On a Saturday morning in El Alto, Bolivia, a group of men and women intensely watch the computer screens at the Internet Café Scorpio. Some of the users have never had access to the internet and now they are learning to write messages, digital photography and video techniques, tools necessary to have a voice within the global online conversation that is the Internet.
This is how the magazine “Américas” of the Organization of American States (OAS) introduced the works of the Rising Voices grantee Voces Bolivianas project in its October 2008 issue.
It all started when well known Bolivian bloggers Mario Duran, Hugo Miranda, and Eduardo Ávila envisioned a digital literacy project for the underrepresented communities of Bolivia. Eduardo remembers in his blog the early days of Voces Bolivianas (Bolivian Voices) project, before it started to take shape. He shares with us a short plan on blog outreach which was made sometime in late 2006:
Ten interested university students or older
One partner internet café
During the first three-hour session, the facilitator will introduce the concept of blogging by showing concrete examples of Bolivian blogs, in which the students will be asked to consider the differences between reading an online newspaper where they cannot respond, nor dispute anything.
Students will be shown how to create his/her own blog and invited to write something.
For the next week, students will be given coupons for an hour of internet time at the partner café that was negotiated at a reduced rate.
The facilitator/mentor will comment on the blog and encourage the others to do the same.
It is a long story how the project had expanded from El Alto to other cities in Bolivia like Santa Cruz and Beni where passionate blogger volunteers imparted blog, video, photography and podcast workshops to hundreds of Bolivians.
Eduardo Ávila notes:
The project still tried to retain much of the original thinking, such as the need for mentors and ongoing support.
In their project blog in Rising Voices Eduardo Ávila talks about the challenges the project faces now:
“Since the beginning of the Voces Bolivianas projects, it can be roughly estimated that 20% of the trained participants continue to write in their blogs after the classes end. Some might argue that this number is way too low for the resources invested into the project, while most would probably agree that the number is higher than the average for the general public, for those who open blogs and continue to write.
Without a doubt, one of the main reasons for the decline in activity is connectivity issues. Based on demographic polling, only 1-2% of participants have internet at home. For regular bloggers, they can attest that this steady access really encourages regular posting.”
He cites an example that Ruben Hilari, a VB participant who is now living in USA increased his posting frequency because of better internet connection.
The passionate Voces Bolivianas team has defied all these obstacles and has been successful in their outreach projects because of their innovations and sincerity.
Voces Bolivianas has published a guide on how to open a WordPress blog. The guide is in Spanish language and was released under a Creative Commons license. The manual was developed by Annelissie Arrázola of Bolivian Initiatives, an web 2.0 venture from Santa Cruz with the help of Hugo Miranda, Jessica Olivares, Karen Heredia and Liliana Colanzi. Here is the Manual for WordPress:
For those who prefer Blogger (Blogspot) platform, Hugo Miranda has one manual for them too (in Spanish).
Here is the Manual for Blogger:
Check the Voces Bolivianas pages (English, Spanish and Aymara) for highlights of the participants’ blogs.
Virginio Sandy at Nacion Suyu Suras Parcialidad Aransaya writes about the tradition and the meaning of All Saints Day (Todos Santos) and the threat of modern Halloween culture.
Cristina Quisbert at Bolivia Indigena writes about the Day of the Dead in Bolivia. She posts a video of the cemetery and several pictures of the celebrations of the day which is an important holiday in Bolivia.