New Rising Voices grantee Public Fund “Mental Health” conducted their first blogging training session in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The training, called “I Want To Be Heard,” was organized for eight representatives of vulnerable groups , such as those with HIV/AIDS and mental health issues, and non-profits working with these groups.
During the training, mental health activists introduced the project and assessed the needs of the audience. They also presented the general concept of blogging, described the opportunities it provides, and talked about the goals of blogging and other similar technologies. The brainstorming that followed the discussion helped identify a few new ideas for joint projects. The most popular idea was establishing a virtual meeting club for people from the vulnerable groups.
Nadezhda Vladimirova, the project's leader, described the challenges and opportunities of the new blogging project in an interview.
Nadezhda thinks that the development of citizen media skills gives vulnerable groups new opportunities to defend their rights and advocate their needs. At the same time, though, she drew attention to several challenges that could potentially impact the project's success.
According to Nadezhda, the biggest challenge could be the attempts of Kazakh authorities to limit freedom of the Internet. She pointed out that a few days ago, the Kazakh government blocked access to the most popular Russian language blogging platform LifeJournal. The government explained its decision by stating that LifeJournal goes against a Kazakh court decision to block Web pages that criticize the Kazakh president.
Another challenge the project might face is the very low level of computer literacy among representatives of the vulnerable groups and an absence of technical facilities. Nadezhda elaborates:
Most of our clients just do not know what the Internet is about and what opportunities it gives. Many of our clients have never used a computer. As for now, we let our clients use the Internet in our office but it is not enough. In addition, once a week we organize classes on how to use a computer so that our clients can work on their own.
Nadezhda thinks that the project's success should be based on the following:
One of the vital steps for the development of the project is cooperation with other organizations. That is why we actively disseminate information about the project among our partners and involve them in developing new forms of cooperation. As of today, we can list a few nongovernmental organizations that work with us. First of all, we should mention Kazakh Union of People Living with HIV/AIDS, which unites nine HIV servicing organizations, and the nongovernmental organization “Doveriye+,” which serves vulnerable groups, such as people recently released from prison, injection drug users, etc. Cooperation with these organizations allowed us to organize the first training event and I hope it will help us accomplish our next step, which is to start Web blogs for the activists and clients of these organizations.
According to Nadezhda, two things are needed to increase interest in citizen media among vulnerable groups: understanding the specific needs of these people and explaining the basics of blogging and what opportunities it provides.