27 07 2009

Here’s what I learned:

  • facebook groups are a great way of building and extending social networks, generating discussion, etc…especially for a controversial topic like ours. It also made advertising our event a lot easier. We now have 205 members in our facebook group and 49 posts (all generated within 2 weeks!)
  • after interviewing students during our first promotional event for the cell phone initiative, people generally haven’t thought of this social issue. Most people do not know what a survival sex worker is. One student commented: “…it’s because these women are not viewed as important…society doesn’t talk about them so much.” Most students were very willing to sign their name in support of a harm reduction like ours. After learning more about the social issue, people seem to be very willing to help. -We got some good and bad feedback for our solution. Most people felt it was a good start and will help a few people. It’s not a very transformative solution however and there are a few challenges to tackle when it comes to cell phones.
  • I learned that local nonprofits, outreach services, the VPD, the community police…were all very willing to help! Aside from one organization that never got back to my email. We spoke to someone at rogers wireless about our program and he directed us to a member in the hasting community police who then directed me to a member in the VPD who gave me a lot of feedback and recommendations on our initiative which was great!
  • I also learned that because this is a sensitive and emotional topic…it’s easy to offend people or be offended. People will criticize your moral stance or twist what you say to strengthen their argument…and it’s important to not take the issue too personally. We want to generate discussion and get ideas rather than to argue whether prostitution is right or wrong but people easily stray to that path. this is what I can think of so far =) will add more later if I come up with more.

Last post?

27 07 2009

To echo the thoughts of all group members, it’s been an absolutely fantastic learning experience for all of us. We will be in touch with the WISH Drop-In Centre for the distribution of the phones that were generously donated to our cause.

Thank you all for your contributions and your kind support. This post is likely to be our last as we focus on the conclusion of this project and take on new challenges. However, our Facebook group will still be very active. If you would like to continue the conversation, please join us there.

Thanks again!

What Chitra has learnt

27 07 2009

Here’s what I’ve learnt in the past 6 weeks:
* the social problem of our choice is a very sensitive issue. I felt as if we were cornered to actually take a moral stance on this issue.

* do NOT underestimate the power of facebook. Our group has actually brought attention to our cause.

* school was not very accommodating. We still got “complaints”, even after Beatrice’s effort to get a proper permission.

* we CAN make a difference. Honestly, I was a bit surprise to see people’s reactions. Many people we interviewed were actually have thought about the issue, but didn’t know what they can do to help.  They were enthusiastic to help us. Though they didn’t have any cell phones to donate, they were happy to show their support.

I would like to thank everyone who has been reading and commenting on our blog. I would also like to thank everyone who has joined our facebook group, gave comments and gave us inputs. It has been a pleasure and an amazing experience. Last but not least, thank you Graham, for making us do this and believing in us. 🙂

Even the great Jason Fielding-Tweedie has learned a thing or two..

26 07 2009

It’s really been an amazing experience during the course of this entire project. I think I may have learned things about life and society that most people don’t usually ever get to take away from their typical university educations – probably their life experiences as well.

From the very beginning of this project we were feeling around in the dark for ways to tackle this social problem. Initially we dove into it with very giddy-headed ideals that we wanted to accomplish about our particular social problem. We had all these high-flying goals: lobbying businesses, starting magazines and who knows what else. We were quickly brought down to earth with sharp although very insightful feedback – courtesy of Professor Graham Dover and guests! If there’s anything we learned from those intial stages in our planning, it was practicality. I am very thankful for that.

We learned a few other really valuable things from that:

-for one, you need to really narrow down the audience of people you’re trying to help, if you’re operating at a small-scale level to begin with (and if you ever want to be able to actually implement your solution)

– you need to make sure your solution also has positive effects on the rest of society by helping this one small group of people.

Next was the actual implementation phase of the plan. It’s funny how as a group, because we each share a similar concern (ie: preserving human dignity of survival sex trade workers, keeping them safe) we managed to communicate that to each other easily and work very effectively around our differences of moral opinion and generally not step on each other’s toes. However, when we opened up discussion to the rest of the public, a lot of people failed to see the mandate of our project and get caught up in the morality of the industry. This was a very very big frustration for us because we initially didn’t intend for a moral debate on something so irrelevant to what we were actually trying to do. It was a very frustrating time trying to repeatedly make clear our mandate to others regarding our topic. At times it seemed that no matter what we were saying about being morally neutral on the topic of the sex trade, but rather being concerned about the safety and dignity of survival sex trade workers, people just refused to see it and threw it back in our faces. Not fun, but I’d say we did learn a lot about public relations and the way the public eye actually works.

A few more miscellaneous but practical things we did learn were:

– never underestimate the presence of beurocracy. Its presence is very real. But also don’t be discouraged. Plan for it well in advance, and work around it.

– Never underestimate human stupidity. After inquiring about what we were trying to do, somebody tried to persuade me to exchange a phone that we collected for two of his old phones, justifying it by saying we would be acquiring 1 extra phone. This gentleman simply missed the point of what we were trying to do.

– Never underestimate human love. We talked to a variety of people. Never before had I imagined seeing so many students from diverse backgrounds and areas of study who (after understanding fully what we were trying to do) were willing to give us their old cell phones, as opposed to say trying to sell them instead for personal gain. Yes, appealing to the human heart is a very effective way to get them to support your charity, but this only speaks well for humanity. Very beautiful to see. Makes me want to start a “free hugs for everyone” rally.

I think above all though I really learned how to aspire, no matter what. Now more than ever I really believe that where there’s a will there’s a way, as long as our intentions are oriented to the good.

Our Friday at Burnaby campus

26 07 2009

I’ve learned a few lessons too. Following our Tuesday event, when we did our chalk outlines and collected signatures, to thank them who signed our petition for their support, while reminding those who gave us “yes”-es for having at least one spare cellphone, that we will be at Burnaby campus on Friday to collect them. The only person who replied me was so upset that I sent her the email, for breaching her privacy, and that I should take her off the list. Moral of the story: use that “Bcc” option! Apparently by doing that, nobody else who you’re sending your email to, can see the other email address. Oops, I’ve never used that option before, never needed to, and honestly, never knew what it was for. Moral of the story #2:  stop being ignorant and think of other people’s feelings about some random emails. So I’ve done that, when I sent out another email, thanking our supporters from our Friday event.

Second lesson: the bureaucracy thing, as Beatrice have mentioned in the previous post. On Tuesday, we got in trouble for drawing with chalks on the floor, which could’ve been easily cleaned up. And we were almost out of at least $38 if the person in charge had not let us get away with that once. On Friday, being a little bit more “prepared” than Tuesday, we still had a little mishap. Apparently there was another “complaint” for us being at the convo mall, but luckily and thanks to Beatrice, we were able to deal with it. Moral of the story: make sure you get all the licensing you need to do things like this at school.

Third lesson: people can be really egotistical. So you’ve read the story about the “trade” that someone attempted from Beatrice’s post. Two old phones for your newer one!!  Here’s another one: someone offered us $5 for a phone. And of course, we said no, explaining him that the phones were for donations. And he said, well the $5 was a donation, instead of a phone. And again, we had to politely say no to him, and he walked away. Moral of the story: many people don’t really care about what you’re doing, let alone why you’re doing it.

Despite all of the above, our Friday wasn’t so bad. We got a few more people attempting to donate their phones. And we did get more attention from the traffic, though it was a fairly slow Friday. The wind wasn’t helping either, making our giant paper bibs very wrinkled. Not only we had to hold a certain position, we looked dorkier than we thought! We got to bond with some classmates too! Yay! Moral of the story: we managed to have fun after all!

What did Beatrice learn?

25 07 2009

So throughout this project, what have I learned? In random order:

  • It is important to designate someone or several members to be in charge of communications – getting permission for things, dealing with fall out, etc. This frees up the other members to do the things such as actually putting on an event.
  • Nothing is as simple as it seems – things that shouldn’t take very long, probably will.
  • Never underestimate the ability of bureaucracy to slow down your progress. If you want things to go smoothly, go through all the proper channels and have the proper paperwork.
  • People will complain about students peacefully gathering in a common space at a university at which they have spent tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, fees, books, etc.
  • People can be exceptionally generous! Some donors donated multiple phones! =)
  • People can be really cheap and try to bargain with us in an attempt to obtain one of the newer-looking phones in our collection. =(
  • I was really naive at the beginning of our project. Our topic has some controversy and our project has offended some people…which I didn’t think would happen.
  • Facebook is a great way to get the conversation started!
  • People working in the industry think that our idea will actually help.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’ll add more when I think of new points. Thank you everyone for contributing to our project and our learning process! Overall, it’s been a fantastic experience.

some things to think about

23 07 2009

I got in contact with a member from the VPD who has experience w0rking with sex workers in the DTES.   Since a similar cell phone program has been done in the past, she brought up some challenges they’ve had to deal with and some things we should think about:

  • how to maintain a charged phone since many of these women are homeless or are very transient in their residency –> to address this, we have approached WISH drop-in centre to offer a place for these workers to charge their phones
  • some instances, phones were sold, lost or thrown away which would cause an environmental disservice

We hope to make these donated cell phones available to survival street workers in desperate need of a way to access help when they are in danger and a worker who would appreciate this tool.  Does this mean we should be screening the individuals we’re meaning to help?  We cannot control the worker from selling their cell phones.  If they do sell the phones, perhaps it’s because  don’t see the value in owning one.  Another problem is…would it put them at greater risk of robbery being seen with an electronic?