Announcing the 2012 Rising Voices Grantees

Rising Voices is pleased to announce the six 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 1178 applications from more than 122 countries, and it was a difficult decision narrowing down the selection to just six 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 six projects selected are diverse in their approach, with each working in their unique context and we think will add much to our community.

Guatemala: Citizen Participation in Rural Libraries

Community libraries have been playing an important role in daily life across rural Central American communities by offering access to books and other resources to help encourage reading habits and other opportunities for learning. However, there has been a global trend to rethink the traditional function of these libraries by transforming them into spaces that can help foster greater citizen participation. This reflection is also taking place in Guatemala, as libraries affiliated with the Riecken regional network of libraries are prime locations to explore these new civic possibilities.

Guatemalan rural library. Photo by Carlos Reis and used under a (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.

Three rural libraries located in the villages of Huitán, San Carlos Sija, Cabricán in the Quetzaltenango Department of Guatemala will launch a project in partnership with the Guatemalan NGO Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action), an organization that helps advocate for greater citizen participation and transparency in the public sector. Now that the Guatemalan Congress passed the Law for Free Access to Public Information and has pledged to join the Open Government Partnership, there is a huge opportunity for all, but access and training are necessary to ensure that these initiatives will benefit rural communities.

Now that many of these rural libraries in Guatemala are connected to the internet, the trainers from Acción Ciudadana will help guide these communities how they can best take full advantage of these access to information policies. The project will also provide citizen media training to users of these three libraries so that they can tell the stories of some of the ongoing problems facing their communities and document the process how they can request information that may potentially solve these issues. All of the information will be uploaded to the library's blog and be a model for dozens of other rural libraries within this network.

United States: Powhatan Language Revitalization Project

In the 2005 movie “The New World,” which depicted the 17th century founding of the Jamestown Settlement in the U.S. state of Virginia, the filmmakers ran into a problem finding speakers of the Native American language spoken from that era. Turned out that the Powhatan or Virginia Algonquian language had been extinct for more than two centuries. Based on some early academic work and an existing list of vocabulary words, linguists attempted to piece together the language in order to resemble the actual language as closely as possible for the purposes of the film.

One of the major reasons why this language died out is that for many years it was forbidden by law, but lately there has been a resurgence and greater interest in revitalizing this language. The work done for the Hollywood film is only one small step in this process. Enter Ian Custalow, a member of the Mattaponi Tribe, who has been working toward the ambitious goal of bringing this language back from extinction into an endangered status. He has been building upon the foundation of documentation work, and may be one of the most active speakers of this language. To help develop more speakers, he has been offering language classes to students of all ages from member tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy through regular visits to the various communities throughout the state.

Now he wants to see how citizen media and other technology can help complement these classes, as a way to attain the community's goal of revitalizing this language. In addition to creating electronic dictionaries and keyboards for smartphones and computers, he believes that citizen media and other social networking tools can be a great motivator and way to connect new learners of this language across the various tribes, such as the Mattaponi, Pamunkey, Upper Mattaponi, Patawomeck, Rappahannock, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy and Nansemond. The hope is, according to Custalow, that “the project will allow for the language of a suppressed and underrepresented Native American community to live once again.”

Paraguay: Aché Digital Community

The Aché indigenous people in Paraguay has had a challenging past and present with much of this difficult history stemming from land rights issues. During the 20th century, the Aché suffered through a tragic genocide, and went through a targeted removal from their lands, which resulted in thousands of deaths, refugees, and kidnappings that dwindled their population to only 350. However, they have been slowly rebuilding and continuing their struggles to protect their territory. Now totaling approximately 1500 members across six communities in Northern and Eastern Paraguay, their rich history and culture often is overshadowed by these dark days in the Ache's recent history.

For the past five years, Tamara Migelson and other local multimedia artists, filmmakers, and designers have been accompanying these Aché communities by documenting their daily way of life and traditional customs. They helped establish the Center of Culture and Communication, which has produced a series of documentary films, books, and photography exhibits that has helped show a different side of the Aché people to the rest of the country. Members of these communities took a great interest in telling their own stories, and now with the availability of internet in each of the six communities: Chupa Pou, Kuetuvy, Arroyo Bandera, Ypetimi, Puerto Barra, and Cerro Morotí, there is an opportunity for the Aché to take a more participatory role in producing this material for a national, regional, and global audience.

Puerto Barra Community – Photo by Francisco Kandegi

The project will identify several young people from each of the six communities to take part in intensive skills-building workshops in the use of blogs, digital photography and video, as well as social networking. The workshops will take place in the capital city of Asunción, and the hope is that these young people will eventually become local resources for others when they return home. They will tell the stories of their communities, record stories from their elders, and provide news about some of the ongoing social challenges facing their people. In addition to being able to communicate with a wider audience through digital media, these six communities will also be able to connect with one another despite being separated by hundreds of kilometers in order to share their struggles and celebrate their successes.

Palestine: Food Tales from Nablus

In the heart of the Old City of Nablus in Palestine, a new women's center called Bait al Karama opened fall of 2011, as a result of a unique partnership between Fatima Kadoumy, representative of a local women's affairs charity Fatima Kadoumy and visual artist Beatrice Catanzaroto. The center has been providing art and cultural opportunities for local women, who live in and around this neighborhood. However, the primary focus of the center is to provide opportunities through culinary social enterprises. One of the major components will be the creation a cooking school for foreign visitors that will employ local women as chefs and instructors.

The reason why food plays a major role in the center is because of so much of daily life in Palestine is centered around food, leading to greater fellowship amongst residents. As Catanzaro wrote in the application, “Conviviality represents a fundamental space of the life of Palestinian women and social life as a whole, even in times of bombardments and curfews.” Many of the women involved with the center have been living through the realities of occupation, including economic or personal hardships. Some of the women are widows, victims of domestic violence, or whose husbands are in prison. But through the close-knit connection with Bait al Karama, the women are able to participate more fully in the creation of a new future for themselves and their families

Using food as the starting point, the project seeks to teach local women how to use citizen media to document and record personal and family stories about the origins and the traditions of local cuisine. These narratives will provide an important window to better understand the lives of the women and their families through their own words. The stories and images will be fully incorporated into Bait al Karama's blog. Catanazaro adds, “the women will be recalling personal and family memories and will depict a culture and tradition far beyond the usual stereotype of a conflict country.”

Peru: Llaqtaypa Riymaynin

It is a situation that is all too common all across Peru. Residents from rural towns migrate to larger cities to find better educational and employment opportunities. In the case of residents from the Haquira District of Apurimac, Peru, the internal armed conflict also contributed heavily to this steady stream of migrants that left their hometowns. Adapting to a new way of life can often take a heavy toll on local customs and traditions. While the approximately 1,000 local residents from this region, who now live in the capital city of Lima, have made the effort to preserve some of these customs, such as replicating traditional festivals and maintaing the practice of communal labor, sustaining their native language of Quechua in an urban setting has not been as successful.

The project Llaqtaypa Riymaynin (Voices of my Community) led by Irma Alvarez Ccoscco aims to use technology and citizen media to revitalize the language in this urban community. As she wrote in her application, “I have learned that the Quechua language is of vital importance to its speakers in urban context because it is a way to sustainable identity.” Alvarez, in addition to tirelessly working with the translation of free software applications into the Quechua language, was one of the creators of the Hablemos Quechua (@hablemosquechua) Twitter account.

In partnership with Escuelab, a technology and collaborative learning center in Lima, the project will identify young people from these communities, who have an interest in strengthening their ties with the Quechua language through the use of participatory media. Through the use of the free software Audacity, a free and open-source digital audio editor and recording application, the participants will record programs and short stories in the Quechua language. These podcasts will be uploaded online, as well as shared with community radio stations serving this community.

An eventual goal is to return to these villages with examples of this effort to revitalize the language despite living hundreds of kilometers away. Alvarez adds that the hope is that “the migrants would find their identity and first language in ICT mediums and what could be better than facilitating them to speak for themselves.”

Burma: Karen Language Podcasts on the Border

The Karen state is cautiously emerging from six decades of civil war, following a ceasefire agreement between the Burmese government and the Karen National Union. In addition to monitoring the complicated human rights situation along the Burma/Thailand border, citizen journalists in Karen State are a crucial link for their local offline community to gain a basic understanding of the tentative ceasefire agreement, the terms of which are currently being viewed with much skepticism by the Karen community.

The Karen Student Network Group has been responsible for the only regular Karen Language news broadcasts (currently broadcasting on low-power FM radio in 5 refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border). KSNG's weekly radio program provides news, education, information, and entertainment for at least 30,000 refugee listeners in these camps. In addition to producing weekly radio broadcasts, KSNG also helps find educational opportunities for students, produces health and other relevant drama programs, and conducts leadership and management trainings.

This project will expand this news service by training citizen journalists to use podcasts in order to connect the voices of internally displaced Karen speaking people with the Karen community living as refugees in Thailand, as well as the increasing diaspora of resettled Karen refugees living in Canada, Australia, US and UK. By making this information on these topics available, both locally and online, the project hopes to keep the Karen community, who are rapidly being resettled to foreign countries, connected to their cultural and historical homeland.

Please join us in congratulating and welcoming the six newest Rising Voices grantees.


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