illustration by Keri Smith
KARA: In my research, I'm considering the role of communication design in development where language isn't shared and often that means varied perceptions on issues. Can you give me any examples of what could help you in work if someone could come in and design something useful for you? Just want to make my research relevant even if I can't be back on the continent!
BEV: In development (more than relief) communication is vital. We have seen in our water projects that when things are not communicated in a tangible, cultural context, they are often misunderstood.
Example: explaining to women that if they lay their "washed" clothes on the ground to dry they can still get bugs in them and they can get skin diseases such as scabies. Now, most women in Africa - especially West Africa, have never been told that:
a) there are bugs that cause disease (they just think its from the 'gods')
b) the link to the bugs on the ground getting into clothes on the ground (the whole germ theory of just cause you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there is not understood at all)
So how do I tell them what they are doing is not good for them?
Solution: We often make simple posters to explain the germ theory, or how disease is spread. We are thinking more to doing skits, as African's in general LOVE skits - to portray a message. Also, in Liberia proverbs and parables are a huge way of communicating in the village - it's really cool actually. An example of one would be "Don't sell your tooth to buy a palm nut" a palm nut is really hard and it needs all of your teeth to crack - so if you sell you tooth, how can you eat the nut you have bought?
Your research: The first thing for designing something would be knowing the specific culture - there is African culture, and then there is West African culture, and then there is Liberian culture. You probably saw that in East Africa, and then in Rwanda on a micro-scale. Then there are cultures of tribes - and this gets tricky! In Niger where I am right now, we are working in the north near the Mali border along the Niger river. The Zarma people are Muslim (mostly by tradition) and have lived along the river for generations. The river is their friend, they bathe in it, drink its water, put their animals in it, wash their clothes and dishes in it. You get the picture. But their kids have dysentery, some have died and they attribute it to, "It's the will of Allah". You and I know it's the water from the river.
Now here is the challenge: How do you communicate to them that the very thing they have been told is their friend and has given them so much, is actually causing sickness and death?
Sigh. When you find an answer to this please let me know! We have filters in that village and people still go to the river. It's behavioural change and that takes time, lots of it, and capacity building, and creative ways of communicating to them the importance of water and sanitation.
So what is your idea for the design? Do you need a country to test it in? I know of one;)
I would love to talk to you more about it. There is so much more I can say especially in regards to gender, HIV/AIDS, health. Yeah, I could go off.
Thanks for seeing the bigger picture of this. It makes my heart happy;)