The Orizonturi Foundation  in Campulung Moldovenesc , Romania has been helping people with mental health issues since 1995. Its citizen media initiative the “Blogging the dream project ” created a blogging club for mental health service users with the help of a Rising Voices micro grant. It trains them how to maintain a weblog, upload videos to online sharing sites, and use social networks. With these blogs these people are voicing their opinions and hope to break through stigma barriers, fight discrimination, and create awareness of mental health problems.
Participants of the Blogging the Dream project, Gabriela Tanasan sitting in the center.
In November, Gabriela Tanasan, the Executive Director of the project was invited by the Soros Foundation  to their Advocacy Through Blogging conference in Bucharest, Romania. She presented the project there and discussed how blogs can help mental health patients. The event was live blogged by Beth Kanter :
- They want to improve their (service users) quality of life and confidence and lead an independent life.
- Difficult to work with journalists – because they believe nothing is happening – they call (them) “lunatics” – it is a rural community with villages spread across mountains. It is why they wanted to blog. They wanted to dispel myths about what mental problems really mean.
- The volunteers were high school students. Through the Internet, they learned about the Rising Voices Grant. They submitted an application, assisted by volunteers from the Peace Corps.
- The purpose of the project is to keep mental health patients to share their ideas and experiences.
The scope of “Blogging the Dream” project was introduced to the 70 members of the organization so that they could find 10-15 interested volunteers for the workshops. From the project blog :
“We have had several express interest and requested to be included in the training. One of the newly active members, a woman in 50’s exclaimed, “Oooh, pick me. I want to be first on the list. I don’t want to miss anything.”
A new computer, web camera and digital camera were purchased for the workshops and the much needed Internet connection was initiated which were “a dream” for many. The two month long technical training was split in 8 sessions:
“Some of the topics being covered in these sessions are self disclosure, privacy, copyright issues/laws, how to handle negative comments/feedback, navigating the Internet, as well as other online networks such as YouTube and Facebook, web and digital camera use. For use during the training, we are developing basic manuals that will include the previously stated topics and step by step blog creation. These manuals will also be used after the training course as tools that the new bloggers can refer to for assistance.”
Here is the training outline  (in pdf format).
The technical training started on October 16th with 13 participants ranging from 13 to 53 years of age. Six participants were from the mental health community and seven students were from Centrul Scolar, a school for students with special needs, including mental health problems.
The project blog writes about the first session :
“Towards the end of the session, we had everyone get on the computer to play around and explore the unknown.”
Some tried there typing skills as one woman had written, “I feel good in front of the computer”
The challenges were many. The Internet connection was not ready in the first three weeks. The Centrul school was kind enough to let the participants use their facilities for the workshop. On the fourth week the Internet connection was finally set up .
The lack of computer skills of the participants held back the progress of the workshop a bit but the participants have already opened there own email accounts and were comfortable with many technical aspects.
On December 14th the technical training had officially ended. The club had limited heating facilities which that kept some of the participants from attending in these cold days. However an enthusiastic group of eight had completed the training fully.
After the holidays the participants will start their two month long practical sessions. The progress was evident already :
“Participants are slowly on their way to getting their blogs up and running. They enjoyed learning how to use the digital camera and loading their pictures onto the computer. It truly puts a smile on your face to see the ownership and pride that the participants are taking in their work.”
So far six participant blogs have been opened. They are:
- Dragoste, Afectiune si Prietenie  (love, affection and friendship)
- Guerrilla 
- Momente Penibile 
- Sensibilitate si Dorinta  (Sensitivity & Desire)
- Singuratate  (Loneliness)
- Viata, asa cum e ea…  (Life is as it is)
Mirela writes  in Viata, asa cum e ea…(Life is as it is) blog about one of her Christmas related childhood memories.
Deea writes  in Dragoste, Afectiune si Prietenie (love, affection and friendship) blog about a friend who is obsessed with money.
Loy Ovidiu at Guerrilla blog posts  some beautiful pictures of Bukovina region.
Some pictures of the project were uploaded in Flickr . The images used in this post are from that gallery.