FOKO in the heart (foko) of the Malagasy blogosphere

Last saturday Silo, who specializes in Malagasy Jazz, invited FOKO to make the Silo concert live on the Internet (a first for Malagasy audience !), but the Internet Service Provider did not fulfil its promises. The bloggers in town were present at the all 3 of the show locations all around Tamatave. It was also a great occasion to show our bloggers another fun way to practice their photography skills.

One of the three locations of the Silo Show : Stella Maris High-School

The other initiative was born when many bloggers lamented the poor Malagasy seen on the Internet, sparsed with liberties taken with the grammar etc…and so the “Aza ampijaliana ny tenintsika” (translated losely to “Do not mistreat our language!”) event was planned.
The event was held on Saturday, June 21 with Malagasy bloggers present, the usual FBC workshop taking place, and Patie representing FOKO and presenting what  FOKO Blog Clubs are about. The event was mostly fun, with games played online by the participants, but these were “serious” games about Malagasy proverbs, grammar, knowledge of Malagasy language in general.

Eddie Avila of Voces Bolivianas came for a visit and was offered some Malagasy lessons of the street language kind by Simp. Thanks for visiting, Eddie !

The next two weeks are going to be chock full of action for FOKO :
with Lova and Mialy present at the Global Voices Online Summit in Budapest, meeting up with some bloggers based in Paris and most of all there will be another FOKO Blog Club in Tamatave, thanks to Stephane, our field manager, travelling there !
Stay tuned…

by Mialy Andriamananjara

Congratulations to Foko Blog Club Class of 2008 !

Back in October 2007, we started the blogging project at a tiny cybercafé between close friends who wanted to share their knowledge and passion for blogging when gathering around a THB (a very well-known Malagasy beverage). Today we kept our rituals of enjoying our times first but extended our circle to a wider community and learned back from the amazing friends we met from the streets of Analakely to Mahabibo Market.

Many were present Saturday May 24th (After FBC 9) for the party organized for the blogging contest winners

(pictures here :Avylavitra, Patricia, Nombana, and the Namana Serasera supporters)

Our coordinators and members kept on finding ways, most of the time by improvising, to give more visibility to Citizen Media in Madagascar when the blossoming internet is reachable to only the few who can afford the connectivity and of course the digital knowledge. Because of humbleness, they shared very little about their everyday struggles to convince (people to join the workshops), produce (exceptional and original pieces) and …load their work (which is the most frustrating step). But we've started to notice from the nervosity and then the excitment they demonstrated when receiving feedbacks and reactions from sympathizers from all over the world.

Monsieur Vita, Director of the School of Journalism in Majunga, has invited Foko to formarly integrate Citizen Media to their cursus. Starting from last week, Lomelle, Rondro and their 2nd year class will help their 1st and 3rd year peers to the basics of blogging, podcasting and vidcasting ( Patricia in Antananarivo have been leading 2 workshops on her own now). This partnership will help Foko bring more attention to Malagasy provinces and open an official window to the school. We're currently studying the best strategies to fructify our collaboration with the staff.

Very happy blogging class and improvised FBC.

Stéphane with Monsieur Vita the Director

From the Madagascar English Journal invitation to contribute to their weekly publication distributed to all the schools on the island, we managed to get our English speaking bloggers a dedicated column. Mrs Annelie Rozeboom from the American School of Antananarivo has kindly edited 4 articles from Cylnice and Zouboon when at the same recommending the authors to share more stories from the provinces and most of all touching interviews like this one with little Eliza.

Foko will carry on on improving media citizen skills to our experienced bloggers until the beginning 09-10 school year in October when we'll open the workshops to new members. UN Youth Club of Antananarivo members have already suggested to learn more on internet and webdesign tools such as Photoshop, video editing and websites designing during their summer vacations with Foko. We'll also focus more on Toamasina group now that Majunga have received their digital camera and support them the same way on producing more contents on their amazing region and lifestyle.

Congratulations Class of 2008 !!

Backstage with the Foko coordinators in three Malagasy cities.

Foko wouldn't have been close to achieving its goal of without the relentless commitment of its coordinators on site who managed to recruit promising new bloggers. We've already posted photos and podcasts from Stéphane, Lindsay, Hery, and Tantely. Foko would like to thank them again for building a strong network and give opportunities to many different groups of volunteers. It took plenty of time and effort on their parts and we're all very proud of what they have accomplished.

Let's recap the recent posts by each cities’ group of bloggers. You will see that some of them wrote about undertaking projects that would bring tangible social changes in their respective communities:
1) The group in the city of Mahajanga is composed of the next generation of Malagasy journalists formerly supervised by Lindsay. On the Foko Flickr album, you can see that many of the authors from Mahajanga are also part of a dance team.

Diana blogs about taking on a project that would help alleviate the congenital condition of a Kamba baby and support his family. Rondro recently submitted a post on Tromba (a Malagasy spirit calling practice) to the English Journal of Madagascar and will continue with her monthly contribution of news from the provinces and writing about Malagasy Culture. Lomelle, who was one of the winner in the FBC blogging contest, MielManja, Zouboon and Jombilo have also provided us with poetry, interviews and surprising stories.

2) The Antananarivo group is represented by the CPO UN Youth Club and bloggers from the Namana Serasera community. FcCandy is currently taking her final exams and we encourage everyone to cheer for this amazing 13 year-old blogger by leaving a comment on her blog. Karenichia and Pati are well-known for their taking charge of some of the FBC workshop activities.

From this group, there is also Witched who recently wrote about a RV common blog theme: How do you have fun in your country? New Bloggers Andovahin, Nombana, Majy and Aikomamy are giving us great hopes as well. Blogging workshops are already scheduled for the summer vacations to keep the students active and will be tutored by Hery.

3) The Toamasina group is now blogging in Betsimisaraka and…English ! Patrick is the president of the Toamasina English Club group and is now a partner of the FBC. We mentioned previously the importance of bringing more attention to Toamasina, a economically surging region with still limited media coverage. Therefore, Foko always awaits posts published by the Toamasina group with great anticipation. Poupoune often contributes to to the Foko Flickr album with impressive photos, hence maintaining a regular inputs from the group in spite of connectivity issues.

How does Foko coordinate everyone's efforts from 3 cities far apart? The increased internet connectivity is evidently a major help even though for the first few months, each group encountered problems with computer training and spotty internet connection. Since some coordinators are based overseas, Foko relies heavily on text-messaging and Skype to transmit information back and forth. We're also giving the Twitter platform a try and we are planning on teaching every bloggers the value of this new blogging tool.

From simple blogger to citizen journalist, We do whatever it takes

Foko has just celebrated its 6 months of Blog Clubs and it was an occasion to salute the effort and energy all our coordinators and sponsors are putting in this great project. From the ones who spend amountless hours on networking looking for funds and contacts to the true heroes who are committing 200% of their energy in Madagascar and of course to our family, the Rising Voices community : THANK YOU !

We managed to recrute more than 20 bloggers from Mahajanga to Toamasina and integrate more and more communities. Since October 2007 we asked them first : “why do you want to join the Club?” . These are the answers : “I'd like to meet new friends”, “Will Malagasy from abroad read my blog?”, “It's a chance to improve my English”, “I want to write short stories”, “I want the world to know more about Madagascar”,…

From FBC-Majunga

As you already realized, our scheduled FBC workshops require improvisation (since the connexion gets cut off too often) and ingeniosity (because we're always short on money, tutors, cameras and posts!). For 6 months, we teached the basics of blogging and each member was free to come back on the next session, blog outside the hours and join our many outdoor activities. When the Flickr and video sessions started, the bloggers proved their skills and commitment. Each day you can find new images posted and oftenly commented by Lomelle, Poupoune, CPO groups on our Flickr album. With the undergoing contests, you'll find more videos on our Youtube and Dotsub pages . When Lindsay met Stéphane in Antananarivo this week-end, our coordinators helped Pati and Nombana (our FYI contest participants) for their videos which needed Hery‘s from Namana Serasera support for today editing session.

Lindsay and Pati after a very tiring but passionate video workshop

But the greatest achievement remains in everyone's tenacity to inform and share more and more news and stories when fighting tough conditions in Madagascar. Power or internet connection cut offs happen more than 10 times a day in the provinces; many of our members are still in high-school and university students and have exams ; difficulties to keep on blogging with the high rates of internet connexion ; uploading time require amountless hours; etc. To show them our appreciation and our interest in their work, we invite everyone to welcome our members from Mahajanga by posting a cheerful comment on their brand new blogs !

Which fruits and vegetable look more tasty : Toamasina or Mahajanga ones ?

Planting trees, Cyclone Ivan and FOKO

FOKO has resolved to strengthen our ties with the other RV grantees, learn from their experiences and apply their tips to running our workshops successfully.Between running our first vidcast workshop, planting trees with our Youth Group and organizing a commenter committee, FOKO has been busy.
One of our most enthusiastic bloggers, Avylavitra , has been rewarded with his own vidcast workshop and has also learned how to use Flickr, in particular Avylavitra has showered us with pictures from cyclone Ivan that devastated Madagascar.

Hery, another member of the Serasera Namana Group, is planning to bring teens and will tutor them himself.

Tip1 : Knowledge transfer and giving more responsability

FOKO, now part of the Mila Soa Association, has planted trees in the region of Andranovelona with the Namana SeraSera Group. We also have our first own vidcast from this outing : a 4 mn video on bliptv with two of our FOKOSters, Tantely and Hery, showing us, what else, how they planted a tree.

tip 2 : Outdoor activities

We are still a blogosphere inclusive strategy : we now have a commenting committee! More seasoned bloggers who are encouraging others by following up others with their own tips and comments.
This strategy has so far been successful : our top blogger, Avylavitra, is now averaging about five comments per post. He has also pledged to bring bloggers to the workshops and has been rewarded to take a more leading role in the workshops. We are hoping this approach will generate more involvement and ownership from the FBC members.
Five posts have been chosen by sipagasy , a seasoned blogger, to be translated into English. They are now available on the Foko Blog Club website.

tip 3 : Include the blogosphere, start debates.

tip 4 : Stimulate creativity with the best blog contest.


In addition, FOKO is planning on expanding. We are still planning to be in Madagascar’ second largest town next week : Toamasina, despite the cyclone, (great coverage with videos posted by Avylavitra , although plans are subject to changes depending on safety issues. Bridges and roads are reported to be in catastrophic shape.

We are exploring the idea of “Green” blogging. Environmental issues have long been at the center of FOKO's concerns. Choosing environmental themes as subjects for our next blogging workshops was but a natural step to take, as well as spreading to other locations : Tantely and Steph will launch the Toamasina edition on 24th.

tip 5: Blog with a common theme.

Bringing Malagasy forumists to blogging

Traditions of improvised oral speeches, also known as “kabary“, are deeply seated in Madagascar. The orator speaks alone in front of a crowd for a long period of time using metaphors and images.
When we, at FOKO, first thought of bringing forumists (such as the members of the Namana Serasera association) to the world of blogging, we were afraid they would feel alone and intimidated when introduced to this new media. Although Malagasy internet users are already used to sharing their opinions openly in forums, they always did so while comfortably sheltered by the online community. The idea of publishing ideas on one's own and taking a personal position on each post could have understandably scared some of them.

Our team did their best to make them feel at ease and showed them the basics of blogging in each session.
This month, Hery, a tutor at the Club since its first edition in October, took the initiative to introduce our work to teenagers of the Lycee Rabearivelo in Antananarivo during an Open Day on “Development and Human Rights” hosted by the local United Nations ICT Center. Those who were interested were then invited to join the workshops . Andry, a new member of FOKO, and incidentally a seasoned Internet professional, did a wonderful job at setting up the computers and sodas at the cyber coffee Teknet. “Pro” Malagasy bloggers also showed up to help out and at the same time other overseas based bloggers connected on the chatroom and offered support and tips.

It took only one hour for the first posts to start showing up. FOKO members had not even yet mentioned Citizen Journalism and the Rising Voices tutorials translated into French (and soon in Malagasy)that spontaneously all the blogs showed they had caught on the spirit of what it means to rise ones’ voices :

13 year-old FCandy very wisely posts about the latest news from her Ambohimanarina popular neighborhood .

Hard working Sasa tells us funny stories about people she meets everyday on her way home .

Stunningly Avylavitra showcases pictures of the impact of last week's FAME cyclone which did many destructions in town …

All the “Pro” were impressed by the Virtual Kabary posted in the new blogs and continuously wrote comments to sustain the flow.

Some issues were raised : Blanche07 explained how difficult it was to find Internet connection, Pakysse wanted to learn how to embed sounds and videos into posts, and 10-year-old Miora Stéphanie needed more time. Many more bloggers-to-be were waiting for their turn in the hallway.

Respectful of the Malagasy tradition, we used a collective approach to solve the problems. FOKO will now host 2 blogging sessions per month instead of one, more friends from the Namana Serasera group will attend the workshops, Tantely will teach the art of vidcasting, more tutors will volunteer to help out (and meet new friends) and the blogosphere will keep on commenting !!!

As FOKO says it in its slogan : It takes a village to rise an idea.