Children for Health and Our Digital World

Recently we have been asked how our work “relates to digital” and this caused us to step back and remember why Clare Hanbury founded Children for Health.

A little girl is looking at a mobile phone that she holds in her right hand.Clare has been working in the field of “children’s participation in health” since 1989. Since her career began in 1983 she has been a teacher in Kenya and Hong Kong and worked with a refugee community in Hong Kong or studying at Masters level – so always occupied in ways that are deeply related to this work. In 1989 she joined the staff of Child to Child at the University of London’s Institute of Education and has been working in this field as a technical advisor ever since.

Over the past 10 years, Clare has witnessed first-hand how computers and mobile were changing people’s lives – even the poorest people and the educators and health workers. Over several years, Clare determined to explore how she could reach more people, more directly using digital tools.

Around this same time, one of Clare’s two closest mentors died – Professor David Morley (July 2009). Clare wanted to honour his memory with a specific project. Alongside his ground-breaking work in child health and with Child to Child, David was a consummate networker and spent his time not only producing wonderful books such as, “My Name is Today” but encouraging those he loved and respected to share and collaborate. Clare wondered what David would do in this digital age. She knew that he would be all over Twitter and Facebook! So, Clare determined, in David’s honour, to create 100 health messages (10 messages in 10 topics) that children could learn and share and that all could be sent as “tweets”.

As Clare set to work, this idea grew and grew as those she met just loved the idea of THE 100 for children to learn and share and wanted advice on how to build this idea into their programmes! It was an idea especially appealing to educators who know how much children love collecting things and in this case ‘collecting messages’ as they grow through primary school – and is rather like a ‘health times table.’

Among Clare’s supporters were staff at the Humanitarian Centre based in Cambridge who helped her by providing paid staff to work with her to create some of the 100 messages. The Humanitarian Centre also introduced her to a colleague working at ARM (a large technology company in Cambridge). ARM also loved the idea of the 100 and enabled Clare to set up Children for Health to be a digital hub from which we could spread not just the 100 messages but other content and activities too – and work with partners to strengthen and support their work.

Clare knew that the 100 messages had to be created really carefully (and over several months) and with input and testing from experts. Here is more on how Children for Health created the 100. With the help of funding from ARM, this process took two years and once concluded, we created this poster on The 100. This poster is taken and shown to people wherever we go! The 100 messages are listed on the reverse. We are very pleased that the 100 are available from the ORB platform.

From the early days of her work with Children for Health, Clare began to get involved with the UK based organisation, Health information For All and quickly joined their working group looking at how to get health information onto the mobile phone for citizens (globally). Clare is still involved in this endeavour and has participated in research to understand the needs of citizens and the quality of mobile based resources available. Healthphone is also a member of this group, an organisation that has made impressive impact in India and which is a close friend and ally of Children for Health.

Since Children for Health become an NGO (July 2013) we have set up a number of important partnerships:

More information on both of these partnerships can be found on our website. In 2015 we received the Global Impact Award from the Centre of Global Equality linked to our nutrition work in Mozambique. In all our partnerships we advocate the use of mobile to strengthen and support the work.

However it is alongside a Cape Town/Brighton based company – Every 1 Mobile (E1M) that we have done most of our work linked to digital and mobile. Shortly after our launch we conducted an experiment with E1M to understand the health information needs of one of their communities of South African young caregivers. In just six days we elicited 1,794 responses about their information needs and care giving responsibilities.

Cover of A Stone is a Strange Thing - it has a drawing of a child in an orange shirt holding a stone.
Cover of the Children for Health book, A Stone is a Strange Thing.

During the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone we were asked by several different allies, to develop health messages for children and advise colleagues at UNICEF on ways in which children and young people could become part of the community mobilisation strategy. In addition and with the help of E1M, we developed a mobile website focussed on Ebola – Our ‘Safe, Strong and Smiling Mobi-site‘ for groups of educators linked to a network of schools in Freetown. See here for a further information with links to the Safe, Strong and Smiling mobi-site and resources we created for this programme.

So what about the future?

We feel well placed to work alongside partners to help design content and activities on health education for mobile. In particular for educators or others seeking to mobilise or engage children or adolescents as health activities in a way that will really make a difference. We know what works and have experience in the challenging task of distilling messages and ‘calls to action’. We can adapt the mobi-site we created on Ebola – for other topics for example those linked to preventing non-communicable diseases. We think that ‘lifestyle’ related health issues are especially important to tackle at a young age. Health education strategies on issues such as tobacco, drugs and alcohol need to be done in ways that are engaging and linked to the local context – otherwise they will not be effective.
Mobile smart phone showing the Children for Health logo and web address.Mobile and digital technology is not an educational panacea, but we believe it is a powerful and often overlooked tool – in a repertoire of other tools – that can support health education in ways not possible before.

Our logo symbolises a child’s active and positive engagement and connection with a global communication network. The child is in a position of strength, with the means of communication in his/her hands, reaching out to acquire the knowledge he/she needs for himself and to share with others in order to live a healthy life.

Please contact us to find out more about how we can help with your digital or mobile programme.