Slumkids are Kids Too…

In 1999, Sugata Mitra – now Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastlle University in the UK, was working in Delhi when he had a crazy idea.

The complex in which he worked was surrounded by a slum and he wondered what would happen if he embedded an internet-enabled computer in the wall of the complex at kid-height, so that the children running around outside could reach it?  Would the children ignore the computer?  Break it up?  Or – most unlikely of all – would the children learn to use the computer? (Preposterous notion given that these were slum children who hardly ever went to school, never saw the internet and didn’t speak or read English)

So – what do you think happened?

Have a look for yourself.

P.S. – Fun fact – when Vikas Swarup read about Sugata Mitra’s experiment he began to think about slum children educating themselves and was inspired to write Q&A – the novel that was adapted to become Slumdog Millionaire.

As Seen on TV…

Fikirte is a young and poor Ethiopian woman, with many problems whose life goes rapidly downhill when she meets the handsome Damtew. Damtew, is obsessed with wreaking revenge on Fikirte’s (innocent) grandfather and so he murders him and then begins to prey on poor Fikirte.

He swindles her of what little she has and then seduces her half-sister, giving her HIV. He spreads vicious rumors to turn Fikirte’s family against her and to crush her dreams of finishing school. And as if that’s not enough he tries to murder her – twice.

If you think poor Fikirte sounds like a character in a soap-opera you’d be correct – she is one of a cast of characters of Yeken Kignit (“Looking Over One’s Daily Life”) who kept millions of Ethiopians glued to their radios for two and a half years. It also persuaded some of them to change their lives.

Because Yeken Kignit isn’t your run-of-the-mill melodrama – it’s a drama created to deliver life-saving messages in an entertaining way.  And it’s not the only one.

In 1993, a radio drama—Twende na Wakati—began to air in Tanzania.  At that time, myths about HIV and Aids were rampant in Tanzania, many of them causing actual harm such as a belief that HIV was transmitted by mosquitoes and that using condoms could cause you to become infected.  Two years later, Tanzanians who followed the drama talked more about AIDS, reduced their number of sexual partners, understood the dangers of unprotected sex and increased their use of condoms.

These soap operas are part of a concerted effort to use drama as a strategy for education and social change. And it all began in the 1970s…

(cue exciting music)

At that time, Mexican TV research executive, Miguel Sabido hit upon the idea of using long-running TV drama – telenovelas – to promote social change.

From 1977-1986, Sabido produced six telenovelas each of which contained a number of social messages – this was very effective, especially in the area of family planning. During this time Mexico’s population growth went down by 34% and a lot of research has pointed to the influence of Sabidos telenovelas on this social trend.

These telenovelas are very much in the style of the soap-opera, but planted within the melodrama are characters and story-lines designed to increase understanding and thereby engage the audience as agents of social change in their own lives.

Nowadays known as the Sabido Method – the goal of these dramas is social change and they are thought to be one of the cheapest and most effective strategies that can be used for this purpose.  This method – widely used now in all forms of entertainment – is proving particularly effective in disseminating education about family planning, HIV, teen pregnancy and gender equality.

Stay tuned for further developments in this application of technology and the arts to help effect social change.


Little by Little One Walks Far*

UNFPA is the United Nations agency that deals with providing much needed family planning and reproductive health services in the developing world.  In 2002, the American government decided not to give a promised 34 million dollars to UNFPA.

In different parts of the country and without ever having met, two ordinary American women, Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham, asked the women of America to send $1 dollar each to UNFPA.

Nobody – not even UNFPA – thought it would work. But it did.  Soon a deluge of envelopes with single dollar bills began arriving at the UNFPA offices from women – and men – all over the United States.

From this an organisation called 34 Million Friends of UNFPA ( was formed and millions of dollars were raised to help families all over the world.

In 2009, the U.S. administration restored the funding to UNFPA but 34 Million Friends still continues to work to support this vital service.

And all from the efforts of two ordinary women – a social action butterfly effect if ever there was one.

(*Peruvian Proverb)

Peace on Earth – Heart to Heart

The heart is like a box, and language is the key.* 

Photograph – Neighbourhood Children of the Neptune Road-Lovell Street Area – 1973 – Michael Philip Manheim – U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-6813

*’Abdu’l-Bahá The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 60-61

Why Does This Make Me Cry?

This video seems to make me cry – but in a good way!


The Scientific Method

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill


Photograph – Window on the world – A couple watching the world go by from their flat on York Street, Dublin.
Date: 1954  NLI Ref.: WIL e3[54]

And now for something completely different…

In July 2009, Jill Petersen and Kevin Heinz posted a video of their wedding on YouTube so that their families could see it – within 48 hours 3.5 million people had watched it.  By August 2011 68 million people had watched it.


Definitely.  But then they did something really constructive.  They used the attention to raise money for charity.  To quote Jill and Kevin –

We hope to direct this positivity to a good cause. Due to the circumstances surrounding the song in our wedding video, we have chosen the Sheila Wellstone Institute.

Sheila Wellstone was an advocate, organizer, and national champion in the effort to end domestic violence in our communities.

We are so grateful for all the love, kind words, and joy that have been shared with us from around the world. It has moved us deeply and filled our hearts.

By October 2010, they had raised almost $35,000 for the Sheila Wellstone Institute.

I wasn’t one of the 68 million people who saw this video until recently – I first saw it thanks to sufilight at Love is the Answer –

If you’ve seen it before you might like to watch it again.

If you haven’t seen it, watch and enjoy!

Joy Gives Us Wings

Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded.

We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness. (1)


(1) Paris Talks, ‘Abdu’l-Baháp.184


What is justice?

It’s a hard concept to pin down and even harder to put into effect.

But most definitely worth pursuing.

When we live without justice we also live without –






There really isn’t an easy formula for justice, even within our legal systems. But maybe there are principles we can apply, both personally and in our societies, in our pursuit of justice?

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?…To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr.

A Poor Outlook…

The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other.  It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.  Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied…but written off as trash.  The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.  

John Berger