For this week's newsletter let's catch up on the very latest from Rising Voices grantee projects and imagine a world where their cutting edge use of new media is replicated by larger segments of society.
The West African blogosphere is still a nascent community. In Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Togo, Liberia, and the Gambia it is difficult to find more than a handful of bloggers actively contributing to their country's online conversation. In Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, a community of citizen media enthusiasts has begun to take shape around the Ivoire Blog platform. They discuss local politics, technology, and how the Ivory Coast is portrayed abroad. They are also now organizing a series of workshops to bring more Ivorians into their midst. A similar event took recently in Nigeria, but imagine if this movement spread throughout all of the region.
No matter how you define it and no matter how far back in history you go, drug addiction has always been a part of each and every society, even if the users are kept off the streets and out of site. But their lives go on, and their needs – shelter, healthcare, support – often go unmet. What if we were able to hear directly from drug users themselves? What if we were able to engage them in conversation about how drug addiction can be mitigated, if not overcome? Pavel Kutsev, co-founder of the “Drop-In Center” which looks after injection drug users in Kyiv, is attempting to to just that by sharing stories from his organization and his life.
On the one hand Disney movies have taught us that hakuna matata means “no worries” in Swahili and that Madagascar has incredibly diverse wildlife. But these fictional cartoons can also trick us into thinking that we know something about the countries where they are supposedly based. Fortunately, a group of Malagasy bloggers writing in English, French, and Malagasy offer a truer portrait of the island nation where they live, its culture, problems, and hopes for the future.
I am embarrassed, but I must admit that until very recently I was not even able to point out Yemen on a map. And the little I knew about the country came from the small tid-bits of information I found on Global Voices. I did not realize, for example, that there is a lively community of women activists advocating for increased women's rights. After all, the female half of Yemen's population rarely has equal access to traditional media. This is why Ghaida'a Al Absi, in partnership with the Hand in Hand Initiative, is training women activists how to publish their own content online.
The global environmental movement has long been dominated by jet-setting celebrities like Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Natalie Portman. But within every single country is a dedicated community of environmental activists working hard to spread awareness about local issues and advocate for more responsible environmental regulation. We rarely hear from these activists because they don't have the same access to media, funding, or institutions as their celebrity representatives. Taiwanese blogger and Rising Voices grantee Portnoy Zheng recently visited the Press Institute of Mongolia in Ulan Bator to train Mongolian environmental activists how to spread awareness about threats to their country's environment and how to advocate for change.
One of the wonderful aspects of online identity is that we are not judged by the same mere physical characteristics that so often lead to unfair stereotyping in our offline lives. Race, gender, sexual preference, physical appearance: these aspects only become known when we choose to make them known. Otherwise, a blogger is a human being sharing stories and thoughts, nothing more, nothing less. In Almaty, Kazakhstan, where the government recently blocked access to the popular blogging platform LiveJournal, a local NGO called “Mental Health” is training mental health users how to take part in this global community of human beings sharing their stories and thoughts.
Most Rising Voices grantee projects have had profound impacts on relatively small communities. The “Blogging Since Infancy” project in Uruguay, however, has the potential to re-shape the entire country's educational paradigm. Two years ago the Uruguayan government invested a great deal of money to purchase a laptop computer for every single primary school student. Today those laptops have finally been distributed throughout the country, and teachers are learning how to incorporate them in the classroom. Pablo Flores, a professor of engineering at Montevideo's University of the Republic, is ensuring that the laptops are used not just to consume information and content created elsewhere, but also to create local content in Uruguay and share it with the rest of the world. Imagine if every primary school in every community worldwide were given the same opportunity. Just think how the shape of the internet would change.
Finally, we would like to congratulate two of our most veteran and successful grantee projects for the much-deserved recognition they recently received.
Cristina Quisbert of Voces Bolivianas was one of five bloggers worldwide who won a BlogHer International Activist Scholarship. She will head to Chicago for the annual BlogHer conference on July 24-25, 2009. Voces Bolivianas was also given honorable mention in the recent Prix Ars Electronica in the digital communities category.
And big congratulations to HiperBarrio in Medellín, Colombia who won this year's prestigious Prix Ars Electronica award in the Digital Communities category, and with it a 10,000 euro prize. Rezwan has summarized the reactions of members of HiperBarrio and describes what they will do with the prize money.
That is all for this week. Don't forget to check the Rising Voices website for new photos, videos, and links to funding opportunities for citizen media projects.