Digital Media and Learning/Microsoft Summer Institute: What I learned

I spent the last week at the DML/Microsoft Summer Institute. Twelve of us showed up a week ago, not knowing each other, and over the course of a intensely packed week, we got to know each other and our mentors, presented, interviewed, discussed and mostly, dove deep. =) The more I think about it, the more I am seriously impressed and awe-inspired to have been able to be a part of the gathering of truly incredible people.

So, what did I learn… so much. From the other Associates, from the twelve mentors, from danah and Mimi and Claudia, I learned bucketloads of stuff. I learned stuff about theory, projects, ethnography, publishing, collaborating, IRB, getting a job, navigating the job, personal stories…. WOW.

What follows below are a collection of memories and insights that stuck with me from the week.

  • There are some very amazing grad students doing very awesome work that very much overlaps with mine. Very inspiring. We can be a cohort. I have a cohort.
  • We’re writers. Follow a story arc. Learn the craft. Write beautifully and vibrantly.
  • When you look at someone’s CV, you only see the things they got, not the things they didn’t get. Those things they didn’t get are underneath.
  • If you’re going to do academia, get a hobby. Go swimming… play with other peoples’ dogs.
  • acknowledge the work of those who came before.
  • You continue to make mistakes, you continue to not get things. But you also continue to get things.
  • Write everyday.
  • Follow your passions, that’s where your best work is.
  • Publishing alone is ok, good, productive. No need to publish with a big name to be overshadowed.
  • Helvetica is good on powerpoints.
  • Follow your interests, go to conferences, find your peeps. They exist.
  • Academic work matters, build networks and communities, make the most out of what’s in front of you, don’t over-plan.

Thanks to all who made it brilliant. It really was brilliant.




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Amazing blog from the Boaco AMIGOS project!

I’m not in Boaco this summer, a decision I think was completely right. I feel really good being here in Vancouver, working, writing, growing a garden, caring for orphaned kittens.

However, I’m truly enjoying the blog that the most amazing staff team- well, Erin’s half of it- has started, and I think you might, too! In case you also want to keep up with Boaco and all that’s happening with AMIGOS there this summer, check it out: Boaco 2012 Blog

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Because I’m a Girl

If you live in Vancouver, you’ve already experienced it. They were in Waterloo and Toronto, too, so I imagine if you live in Canada you’ve experienced it.

For those of you outside of Canada or who have someone not been stopped yet, let me explain. On many street corners nearly every day, there are young people- twenties, mostly- who wear dark blue Plan vests with the words “Because I’m a Girl” emblazoned on them. They ask you to stop and chat, sometimes using catchy conversation starters like “Have you ONE MINUTE to talk about getting ALL girls into school?” or “Got a sec to talk about girls in the world?

Image Image

See, the thing is, I have all day to talk about girls. Especially about the girls Plan serves- there’s a number of them who I really, really love and care about.

It’s just that there seems to be a lot of performing and delineating what girls should be in this campaign, and a lot of re-emphasizing of the role of North American girls to advocate on behalf of their Latin American counterparts to be more like them.

Of course, I want girls to have access to resources and education. I also want, desperately, for girl programming to be about more than condoms and sexual health. I’m well aware that the Plan fundraisers say its about more, but most of the girl programming I’ve seen in Latin America run by this campaign is about sexual health, preventing sexual assault and rape, and safe sex.

To me, making girl programming sex, and sex girl programming just completely misses the point. Girls are much more than sex, so much, much, more- and its just not the responsibility of girls alone to prevent assault and rape, to not get pregnant unless its “time,” to determine when its “time.”

Girl programming should be vibrant: about media and work and transportation and economic prowess and schooling and sex and relationships and gardening and endless other topics. It should be girl driven.

I’m also aware that on the local level, lots of incredible, amazing people are re-directing funds, slightly shape-shifting programming, calling one thing something else- to make sure girls get the right kind of programming. I just wish those re-directions, shape-shiftings, re-naming processes would be recognized.

I don’t think North American girls only have the option of advocating on behalf of Latin American girls. I think there’s hundreds, thousands, millions of other options. But, to get to those other options, requires letting go of the close-held belief that girls in the West- North American girls, have not exactly reached the “ideal” or “equality” in gender so that gender no longer matters. Gender matters, in the North/West, today.

And so, girls in Latin America and girls in North America have a lot to collaborate about- but we need to re-think the relations of advocacy that lock us into a service mode where one side give, models, advises, advocates, and the other learns, sees, tries, copies, and receives.

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So, TOMS is having this campaign. Apparently, we all take off our shoes…. because it is “time to take ’em off, spark conversation, and inspire others!” Sense my sarcasm.

TOMS pretty much runs its shoe-selling on the idea that when you buy a pair, a pair is donated to a kid who, supposedly, they tell us, is in need in the “developing world.” Indeed, shoes are very important. They protect our toes from parasites and stray glass shards. We need them. Kids need them. OK.

And that’s where my agreement with TOMS ends. You see, as many others have documented, their shoe-giving to the developing world is not grounded in development practice, not linked to local non-profits, and not partnering with local shoe producers. In effect, as you can see in one of the videos below, TOMS is giving shoes to kids who, well, already have shoes. Kids who never asked for shoes, could have or did bought shoes from the local market, kids who are part of local economies, vibrant communities, and community led-development initiatives, no doubt. Knocking out the local shoe market doesn’t stimulate economic development, it stymies it. Giving kids shoes “because they need them” and because someone bought a pair miles and miles away, according to North American shoe companies doesn’t do much for a kid with big dreams, a teen organizing a youth group, or a community fundraising for a well project, for example. Basically, TOMS practices bad aid.

As for the awareness created by going barefoot… that’s nice. It’s warm and fuzzy. It makes us feel good. I’m not sure what, exactly, it does for the kid in the developing country who someone thought needed shoes, but no one checked in with about the shoe-need. So, it’s nice. I’m not sure awareness does much but create lots of warm fuzzies “Oh look! We bought TOMS! We care! I show I care by wearing my TOMS! Today, I won’t wear them to show I care even more!” It’s kind of a weird concept. And showing we care and feeling good and all, it takes some effort…. and sometimes it seems like for-profit corporations like TOMS would rather that effort be channeled into “creating awareness” that seems to go nowhere rather than organizing, mobilizing, creating new ways of thinking about the “developing world.” Which, folks, exists in our communities in North America, too.

And of course, it doesn’t cost $50 to manufacture one pair of TOMS, nor $25 per pair (they cost about $50 in North America, per pair). I bet they cost around $5 to manufacture. TOMS is a for-profit company with factories in the “developing world.”

Yet, there IS a counter-campaign! Check it out. Hooray for local champions.

Here’s a bunch more info:

Good Intentions:


Lessons I learned: Bad Aid/Good Aid::

Good Intentions Vs. Good Results:

And finally, a counter campaign:

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What to write about…

I think it’s time to turn this blog into a space that now more reflects where I am, still immersed in this project, but from the academic standpoint, not from the Project Director one. While the PD role will always influence me, its shaped me so incredibly much, I’m getting comfortable in the scholarly role, too, settling into dissertation writing and presenting my work not to a crowd of teenagers or a table full of non-profit leaders, but with colleagues and mentors and people in the university. It’s a good shift, this one, for me, now.

Next week I am going to present at the Digital Media and Learning conference, and I am very excited.  I’ll be presenting on my work on youth media and the concept of agency. I’ve noticed how hopeful we are, we being those of who work with youth (like in AMIGOS, like in media, etc) that our work will change the world. Yep, I said it. We want to change the world. But really, I’ve been thinking about this obsession. It comes from somewhere, and its a strong feeling. It’s not a feeling that just exists, though, its shaped and burdened and carries in a cloud behind it all of this past, about why we need to change the world, about who can change the world, about how the world got like this in the first place, and colonialism, about how youth can relate across difference, about race and history, and which youth can participate, and what that participation can look like. All kinds of thoughts, structures, feelings, relationships are part of that cloud, and I think we ought to take a better look at what’s up there, what produces the desire to “change the world” and why we are so invested in youth being involved in, or doing that change, so much so that often we blind ourselves, not wanting to see anything but the beauty that comes of these innovative and generally awesome youth projects.

I think we’re way to tied to politics, and to youth as the makers of change, and I think those of us in media (me included) need to examine the pedagogical structures that produce voice, or empowerment, or agency. We love agency over here in youth studies. It’s the bread and butter of why youth programming exists, especially when that programming is media- after all, we argue, its voice! A video can be shared on wide, far-flung networks! Youth can communicate across all kinds of boundaries! But think about it, really— is that really what happens? How many youtube videos have youth made that fall on empty youtube publics? A whole lot, especially youth who don’t have regular internet access. And really, do all videos evidence agency? Are these media production pieces so world changing? I’ve argued, many times, to many audiences, that they are. Part of me believes its true, I want to believe. But there’s this really major nagging sensation in the pit of my belly, telling me when all I do is believe in the wonderfulness of youth media and agency and world-changingness, I’m missing something, something big, something important, something I need to understand. Maybe agency isn’t such a useful concept, after all. Too much baggage.

Let me give you an example. On my media project in Boaco, a bunch of youth from a community in Boaco made, with their AMIGOS vols, a video about indigineity (sp?). None of them are indigenous. It had a storyline, but the image that stands out to me (and always will) is of these youth, with faces painted with mud, dancing in a circle. They had fashioned “indigenous dress” out of woven potato sacks. I was mortified. But this was not the only such video. From another community, youth produced a version of Pocahontas, in which they did similar things- face paint/mud, elaborate costumes based around potato sack dressings, the white American volunteers playing these conquistadores, the brown Nicaraguan urban volunteer playing this whimsical version of Pocohontas, the youth playing a number of other characters. Again, mortified. Both videos played right into stereotypes about indigenous people. I thought they showed no awareness of critical thinking or of valuing other cultures or of critiquing the modern state or globalization for f***ing things up.

These videos represented, to me, a failure.  And there were others, these two, in particular, hit me hard because the involved youth were such rockstars. I showed them to no one. I did not brag about these productions, or post them to the project website. I did not use them to illustrate points about multiculturalism for AMIGOS or ideas about civic engagement or publicness in my research. I just wished they had never happened. I went on my way, writing about videos that are about gender and schooling, development and water, teen pregnancy and immigration. All topics I feel safe on, topics where I can engage youth, videos they produced that resist sometimes, but mostly, videos I can read as progress, moving forward— changing the world.

Oh dear. I think it’s time to write about the videos my youth made about indigenous people and stories.

These videos, I think, are what we need to be talking about. They resist every liberal narrative about youth, hopefulness, and political/social change. They give us another narrative. It’s dangerous territory for me, they are videos I am afraid of.

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just begins
to live that day.
– Emily Dickinson
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Handing Over the Program

I’m now officially giving over my Boaco project to someone else. Its not just a saying its the end anymore, its actually over. AMIGOS people are going to Nica- and to Boaco, and to Teustepe, and to the communities in the Asiento/Mercedes zona without me. Without me.

They are going with Maribel, and she promises to share the details. But when Donahi told them AMIGOS people were coming, she specified- AMIGOS people are coming, but Chelsey is not. It’s real. There is a Senior Staff hired, of which is a part a great guy who is going to be the PD.

So, quickly, I want to just say, there’s some things about Boaco. Some things about the jovenes and communities and life in Teustepe. Things that could never, ever be possibly captured in a handover report. Here they are, please know them, people who are taking over this oh so special project so dear to my heart:

  • The jovenes in Boaco are brilliant. Brilliant.
  • Sometimes the brilliant jovenes act shy. It’s an act. Make them sing. Be crazy. Make them dance in the streets and act like silly animals. They will stop being shy. But sometimes you have to be really crazy.
  • Sometimes the parents need a little love. Some reassurance. A visit. Lunch. Love. Promise them you will call with weekly updates about their volunteer. Then call every week, and fight for the info if you must, because its right.
  • I recognize its your project now, and you’ll do things differently than me. But just so you know, it totally works to begin every workshop, training, gathering, etc., with “A Boom Chicka Boom.” Just keep singing until everyone is singing. It works. Really. Well.
  • Don’t go to the Hospital in Boaco. Its a bad idea.
  • You can get credit at Don Alfaro’s, the biggest store in Teustepe, if you forget your wallet and suddenly need money to buy massive amounts of dulces as prizes for the youth encuentro.
  • The best food is at Dona Irma’s. Picnic, the other restaraunt, takes forever.
  • If you’re really nice to the mayor, they’ll give you a free wifi password and network. Only if you’re nice. Only my 2010 sups were successful on this count, because they just made besties with everyone.
  • It will behoove you to make friends with bike taxis and taxis. If any sketchy taxi men do you wrong, you just march over to the mayor’s office with Maribel. They’ll put the taximan in his place.
  • The mayor has a projector. AMUB has a projector. The guy who lives one block North from the corner of the park with the yellow house on it has a projector.
  • Dona Irma has a energy plant, if the electricity is out and you have a hundred youth who are supposed to watch a video.
  • Dra Judith lives in the purple house at the entrance to Teustepe. Be friends with her.
  • Alfredo, the best, most affordable and won’t take advantage of you taxi driver lives next door to Don Alfaro, the “grocery store.”
  • When riding in the back of a truck, there is nothing more glorious than standing in the back of Alfredo’s red truck, waving to everyone as you pass, the wind rushing by you, the giant green mountains all around you.
  • Hold youth encuentros whenever possible. Just ask for more money. Its very important. Hold them because its Wednesday, because you have an idea, because you found an awesome video to share. Just hold them. As often as possible.
  • Be honest. Say the truth, even if its hard.
  • Printer cartridges can be refilled in Boaco. You can send them up and down with taxi drivers you trust. See the list.
  • Give people hugs. Sing in the street. Trust everyone in the town to help you.
  • Mobilize the host moms when you need help.
  • Organize youth enuentros on Facebook.
  • Befriend the girl who runs the only Internet cafe.
  • The man at the Claro store in Teustepe literally takes hours to do mostly, well, anything. And he DOES NOT know how to add time to the internet stick. Better to go to Boaco.
  • Manicures and pedicures can fix most anything. The best place in Boaco is across from Pali. Take Jazyra (Maribel’s 5 yr old) with you. She likes bright pink with sparkles, and she likes the gay guy to do hers.
  • You need people in the communities to trust you. Be sweet, funny, listen to stories, love seeing people, meeting people.
  • You can always call taxi drivers like Chema to go up to Boaco, order your a few pizzas from the Puerto-Rican pizza guy or the park pizza truck, and bring them to your staff.
  • Sometimes, its just worth it to take a taxi to Managua. Sometimes.
  • You need Maribel. Nothing can be done without her. Make staff house comfortable to her. Invite her to join for most meals. Text her updates. Buy her daughters ice cream cones. Bring her Kola Shaler’s. Its her favorite. Tell communities she is your buddy. Be her buddy.

Mostly, love. Be brilliant. Give everything you’ve got. Be firm. Follow through. Smile. I beg you to take care of this project. Its so incredibly precious. Have fun with it. Its the best.

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Floating time

My most recent facebook post was:

the transition from the very urgent reality that is “must take care of 150 teenagers in rural Nica making media and art” to the very solitary “must write 4 pages to turn in on Wednesday about those 150 youth” is shockingly difficult.

Except, its true. It is so true. It’s easy to be jolted out of bed at 3 am because someone has intense stomach pains in their lower bellies, enough to wake up host mom who is now hysterical on the phone. It’s easy to stay up till 3 am downloading videos for media youth to watch at 7 am the next morning, because there’s always Battery (a Nicaraguan energy drink. don’t judge). It’s easy to run on no sleep, no food, no personal space; because there’s Maribel’s house to escape to, there’s rocking chairs and hammocks, there’s frozen apple juice and mostly, there’s a hundred and fifty youth depending on you to spin some magic in an old, dusty gathering hall with overgrown grass outside and bats flying behind the stage. And when it doubt, there’s always the best of mentors to call at IO, and you have the number memorized, and you know who to call for what pep talk: KK when you need a calm, steady voice to help you organize and think and get through; Sara when you have a crazy idea you need someone to say yes to or when you need a little bit of vision and to be reminded how you are a part of it; Kate when you need a reality check or when you have a problem real knotted up and tangled. But mostly, when you need a little inspiration, there’s communities to visit, youth to watch lead talleres. When you need some stimulation, there’s tech problems to solve, Plan gossip to be immersed in, and youth encuentros to invent and plan. When you need a laugh and some food and a little TLC, there’s Maribel’s hammock to lay in, her five year old to dance with, and her baby to cuddle with.

So, those things are all gone. I assure you, Maribel is asleep, and I cannot call her. There are no urgent medical calls, no pressing tech issues, and no youth encuentros to be planned. There is, though, all the time in the world to read transcripts, to search articles.

My entire heart and soul is tied up with the AMIGOS project in Boaco.  It’s been a few days since I’ve begun writing, and reading transcripts: I have THREE four inch binders full of them, and I’m still receiving them. There’s so many videos its like I am swimming in footage- and its awesome.

I mean, I have great data.  I’m fascinated by the videos… I am completely and totally inspired by all the work “my” youth have done. This is an odd transition, from a space where my every action had an immediate effect on lots of people all around me, to one where it feels like I am floating in space, and where nothing- especially reading and writing- is immediate. How to manage this odd, floating time?

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I’m home.

I know this because I am writing this post from a brand-new Mac, and because:

  • There are no sups who chatter loudly outside my room beginning at 5:30 am
  • My cell phone no longer resembles a toy phone, and it no longer has stickers on the back.
  • No one calls me to detail their diarreah
  • I am not at all concerned about how the guys from Bombas y Motores are going to be paid for the Bevil grant project in San Geronimo
  • we just had Indian take-out for dinner. And it was so good.
  • I’m wearing a sweater.
  • its night-time, and I don’t feel the need to cover my legs with leggings and feet with socks so I don’t get bitten
  • Maribel has not called me in six hours. This is a record for the last few months, and a reality for the next few.
  • When I pee, I can throw the toilet paper in the toilet. Yet, I still hesitate, looking for the trash.
  • No vols are calling asking me to send them DVDs, fix their MovieMaker, or trouble shoot their Flip Cams.
  • No Youth Counterparts are calling asking me to let them bring extra people to such and such event.
  • No sups are calling asking about sending vols to buy materials to X community.
  • No Plan people are calling asking how many juices to order for that upcoming meeting.
  • No Amigos On-Call is calling asking for updated medical reports.
  • No host moms are calling to report their vol ate lunch.
  • No sups are calling to ask me about flea bites, mosquito bites, swollen bites, scabies bites, and other kinds of bites.
  • No Doc is calling to tell me the weekly bill.
  • Generally, no one is calling.
  • There are baby carrots, sweet bell peppers, snap pees, heirloom tomatoes, and cherries in the fridge.
  • There is an assortment of meats in the freezer, gourmet cheese in the fridge door, and leftover Indian from dinner.
  • Sammy is playing music in his study, and I feel like watching Law and Order, or CSI.

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Just saying….

It’s paradise.

I’m at the Corn Islands, with my bestie Maribel, and her kids; and my cousin Brandon; and my Mom. They’ve all gone to sleep, but I’m still at the lodge, listening to the bright blue waves crash upon the white sand beaches below me, and chewing on the ice leftover from my tropical mango-lime drink.

Its been a week full of emotions. First the vols leaving. Then the Participatory Evals with youth. Hearing about community evals from sups. Sending sups on their ways into the world after a night of dancing. Hugging Tanika goodbye, pretending we’ll see each other soon for apple juice and broken internet. Mom coming, Maribel deciding to come to Little Corn, demanding they let Maribel’s five year old daughter on the plane to Little Corn even though there were no spaces….

It’s an amazing thing, to ride in the airplane with a five yr old who is on her first plane ride. As we lifted into the air, Yasira screamed, “Chelsey, estamos en el cielo!/chelsey, we’re in the sky!” and then… “Chelsey, las casas parecen de hormigas!/Chelsey, the houses look like ant houses!” And upon arrival to our cabin on little corn, “Chelsey, que maravilla es la vida aqui!/Chelsey, how incredible IS life here!” And then, in the ocean, “Look what I learned to do! Hold my breath when the waves come, and jump!”

I just hope we’re all able, me included, to approach life with such gusto and energy and wonder.

And so here I sit, them all asleep, listening to gentle waves crash. Palm trees waving, and the moon illuminating the water. People I love are fast asleep, and I am listening to research interviews, editing photos, and getting ready to read what my Mom and I call a “junk book.”*  Couldn’t, and doesn’t really get better. And my computer will soon die, so off to read junk books and listen to the ocean!

Buenas noches….


*(For those of you who don’t know, this is a book that you can get lost in, requires zero thinking, generally has embossed lettering and you can buy in an airport. This name was initiated by my parental units when I was a kid- for every junk book, I had to read a “quality” book. A quality book was like the Hardy Boys, or the Boxcar Children, or Little House on the Prairie. It was not Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, or Pippi. Another time, we can get into the gendered merritts of these qualifications).

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Little Corn Island, We’re coming!

I can’t write much, because I’m in a freezing cold hotel room and my fingers are getting chilled.

Things are finishing. The sups finished, my APD went home. We had final meetings, did last minute paperwork, and my mom came.

We took the Matagalpa vols home to their parents in Boaco, and today I met the Ecuador girls at the airport after their summer in Ecuador.

And tomorrow? Me, my mom, my cousin… and…. MARIBEL and KIDS are headed to the CORN ISLANDS! OMG! I’m ecstatic that MB actually ended up coming- its going to be a dream!

We had to do some serious finageling to get everyone tickets on the plane, which left my mother with her mouth hanging open at MB and I after we convinced them to change a name on a ticket (impossible they said! clearly possible, we said! and we were right.) and then to give Yasira a ticket even though there were no seats left (impossible they said! clearly possible, we said, and we were right!)

So, I’ll let you all know how this tropical paradise is…

And oh, ps, I’m on crutches. Ankle gave out when I was galavanting down the steps of our staff house, delighted to have found the vest I left. And now all of Teustepe knows, my ankle is, again, purple and swollen, and I’m on crutches that appear to have been made in the 1980s . Oh, the life….

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