Using text messages for family planning in Ghana

Under a catchy blog post title "The Opposite of Sexting", the World Bank's Development Impact blog reports on a random control trial from Ghana of a text messaging intervention. Although SMS has long since lost out to other messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, it doesn't require WiFi or data bundles. The access it allows to different groups is strong selling point. In addition, it can be a fully-automated system. Interestingly, however, the messages were sent in English. 750 girls in 38 secondary schools throughout Ghana received one of three streams of messages over the course of 12 weeks. In a country of 70+ languages, including 11 additional government-sponsored languages in education, the choice of English and pure text-based messages (without images, emojis, etc.) is prohibitive and restrictive. 

Girls in the "unidirectional intervention" received one health fact per week for 12 weeks. This is one of those facts. 

Girls in the "unidirectional intervention" received one health fact per week for 12 weeks. This is one of those facts. 

A Times Exhibit Puts the Focus on Africa - "Looking Forward" is the title of this year's Lagos Photo Festival. The New York Times Lens blog highlights some of the photographs from this year's exhibit, which examine "how African communities see themselves and their future". 

Thousands of Migrants Are Crossing the Balkans on Foot - 58,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Slovenia this week. The Atlantic highlights some of the startling images of this migration.

Staging, Manipulation and Truth in Photography - At the World Press photo competition this year, organisers surveyed the photographers who entered. The online survey reveals some disturbing trends, the most notable being the staging of photographs. Stanley Greene, of Noor Images, said, "I think setting up photos — where they are completely staged — is very widespread. I’ve seen it done by very-well-known photographers, mostly in conflict or disaster situations. I’ve witnessed photographers try to recreate moments when they arrived to a scene too late."

How Emojis Find Their Way to Phones - Unicode, an organisation whose task is to standardise punctuation marks and other grammatical items in computers, now has emojis on their agenda. "In deciding which emojis to add, the Unicode Consortium considers factors including compatibility...and frequency of use...". The New York Times draws back the veil on this mysterious organisation. 

Ultra-orthodox Jews are using WhatsApp to defy their rabbis’ internet ban - WhatsApp has been described as a "great spiritual danger" by a group of rabbis in Israel. As the app is not directly connected to the Internet, it has not been banned by Ultra-orthodox Jewish sects, which limits the online activities of its communities. 



Photoshopping to achieve gender equality

Elle magazine is leading the charge in highlighting gender inequality in politics. Their November issue is their so-called "Feminism" issue, and the campaign features men photoshopped out of digital images. 

Emma Watson sans men. Credit: ELLE UK.

The Geography of Poverty - Matt Black has spent two decades documenting farming, migration, and poverty through photography. Of the project on his Instagram account, he said, "The question is what kind of America are we to be: a land of opportunity, or just pockets of plenty amid a landscape of growing disparity and despair? This is what I’ll be examining over the summer as I chart America’s Geography of Poverty."

Why it’s Critical to View the Photos Inside the MSF Hospital in Kunduz - "The reason it’s crucial, however, is for the opportunity to actually substantiate something we only know to be true". The photographs are at Foreign Policy and are terrifying in their content. The rooms photographed bear no resemblance to the hospital that they were once a part. 

What War Photographs Leave Out - This New Republic article first points back to the image of Aylan's body on the beach, asking "why Aylan?" Two other images are compared, which did not garner the same headlines and action as that of Aylan. "Yet the reason these three pictures had such different fates does not rest only in their internal characteristics. The key factor, I suspect, is location". 

The Richness Of 'Poor' Places, From National Geographic's Photo Contest - The opening line of this post asks, "When you think of daily life in the developing world, what do you see?" Apparently, Nat Geo's annual contest is changing our impressions. Or, the increasing availability of high-quality photographic equipment has enabled more people to capture and produce an impression, which is not necessarily rich, poor, or accurate. These impressions are largely from the gaze of the viewer, rather than anything communicated by the photographer. 


Confessions to a humanitarian: There is no local language

The Guardian has a regular blog section, in which anonymous aid workers go to church to confess their sins. That latest is entitled, "I only know 10 words of the local language". After reading, I have the feeling that the author was told in her younger years that she doesn't have "natural abilities" to learn languages. Or, the author really does hate learning languages. 

What really bothers me about this confession is the monolingual perspective and concept of language pushed. It assumes that all communities, and the community she has lived in for 16 months, is monolingual. "As I write this, I’ve been in the same community for sixteen months and I can still only speak ten words of the local language." She doesn't give away what community or country in which she is currently living and working. 

We need to stop speaking of "local language" in development. We need to start speaking of languages. The plural is important, so is the dropping of the "local". The prefix "local" is a poor assumption with a tinge of neo-colonialism. The assumptions overflow. It is based on an outsiders' view of communities. That our observation of language use is holistic, robust, and informed. That language is contained and bounded. Most important, it assumes and defines languages and languages use on behalf of its speakers and users. 

Multilingualism is a reality in many communities. Globalisation has broken the "local". For example, many written forms of languages, particularly African languages and their orthography, cannot be seen without their colonial tags. Many of the non-indigenous scripts were not created locally, but by colonial administrators, anthropologists, and European linguists using Roman or adapted Roman scripts. 

The two communities in northern Ghana I worked with for my PhD research were predominantly Dagomba. The "local" language could be identified as Dagbanli. However, there are other languages present. Qu'ranic Arabic is taught to children in a non-formal education program. English is the official language of Ghana, and the language of education from grade four onwards. Some communities member are not Dagomba, but have married into the community and speak a different "local" language. Fulbe semi-nomadic families can be found on the edges of many communities in northern Ghana, many of whom have migrated from Burkina Faso and speak Fulfulde, Hausa, and other languages. 

There is no "local language", only languages. 

Picturing literacy, education, and global development: What I'm reading

I want to put together a weekly post of links to photography, education, and global development, particularly when all three intersect. 

Developing world education is failing, it's time to open up to the private sector - Challenging article in the Guardian that is a little short on examples and evidence, but strong on message. Long story short, I don't think we have enough evidence on private sector approaches to schooling in a development context. Education is an ideological battleground, but it is also an empirical and research-based one. 

At What Point Does A Fundraising Ad Go Too Far? - Following on from the #DexPix chat a while ago, NPR Goats & Soda suggests that poverty porn is back. However, I think it never really left, and has largely changed its form. 

Syrian army photographer describes torture and murder in Assad’s prisons - From the Guardian. "The photographer, identified only by his codename Caesar, is now a refugee in Europe and fears he will be 'eliminated' for the most damaging exposure of Syrian state violence since the uprising began in 2011, according to a book by the French journalist Garance le Caisne".

Humans of Syria - I really like this series from IRIN that doesn't position refugees as hapless migrants, but as people, who are educated, professional, and ambitious. It is a very good example of using photography and stories to change perspectives and narratives.

London-centric - A fascinating look from above of London from the BBC.