If this sums up your impressions of Madagascar …
… you're not alone. In fact, if you search Google for ‘Madagascar’ the second and third search returns have nothing to do with the country at all, but rather the Disney movie. Similarly, for editors at major international newspapers, Madagascar might not as well exist at all. Here is the world according to The Guardian in 2007:
The lack of coverage of Madagascar in the mainstream media means that most of us know little to nothing about the world's fourth largest island and far less about its 36 tribal groups, unique Malayo-Polynesian language, or delicious cuisine, like the cassava-based ravitoto.
FOKO wants to help Madagascar by bringing the world’s attention to Malagasy people. When often biodiversity and lemurs are in the spotlight, FOKO wants to focus on the Malagasy people and make them a crucial factor in their unique and threatened environment.
We have already featured video interviews with Foko co-founders Lova Rakotomalala and Mialy Andriamananjara discussing the project's beginnings. Here is another of Foko's four co-founders, Andriankoto Ratozamanana, discussing how the project got started and what it hopes to achieve:
This past week, accompanied by Global Voices’ Managing Director Georgia Popplewell, I was able to meet face to face many of the Foko bloggers whose posts on Malagasy daily life I have been following for nearly a year now. Here, for example, is Patrick, who, as president of the English Club at his university, promotes blogging as a good way to both practice English and interact with the wider world.
Patrick and Theophile each got a lesson in podcasting courtesy of Georgia. You can listen to what they came up with on Patrick's blog.
Our time in Madagascar was also an excellent opportunity to learn more about how Foko's trainers – including Stéphane, Pati, and Karenichia – go about promoting citizen media blogging across the island nation. With their help, Georgia and I gave a presentation to a group of high school students at the United Nations Club about Global Voices and blogging in general. Then we handed the camera over to two of the UN Club members so that they could make their own citizen media:
Stéphane, Pati, and Karenichia also led a workshop on blogging for the I.C.E. Club in Antananarivo. I.C.E. stands for “I'm Crazy about English” and, as you will soon see from their blogs, the ICE members most definitely are. Here they are describing what they will be writing about on their blogs:
You can also find links to all of their blogs on the Foko Blog Club website.
Now that Foko has established such a strong community of bloggers throughout Madagascar, they are in the process of institutionalizing the organization by finding ways to become sustainable and reaching out to local partners. As we noted just a few days ago, Foko has begun selling select blog posts to a local English-language newspaper. They have also attracted the support of an independent designer who is donating proceeds from her online sales to the project.
To attract more open source programmers from Madagascar's tech community, Foko is also organizing their country's first Bar Camp which will take place on October 4th from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Hotel Ivotel. The event, of course, has its own weblog which provides sneak peaks at some of the attendees and speakers.
Given Africa's internet woes, it is access that always presents itself as the greatest obstacle to Foko achieving its objective of getting more Malagasies to discuss and debate online. Fortunately, Madagascar's largest internet service provider, Moov, has stepped in and agreed to sponsor the Bar Camp by providing free internet access for all attendees at the event.
Hopefully this is the beginning of a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship between Moov and Foko so that more Malagasies can get online and use the internet in ways that help their country and communities prosper.