Neighborhood Diaries: the challenge of digital literacy

It has been long since we last wrote about the Neighborhood Diaries, a citizen journalism project of Kalam: Margines Write, an organization based in Kolkata, which provides creating writing programs to marginalized youths in India.

After successful nine workshop sessions the project took a break throughout February and March this year because the participants were busy with their school exams. However for the educators there was no break. Urbi and Bina were developing and refining their blogging skills with the help of Aparna Ray from Global Voices.

The innovative curriculum of grooming citizen journalists from scratch is very well done by Neighborhood Diaries project and it is well-detailed. Inspired by Neighborhood Diaries, Kalam had conducted in March-April a series of workshops with a Kolkata-Based social communications organization. The aim is to engage para (neighborhood) clubs “with a mandate of social development, helping them to go beyond performing certain altruistic activities with the community throughout the year, equipping them to take on the role of para resource centres.” Read more about it here and here. I hope the neighborhood centers will also include blogging and other citizen media activities in their agenda.

The workshops of Neighborhood Diaries resumed on 23rd of April facing many challenges. Reconnecting with the young citizen journalists after the long break was a daunting task as only half of the twelve participants were present. Some of them moved away and could not be informed and some of them were involved in other projects. But hope is there because most of them promised to be regular in the future.

The 10th Session taught them how to type and send emails. The obstacles in the words of Urbi Bhaduri, the facilitator are:

Most of them have not handled computers and keyboards before, so this will take a lot of time and practice. Additionally, there is a language barrier in using the English interface. However, each of them logged in to their personal account using their passwords, and sent a basic email to the rest of the group. They typed in Bangla, using English alphabets.

While discussing with the participants on their next assignment they chose to write about the footpaths in their para (neighborhood), the footpath dwellers, the tiny food stalls on the footpaths.

We have got a few interesting stories from the participants posted in the project blog in Rising Voices. A footpath (sidewalk/pavement) is meant for pedestrians. But its space is vital for those who need a free space to sell something to earn their livelihood or just to spend the night. Thus ‘footpath stories’ bring to us a whole new dimension of footpath.

Tania writes about a footpath vegetable seller:

“Like this, she fights for a living every day. She knows she will have to go on facing the challenges of living out in the open in different seasons like summer, winter and the rains.
In the rains, the pavements are often swept away by water, causing her a lot of problems. Apart from this, people are always walking on the footpaths. She has to live with them walking all over her space. But she is compelled.”

Footpaths are also home for these people. Jyotsna tells about their perils:

“Often out of the blue, police cars come to dismantle them from their pavement homes. Then they try to hide their possessions as best as they can to prevent them from being confiscated by the police. “

The Day 11 was frustrating as it came to an abrupt end within half an hour. While the participants were trying out their new Bangla blog “Bowbazar Diaries” the cyber café computers shut down and the café technician was not available.

The main challenge it seems to impart digital literacy to the participants:

It is a whole new world for these youth, as they hail from extremely marginalized communities, and everything starting from the interface in English, getting a feel of the keyboard, and the idea of having a “cyber address” (in the form of one’s own email id or blog space) as compared to a “geographical address” is completely new.

The 12th workshop was postponed due to an accidental death of a kid in the neighborhood, who was close to some of the participants. It was rescheduled on 19th of May and on this day the participants went out to survey the street food in their locality.

Urbi Bhaduri sets the prelude: “Bowbazar’s street food is mouth watering and very affordable”. So the idea of a writing assignment on street food seemed tempting. And what a joyful thing for the participants was that!

“Under a reddish stormy sky with the dust blowing into their faces, things getting blown away and being carried along the old streets of Bowbazar by the wind in its wake, the intrepid six chose their favorite foods. Each was given Rs. 10/- to taste whatever they wanted. Rahul wanted chowmein but, unable to make his way to it, settled for kachori (fried chapatti like things with a stuffing of spicy pulses). Robi wanted to invest his allowance wholly on tea.”

Like Urbi we are eager to learn what the participants wrote from this assignment.

1 comment

  • Yes, we have also found that many of our participants are on different levels as far as familiarity with computers in general. Much of the RV work is “advanced,” and we have to think about offering some basic courses, or working with other digital literacy organizations who can send us students who have already learned about some of the basics. It is challenging to work with people who have differing knowledge of computers, but our trainers have been great to adapt and work around that.

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