Reporting on the progress of the Blog Club project initiated by Foko-Madagascar a year ago has always been a great honor but this article wouldn't have been possible without the updates of Tahina, Lova, Randy and Patrick. From the times when we were only 4 to start this project, we didn't change much to the Malagasy blogosphere, which was already very active and doing amazing collective work, but we sure helped shaping its landscape. After training dizains of bloggers around the island with the help of the Rising Voices community, we managed to put the word “Foko”, “tribe, community”, to reality. Last August, we were facing many challenges but were proud of the successes we made in a very short time and, of course, with very few resources. Six months later, most of the logistical problems still remain but we discovered that we were not only few to solve them anymore on our own, that the entire Foko network was committed to make the project the greatest Citizen Media experience and in its special way : a sustainable one!
How did we solve the internet connexion problems?
In general, this problem is not solved yet. Since there is no place offering free internet connexion in the country, we dedicated our energy to find cheaper locations and motivate the bloggers by distributing connexion hours using what is left of the Rising Voices grant, the Mada English Journal payments and little donations by fans. Theo and Patrick from BUEC were advised to use the University of Tamatave's cybercafé which offers less expensive fees even if they have to face long queues and very low speed but it didn't keep them from becoming one of the most active group. Paradoxically, ESSVA school in Antsirabe offers free connexion to their students but with only one computer for hundreds in a tiny library there is very little time for inspiration and….discretion. In Antananarivo where some of the bloggers have internet at work, we noticed a strong sense of community and ingenuity when it comes to loading videos and pictures. As the project is expanding to new locations where internet is less available or costly, we always have to look for the easiest solution when approaching a new community : “do they have a cheap cyberafé nearby, like in Tamatave ? do they have internet, is it an organization or a school? does the community have a “handy” techie, to help out when it comes to editing or basics ICT knowledge?….”
The lack or the high costs of internet connexion won't keep Citizen Media from reaching the regions and becoming a powerful source of reliable news in Madagascar but the network we managed to build will keep on seeking/calling for more partnerships and sponsorships to facilitate our work.
How did we solve the organisational echues?
When you take the time to read the posts published on our Netvibes page, you can easily understand how diversified and active the community has become. Even though strategical and financial key decisions are still made by the co-founders, we respected the internal existing hierarchies to take directions on their own community (presidents of each associations distributing connexion hours, taking decisions on meetings, for distribution of digital cameras…). Randy, who is a teacher at ESSVA, is very confident in his team's potentials and has always been an inspiration to future journalists of the community. Patrick is giving one by one training to the student's at Barikadimy BUEC and when they don't have the time, with the help of Theo and Cunie, they are patiently filling their “window” with great reportages on cultural and social events in Tamatave. Their commitment to the Blog Club project doesn't only justify the necessity to take more collegial decisions when it comes to “team work” but more frequently now the coordinator has to rely completly on the community . Lova, for instance, in implementing the Ushahidi project for the 2009 political unrest has met difficulties with the coordination and the short time he had. Without Tahina's techical and moral support, the release of this powerful Citizen Media tool would have taken more time. But when it comes to networking and supporting, Lomelle's work and dedication has to be underlined. As one of the senior blogger at Foko, from the same school of Journalism as Diana in Majunga, she has initiated a very strong sense of community and helped dizains of bloggers to join multiple online social networks. Her friendly invitations to join Twitter or Facebook have been answered by “unreachable” bloggers to us, coordinators, but who are close friends to her (after their meetings at Barcamp and Ebit or just by texting and mailing).
The simple task of posting comments on Foko blogs was the duty of coordinators. When the likes of Tahina, Lomelle, Patrick, Ariniaina and Solofo engaged conversations and start debates in the comments section in place of the easy encouragement they are used to (“good post, keep up the good work”…), this is the moment when we knew a new generation is taking the lead at Foko.
How about our work in Citizen Media and ICT vulgarization in Madagascar?
Making headlines, fighting for a rightful cause, teaching ICT to youth, taking part in the coverage of a crisis or a cyclone, organizing tech events…Each bloggers at Foko have been personally commited to at least two or even three of these activities which made our network noticeable by media in Madagascar but also internationally. Giving opportunities to showcase skills and social activism was one of our goals with the Foko Blog Club project. For example when a teen like Pati manages to bring Malagasy youth voice to an International Youth Conference then shares about her Citizen Media experiences on television. Tamatave's club is planning to team up with Theo for his project helping disabled youth; more efforts are going to be made in the regions to develop ICT to youth; individually, bloggers have trained friends to Citizen Media and helped to open new blogs; Moma and Patrick want to do more to promote tourism in Madagascar when we only get to read diaspora or foreigners insights; Koloina has joined the Global Voices in Malagasy squad and helping to promote the website; as many members are training in journalism and communication, strong sense of emulation is created and the more readers and recognition they get the more professional their work become – professional websites have invited Foko citizen journalists to submit their pictures and videos.
In a country where the media are mostly to manipulate crowds and censorship used to shut voices, citizen journalism remains very risky. Most of the bloggers at Foko don't publish on the political events that are presently occuring in the country. Anonymity, safety and neutrality were our best advices to each other. But the assurance that someone is going to read the articles is the best way to support their activism and the only way for Foko to reach sustainability !