by Njeri Omesa
The Citizens 4 Change Community has its roots in interaction with members of the community. We believe that if every child has a trusted adult providing care and protection for them, this will widen the circle of care around children, proving a safety net from harm.
We have built up this community from face to face interactions with citizens though workshops, surveys, and dialogues. At these sessions, citizens got the space in which to discuss their most pressing concerns in regard to keeping children in their community safe from harm. In person community events were designed to identify citizen protectors, provide safe spaces for learning, and catalyse protector’s actions to minimise risks to children in the community. We also make use of SMS and social media to hear from citizens, share knowledge and celebrate citizens action on matters concerning safeguarding children.
However, in the face of Coronavirus and world-wide restrictions put in place to curb its spread, C4C has had to turn its focus to bringing people together in online forums. Now monthly Community Café Meet Ups happen via Zoom – with community members sharing their concerns but also what is giving them hope when it comes to protecting children in this difficult time. The community meet ups have also become a place where C4C brings their dilemmas and the group offers solutions and discusses possible ways forward.
We have built in two types of online meet ups, the first is a monthly café which is set up as a social meet up to touch base with new and existing members and provide a safe space at which they can share their lived experiences. The second is a learning event hosted every six weeks or so and at which we focus on emerging issues for in depth discussion the most recent learning event was held to commemorate the Day of the African Child on June 16th and dug deeper into this year’s theme of access to justice.
These online workshops help us learn about the lived experiences of our community members, provide fodder for deeper discussion, engagement and awareness raising (on our social media) on those issues that are of interest to our community members. The guided learning forum requires well thought out questions that bring out participants lived experiences and surface new ideas and possibilities for tackling blocks faced in keeping children safe.
As with everything there are some challenging aspects of building an online community of practice. The main one being on the use of the technology as it requires that participants have steady internet connection. For safety, it is recommended that participants have their videos on, but many have unstable internet connections and as such this is not always possible. This also causes some challenges when a participant wishes to contribute to the discussion, but their network keeps breaking. We have learnt to counter this by using the chat function encourage comments or questions and even sharing of helpful tools on the discussion which the host then reads out.
We aim to create a respectful ambiance that allows participants to actively contribute their ideas and perspectives to making a difference. We encourage everyone to contribute, while also allowing anyone who wants to participate by simply listening to do so. One of the biggest challenges we have faced is in regards to time. In this period where there are limitations to in person meet ups, many enjoy this opportunity to ‘have a virtual coffee with fellow C4C’ and we often find ourselves running beyond the set time as conversations overflow. However, this also shows that many appreciate these online opportunities and have lots to say.