Thursday, March 27, 2008

The power of voice

We all know about the power of the media. Probably in no country is this more obvious than in the U.S where we are constantly bombarded with some type of media - bulletin boards (in your office, school, on the roadside, in the supermarket), newspaper, radio, internet, and television.

In the context of impoverished communities, media is a powerful connecting tool. It connects the ones with a voice to the ones who want or need to hear, particularly in areas that most need it. Without a voice, you are severely handicapped. Your government rarely cares. After all, what's their incentive?? You are poor and uneducated, and while there are others like you, you are scattered and unable to unite. You don't have any power, and you don't have any voice. Sometimes, your government deliberately keeps you scattered in order to maintain their power. So what are your options?? How do you make yourself heard??

In 2002, I had the good fortune of meeting Jessie M. She was a filmmaker of pedigree, and had come to India to teach others film-making. She had this idea of giving the poor "a voice." I admit, I didn't fully buy into her idea. So you give kids a camera and tell them to film things. But what was the point? There was no electricity, no education, and who was going to see it?? What's the point of a voice if no one can hear it??

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Yesterday, I was fumbling around on the net and stumbled on an online channel that features documentaries made by amateur filmmakers...filmmakers born and living in the slums and villages of impoverished India. I was amazed by the quality of the videos, the material in them. Suddenly I was in the field with the real people - connecting, listening, hearing. There were no barriers. There was trust between them and me. They were telling me about issues that really mattered to them and about how they viewed the world. Normally it would take days, weeks or months of patient waiting and cajoling to connect like this. But I didn't have to anymore. It was refreshing and beautiful.

It turns out to be Jessie's gang (go figure!). Shortly after we met, Jess had started a foundation called Video Volunteers. She brought with her all the materials - cameras, equipment, laptops (with editing software), and her skills; then linked up with local organizations who would provide the volunteers. Since 2002, the organization has grown. Their YouTube channel now features 57 videos.

Here's a preview:

So who heard them?? Me...out here in the U.S. And you, wherever you are. And soon the people they were initially talking out to. That's the power of voice, vision, and the right technology.

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