Ushahidi: Social Media, Kids, & A Penny of Perspective

afrigator.gifWhen kids toss pennies in the trash from cleaning their room, bypass them as ‘nothin’ or maybe add them to a jar if you’re lucky (Pamela Poole’s blog reports 13% of Americans treat pennies exactly this way) it begs the consumption question…“How can we give kids a global worldview beyond a self-absorbed cocoon?”

How do we open the eyes and minds of children to experience a bigger vision of their role on the planet, far beyond episodes of Hannah Montana or Drake & Josh?

Take Kenya for example. Some of my Kenyan friends who my daughter met this past summer via WLW are smack dab amidst the civil strife, using media any way they can to get word out on the hotspots. (SMS texting/mobile reporting etc.)

One of my fellow Age of Conversation co-authors, G. Kofi Annan, routed me to directly to Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili. The site is brilliant in its simplicity, leveraging a map-based tool for people who witness acts of violence in Kenya to report in citizen-journalism style. Afrigator’s co-founder, Mike Stopforth succinctly summarized Ushahidi in a cyberactivism snapshot showing how vital social media like this can be, distilling logistics into civilian mobilization to dodge disaster and find relief from war torn mayhem.

Putting social media in the powerful role of teaching tool can help kids think beyond themselves, and not only enlighten but engage in positive, action-based ways.

global-voices-online.pngInfo sites and podcasts like Global Voices Online, with their helpful sponsors that get the word out, Worknets’ forum to help Kenyans or hands-on action at Pyramid of Peace, (enabling prepaid mobile phone credits in the hands of those that need them now) can empower kids’ into choosing HELP over helplessness.

An example? Once upon a time, my African GWLN summit friends were “push pins” on my world map to my 12-year old trying to grasp the distance and scope of why I needed to spend a week away from home with them instead of her. She was completely SELF-focused (a normal kids’ reaction) until she met and spent time with these newfound friends. Now? All news media and current events are VERY personal.

kenya-map.jpg“Wait a sec! Isn’t Kenya where Louise lives?

Fetenu’s next door in Ethiopia, right?

How far is that from Rita in Rwanda?

What about your roommate Debbie from Uganda?”

“Will her daughter that’s my age be pulled out of school? Sister Margaret didn’t go back to Kenya yet, right?”

candle-simi.jpgMy tween now constantly tracks how long it’s been since I’ve heard from these amazing women…including Simi & Sarah amidst the post-assassination horror of Bhutto in Pakistan…

My point?

Seeing this transformation of human connection (sans any circumspect adult political baggage) is one of MANY reasons I pin my hopes on youth to help bring peace to the planet.

Rather than hand-wringing and worry wart pacing, kids want ACTION and answers fast, and that momentum is contagious.

When text messages come in like this one on WorkNets,

“Maize sent to Kalenjin families in Burnt Forest, Margaret’s family is trapped in BurntForest and homeless now, they need help! Dan says: in Noigan Primary School in Cheragany in Rift Valley there are almost 13,000 people who are waiting for the government support…”

It brings a whole new meaning to “reality show”…clearly NOT for the voyeuristic or faint-hearted.

A geopolitical nightmare like this certainly helps bring some perspective to those pricey ‘must have jeans’ at the mall, as world civ comes alive in real time texting, and puts the Hollywood media hypefest in perspective.

SMS texting can also inflame situations, as this blog, In An African Minute carefully cautions:

“Kenyan Pundit writes that the ability to send mass SMS has been disabled. Also, Afromusing received this text message while in Eldoret: “The Ministry of Internal Security urges you to please desist from sending or forwarding any SMS that may cause public unrest. This may lead to your prosecution.” This is a reminder of both the power and the danger of SMS, particularly in east Africa…”

That said, Nate Ritter explained at a recent NPTech talk on Using Twitter to Help Communities, social media streams like this can be used for “information distribution to change the world as we know it.” I agree.

african-girl.JPGAnd that also means assessing with sharp critical thinking skills on ALL sides of the media equation, for EVERYONE’s safety…like little Runyararo at left.

When youth use media to shatter the myths of being ‘too far away to relate,’ and unite with other teens to be able to DO something about it, positive mobilization can happen in a nanosecond, but to be sustainable and learn the nuances of social change, kids will need to delve deeper into the conversation.

Kids using media’s positive power to leverage vision and engage youth brings me lots of hope in their ability to correlate to a much more profound translation…

harrypotter-alliance.jpgWhether it’s the Harry Potter Alliance tackling the darkness of Darfur via MySpace, teens beading bracelets for Tapestry of Hope, or even preschoolers playing with Panwapa’s digital world or the ‘webkinz-esque’ social-giving hybrid site of Karito Kids… it enables children to use media to reinforce the interconnectedness of being a citizen of the world. For sustainable social change, that interdependent concept REALLY matters.

Here’s hoping children stoop down to pavement level to pass that penny to someone who needs it, and remind themselves of their own luck as they pay it forward.

“All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

The following newsletter/note came from our one of our WLW graduates, Melanie Rohr, who is making huge strides in “The Human Network” as International Program Manager of the Cisco Networking Academies and speaks on engineering/technology at various international hubs for change.

As GWLN founder Linda Alepin so eloquently said, “Melanie has worked in places like Kibera, (in Nairobi, Kenya, the largest slum in Africa with a population of nearly a million people), let us listen with our hearts to what she has to say.”

Dear Friends and Leaders around the World,

Whether we are in Kibera or on the border of Uganda, or anywhere else, and witnessing this pain firsthand, we are all impacted by the continued, deep, and unexpected violence in the world. Every community is our community. These are our neighbors. When you love the world and its people, as we do, each of us is touched. This reminds me of Jin In’s philosophy of being a “citizen of the world.”

At first I felt immobilized by an overwhelming sadness. Now I think that I have to summon my energy and belief in the strength of all that is positive and get going on what I have committed to do, with renewed spirit and energy. I think that all we can do is emanate ourselves at this time, even more than ever. We are the strength and nurturing that is needed. The world needs us, and everyone else we can find to support, to share a vision of peace, in its many dimensions. The worse the pendulum shifts, the more balance we can bring until the “tipping point” of peaceful energy takes over.

Let’s get out there NOW, in our own realms of influence and be strong for those who can’t be. Let’s call out the injustice and help develop sustainable solutions.

Melanie L. Rohr
WLW Graduate, 2007

About The Global Women’s Leadership Network (GLWN)

GWLN is an international network of women leaders who dare to transform their organizations, their communities, and the world. Worldwide, women represent the largest untapped source of leadership. Through training, community building and in-country mentorship programs, GWLN is liberating women leaders to create a new world, built on human rights, gender equality, sustainable development and global integrity.

Note from Amy: If you’d like to support GWLN, nominate a leader of change from your country for 2009, or contribute to the incredible work they are doing throughout the globe by volunteering, please leave a comment here and I’ll see that you’re routed properly…

UPDATE FROM BRITT BRAVO’S BLOG ON WAYS TO HELP KENYANS: Excellent post here on ‘what can one person do?’ which adds a few more resources not included in this round-up. Don’t miss it!

Visual Credits: Runyararo’s photo: Tapestry of Hope
Kenya map,
(a tourism site that could use a name/branding makeover)



  1. Amy, Thank you for noting our work at to make it easy to help Kenyans and embrace each other. January 31 we invite everbody to an all day online work session to help Kenyans, join us at Andrius

  2. Well put Amy. It’s great to see how individuals are making use of the tools and networks we usually take for granted to help with a situation which could have easily been avoided. As adults we develop a certain view of how the world works, but only through teaching and explaining events to children do we ever really see how important it is to pay attention to the things we take for granted.

  3. Thanks for the lead to begin with! It’s been immeasurable help having forwarded it to our Kenyan ‘tribe of GWLN colleagues’ and a few have made it to the internet to report back as well…so again, appreciate the newsbreak.

    p.s. As irony would have it, my roomie from Uganda, Debbie Kaddu-Serwadda (prior Ashoka fellowship) has ALSO made it to the semifinals for Echoing Green…talk about a SMALL WORLD…whew.

    I tell ya, ‘better her than me’ as far as I’m concerned, as Africa has a flashpoint of unrest over there that needs quelled fast to make a global difference…She’s an amazing woman and a diplomat extraordinaire…I’ve never seen so much charismatic appeal embodied in one regal rep! Sooooooooo elegant and sublime.

    Anyway, thanks again for the ping…appreciate the knowledge.

  4. Be sure to read Britt Bravo’s resource round-up re: hands-on ways ONE PERSON can make a difference here:

  5. Lubega Aloysious says:

    We are a youth association here in Uganda registered and very organized is there any way we can benefit from you.We called Kampala Rakarians Old Students Youth Association (KROYA)

  6. My friend Debbie Kaddu-Serwada in Uganda may be of interest to you, she was an Ashoka Fellow there and is doing great work with women and youth…we attended the summit together and she was my roommate, so tell her I said hi if you two connect?

    Though we have no financial backing to extend, I can most certainly offer friendship, outreach, and perhaps a media forum for you to ‘guest blog’ if you have a student/youth subject on how media and marketing is impacting kids in Uganda? I’d LOVE to hear more on that!

    My e-mail is amy at shapingyouth dot org if you’d like to reach me directly, too! I’m also on Facebook, so feel free to ‘friend’ me, just say it’s you! (or KROYA) All the best, would love to help any way I can… Amy

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