The International Hot Peach Pages
by Virginia (Gin) Fisher Jan/03

en franšais

How an idea for a page in the Saskatchewan telephone book became a unique multi-lingual & international resource for domestic violence information

     At 3 in the morning one day in February 1997, I was writing the first draft of an action plan to eliminate family violence in Saskatoon (and in the rural region surrounding it), which draft I had to present to a committee in less than 8 hours. More specifically, I was wracking my brain to come up with additional items with which to pad the list of recommendations. I consciously endeavoured not to panic, took a few deep breaths, and looked around my office for inspiration. My eyes lit upon the telephone book and at that moment, a whole raft of things I knew coalesced into a profoundly obvious realization—abuse information should be in the telephone book. Much of what came together to produce that insight I had learned from my work as co-ordinator of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses of Saskatchewan (PATHS), and from activities undertaken by the committee for whom I was drafting the report:

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     My subsequent efforts to place a page of abuse information in the Saskatchewan phone book happened to coincide with my introduction to the Internet, and early limitations on the phone book page led to my turning to the web as a supplementary medium:

Sept/97 to April/99: While carrying out intensive lobbying for funding, I developed the page for the phone book in two parts: a column of information on abuse and a column of local abuse help agencies and their phone numbers. Because some of the phone numbers were ‘Hotlines’ (crisis lines and emergency numbers) and because other pages in the phone book had ‘colours’ for names (the white pages, yellow pages and blue pages), I decided to call my new abuse information page the “Hot Peach Pages” (pdf see the 2000-2001 page for the phone book);.

May/98: PATHS achieved Internet capability through a Saskatchewan government grant program called WOOL (Women’s Organizations Online). These grants were intended to bring as many individual Saskatchewan women’s organizations online as possible.

April/99: PATHS obtained funding from the National Crime Prevention Centre, but only enough to publish the Hot Peach Pages as a pilot project in two out of the ten Saskatchewan phone book districts, which would reach about one-quarter of the province’s population.

May to Aug/99: I realized that if I posted Hot Peach Pages for all ten phone book districts on the internet, they’d be accessible to women’s organizations throughout Saskatchewan because of the WOOL grants. I asked for and received funding from Saskatchewan Women’s Secretariat to hire a consultant (Northern Lights Internet Solutions) to help me build a Hot Peach Pages web site, and I conceived the Hot Peach Pages logo.

Sept/99: The Hot Peach Pages appeared for the first time in the Saskatoon City and Saskatoon District phone books.

Oct/99: The Hot Peach Pages web site was launched with abuse information and lists of local abuse help agencies for each of the ten Saskatchewan phone districts.

Jan/00: I received the following email:

“Fate was on my side when I heard about the web site [when you were interviewed on the radio]. I never knew such great information and resources existed. I also learned that I am not crazy in thinking there has been something wrong with my life for several years now. I was led to believe it was all my fault. Now I know better … I could go on but you have probably heard ‘my’ story many, many times! I just want to send you my gratitude for all the wonderful information that I found in my quest for a better life and well being.”

     Not only had I initially envisaged the Hot Peach Pages on the web as an accessible alternative for districts that had no Hot Peach Pages in their phone books, I also recognized that universal accessibility in Saskatchewan required information in languages other than English. While there was no room on just one phone book page for information in other languages, the web site had no such limitations. I hoped to be able to offer a range of information for different ‘communities’ in a range of languages, but without money for translation, the Hot Peach Pages web site could only be launched in English.

     Although I conferred extensively with the consultant on the design and development of the web site, Northern Lights built all the initial pages as I had zero knowledge of HTML. However, since PATHS had no budget to hire a webmaster, once the site was launched it was completely my baby. Slowly I learned how to manage it, at first only getting up the nerve to change some text here and there, then fixing a broken link, then adding links, and finally, making my first page all alone.

     Unexpectedly, I ended up taking to web site maintenance and construction like a duck to water, and brought a passion to it that constantly fuelled my imagination and my desire to keep improving what I offered. Northern Lights had given me 12 pages, and in the next year and a half, I built over 500 more, putting in hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime in the process. Part of the attraction was actually the colour, both literally and figuratively—working in the area of domestic violence against women can be very depressing and grey and sombre, but the logos and icons and maps on the Hot Peach Pages have been a joy to work with. (I started including maps after I got an email from the USA asking me where Saskatchewan is. I have since included a link to both a map and to basic information for every country in the world, even those for which I don’t yet have a list of abuse agencies. It seems to me it is not only helpful to have a map available when presented with a list of agencies scattered throughout a country, but also that the world community of women can be brought that little bit closer by just seeing the names and locations of cities and towns and national parks in each other’s countries, and by reading some basic information about each other’s geographies, languages, politics, economies and religions.)

     When I began, I thought only of reaching everyone in Saskatchewan, but little things kept cropping up that prompted me to see even wider possibilities and to continually build on what I already had. A $500 International Women’s Day grant from Saskatchewan Women’s Secretariat in 2001 motivated me to add the first big group of languages (25), to the site, and an email enquiry about shelters in Florida led me to the realization that on the Internet, I was not limited by Saskatchewan’s borders, but could in fact offer lists of abuse help agencies across Canada and even North America. From there, it was an obvious step to encompass the world. I’m sure if I’d set out with the idea of reaching everyone on earth, the job would have been too big for the beginner that I was. But by starting small, building on each previous foundation, and slowly expanding my vision as my capabilities and experience grew, I was able to bring the site to where it is today. As the rest of the chronology unfolded, each new level meant the acquisition of new skills:

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Sometime in 2000: Still with a bee in my bonnet for languages other than English, I found and linked to sites with abuse information in French, German, and Spanish (at the same time improving my surfing abilities). By Dec/00, the site was getting over 100 requests for pages a day.

Jan/01: I scanned and posted the first of a pile of ‘other language’ pamphlets I had procured: for example, here's the Chinese pamphlet (thereby learning a lot about scanning, and creating and linking to new pages).

March/01: I scanned the rest of the pile of pamphlets, as well as some Cree and Dene translations I had commissioned, and added 25 languages for International Women’s Day (thereby learning more than I ever wanted to know about scanning, and creating and linking to new pages). I named the languages part of the site ‘EarthWords’, and designed an EarthWords logo.

April/01: I expanded the abuse agency list beyond Saskatchewan to all of Canada (further honing my surfing skills).

June/01: Traffic was up to 300 requests for pages a day.

July/01: Suddenly, somehow, the abuse agency list stretched around the world with 152 countries in total, and EarthWords had incorporated 38 languages.

By the end of 2001: 15 more countries and 2 more languages. Traffic averaged between 450 and 500 requests for pages a day.

Mar/02: I added 7 more languages for International Women’s Day. (This was my last posting on the original URL due to my leaving PATHS.)

Nov/02: On a volunteer basis and with no funding, I gave the Hot Peach Pages a facelift and re-launched it at a new URL (www.hotpeachpages.net) under the umbrella of CaNetiq, a non-profit, web-based women’s organization committed to making abuse information available on the Internet to the world community of women. I improved lists and access for every continent, and added 15 countries for total of 182, and 6 languages for a total of 53. I also found and adapted 20 language icons to add to the EarthWords pages (for example, the word “Greek” in actual Greek letters). EarthWords now had the largest collection of ‘language icons’ on the web. (Surfing for language icons underlined for me how my tenacity and intuition play a large role in my web site successes.)

Jan/03: 6 more countries, 4 more languages, plus expanded lists for Europe and Canada.

     Along with EarthWords in languages from A-Z (www.hotpeachpages.net/lang/), and the World-Wide List of Abuse Agencies organized by continent ( www.hotpeachpages.net) and country, (www.hotpeachpages.net/a/countries.html), the Hot Peach Pages offers an assortment of helpful devices and information that I collectively call NetHelp! tools (www.hotpeachpages.net/a/nethelp.html):

     (Conceiving of and designing the logos for NetHelp!, SurfSavvy!, international characters, and PDF conversions again afforded a welcome opportunity to play. To me, this sort of design work is like finger-painting for grown-ups!)

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     I know from my own extensive experience that surfing for abuse agencies in countries outside the western economic sphere can be frustrating and often fruitless, even when such sites exist. The Hot Peach Pages web site is meant to change that, but, unfortunately, not only are the major search engines inflexible and unwieldy, they are actually highly resistant to effectively listing ‘directory sites’ such as the Hot Peach Pages—they seem to think only they can put together such a product. The end result to date is that the Hot Peach Pages, the most comprehensive source for information internationally on abuse agencies and abuse information on the planet, is still not listed on the Open Directory Project’s ‘Domestic Violence: International’ page at http://www.dmoz.com/Society/People/Women/Issues/Violence_and_Abuse/Domestic_Violence/International/, though I’ve been applying to them for two years. The 22 sites that are indexed on this “International” page together employ just 3 languages other than English, and list perhaps 500 agencies for 26 countries. The Hot Peach Pages, on the other hand, indexes more than 1,000 web sites that together list at least 10,000 agencies for almost 200 countries. Perhaps someone other than me needs to suggest the Hot Peach Pages to the Open Directory Project and their ilk.1

     Posting abuse information in as many languages as possible means that the information is then readily accessible to service providers everywhere. Within the first week after I added the 25 languages for International Women’s Day, 2001, I received an email from a shelter in northern Alberta telling me how great it was to have such a resource, and that they’d be making use of the English, French, German, Arabic, Dene and Cree. And as Konota Crane, an Aboriginal Resource Officer with the Saskatoon Police Service, said that same International Women’s Day:

     “These new web pages mean that overnight, we go from basically zero accessibility to tools of this sort for use with clients, to 99% accessibility. For women whose first language is Dene or Cree, the fact that abuse information in those languages is so easily available to service providers will be very powerful. I see it in my own work all the time. The communication of concepts in one’s own language promotes broader and deeper understanding, and aids faster and further healing.”

     Another proof of the usefulness of something posted on the net is the amount of traffic it draws. EarthWords has been one of the top four most-visited destinations on the Hot Peach Pages right from that first mass posting on International Women’s Day, 2001, which surprised even me.

     Women can make good use of the cutting edge, given the opportunity. More and more women the world over are gaining access to the net on a daily basis and we need to be there for as many of them as possible as they arrive. My penultimate vision is that, as more and more women’s abuse agencies around the world build web sites in their own languages that the Hot Peach Pages can link to, and as more and more women’s sites, directories and search engines around the world become aware of and link to the ever improving resources of the Hot Peach Pages, a point will come when no woman on earth will spend more than five minutes looking for abuse information in her own language or for the closest help in her own country, no matter what she speaks or where she lives. And ultimately, some time after that point, there will be no more domestic violence.

1 Many of the Web’s largest and most popular search engines and portals, including Netscape Search, AOL Search, Google, Lycos, HotBot, DirectHit, and hundreds of others (but not Yahoo!), use the Open Directory Project’s database to update their own. Yahoo! has more of a global scope but the resources it lists are very thin in places and the Hot Peach Pages has so far been allocated as only a Canadian resource.

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