Even a Comic Strip Can Help Raise Awareness

Landmines. Fresh reminders of an old conflict, a war tactic that destroys enemies and friendlies indiscriminately, they are a recurring nightmare for those who live in former war zones. It’s definitely no laughing matter, but even a cartoonist can handle a serious subject deftly.

Landmine Clearance and Quote
Image excerpted from VVAF’s Annual Report

When I worked at VVAF, a former Washington-based organization founded by Vietnam veterans that addressed “the causes, conduct and consequences of war”, landmines featured in some way in each of our “Cs”. Among other things, the organization conducted landmine clearance activities in such countries as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Angola, through its Information Management and Mine Action Programs, called iMMAP.

“Funky Winkerbean” explored the all-too-real consequences of post-conflict environments: abandoned landmines and unexploded ordnance.

IFunky Winkerbean VVAF 1 collaborated with VVAF’s iMMAP team to tell the story of their work. iMMAP was active in Afghanistan–a particularly hot location given the political climate in 2005–developing actual maps, and marking those areas known (through word of mouth and other means) to be strewn with UXOs (“unexploded ordnance,” or in plain speak, landmines).

Around that time, we learned that a U.S. syndicated cartoonist, Tom Batiuk, was figuratively sending one of his characters to Afghanistan in his regularly published series, “Funky Winkerbean” to help with these efforts. VVAF’s iMMAP and I were more than thrilled to collaborate with Batiuk to promote this storyline of his comic strip and also to raise awareness of iMMAP’s landmine clearance efforts.

So, if a comic strip can raise awareness, imagine what you can do (even if you aren’t royalty)!

I was reminded of iMMAP and “Funky Winkerbean” when I learned this month that Mozambique has been declared landmine free, thanks to the efforts of the Halo Project.

Okay, so I’m not royalty, and my accomplishments aren’t as grandiose as those of Prince Harry or the late Princess Diana–but reading that story made me feel good about the work I have done and collaborated on. The many people I have worked with aren’t royalty either, and I know that they have accomplished big things to help make our world a little bit better.

Since 1975, land-mines have exploded under more than 1 million people and are currently thought to be killing 800 people a month. There seems little prospect of any end to the carnage. In 64 countries around the world, there are an estimated 110 million land-mines still lodged in the ground—waiting. They remain active for decades. As one Khmer Rouge general put it, a land-mine is a perfect soldier: “Ever courageous, never sleeps, never misses.”- UNICEF

Maybe writing isn’t exactly your thing

The power of storytelling can make positive change, but maybe writing and raising public awareness ain’t your thing. You can also call your legislators and local community leaders and let them know these things matter to you; you can share this information with your peeps through social media; or you can always donate to organizations (try iMMAP!) that are known for getting things done; or you can skip the news and head straight to the comics in your local paper!

Holy Schnitzel! I’m the first!… And I’ve been memed!

My last post was about earning my Social Media Marketing Certificate. As I mentioned in that earlier post, besides getting a snazzy certificate with your name on it, your name is also included in a directory of people who are Podium certified. So I searched the directory to see if I had any company in Switzerland. I wanted to dig into my PR roots and send out a hello, maybe invite someone nearby out for coffee. My search turned up nothing, nobody, niemand.

So, I thought I’d go the traditional route, send an email to my alma mater (because I’m a graduate, right?) and find out if there might be some other peeps in Switzerland to connect with.

My suspicions were (pleasantly) confirmed. I am officially the first person in Switzerland to be Podium Social Media Marketing certified!

And if that wasn’t enough, I have had a meme made in my honor! (Click pic.twitter.com/cMgKjOt14r to see the meme in action!)

Thank you, friends and teachers at Podium. I’m almost speechless–and stoked.

Social Sunday! It’s official: I’m Social Media Marketing Certified!

I received recently an email invitation to take an online course offered by Hootsuite’s Podium, and decided to go through the course materials before taking their certification exam. The curriculum consisted of six courses and some 40-plus videos.

Social Media Marketing Certificate, Cynthia LunaA few days after completing the course, I took the exam: A one-hour “social media marketing” exam to see if I could demonstrate “competency and proficiency in the tactical applications of the essential elements of social media marketing”.

And I passed. 🙂

Were the online courses helpful?

Personally, I found the inside tour of each social media tool (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) most helpful. Some of the under-the-hood explanations about how each application can most effectively reach the widest possible audience helped me separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to discerning which communications strategy could be more effective with which social tool, without falling into a “copy cat” trap.

Podium Start Learning Now bannerSome of the content was easy for me, because the strategic elements of effective communications haven’t really changed since I received my degree in 2002. Communications is still about establishing measurable goals and objectives, understanding your audience(s) and creating messages that jibe with both.

A lot of the course materials included general lessons in communications strategy, which I still use today; so, it’s possible that I might have passed the exam without having followed the course material. But I’m a believer in life-long learning, so I don’t object to sitting through classes and taking in knowledge.

Overall, taking the course and the exam reminds me that my Master’s degree and what I’ve learned is not irrelevant, and is, in fact, the basis for the popularity of the apps we integrate in our communications plans today!

Ready to get certified? Or, at least, be certifiable?

Click the image and you'll be redirected to https://hootsuite.com/podium that looks just like this.
Click the image and you’ll be redirected to a website that looks just like this.

I think it’s important to note that Podium in no way encouraged me to write this blog post, nor are they paying me to endorse their courses. But I am more than happy to do so.

As I mentioned before, the course curriculum is free, so you can take the courses without taking (and paying to take) the certification exam at the end. The curriculum is divided into six content modules, which are further broken down into bite-sized videos (no longer than three minutes each). Each module also comes with some course materials that you can refer to for more detail–or for your own projects.

The way the course is structured, you can decide to go it slow and spend no more than 15 minutes on learning each day — or you can power through all the content in one weekend. I went for something in between. (My plate’s pretty full.)

You’re never too old to learn!

Press Release for VVAF Information Management & Mine Action Programs

Press Release: Strategy, Copy Development, & Editing

One of the programs at Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) was active in Afghanistan helping to create maps and rid its mine fields of unexploded ordnance. A cartoonist learned about VVAF’s iMMAP and included the organization in his story line. It was my job to collaborate with iMMAP, the cartoonist and his syndicator, to develop a press release. Funky Winkerbean VVAF 1

  • Copy/ text development and editing. This was a collaboration with King Features to make sure we complied with their language requirements. The press release still exists on the King Syndicate website!
  • Communications Strategy. Along with the announcement of the comic strip, we organized for small “town hall” events where people could chat with our iMMAP program leaders and/or the cartoonist to talk about their process, what they knew about the situation in Afghanistan, and other things they knew.

Click here to see the full press release as a .pdf: Funky Winkerbean 28.06.2005 Cynthia Thomet

Imagine: A Day With Mia Farrow for the Save Darfur Coalition

It was a day not much different from an Autumn day in Zurich. Partly sunny, mostly cloudy, and subdued.

But, for me, it was different. It was a defining moment. I had spent the previous few weeks working with the Save Darfur Coalition to prepare for Mia Farrow‘s return to the United States from her tour through eastern Chad–mere kilometers from the border of the Sudan. The United Nations, heads of state (including the then-president of the United States) and foreign affairs thought leaders were willing to acknowledge publicly and repeatedly that atrocities were occurring in the Sudan, but they weren’t ready to call it a “genocide”. Doing so would require action, involvement, and international coordination to secure the political, financial and military resources to implement a peacekeeping program there.

[The press conference starts some 50 seconds into the clip. The press conference is about an hour long. ]

After Mia Farrow had shown some badly damaged household items and shared a video and some photographs from her trip there, she answered questions to a rush of reporters and remained poised for the cameras too. Then, I had to whisk her off with a cab to several studios: BBC News wanted to interview her, so did NPR and Voice of America.

b89d4dae94e36447bc7e9fe4a3a21983We chatted in the cab rides from one studio to another. And in one she started to sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” while breaking into a bar of dark chocolate. I was so moved and speechless, I couldn’t even hum along–because I thought I might break down into tears right then and there. (We were handling a lot of graphic images and talking about some horrific events. It was an emotional day.)

That autumn day in 2006 remains as fresh in my memory as though it happened just yesterday. It’s as if the few weeks prior: writing up the press release (click here: 11.20.06 – Press Release, Farrow), organizing my list of media contacts, securing the space at the National Press Club and working with the talented and energetic Save Darfur team, had existed solely for the purpose of building up to one eye-opening moment.

Imagine.

She ended up making the above video less than four years later.

Hey, hey, 50k!

As I have mentioned before, I am working on a novel. I thought I would come to my blog to brag about the fact that I finally passed the 50,000 mark on my word count. It’s a first draft, so we’re not talking polished text here, but it is still part of one cohesive story. And it’s also right around the middle part of the story IMG_4154line, so I’m pretty much on track.

I’m supposed to be going to choir practice, but I’d much rather get back to writing!