One of the success stories of the power and reach of citizen media in Africa is definitely The Nata Village Blog. It is a blog from Nata village in Botswana. Nata is a village of about 5000 people located on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans, the largest salt pan in the world. The blog is a tool in the fight against the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS in Nata village. It features people living with AIDS, youth groups, clinic staff and social workers and give visitors an inside look at how people live in an African village. It is also used for fundraising.
Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS is having a devastating effect on the people of this small village. Botswana has the second highest HIV infection rate in Africa. The current rate of infection is 37% nationally and Nata's rate of infection is even higher. The pandemic has left Nata with over 400 orphans. Currently, nearly 50% of all pregnant women in Nata are HIV positive. Thankfully, Botswana has free Anti-Retroviral Therapy available for those with low CD4 (t-cell) counts. We also have a Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission program that has reduced the rate of infection from mother to child to about 5%. This website is dedicated to the people of Nata who despite enormous losses and challenges still have the courage and determination to fight the ravages of this pandemic.
In the beginning Nata village had no blog, until…:
The Nata Blog was born as a result of a world traveler, Jon Rawlinson, passing through Nata on the way to the Okavango Delta. The tour books referred to Nata as nothing more than a dust hole and he had no intention of spending any time there. But, as coincidence would have it, he met a Peace Corps Volunteer named Melody Jenkins who is working as an HIV/AIDS educator and community capacity builder. Jon was interested in seeing more than the tourist destinations of Africa and wanted to learn more about the impact of HIV/AIDS on Botswana. After just one night of meeting the locals and hearing first hand accounts of the struggle to control the spread of the disease, Jon was hooked and wanted to help. He has since been back to Nata twice and has been introduced to the Kgosi (chief) and most of the professionals working to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. Nata will benefit from the fact that our world traveler is also a professional producer and editor as well as a website designer. Jon and Melody worked on a documentary about HIV/AIDS in Nata in hopes of bringing the story of Nata to the world. Jon discovered an incredible village filled with the beautiful Mokolane Palm trees lining the Nata River. Unlike most tourists, Jon wanted to do more than just snap a few photos of elephants and giraffes and return home. He wanted to make a difference and offered to design and administer this website.
After much discussion and the frustration of donations going to large organizations that rarely get to those that really need it, Jon and Melody decided to try and help the people of Nata with this website
The posts on the blog are written by Melody Jenkins, a U.S. peace corps volunteer, Martha Ramaditse, a native of Nata and Mr. Seloma Tiro, the Chairman of the Nata AIDS and Orphan Trust which manages the funds generated from this website.
Mr. Tiro has played a critical role in the success on the blog:
This website would not have been possible without his generosity. Since the inception of the website, Mr. Tiro has loaned Martha and Melody his laptop computer for blogging, paid for all calls to access the internet and allowed us to use his server. He has all but turned over his own private office to us. At the birth of this website there were only 3 people in the village with internet access. Mr. Tiro became a co-founder of this website as it would not have been possible without him. Mr. Tiro is a co-owner of the natavillage.org domain and Nata village blog.
The blog was designed and is administered by John Rawlinson.
Recently, the Nata Village blog won the Peace Corps Information and Technology Contest:
Back in January, we entered the Peace Corps Information and Technology Contest. We learned in June that we were one of 9 finalists. It was just announced that we are one of the top three winners named in the contest. The three winners will be featured in the December issue of Worldview Magazine and the projects will be featured in Peace Corps internal and external publications. We've been told that we will also be featured in the Peace Corps Times. We want to congratulate the other winners Heidi Joseph in Zambia and Nicholas Cabiati and Daniel Schier in Senegal. We think it's pretty cool that all three winners are working on the African continent. It just shows that technology is available here and growing everyday. Thanks to Anthony Bloome of Peace Corps for organizing the contest along with all the judges. We need to once again thank Jon Rawlinson of Canada for his gift of this website to Nata village and Mr. Seloma Tiro for his continued financial support of this project. We also want to thank our chief Kgosi Makgesi for taking a chance and allowing his village to be the first in Botswana with a website.
As a result of winning the Peace Corps ICT Contest, the Nata Village Blog got a scholarship to attend the Global Conference on ICT and Youth for Development in Geneva, Switzerland. The conference was organized by The Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU):
To go from elephants in the bush near Nata to Geneva, Switzerland is a big leap. The Peace Corps Volunteers involved with the three winning projects in the Peace Corps ICT contest have been given a scholarship to attend the Global Forum on Youth and ICT for Development in Geveva, Switzerland. Special thanks to Mr. Paul Jhin, Director of Special Inititatives at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. as he is responsible for securing the scholarships from the United Nations on behalf of the volunteers who will be presenting their projects at the International Conference Center in Geneva. The conference begins on September 24th and the volunteers will present on the 26th. This is an excellent opportunity to share the strengths and needs of Nata village at an international setting. The opportunity presented itself on a VERY short notice. It is amazing at which the speed of Peace Corps and the United Nations Development Program arranged for the tickets for us to travel to Geneva. Plenty of photos will be taken so we can share the experience with all of you. A heartfelt congratulations to Jon Rawlinson and Seloma Tiro who are partners in this project. Way to go guys!! By the way, Jon compiled the previous post so it's apparent who the real technical expert is. Jon, thanks for being our technical guru. We hope this opportunity brings more resources to Nata village. This post is being sent from Jo-Berg, South Africa as I patiently wait my 5 hour layover.
During the conference, Google’s interactive presentation included the story of the Nata village blog:
Mr. Delany [from Google] is pictured above showing a part of the Nata video, a village of hope. It's a little hard to see but on the screen is the Nata river. You will never know what pride I felt as I saw our tiny village getting a voice in this arena. Mr. Delany continued to encourage users to use all the technology available to them.
After the conference, Melody wrote “Back to Reality”:
What a great experience it was to represent Nata village in Geneva, Switzerland. We hope the experience will bring more attention to the website and more help to the people of Nata. There were many people from different African countries at our seminar and we hope that additional villages will start their own websites and help more people in remote areas. It's just such a contrast to go from Geneva to Nata. The woman pictured above is eeking out a living selling bananas for 20 cents at the Francistown bus rank. A cup of coffee in Geneva is equal to a days wage for many people in Nata. So, it's back to work for all of us here.
Donations from supporters are used to help people with HIV, orphans, the village clinic, Mabogo Arts and Culture Productions, etc. Currently, they sponsored an essay contest:
With your donations we are currently sponsoring and essay contest for grades 6 and 7 at Nata primary school. The essay topic is: How HIV/AIDS has affected or could affect my life. We will pay $60 for 1st place, $36 for 2nd place, $18 for 3rd place, $9 for 4th place and $5 for 5th place. Certificates will be given to those coming in 6th through 10th place. This is alot of money for a child to win so we hope this encourages them to think about the topic and do their best to avoid contracting the virus. We have nearly 100 essays to read and we will announce the winners at the Standard 7 farewell party at the end of this month. We will post the winning essay with the students photo on this website so you can read how the young people of Nata are thinking about this disease. We try to think of ways to make YOUR donations have the greatest impact. For $127 we have mobilized an entire school to focus on the issue of HIV/AIDS and in the process have rewarded students for their academic efforts. Thanks to all of our donors!! By the way, it took four days to post this!! We really miss high speed internet and a decent server.
Last year, the Nata Village Blog was featured on Typepad:
The resulting Nata Village Blog is a moving effort, with photographs, stories, and amazing videoblog entries. The blog documents both the challenges and the successes of the residents, clinic workers, and educators facing the HIV/AIDS pandemic…Please, just go visit the blog. It offers its authors and its readers alike a chance to do something profound.
The latest post on the blog is about Internet access at Nata Clinic:
Woo hoo! After what seemed like an endless wait, we finally have internet access at Nata Clinic. Pictured above is Nurse Midwife Charity (from Zimbabwe) looking up something on the internet. Officially only the Sr. Nurse, Doctor, and Pharmacist have log in privileges but we hope that privilege will soon extend to other staff members. We're told it's just a matter of registering at our sub-ditrict. It's such a great way for staff to update themselves on medical conditions and treatments. Key personnel are now able to email reports and requests to our sub-district which is 120 miles away in Tutume.