Using participatory research to advance children’s social and economic rights

Wona Sanana uses participatory research to compile information about the children of Mozambique and promote policies to address children’s rights.

A 16-year civil war between the Mozambique Armed Forces and the Mozambique National Resistance ended in 1992. During the war, children in Mozambique were subject to kidnapping, forced conscription, mass displacement, brutal massacres and rape. After the conflict ended, many children suffered from extreme physical and psychological problems. Also, many of the communities most affected by the war did not receive their share of government funding due to their isolated locations. These problems, combined with the poor living conditions of a country destroyed by war, meant that information on the welfare of Mozambican children was needed.

Wona Sanana’s vision is for a world that focuses on ”innovative initiatives for the promotion of children’s participation and by valuing the creative potential and local community knowledge." The organization was established in 1999 to protect children’s rights by compiling information on the condition of the children in Mozambique. The project combined data-collection with community education to empower local people to take action and to promote improved policies addressing children’s rights. Through participatory research, communities learned about the problems facing their children and were encouraged to develop unique responses appropriate to the needs or their community. 

Before beginning its research, Wona Sanana interviewed hundreds of government officials, civil society organizations and community leaders. Based on the information gathered in these interviews, a survey appropriate to the war-affected communities was established as a method of data collection.

Local NGOs also provided Wona Sanana with help in identifying willing community leaders and with training local volunteers. The organizations contacted the community leaders most committed to improving child welfare and gave them an opportunity to learn about and accept Wona Sanana’s initiative before presenting the project to the community. In this way, each community was given the opportunity to accept or decline the “service offer” of data-collection, as commitment is key to the success and sustainability of the project.

Once a community committed to the initiative, literate community volunteers were recruited and participated in a two-day intensive training program on data collection and research. In order to accommodate cultural differences in sense of time, a custom timeline was developed based on community events rather than dates so that interviewees could accurately answer survey questions. Volunteers walked from house to house, interviewing the heads of households (usually women as the majority of men were at work in the mines). These interviews took approximately one hour and provided information regarding pre- and post-natal care, children’s health, education, child labor, and diet. Along with the work of the volunteers, local NGO partners provided daily field monitoring and support, and the Wona Sanana staff maintained close contact with all participants.

Once the data had been compiled and proofread by a team leader from the community, NGO partners sent the information to Wona Sanana to be analyzed and added to a national database. The findings were then presented to all members of the participant communities in a simple presentation using visuals and the local language. Based on the findings and analysis, the community would then decide what to do to better protect its children and create appropriate projects. Wona Sanana provided some funding along with technical assistance.

Since the start of the initiative, Wona Sanana has trained more than 250 data-gathering volunteers, interviewed more than 5,900 families, and gathered data on more than 19,000 Mozambican children. The birth registration campaign has registered 11,000 children in three provinces in response to findings that less than 50% of the children were registered. Some villages have started early childhood education centers while others have provided education and training to parents and traditional healers to prevent malaria and diarrhea, which were found to be the most common childhood illnesses. Wona Sanana also developed creative educational methodologies for elementary and preschool aged children and an HIV/AIDS research initiative.

The data collection initiative had a strong impact on both local communities and the NGO partners as it equipped them with new skills and knowledge in areas such as research, strategic planning and community problem solving. These skills could be used in future endeavors. The data from the initiative has a variety of uses. It can strengthen and validate fundraising proposals and provide a basis for subsequent program evaluations since communities and NGOs now have data from prior to the implementation of various projects. The data collection project also made clear the importance of children’s rights to the overall welfare of the community. 

For information on a related "participatory research" tactic, read our in-depth case study.

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What we can learn from this tactic: 

Wona Sanana had several issues to keep in mind as it conducted its research. It was important for the organization to be sensitive to the unique traditions and values of each community, respecting the superiority of community leaders and creating custom timelines. Other organizations working in very diverse or isolated countries should keep this reality in mind. Respect for local traditions and values helps to create a mutually beneficial relationship between communities and organizations. In addition, due to the fact that many of the people were illiterate, it was necessary for Wona Sanana to create visual representations. Other organizations should consider this tactic when working with illiterate communities. Wona Sanana also had good luck working with local NGOs. This can be helpful for outside organizations to create a connection with communities that may be distrustful of outsiders but who may already have an established connection with an NGO.