Ukraine: Teaching Blogging to Harm Reduction Groups

Helping underrepresented groups, such as people living with drug addiction, to start using citizen media to tell their own stories is not an easy task. This group may not have previous knowledge on how to use computers or the internet, and may not have the understanding why citizen media can be beneficial. However, it was the early work by the Rising Voices grantee project the Drop-In Center in Ukraine that helped pave the way for other similar groups to take advantage of these tools.

It has been the efforts of Anastasia Bezverkha, a consultant with the Open Society Institute Health Media Initiative, who has been helping these groups across Ukraine learn from the successes of the blogging of Pavel Kutsev and the Drop-In Center and to begin their own blogs. She has been providing workshops and follow-up activities with organizations that are part of the All-Ukrainian Association of Substitution Therapy Advocates (ASTAU) [ru]. Many of these stories have been featured on Rising Voices.

Anastasia Bezverkha, Citezens' Media Consultant

Anastasia Bezverkha, Citezens' Media Consultant

Anastasia is currently is working on her PhD thesis at one of the best Ukrainian universities National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. In her professional role, she has solid experience in working with non-governmental organizations and human rights group. According to those that she has worked with, Anastasia is always able to find common ground with the people from the group she supports. This is what a participant of Anastasia’s training posted on the blog about her and her colleague:  “In general, they are different from us, but I had a feeling that they understood and respected us, the patients of the substitution therapy programs. And this was great! In such environment it was possible to lean and to grow!”

In this e-mail interview with Rising Voices, Anastasia talks about her professional experience, her work as a consultant for Health Media Initiative (HMI), her future plans, and why blogging could be an important tool for marginalized groups in advocacy campaigns.

Rising Voices: Could you please tell a little bit about yourself and your experience as a citizen media consultant for harm reduction organizations?

Anastasia Bezverkha: Well, I started to work as a Health Media Consultant, when I was already actively involved in many drug policy-related activities, mostly as an activist of the civic initiative “Objective reality”, which focuses on journalistic investigations of drug-related issues, as well as holding a yearly street action called March of Freedom for the decriminalization of personal drug use and the introduction of the drug policy reforms in Ukraine. 

Currently, I am working with the number of leading Ukrainian NGOs and activist groups in Ukraine, working in the spheres of harm reduction from injection drug use, promotion of OST [opiate substitution treatment], ARV [antiretroviral therapy] and HCV [hepatitis C virus] treatment and securing human rights of drug users and sex workers. I am helping the groups to build their communication strategies, carry out public and media events, produce shoot videos, share information through social media and documentation of human rights violations.  

RV: Why do you think blogging and citizen media in general can help people living with drug addiction and substitution therapy patients?

AB: I am truly convinced that online activism provides new opportunities for people, whose problems are being marginalized, enables them to voice their concerns. The online sphere is rapidly growing, which provides everyone an opportunity to start a public debate, present evidences, as well as to find supporters throughout the region, therefore, introducing online tools and communication strategies to the activists from the sphere of harm reduction is one of the HMI's priorities.

RV: Could you please tell us about the new media training program for the All-Ukrainian Association of Substitution Therapy Advocates ? What is the main idea? What results are expected?

Anastasia and her little daughter

AB: In March 2011, we conducted training on blogging and online activism for a group of opiate substitution therapy patients, members of the All-Ukrainian Association of Substitution Therapy Advocates (ASTAU) in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine. During the 3-day training within the project “We are the media,” we have been providing the basic knowledge about the online tools of communication, social networks, as well as key strategies of information dissemination and the nature of blogging. The activists started to work with texts-for-the-web and to build links between them, weaving the net of their own online community. I am hoping this will give a good kick-start for further online initiatives, as well as equip them with new powerful advocacy tools. 

RV: What are the future plans with regards to the citizen media training program for the Association?

AB: Among the other plans of HMI is to carry out a training on documentation of human rights abuses and working with programs of data visualization such as Ushahidi and utilizing these tools for media advocacy campaigns in Ukraine.

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