The Village Facebook project encourages Myanmar’s rural citizens to upload their village reports on Facebook so that these can be accessed by government officials, development partners, and potential donors.
Spearheaded by ActionAid Myanmar, the project uses participatory tools to empower villagers to draft their own “Village Books” to be used as a basis for recommending development projects to local and national authorities. ActionAid said “it is a valuable method because it identifies what the community truly needs, instead of what we think they might need.”
The “Village Book” is a document that contains information generated through community deliberations. It has a social map, seasonal calendar, and problem tree which explains the current situation of the village from the point of view of the residents. It also has spider maps and Venn diagrams to identify the vulnerable groups and power dynamics in the village. Finally, it has a dream map and action plan that feature the programs or projects proposed by the villagers.
U Han Soe Win of the Kin Pon Chong village in the Meikhtila Township recognizes the value of the “Village Book”: “I wished to have a book clearly presenting our village’s situation. I like the fact that all needs: social, economic, transportation, and others are portrayed in this book.”
ActionAid has facilitated the drafting of more than 500 books across Myanmar, and 129 of these books have matching “Village Facebook” pages. The group says the project is inspiring villagers to articulate better the problems facing their community, while providing an opportunity for remote communities to share their dreams and development needs not only with local officials but also potential partners from other countries. For example, the “Village Facebook” of Kon Dine Gyi succeeded in generating subsidies for an education program.
This video summarizes the “Village Book” process:
The photos below introduce some of the activities involved in constructing the books:
ActionAid acknowledged that a big challenge to integrating Facebook pages is limited Internet access in many of Myanmar's rural towns. The cost of smartphones is also quite high. Villagers have to travel to buy the devices or access Internet cafes, and phone card costs are often unaffordable. But the group is optimistic that the country's Internet connectivity will continue to improve over the next several years.
ActionAid also emphasizes that the “Village Book” or “Village Facebook” is not the answer to Myanmar’s socio-economic problems, asserting that “comprehensive development requires policymakers at regional and national levels to bring a macro-level vision for just and equitable progress.”
While national policymakers discuss the blueprint for progress in the country’s capital, however, grassroots initiatives like the “Village Book” and “Village Facebook” are also useful for promoting citizen participation in the development process.