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Voces Bolivianas: Two Mile High Citizen Media (Part I)

So far we have looked in detail at two of the five Rising Voices citizen media outreach award winners. In July we featured the Nari Jibon center in Bangladesh, which is teaching web 2.0 literacy to young Bangladeshi women in the capital city, Dhaka. In August we moved our sites to Colombia and discovered how bloggers there were taking advantage of the city's impressive new network of libraries to teach participatory media to marginalized youth from the neighborhoods of Santo Domingo and La Loma.

It is now time to focus our sights on El Alto, Bolivia which, at 4150 meters (13,615 feet) above sea level, is one of the highest cities in the world. It is also one of the poorest. Among young Bolivians today, El Alto is best known as the epicenter of the 2003 – 2005 Bolivian Gas War, which intermittently blocked access to the international airport, as well to oil and gas supplies. The movement likely played a role in the election of current president, Evo Morales, who campaigned heavily on his promise to nationalize the country's vast natural gas reserves.

The role of El Alto's activists have, however, given rise to a common stereotype that the mountainside suburb of La Paz is an outpost of communist rabble-rousers and little else. The portrayal of El Alto in both the English and Spanish-language mainstream media is almost always highly politicized.

The goal of Voces Bolivianas is to leave stereotypes behind and offer Alteños a chance to tell their own tales. As the project's About Page explains:

Voces Bolivianas is a participatory citizen’s media project that promotes the use of ICT (Internet and Communication Technologies) to allow Bolivians especially from underrepresented groups to share their stories about their lives and communities, thus deciding how they are represented.

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On their Rising Voices project blog, Eduardo Ávila, Hugo Miranda, and Mario Duran have documented how they prepared for their successful outreach endeavour. After finding a suitable internet cafe and passing out flyers at Universidad Publica de El Alto to recruit participants, they got straight to work and held their first hands-on workshop on September 22.

In all, 23 eager participants showed up. You can visit each and every one of their blogs at the Voces Bolivianas El Alto aggregator.

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Taking into account that 79% of El Alto's residents are Aymara, the Voces Bolivianas team was intent on finding a translator who was willing to translate select posts from Spanish into Aymara. Their efforts led them to Dora Romero, a full-time student and part-time translator at El Alto's Public University. The result? The first-ever Aymara-language weblog.

In addition to the group aggregator, some of the most interesting posts are also featured on the main page of the Voces Bolivianas site. Those featured posts are then translated into English and Aymara.

In the follow-up to this post we'll take a closer look at some of those featured posts and how Alteños choose to describe their own lives, their own community.

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