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Blog Outreach in Madagascar – From Forumists to Bloggers

FOKO Blog Club is the outreach arm of FOKO, a project committed to the development of Madagascar. From the FOKO website:

FOKO was born a few days after TED Global conference: “Africa the next Chapter”, when TED Fellow Andriankoto and his fellow bloggers Mialy, Lova, and Joan decided to push further their cyber-activism by banking on their talents with the FOKO project to contribute ideas that will support Madagascar’s development.

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Rather than the Malagasy people and culture, it is most often the biodiversity and famous lemurs of Madagascar which take the international spotlight. FOKO wants to shift the focus to the Malagasy people and make them a crucial factor in their unique and threatened environment. Their goal is to focus on one village (Kelilalina) in the Southeastern region of Madagascar, with one of their goals being to help save their forests.

Foko has many diversified projects and one of them is the Foko Blog Club, which started last August to teach blogging skills to young people in Madagascar. In a society where elders are given preference, people are not used to listening to the younger generation, although they represent 75% of the population. Foko wants to encourage more Malagasy youngsters to share their stories and integrate blogging into their educational and professional development. FOKO also hosted the Best of Malagasy Blogs competition contest in November 2007 and organizes monthly blogger meetups. Meet the club team members here.

Malagasy internet users are predominantly users of different online forums where they raise their voices fairly independently but while being comfortably supported by the online community. Serasera is a popular Malagasy-language discussion forum based in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar with over 400 active members. FOKO Blog club with the help of the Rising Voices Micro grant will outreach to this active community of internet forumists and teach them how to participate in the global community of blogs, podcasts, and online video and thus enabling them to engage in the global conversation.

In their project proposal submitted to Rising Voices, they emphasized:

Twice a month, we will have sessions with a group of forumists. They are actually very internet savvy but for lack of connectivity (costly, slow and subject to electricity outage) they are not blogging and think the Internet is reduced to chat forums. Most of the forums are held in Madagascar, we want to expand outside of the Malagasy forum world and reach out worldwide.

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FOKO's projects goals are:

  • Promoting citizen journalism in Madagascar specifically by encouraging forumists to write blog posts.
  • Using digital media as a tool for educational purposes for students.
  • Promoting the use of digital media for educational purposes by students who do not have regular access to the internet.
  • On January 26, the Foko Blog Club arranged their first workshop of the year (4th of its kind) in the cyber cafe Teknet in Antananarivo to introduce blogging to the participants. In the FOKO project blog on Rising Voices Joan Razafimaharo shares the challenges in achieving their goal:

    The idea of publishing ideas on one’s own and taking a personal position on each post could have understandably scared some of them. Our team did their best to make them feel at ease and showed them the basics of blogging in each session.

    “Pro” Malagasy bloggers also showed up to help out with logistics and at the same time other overseas-based bloggers connected on the chatroom and offered support and tips.

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    And soon all were witnessing the results:

    It took only one hour for the first posts to start showing up. FOKO members had not even yet mentioned Citizen Journalism and the Rising Voices tutorials translated into French (and soon in Malagasy) that spontaneously all the blogs showed they had caught on the spirit of what it means to rise ones’ voices :

    13 year-old FCandy very wisely posts about the latest news from her Ambohimanarina popular neighborhood.

    Hard working Sasa tells us funny stories about people she meets everyday on her way home .

    Stunningly Avylavitra showcases pictures of the impact of last week’s FAME cyclone which did many destructions in town …

    Some issues were raised : Blanche07 explained how difficult it was to find Internet connection, Pakysse wanted to learn how to embed sounds and videos into posts, and 10-year-old Miora Stéphanie needed more time. Many more bloggers-to-be were waiting for their turn in the hallway.”

    Read all the details on Rising Voices and bookmark the page (or rss feed) to receive more updates in the future. Check the sidebar of their project blog for links to the participants’ blogs, member feeds, tutorials, albums, chatrooms etc.

    The FOKO facebook group already has 200+ members and the initiative was recently featured in Blog Her .

    FOKO is soon expanding to Madagascar's second biggest town, Tamatave. It will now host two blogging sessions per month instead of one and more friends from the Namana Serasera group will attend the workshops to facilitate. We will be following this unique project and see how it brings about changes.

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