In January we received over 270 proposals from activists, bloggers, and NGO's all wanting to use citizen media tools to bring new communities – long ignored by both traditional and new media – to the conversational web. It was, by far, the highest number of proposals Rising Voices has ever received in its two-year history of supporting citizen media training projects. The growing interest in citizen media from civil society shows that we truly are undergoing a major transformation in how we inform ourselves about the rest of the world and who is able to contribute that information.
Of the 270 project proposals, the following five are most representative of the innovation, purpose and goodwill that Rising Voices aims to support.
Abidjan Blog Camps
Théophile Kouamouo has long been one of Francophone Africa's leading bloggers. Based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Kouamouo is one of the founders of the Ivoire Blog network and started the wildly successful meme “Why I Blog About Africa.” (Elia Varela Serra summarized many of the resulting responses in a two-part series on Global Voices.) Kouamouo is now trying to bring many more of his countrymen and women to the blogosphere by organizing a series of “blog camps” around Abidjan in which current Ivorian bloggers can discuss the issues affecting them and show new bloggers how to join their ranks. Kouamouo first proposed the idea on his blog back in August last year, which attracted a number of enthusiastic commenters supporting the idea. Blog Camps have a long history of attracting new citizens to the participatory net. A number of blog camps have taken place in India, including in Chennai in 2006 and, more recently, in Mumbai. Blogcamp CEE last October brought many new participants to the Russian-speaking blogosphere. For the most part, however, West Africa (and particularly Francophone West Africa) has been left out of the booming global blogosphere. That is starting to change. Panos West Africa, in partnership with Highway Africa and Global Voices, recently announced the winners of the Waxal – Blogging Africa Awards. Next year we can expect to find many more Ivorians on that list as Théophile Kouamouo sets out to organize a series of events that will bring dozens if not hundreds of Ivorians to the blogosphere. Abidjan Blog Camps will also promote more pan-African online interaction by teaming up with existing blog camp movements in Madagascar, Kenya, Uganda, Mauritius, and South Africa.
Just west of Ivory Coast lies Liberia and its roughly 3.5 million inhabitants. Settled by free slaves from the United States in the early 19th century, Liberia fell into a 14-year dark period of civil war and lawlessness that concluded in late 2003 with the presence of ECOWAS and the United Nations. Today Liberia is slowly recovering despite inadequate infrastructure, unemployment at around 80%, and former combatants (many of them minors) who must be re-integrated into society. Many unemployed Liberians have put their hopes in friends and relatives living abroad in the United States. However, there is often a lack of communication and understanding between Liberians at home and those living in the diaspora. By partnering with African Refuge – a drop-in center for West African youth – and the Century Dance Complex in Park Hill, Staten Island (the largest Liberian community outside of Africa), and Amnesty International in Monrovia, freelance journalist Ruthie Ackerman aims to help foster a transatlantic Liberian blogging community.
Those Liberians who lived through the war — whether soldiers or not — experienced some type of trauma or displacement. By creating a community and sharing experiences with others, it has helped give these youth a purpose and vision that there is something larger than themselves. This will benefit the community (on both sides of the ocean) on many levels: Liberians, many of whom have difficulty adjusting to life in America, can reconnect with their families and dispel myths about what life is like in the U.S. There are also left-over tensions from the war, which may be able to be diffused through the dialogue created between the communities.
Real Experience of the Digital Era – China
Shenyang, literally meaning “the city to the north of Shen River” and capital of the Liaoning province, is touting itself as China's “next tourist destination.” But whether you are visiting the ancient pagodas of Old City or the official “High-tech Industrial Development Zone” the tourist brochures won't mention the city's male and female sex workers who mostly come from poor rural communities in search of talked-up urban opportunities. In partnership with the Ai Zhi Yuan Zhu Center for Health and Education documentary filmmaker Wei Zhang will train male and female sex workers who use the AZYZ center how to maintain a blog and upload short video documentaries to share their experiences, opinions, and troubles in order to promote more understanding of the region's sex worker population.
Nomad Green – Mongolia
Environment officials from throughout Northeast Asia met in Ulaanbaatar this week for the first time to discuss climate change and how to enhance energy efficiency in the region. Mongolia's capital city was a fitting location for the meeting as the country's environmental deterioration has accelerated recently due to rapid urbanization, industrial growth, and increased coal consumption. Ulaanbaatar is frequently shrouded in a haze of thick pollution:
Desertification from climate change is threatening the livelihoods of nomadic Mongolian tribesmen and the country's saiga antelope was just named the most endangered antelope species in Asia. It is amid so much negative news that Portnoy Zheng, in collaboration with the Mongolian and Tibetan Foundation and the Mongolian Green Party, will train Mongolian citizens how to spread awareness – both at home and abroad – about their country's environmental crisis. Nomad Green aims to 1.) train citizen journalists how to use blogs, digital video, podcasts, and map mashups to report on environmental news, 2.) create a network and community of environmentalists sharing and spreading information about related threats, solutions, and opportunities, and 3.) translate content into Chinese and English to promote more regional and international cooperation in facing Mongolia's environmental challenges.
Empowerment of Women Activists in Media Techniques – Yemen
With international coverage of the Middle East focused on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the war in Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, and the financial markets of the Persian Gulf States, little attention is given to one of the region's poorest countries, Yemen. The few spikes in media coverage of Yemen over the past few years are all related to fears of al-Qaida presence.
In collaboration with the Hand in Hand Initiative, Ghaida'a al-Absi will organize a new media training course for female politicians, activists, and human right workers in order to bring a new perspective to the Arabic-language blogosphere and to build an online network of Yemeni gender activists. It is fitting that today, on the 98th anniversary of International Women's Day, we announce al-Absi's initiative to bring more women's voices to the internet. The deteriorating status of women's rights in Yemen is frequently documented and discussed, but rarely do women themselves take part in those discussions. By reaching out to NGO's and political parties throughout Yemen al-Absi aims to change that.
Please join me in congratulating and welcoming the newest five grantee projects to our community.