Hero Book / Memory Box


Steve Vosloo

Design and Usability Project Leader, Cape Gateway (an e-government portal of approximately 40,000 pages)

Steve Vosloo discussed difficulties of cross departmental elicitation of content for e-government portals. In the experience of the Cape Gateway e-government portal the best solution was a centralised content team. In the case of the Cape Gateway the content team (three content developers, two translators) builds relationships with each of 13 government departments, involving 561 government officials. In the future they may succeed in decentralising content generation, but the danger is that you can lose quality of content. They collected content for 18 months before they were satisfied about the quantity and quality of content. During that time they interviewed many government officials to find out what they do and to render it in plain language: the content team tries to avoid ‘government-speak’.

Steve also discussed the proposed Digital Hero Book Project. He has been conceptualising it for some time. Its background is in AIDS Memory Boxes. These began about 10 years ago – probably in Uganda – where parents dying of AIDS would leave some memories for their children. It would be a physical box into which they put some photographs of the dying, and perhaps some poems or a diary. It would be a therapeutic process to prepare the Memory Box, and helpful to the children in understanding their identity, heritage and culture. Since then other memory box approaches have been developed, and one of these is the Hero Book project. It was started in Cape Town about four years ago by Dr Jonathan Morgan of REPSI (Regional Psycho-Social Support Initiative) which works in 13 African countries in partnership with NGOs and CBOs large and small – thousands of children have been through the process. Evaluations so far have been very favourable. Hero Book is a psycho-social form of therapy - usually for youth but also for adults. It has mostly been applied to living with HIV/AIDS, poverty or conflict. Steve will be working with children with disabilities. However it can be applied to any obstacle that people perceive in their lives.

It takes the form of an illustrated story written by the child, in which the child is the main character. So the child is both storyteller and hero. Children identify the obstacles in their lives, reflect on their lives and situations, and think about the people and structures who are helping them deal with the problem, or should be helping them deal with it. Often in South Africa children with HIV/AIDS close up because they feel there is no-one to help them – but in fact there is significant help available from government and other sources. So the Hero Book helps to educate them about their rights, but in addition life skills such as analytical and critical thinking are developed. He proposes to move the Hero Book concept from a flat printed pro-forma to digital media – he’ll be researching whether and how Hero Book could become an online peer-to-peer support network, with significant facilitation by appropriate professionals such as teachers. He will piloting the project in five schools in Cape Town in conjunction with the Education Department. In the Western Cape, as in many other places in Africa, public access computing facilities for children are growing rapidly – and this content could be highly beneficial. He will development the project plan in detail during a Fellowship at Stanford University, then return to South Africa to implement and evaluate.