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

Wona Sanana was established in 1999 to protect children’s rights by compiling information on the condition of the children of Mozambique after the 16-year civil war. The project combined data-collection on the welfare of children 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. 

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 as indicated by need. Others have provided education and training to parents and traditional healers to prevent malaria and diarrhea, 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 16-year civil war between then government Mozambique Armed Forces and the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) ended in 1992. During the war, children in Mozambique were subject to kidnapping, forced conscription, mass displacement, brutal massacres, and rape. Therefore, many children suffer from extreme physical and psychological problems. Also, many of the communities most affected by war do 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, led to the development of the data-gathering initiative of Wona Sanana in an attempt to improve the welfare of the children and awareness and responses within the communities. 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."

Wona Sanana staff work with local NGOs and community leaders to conduct research through data-gathering in four of the eleven provinces of Mozambique. The initiative trains local volunteers to conduct research and identify the main needs and of the children and communities providing communities with the ability to develop projects to address these needs. In order to develop a survey to be used by the volunteer researchers, Wona Sanana staff interviewed hundreds of government officials, civil society organizations, and community leaders. Based on the information gathered, a survey appropriate to the war-affected communities was established as a method for data-collection.

Methodology in data collection was based on community traditions and values so as to encourage participation and understanding. Local NGOs aided in contacting community leaders most committed to improving the welfare of the children. Communication was conducted in accordance with social hierarchy, giving community leaders the opportunity to learn about and accept the initiative of Wona Sanana before presenting the project to the community and encouraging participation. 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, volunteers (literate and from the community) 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 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 work in mines). These interviews took approximately one hour and provide 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 proof-read by a team leader from the community, NGO partners sent the information to Wona Sanana to be analyzed and added to the national database. Reports were then produced and presented to all members of the community in a simple presentation using the local language and a variety of visuals. Based on the findings and analysis, the community would then decide what to do to better protect its children and design appropriate projects. Wona Sanana provided some funding along with tech assistance and project evaluation.

As a result of the community-based data-gathering and analysis, many communities in Mozambique have improved the conditions in which their children live. The data that Wona Sanana collects is crucial to policymakers and other NGOs that provide the necessary services that are every child's right. However, since the bureaucratic nature of policy making often results in very slow progress, WS concentrates on training, educating and empowering community members to actively pursue immediate change in their community.

The data collection initiative has had a strong impact on the local NGO partners as it equips them with new skills and knowledge in areas such as research and strategic planning as well as new ways of approaching and addressing community problems. The data collection methodology gives NGOs a concrete research instrument that they can use and adapt for future endeavors. In addition, the data collected can be used to strengthen and validate fundraising proposals. The data also facilitates subsequent program evaluations since the NGOs have community data prior to program implementation. Another benefit is that the importance of children’s rights in the overall welfare of the community becomes clear even to those NGOs that are not specifically mandated to work with children’s rights.

It was important for Wona Sanana and its partner NGOs to be sensitive to the unique traditions and values of each community. Due to the fact that many of the people were illiterate, visual representation was necessary, as was the development of timelines using relevant historical events. Clear definitions of terms and objectives were also important in maintaining community participation and support. NGOs played a vital role as liaisons between Wona Sanana and the communities as it was essential for community leaders to have confidence in the partner NGOs.

For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

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