FOKO: Growing Strong As A Connected Community

FOKO members, Photo: FOKO

It was an eventful October for the Rising Voices grantee FOKO Blog Club (FBC) project in Madagascar. After the completion of the Madagascar barcamp on October 4, 2008 the project did an evaluation noting what it had achieved from this successful event:

“The coordinators wanted the tech communities to notice the existence of FOKO network and mostly the members interests in other fields related to Citizen Media. In fact, very few associations, journalists and professionals knew about Foko-Madagascar and our outreach project the Foko Blog Club before October 4th.”

On 17th October FOKO celebrated its one year birthday as it participated in an Youth Day celebration at E-bit which took place at Palais des Sports et de la Culture at Mahamasina. It was Madagascar's biggest ICT event attended by thousands of students from all Antananarivo schools. 35 Foko members from all provinces were present to host them. They shared their Citizen Media experiences and gave blogging tips to the E-bit participants.

One of the agendas of the event was: “Make 15000 kids happy and more aware about Citizen Media, Open Source Software and (why not!) Web 2.0“. What a challenging mission! And they proceeded towards it with the support of all the FOKO members.

ESSVA students helped open email accounts, Photo: FOKO

During the event the FOKO bloggers took charge of the citizen media sessions by using improvisations. Joan Razafimaharo writes in the project blog:

ESSVA students, who were the newest additions at Foko, helped open dozens of e-mail accounts and blogs (list will be published soon) despite the slow connection and them been quickly outnumbered by the attendees.

Read more about the event in three parts here, here and here. There are over a hundred pictures on the event in this FOKO Flickr album.

It is great to see that the FOKO bloggers, former workshop participants have come forward to help in the outreach activities of FOKO. Joan adds:

Diana, Lomelle, Koloina and Rondro took the initiative to have monthly FOKO meeting on their own and are planning to teach blogging to new members.

Please check the FOKO project blog, FOKO and FBC blogs for more information and links to the participants blogs.

We have talked about the latest updates on FOKO with Joan Razafimaharo, the heart of FOKO.

Joan Razafimaharo Photo: Oso

RV: How are the folks at FOKO enjoying blogging?

Joan: During the barcamp and E-bit, they had the opportunity to meet many bloggers, techies and other FOKO participants which gave them a strong sense of community and a lot of motivation to get more involved in FOKO activities. When it comes to schedule workshops or learn features on blogging they are calling each other or sending emails spontaneously. The efforts coming from the province bloggers are amazing especially from ESSVA in Antsirabe where the students are always ready to take part in FOKO's activities (12 of them made the trip to Tana to impart Citizen Media workshops in the E-bit event). Patrick the leader of BUEC in Tamatave is always sharing his knowledge, e.g. he taught blogging to 3 news friends today. And finally the Majunga girls are blogging daily with a strong presence on Facebook (they managed to invite 15 members to start their page).

Foko in Media
First full page report on FOKO published in a national newspaper, Hebdo de Madagascar.

RV: Tell us about the blogosphere of Madagascar. Are there community blogs like Livejournal? How much the Foko bloggers are being read by the blogosphere? Are they getting encouraged?

There should be community blogs but what we witness is that all the Malagasy bloggers enjoy sharing and traveling from platforms to platforms. We have very strong connections with the Serasera community who are blogging on Jentilisa, one of the prolific translators of GVO Malagasy and the best Malagasy blogger of last year, has met the Foko bloggers during barcamp and e-bit and has inspired them with his 400 posts rich blog and popularity.

The Netvibes page (FOKO universe) was made from Simp's suggestion and last week I started a blog carnival on “Why we must blog on Africa?” [fr] and the Foko bloggers were invited by the blogosphere to share their views on the topic. Lomelle and Ariniaina are urging the FBC members to write. This is very promising because we don't want the members to be tagged as “special” but want them to integrate into the blogosphere and be recognized for their skills and personality. 

(Check Lita, Layshiuu and Ariniaina's posts on the topic “Why we must blog on Africa?”)

RV: How are they facing the challenge of expensive internet connections?

Joan: Patricia, Diana and Koloina became good friends and are doing their best to meet twice a month to share their connection hours or when they have friends with internet at home. 

Lomelle using Asus EEE PC
Lomelle using Asus EEE PC, Photo: Foko

The mini-laptop Asus eee pc we bought for the groups was also a great solutions since they could connect when there is free wi-fi (hotels and restaurants). Of course we are still looking for sustainable solutions but we are going to collaborate more with the bloggers to find them. We've also received some donations from internees and bloggers who want to get involved and support FBC.

RV: What are the recent plans for FOKO?

Joan: Obviously there are going to be no plans without the bloggers’ interventions and consent. Randy Donny, the teacher and journalist who brought us ESSVA students from Antsirabe, is planning more workshops in this region. By December we will also be heading south to Fianarantsoa city in Betsileo region, the cultural capital of Madagascar in collaboration with marginalized youth associations led by Jaona Rakotoarisoa. 

Patrick and Moma, presidents of Tamatave and Tananarive English Club are planning to cover touristic destinations around the country. This could be a smart way to raise attention to Madagascar and give another image of the country when this time we have simple citizens and not travel agencies to give descriptions. 

Diana has inspired the bloggers to get involved in more social activities and even if they are not going to be able to help all the baby Kamba in the country are trying to raise awareness upon realities and cases that cause injustice or should be noticed. Ariniaina posted about street circus and Lomelle wrote about those who live on picking garbage[fr].

Street circus
Street circus, Photo Ariniaina

As for 2009, we have been invited to co-organize ICT events all around the island with associations with the common mission to “vulgarize ICT and technology”. All this came from our hard work during barcamp and e-bit when people are starting to notice our potentialities and ability to work together despite the technical, geographical and financial challenges. Now, you can be sure that FOKO is definitely considered as part of the “Big Calibers” inside Malagasy tech and social landscape. This position will help FOKO a lot but we want first to give opportunities to the bloggers who are still students and need to be recognized for their skills not form their social origins or lack of wealth.

I know this may appear a bit chaotic but as you see we are going to be quite busy for 2009!

Thank you Joan for your insights into the exemplary activities of FBC.


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