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Tech Inspiring Global Change


How technology is providing critical health education to the world’s poorest nations

In Ethiopia an Eritrean refugee treks through the desert with the goal of witnessing something she’s never seen before: a video featuring other Eritreans speaking their native language of Tigrinya. It was created by others like her — shot and edited in an Ethiopian refugee camp. The video aims to teach her and her community the importance of proper sanitation and hygiene.

Open communication is the most powerful tool we have. In 2011 the world watched as people shared video and images on the internet that played a major role in toppling the Tunisian government. Shortly after, citizens armed with smartphones and an internet connection ousted government leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Unfortunately, those whose lives need change the most are outside the reach of social media, the internet as a whole and often electronic media.

U2’s Bono coined the term “stupid poverty” to describe poverty that is a result of problems with simple solutions. Humans produce more food than can be consumed, yet children die every day with empty bellies. In 2014 West Africa had an Ebola epidemic, which was worsened by the fact that the population didn’t know the meat they were serving their family was killing them. 

Basic education can solve many problems created by stupid poverty. The challenge is educating people and presenting the information in a way that inspires real behavior change.

OMPT

Well-intentioned citizens of the developed world are eager to help, but behavior-changing education that comes from outsiders is not always welcome. The non-profit One Mobile Projector per Trainer (OMPT) has found that beneficiaries of behavior-changing education are more likely to be receptive when the message comes from people within their own community who speak their language.

Matthew York founded OPMT in 2008. As the publisher of Videomaker Magazine, York already achieved success helping the world democratize media by publishing reviews about consumer video technology. It was 20 years after establishing Videomaker that York felt a calling toward philanthropic work. He knew democratized media was not something that only benefits the developed world. Rather, video as a communication tool is universally effective. Just because someone isn’t used to watching video, doesn’t mean video can’t encourage them to change their behavior. Rather, the opposite is likely true. The more novel video is to a person, the more likely it is to affect them.

While video is now more common in very rural parts of the world, video created locally is still rare. It’s not uncommon for people in rural parts of developing nations to have mobile phones that can play video. The content, however, is highly produced and not local. People are far more surprised to see a video of someone who lives two villages away than the new “Spider-Man” film.

In places like Guatemala, a Spanishspeaking country, there are 21 different Mayan languages actively spoken. Delivering a unified message in a community’s native language is exceedingly difficult. But when NGOs (non-governmental organizations) equip field workers with small, battery-powered projectors to show locally produced videos to communities in need, the results often surpass expectations.

Plan International, an organization that supports the health and development of young girls, was challenged by a goal of improving a specific community’s nutritional health because men were unperceptive to aid. However, by taking video education to the community on a mobile projector, they were finally able to engage men and boys and further the progress of the initiative.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took videos they had created using local personalities, spoken in the native language to rural communities in Guinea, they were shocked when viewers exclaimed, “Play it again! Play it again!” after each viewing. These short videos about public health practices were often viewed multiple times by the same people out of enthusiasm for seeing people like themselves on screen.

THE METHOD

OMPT bases their method on two principles. The first is quality video production should be simple enough that NGOs don’t need to hire freelancers or companies to handle production for them. OMPT trains existing staff members in organizations to use inexpensive cameras and free editing software to make simple educational videos. The second principle is that video should be distributed anywhere in the world, regardless of how remote the location is and what kind of technical infrastructure is in place

Distribution relies on a concept known as the sneakernet: a method of distributing electronic media by physically transporting it. In OMPT’s case it happens on battery powered projectors equipped with SD cards full of content. The projectors are small enough to fit in a pocket and project an image large enough and bright enough to screen a video for 50 people.

To aid field workers in remote, offthe-grid locations, OMPT pairs the projectors with a number of charging solutions, including solar panels and a series of adapters that draw power from a motorcycle or scooter battery. They’ve also experimented with human-powered chargers.

Videos are produced with more familiar technology. NGO partners use Small Canon VIXIA camcorders in combination with a wired lavalier microphone and a flexible tripod. They’re edited with Windows Movie Maker, which until recently was free. The developer, Microsoft, has since discontinued support for Movie Maker and OMPT is in search of a new, free alternative.

VIDEO EDUCATION WORKSHOPS 

OMPT has held workshops across the world but primarily in Africa and Asia. They’ve done three workshops in Guatemala and provided training for Mercy Corps, WINGS and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). During OMPT’s recent Guatemala project with Plan International, aid workers created two videos: one focusing on hand washing to improve hygiene and prevent disease, and the other on farming techniques to fight food insecurity.

An NGO’s first self-produced video is always rough around the edges and Plan’s was no exception. Workshop participants like to play with every cheesy video effect possible. Audio volume fluctuations are common and pacing can be erratic. Still, enthusiasm is through the roof. The production teams worked into the night writing and storyboarding and were up early, eager to head into the field for a shoot.

Videos produced during workshops are rarely used for real behavioral change programs. Rather, they’re designed to teach participants how to use video equipment and tell a coherent story.

In the field, it’s clear why light, mobile equipment is essential. Living conditions in rural Guatemala are spartan. Roads are not paved and homes often have no electricity. Farmers cultivate food within a mile from home. A neighborhood may have one large farm where the locals grow corn, but residents generally raise livestock on their own small plot of land. Each house has half a dozen chickens and a few small pigs.

People here aren’t used to seeing video production crews. When OMPT workshops roll in, crowds gather. Children are enchanted by the cameras. Taking a picture of young children results in 100 more pictures because they can’t get enough of seeing themselves on the small LCD screen. The NGOs are always very respectful of the community’s wishes and ask everyone’s permission before capturing images. 

On one outing in Guatemala, OMPT visited a family to demonstrate the use of the projectors. People in the U.S. would describe the family’s house as a shack constructed of cinderblock walls and a sheet metal roof. Rooms inside were divided by bedsheets draped from wall to wall. The kitchen contained only an outdoor sink and stove with the latrine also outdoors. 

The projector demonstration wasn’t intended to be a presentation for the locals, but a training opportunity for OMPT’s NGO partners. Still, it gathered attention. Children huddled around and peered through windows to witness something entirely new. This reaction is common. In Panama, OMPT worked with the Panamanian Center for Research and Social Action (CEASPA). Their goal was to educate the indigenous Ngobe people about foreign investment firms that were beginning projects on Ngobe land that might endanger the natural resources. 

Ngobe communities are difficult to reach. Aid workers carried projectors on foot. CEASPA Program Coordinator Charlotte Elton said, they walked “up and down in the pouring rain, and cold, through rivers and streams, along the coasts, in dugout canoes, [and in] endless mud.”

OMPT and CEASPA trained the Ngobe to make and disseminate their own videos with 10 people making videos and 20 people trained to make presentations with the projectors. They gathered together in wet thatch huts. Still, enthusiasm among the Ngobe beneficiaries has been both encouraging and sobering. The Ngobe traveled great distances to see the videos. In one instance, OMPT received a report that a Ngobe woman’s child died en route. 

Jesus Alemancia, a CEASPA Project Coordinator, reported back to OMPT shortly after they had rolled out their first few videos. “First we saw astonishment,” he said. “Some people had never seen videos before. Then astonishment toward the equipment itself and because people of the community saw themselves in the videos, sometimes speaking the native language. They were happy to see themselves in the videos, recognize places and situations going on within their country that they otherwise would not have been able to see. Everyone wants to see more videos — longer videos.”

THE EBOLA EPIDEMIC

In 2015 and 2016, OMPT applied its expertise and technology in West Africa to train the CDC, the U.S. Embassy and CRS to fight the Ebola outbreak.

During the 2014-2016 outbreak, the mortality rate for people who contracted Ebola was more than 70 percent. More than 11,000 people died. Prevention efforts were paramount to defeating the virus, and public education and awareness was central to these efforts. 

The challenge with educating rural communities was distrust of the government. In 2014 The Economist reported that in Sierra Leone, people would run from aid worker vehicles and lie to health workers about the presence of deceased Ebola victims. According to the article, “Some Sierra Leoneans say they fear that the government wants to sell the blood of Ebola patients, or that it will remove patients’ limbs for ritual purposes. Others think health workers will inject them with Ebola, or that the ubiquitous chlorine disinfectant spray will give them the disease, or simply that the virus is an invention to help the government bring in donations.” 

Educational videos distributed with OMPT’s projectors were a perfect solution. The NGO’s using OMPT’s method had simple but important goals. First, people must learn to identify the symptoms of Ebola. Next, they needed to convince people to stop eating bushmeat, specifically fruit bats which were the source of human contraction of Ebola. Lastly, they needed to convince people to stop at border checkpoints, which were designed to identify and quarantine Ebola carriers, and which people would avoid simply as a matter of convenience.

EFFICACY 

Projects that use OMPTs method of video education often succeed, but it’s difficult to attribute success directly to the projectors. In Guinea-Bissau, for example, there is conclusive evidence that shows Ebola knowledge increased, but the deployment of OMPT’s projectors was one part of a diverse strategy of outreach and education that included more conventional methods. Over the course of a year and a half OMPT trained more than 60 organizations in West Africa, deployed 200 projector kits and reached tens of thousands of people with Ebola prevention education. Later, the CDC purchased an additional 4,000 projectors. Fortunately, the Ebola epidemic officially ended on May 6, 2016.

Moving forward, OMPT has big goals. The organization is working on developing its own custom, durable projector with a bigger battery and louder speaker. This summer they will be in Macedonia, India, Nigeria and South Sudan. To learn more about these projects, or how to support OMPT, visit their website or Facebook.

Mike Wilhelm

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