Announcing the Newest Rising Voices Grantees

Rising Voices is pleased to announce the five newest members to join its global community of citizen media grantees. Each of the selected projects will receive microgrants to implement their proposed project to teach others how to use various citizen media tools. This latest competition round resulted in an impressive amount of interest from around the world. In all, Rising Voices received more than 750 applications from more than 90 countries, and it was a difficult decision narrowing down the selection to just five grantee projects. There were many deserving projects with great ideas that addressed specific needs in local underrepresented communities that we were unfortunately unable to fund. The five projects selected are diverse and represent four different continents, with each working in their unique context and we think will add much to our community. The five new grantees are:

Bandim and Enterramento (Guinea-Bissau)

In the Western African country of Guinea-Bissau, the organization Associação Amigos das Crianças (Association Friends of the Children) has built a strong relationship with the youth in the neighborhoods of Bandim and Enterramento located on the outskirts of the capital city Bissau. According to AMIC, the residents of these communities face challenging issues such as the lack of access to safe drinking water, a fragile sanitation system, poor educational infrastructure, and few safe places for children to play.

However, in these neighborhoods there is a also strong spirit of creativity and artistic expression thanks to the work of AMIC, in collaboration with the local cultural group “Cultural Netos de Bandim.” Together they have been providing alternative cultural activities such as art, dance, and theater workshops as a way to engage the local youth living in these two neighborhoods. Under the leadership of Ector Diogenes Cassamá, a local artist and activist, AMIC will begin to add digital storytelling to the cultural offerings available to the neighborhood youth.

The project seeks to teach the youth of these two neighborhoods how to use digital photography and video to document life in their surrounding community. Even though the two neighborhoods of Bandim and Enterramento are not adjacent to one another, the project will allow youth from the different neighborhoods to interact with and learn about youth in another part of Bissau. Through community exploration and interviews of fellow residents, the youth will gain a better understanding of the history of the neighborhood. The youth will also learn about the current challenges facing their surroundings, and how they can play a role in shaping their future.

Friends of Januária (Brazil)

The small town of Januária located in the north of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais has had a recent history of difficulties with its local government. In the span of six years, the town has gone through seven mayors. Several of these mayors were removed because of wrongdoing [pt], including many cases of mismanagement of public funds. Because this small town with a population of 65,000 is located far from many of the urban centers in Brazil, the local government receives little or no press coverage, which is often a way to hold local public servants accountable to their constituents

Since 2004, a local organization called the Association of Friends of Januária (Asajan) has been raising awareness about the issue of local governance among the town's residents. Through investigative journalism work and public awareness campaigns, Asajan has been championing transparency and accountability for Januária's local government. Much of this work has been made possible by one of Asajan's founders, Fábio Oliva, who is an active blogger himself and who has been writing about issues of civic engagement. In 2008, Brazilian multimedia journalists Amanda Rossi and Jamila Venturini filmed a documentary [pt] about the work of Asajan and about the ongoing needs of the local community, with a focus on Asajan's work holding public officials accountable.

Asajan now seeks to include more local participation in its work of monitoring the municipal government and its budgets, as well as learning about ways to access public information regarding their town. The project will be led by Rossi and Venturini, in close collaboration with Oliva, Asajan, and others, which will engage residents of the town, especially focusing on youth, teaching them how to use citizen media tools for greater civic participation. The participants will use blogs, digital video and photography, as a way to document the issues facing the town and to monitor the local government's response to these needs.

Transparent Chennai (India)

Transparent Chennai is a local organization that has been aggregating, collecting, and displaying data for public interest use about the Indian city of Chennai. Access to this information helps residents better understand the needs of the city, as well as the local government's response to these needs. Much of the data is available via interactive maps containing various layers of social, political, jurisdictional, and environmental information about the city. Staff and volunteers of Transparent Chennai have done much of the previous data collection, even though there exists an open invitation for the general public to submit their own information to the database of knowledge.

For this pilot project, Transparent Chennai will add new elements to their existing work by focusing on directly engaging two local artisanal fishing kuppams (villages) in South Chennai. The residents of Usur and Olcott will take part in hands-on workshops where they will learn how to contribute to the map, marking the boundaries of their village, land use patterns – especially how different livelihoods in the community use space outside of their homes and along the water, identifying local resources, points of historical and ritual importance, and gaps in local infrastructure and in government services. The youth of the villages will also take an active part through the use of digital cameras to photograph life within the kuppam, and to post these photographs as a way to create another layer of geotagged images to the map.

This project will engage these villages that have been engulfed by the expanding borders of the city of Chennai. Despite laws in place to protect the coastline from rampant development and to preserve the rights of traditional fishing communities to their land, both Urur and Olcott kuppam are currently threatened with eviction to make way for an elevated expressway the government is planning to build along the city’s coast. The project leaders have discussed the proposed project with the fishermen's panchayats or local governing councils, and together they feel that it is particularly important to bring other voices and other notions of the city into the local and global conversation, so that these voices too can be valued and preserved as an essential part of modern Chennai.

Blind Dates (Greece)

The local school for the blind in Thessaloniki, Greece has recently faced uncertainty with the threatened closing of their school due to operational budgetary constraints. Even though an agreement was eventually reached with national officials ensuring the school's continued operation, many students at the school felt frustrated that their voices were not being heard during the debate that would directly affect their lives. Several of the school's volunteers approached the students about the possibility of using citizen media as a way to express their thoughts on the state of their school, as well as other issues facing the blind community in northern Greece.

As technology for the blind computer users continues to progress, it has become easier and easier for the visually disabled to these citizen media tools. For example, through the use of screen readers, which is software that provides text-to-speech capabilities allowing the user to hear the words aloud that are written or typed by the user, this has enabled many individuals to send emails, to surf the web, as well as as to publish to their personal blogs. Voice recording for audio podcasting is also another way that the blind can express their thoughts and ideas online.

The project “Blind Dates” will be led by Alexia Kalaitzi, who is a volunteer at the school, in close collaboration with Stefanos Tokatlidis, a current student at the school. Tokatlidis has been a blogger [el] for a little more than a year, and is eager to teach his fellow students how to create and manage their own blogs using some of the technologies available for blind students. In addition to teaching the students how to blog, the project will receive technical support from the local NGO United Societies of Balkans to broadcast the audio podcasts on an online web radio station. The content created by the students will cover a wide range of subjects including news about the school, as well as issues pertaining to accessibility issues and public policies concerning the blind community in northern Greece.

Ségou Villages Connection (Mali)

Many rural Malian communities are separated by great distances from the urban centers, including the capital city of Bamako. In many instances, the poor infrastructure, poor roads, and limited electricity, can make the distances seem much larger. However, the emergence of communication tools such as affordable mobile phones can help strengthen the links between the residents of rural villages and the larger cities. This is especially important for many Malians who have left their communities for greater educational and economic opportunities in Bamako.

One prolific Malian blogger, Boukary Konaté, is originally from the Ségou region in Mali, which is located along the Niger River. Even though he lives and works in Bamako, he still holds strong binding ties to his community back home. He has been an innovative local leader in the use of citizen media tools as a way to keep residents in the Ségou region informed about news taking place in the capital and around the world. For example, he provided live Twitter updates with scores and news of the 2010 World Cup football matches taking place in South Africa. These microblogging messages written in French and the native language of Bambara provided valuable updates to the football fans in Ségou without television sets.

Konaté's project seeks to continue this communication flow with the residents of the Ségou villages, but the project will add a teaching component where villagers will learn how to send their own news and information back to Bamako. Through hands-on workshops that will take place in various villages, Konaté will train the residents how to use their mobile phones to send news about the communities to the residents living in the capital. They will also receive feedback and comments from the readers, with all of the information to be collected on a community portal made available in French and Bambara. This two-way communication will strengthen the relationship between residents in the villages and those now living in the capital city.

Please join us in congratulating and welcoming the five newest Rising Voices grantees. We're excited to see their work unfold and we hope you are too!


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