After 3 months from the beginning of Internews Pilot project in Nigeria, in support of the Centre for Environment Human Rights and Development, Internews is looking at how the small grant provided to the organization on the ground is being used and what are the first results. Formerly known as the Niger Delta Project for Environment, Human Rights, and Development (NDPEHRD), the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) is a rural-based and rural-focused non-profit organisation founded on August 15, 1999 by conservationists, environmentalists, activists, and health workers in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. CEHRD was formed to respond to the environmental, human rights, rural health, and underdevelopment problems plaguing the Niger Delta. The small grant provided to the organization is meant to support the creation of a human rights monitoring system based on the use of the mesh network technology (basically a wifi system that does not require the presence of a mobile network).
The first phase of the project was the training of 30+ local activists held on video editing, mobile security and mobile/web activism. The training was structured so as to split the group into two halves of approximately 15 participants each. Each of the two groups attended one-week (five) days of training.
The training was focused on the history of Internet activism and the use of ideas and communications in different settings and social justice contexts; network form and formation; introduction to the Serval system; visual language, how to use the phone's in-built camera to take aesthetically pleasing shots and to tell stories using video; a test deployment of the Serval system in an urban setting; mobile security and safety when using phones for activism; social media like Facebook and Twitter, along with the project's website and video hosting site, Vimeo.
In addition to the training the CEHRD did a live deployment of the Serval system during the World Habitat Day march and rally in Port Harcourt on October 3rd. The participants, many of whom were march organizers, used their Serval-equipped phones to coordinate and stay in touch during this public event, there was also a live concert organized for all the residents of the Port Harcourt water front communities sponsored by Amnesty International in remembrance of the victim of the October 12th shooting in the Bundu community by the Rivers state government. Most of the participants who where again part of organizing the concert, used the Serval equipped phones to be able to coordinate with each other within the concert venue effectively during the concert. (more about the October 3rd march and the concert at www.people-live-here.org)
The third phase of the project involved meetings with the participants of the project in their various waterfront communities, during which they talked about the progress made in their communities due to the usage of the Serval Batphone system in communicating which each other. Most notably, there was the case of a fire out-break during the month of October in Abonnema Wharf and the participants noted that they were able to communicate with each other and rally support from other communities as well as the fire service for assistance, also they used their mobile phones to take video footage of the incident. Participants also pointed out some challenges they face in using the phones, mainly based on the lack of constant power in their area to charge up the phones when they run out of battery, they also criticized the limited range of Serval coverage distance. On the whole, though, they showed considerable optimism that the software would help them work more effectively and gather more support among their respective communities and the Port Harcourt metropolis in the protection of their waterfront communities against demolition by the state government.
There was also an interactive meeting hosted by Amnesty International for all the waterfront community dwellers where issues that affect the people were discussed and ways in which the people could effectively protect their communities against demolitions and abuses. Participants suggested that rapid response teams be set up in different areas of the Port Harcourt waterfronts that could serve as a first line of defense against issues of demolitions and human rights abuses, and also help in effective monitoring and handling of such cases. Others proffered options of communication and coordinating among each waterfront community using the Serval enabled phones, citing the cost effectiveness and (future) security advantages of the software.
Some of the participants have completed shooting their videos (using their phones) and currently CEHRD is logging and preparing the videos for editing based on the production plans which the participants drafted during the training in September. The monitors the importance of being provided with tools they can use in coordinating themselves and also to recording footage (still and video) of occurrences as it relates to human rights violations and non-violent campaigns.
The last phase of the project will be the finalization of the mesh network technology, as explained in this blog post.