Agriculture. They need to start looking at Agriculture as a source of income(Agrobusiness) and not as a dirty job like it has been potryed to them.
·         The agricultural projects must be very Gender sensitive right from the start. In most African Counties, women dominate in agricultural production yet the men do lots of marketing. It’s important to let each Gender play a role right from production to marketing in order to achieve Agricultural food security.
·         Agriculturalists need to work very closely with Journalists. Media plays a very big role in changing the perception people have towards agriculture as a dirty job and a sector of failures. Since journalists set the news agenda, they have to be well informed such that they can document agricultural success stories and stop focusing on only agricultural disasters like famine and floods.
·         Take advantage of New and social media to educate, inform, motivate and involve a number of different stakeholders about the role agriculture can play in economic development of society.

MY FIRST AWARD EVER: EAST AFRICA REGIONAL WINNER.

Having been the very first of its kind; The ARDYIS Youth essay Contest focused on Youth, ICT in Agriculture and Rural Development aimed at identifying innovative solutions to challenges faced by youth in agriculture and rural areas using Information and Communication Technologies.
The essay contest which was open to young people, aged 18 – 25 years old, from urban or rural areas of Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific countries attracted 184 youth applications and only 12 finalists from the six regions were shortlisted. I was among the Young women/professionals who applied and I answered the question on “How young people are using ICTs innovetatively in Agriculture” with a case of a young fruit grower Mr. Gilbert Egwel from Northern Uganda in Apac district.

On 13th October 2010, 12 Finalists with two from each of the six regions of the African, Caribean and Pacific regions (ACP) were announced. After the evaluation of oral presentations of the selected essay took place in South Africa on 22 and 23 November 2010, as part of the CTA/NPCA Week events organized by CTA and the NPCA (NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency) from 22 to 26 November 2010. The 6 winners of the contest were to be announced on 24 November 2010. One winner per ACP region, and an overall winner. However, 7 winners emerged with 2 coming from East Africa as opposed to one. And the winners were:

West Africa:
– Itodo Samuel Anthony (Nigeria)
Central Africa :
– Gabriel Dacko Goudjo (Cameroon)
East Africa
– Maureen Agena (Uganda)
– Chris Ngige Mwangi (Kenya)
Southern Africa
– Gerald Musakaruka Mangena (Zimbabwe)
Caribbean
– Tyrone Christopher Hall (Jamaica)
Pacific
– Riten Gosai Chand (Fiji)
With Caribbean regional winner Tyrone Christopher Hall from Jamaica emerging as the overall Eassy Contest winners.

To all the winners and finalists, WELL DONE and WELL WON and to The centre for Agriculture and Technical rural development(CTA) thanks for looking at the youth as potential players in bridging the Agricultural divide through the use and application of ICTs.

And who said that Gender does not matter in social Change?

“We are tired of hearing about Gender, What’s wrong with you Women?”

These are some of the words that many people echo when you mention GENDER. As if gender means WOMEN!

As I attend the Digital Natives: My bubbles, My space and My Voice workshop at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, I cannot stop thinking about yesterday’s morning session on “Keyword paring”. This was an exercise that required each participant to describe their practices, policies and ideologies in one word which would be paired up with another participant’s one word description to form a topic of discussion.
Thinking about what describes me best and my ideologies was very easy, however, I had one problem; I came up with two words instead of the required one word. The words were GENDER + COMMUNITY
The first participant I attracted was Mr. James Mlambo the founder of Cyber Gateway in Zimbabwe who had the word INCLUSION, he was interested in pairing it up with my word COMMUNITY. We both agreed on having the words merged to come up with “COMMUNITY INCLUSION”. Our focus of discussion, in relation to our subject then centered on the marginalized and disadvantaged members of the community who are many, a times ignored in projects meant to benefit communities. These are; Youth, Children and Women. It was surprising that, this group of people make up the biggest percentage of many communities yet they are the most marginalized. We asked ourselves how to make sure that there is total inclusion and participation from all the members of the community without discrimination based on age, gender or political ideologies. And the answer was in linking technology to development.
Next was a participant with the word EQUALITY, Manal Hassan from the Arab Techie Network wanted her word EQUALITY merged with My GENDER to make GENDER EQUALITY. To many people, this does not sound new but as a team we looked at it from a technology perspective. We realized that Gender influences the dynamics of any society and that there is a digital divide when it comes to technology. One Gender (Male) is more dominant over another Gender (Female) in terms of Access, use and application of Technology. Of course several factors like perception, negative cultural practices and social cultural effects are responsible for this but our interest was in directing technology for younger generations not to use it just for the sake of it but rather relating it to development.
And finally Mr. Piadamoyo Muzulu from Padare/Men’s forum on Gender and the commercial Farmers Union(CFU) came in with REVOLUTIONARY and wanted it merged with my GENDER. We focused on ‘Deconstructing Masculinity’ and why the work of women as a gender is not quantified. According to him, the only way to empower women is through liberating their minds. The underlying questions is:
Does gender really matter when creating social change?
For more about Digital Natives

I am a finalist in the ARDYIS Youth Essay Contest: How I made it !!

It was the very first of it’s kind; The ARDYIS Youth essay  Contest which focused on Youth, ICT in Agriculture and Rural Development aimed at identifying innovative solutions to challenges faced by youth in agriculture and rural areas using Information and Communication Technologies.
The essay contest which was open to young people, aged 18 – 25 years old, from urban or rural areas of Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific countries attracted 180 youth applications and only  12 finalists from the six regions were shortlisted. I was among the Young women and professionals who applied and I answered the question on “How young people are using ICTs innovetatively in Agriculture” with a case of a young fruit grower Mr. Gilbert Egwel from Northern Uganda in Apac district.

On 13th October 2010, the Finalists were announced and saying that I was happy would  be an understatement. I must say that I was humbled being among the best in Eastern Africa . The list of the finalists is………….

West Africa:
– Inoussa Traore (Burkina Faso)
– Itodo Samuel Anthony (Nigeria)
Central Africa :
– Dolly Angela Ngandjou Mela (Cameroon)
– Gabriel Dacko Goudjo (Cameroon)
East Africa
– Chris Ngige Mwangi (Kenya)
– Maureen Agena (Uganda)
Southern Africa
– Gerald Musakaruka Mangena (Zimbabwe)
– Isaac Chanda (Zambia)
Caribbean
– Samantha Kaye, Denise Christie (Jamaica)
– Tyrone Christopher Hall (Jamaica)
Pacific
– Riten Gosai Chand (Fiji)
– Ruben Nui (Papua New Guinea)
The jury and organizers warmly congratulated finalists. As specified in the rules of the competition, the
winners will be announced after the evaluation of oral presentations of the short-listed essays by their authors in front of the jury. These oral presentations will take place in South Africa on 22 and 23 November 2010, as part of the CTA/NPCA Week events organized by CTA and the NPCA (NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency) from 22 to 26 November 2010. The 6 winners of the contest will be
announced on 24 November 2010. One winner per ACP region, and an overall winner, will be selected.
The six regional winners will each receive a sum of Euros 1,000 (Regional Prize), along with other rewards. The overall Winner will be selected from the regional Winners and he/she will receive an additional sum of Euros 500 (ACP Prize).
CTA will cover the 12 finalists’ costs for the trip and stay in South Africa. They will take part in one seminar of the CTA/NPCA Week to strengthen their capabilities and interact with other players. CTA and its partners thank and congratulate all participants in the essay contest. Apart from finalists, outstanding participants will have the opportunity, among others, to take part in an Exchange and Training Workshop on Web 2.0 for Development in 2011. The essay contest is one of the activities organized by CTA to commemorate the International Year of Youth established by the United Nations.”

I Report on the First African Youth Forum on Maternal infant health and development in Africa.

Maureen, Laiton, Sean & Dr. Simon

The first ever African Youth Forum took place from 17th to 19th July 2010 at the Imperial Botanical Beach hotel  in Kampala Uganda.  This took place ahead of the African Union summit. The focus of the youth forum was to capture the voices of the youth from various African Countries and make sure that their concerns are addressed.
Sponsored by UNICEF, the theme was “maternal infant and child death: The youth call for action”, a number of questions had to be answered to find solutions to the epidemic “maternal mortality”. Majority  of the questions based on the “WHY”
·         Why do young Mothers die more than old mothers?
·         Why are young girls getting pregnant?
·         Why are the young boys/men getting them pregnant and not taking responsibility?
·         Why do so many lose their lives when pregnant of giving birth?
·         Why is the issue a young person’s issue?
·         Why do/don’t young girls abort?
·         Why don’t teachers teach about maternal death and continue to harass them?
·         Why does the community make them vulnerable?
If you cannot understand why, you cannot take the right decision
At the forum, it was noted that the patricial system affects the girl child and yet  many a times, society  doesn’t take action. The only way to reduce on maternal motality was to involve all parties; the individuals, the community and the Government .
In his speech during the official opening of the forum, Mr. Ben the Pan African Youth Union president said that the youth should have the spirit of UBUNTU to help enhance unity and development.  Mr. Alhaji who spoke on behalf of UNICEF Executive director Mr. Anthony Lake expressed his gratitude to Uganda for hosting the first African Youth Forum ahead of the African Union Summit. He acknowledged that the youth were the majority on the African continent and therefore had a big role to play in transforming the continent, he however mentioned that highest leadership as adoption of modern technology like mobile phones for rural communities are some of the factors that can enhance youth involvement.
Mr. Alhaji said that UNICEF supported the forum to mainly capture the voices of the youth from rural areas to make sure they are heard and their concerns addressed. He concluded by pledging UNICEF support to accompany youth effeort.
His excellency the president of Uganda Mr. Museveni wondered if the theme was relavant for the youth, he said that to be young , you have to not only be health but productive in a social, economic sense and not biologically. Mr. Museveni mentioned four key issues that could reduce on maternal and infant deaths in Africa; Immunization, Hygiene, Nutrition and behavior change to avoid catching HIV/AIDS. He said that Youth a lone cannot bring change, they need a conducive atmosphere like good infrastructure and electricity which are not clearly defined in Africa.
He conclude that if the youth are to get actively involved in issues that concern them, then we need a complete socio-economic transformation of the entire African continent.
On my part, I represented the Special Interest Group on Mobile health in Kampala. Together with UNICEF Kampala, Mobile Monday Kampala and the Faculty of Communication and Information technology, makerere, we were show casing some of the currently used mobile health applications for projects in rural Uganda  like Rapidsms, Find Diagnosis as well as OpenXdata.
The youth forum started on 17th and ended on 19th Jull 2010.

Maureen Agena: CTA’s FIRST Remote Intern

In 2009, The Technical centre for Agricultural and Rural cooperations  ACP-EU introduced CTA’s Internship and Young professional officers programmes. The Centre offers the beneficiaries of the program the opportunity to acquire practical experience related to their professional backgrounds and aspirations.

How it all began
During CTA’s 2009 annual seminar which was also her 25th anniversary, I was privilledged to meet the biggest percentage of the CTA team in Brussels-Belgium including Mr. Giacomo Rambaldi my current Remote trainer and Mentor. Being a trained Citizen journalist, I did not waste any precious time but decided to join the various web 2.0 platforms that were being used to share information about the seminar and anniversary. Twitter was my favorite platform. I spent most of my time tweeting and re-tweeting until the day I was set to make a presentation on behalf of WOUGNET entitled “Use of web 2.0 tools for sustainable
argriculture: A case of small scale farmers in Uganda”.
The entire idea of web 2.0 tools was “News” to majority of the participants. After the presentation, I had the privilege to share my passion for web 2.0 tools and new media with CTA’s Senior programme Coordinator/ICT and Innovation Mr Giacomo Rambaldi.
After a discussion with WOUGNET coordinator Dr. Dorothy Okello during the CTA observatory Workshop in Netherlads in 2009, it was agreed that I should be recruited as a remote CTA intern.

What the Distance Mentorship Covers.
During the internship period, it is believed that Knowledge and skills will be acquired via remote coaching and hands-on practice. The distance mentorship programme covers the following topics:
Use of SharePoint remote collaboration platform to store and exchange data related to this programme (Microsoft Office environment)
• Use of Joomla (CMS); e.g. publish ready edited content
• Monitor and improve visibility and ranking of websites. This includes SEO assessments, registration on search engines and online directories, planned crawling, establishment of reciprocating links, use of WebRings and other
• Improve dissemination of online products. This involves the posting of short announcements on selected portals, social tagging and tweeting. Content will be provided by CTA.
Moderate and animate the exchanges on the Web2forDev DGroup
• Transcribing and translating videos on dotsub.
My experience.
Being a remote intern had never occurred to me. I did not know that such a “thing” existed, being trained and mentored online using a number of tools. When CTA offered me this opportunity, I was so eager to find out what “remote” internship entailed. I must say that, six months into the internship, I have no regrets at all. The benefits are overwhelming and opportunities keep increasing.
Ø I have understood the power of the internet and the benefits it can offer when properly used.
Ø I have learnt about many more web 2.0 tools and how they work. This has made it possible for me to use the skills for WOUGNET.
Ø Being a trained citizen Journalsit, I am putting into use the practical skills like blogging, tweeting , skyping among others.
Thanks to The Technical centre for Agricultural and Rural cooperations ,CTA’s Internship and Young professional officers programme for giving the youth like me an opportunity to maximize on the potential I have in relation to new and digital Media.

Maureen Agena
Remote Intern
Affiliated to the CTA Distance Mentorship Programme
Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation ACP-EU
P.O. Box 380, NL 6700AJ Wageningen, The Netherlands