Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Sunday, December 9, 2007

News from the countryside

A unique experiment to train young villagers in the art of newsgathering and reporting for the Rural Chronicle is being undertaken in Maharashtra. The idea is to make rural youth the eyes and ears of their villages.

At a training centre belonging to the Bosco Gram Vikas Kendra, an NGO located at Kedgaon, a few kilometres before Ahmednagar on the busy Pune-Nagar road, 21 young men and women troop into a classroom at 10 am for another day of learning. Some of them are still rubbing the sleep from their eyes; some complain that they would have liked hot water for their baths; some were up early playing carom. They are, as one resource person puts it, “our next generation of journalists”.

Implausible though it sounds, this first batch of youngsters drawn from various villages across Maharashtra will, at the end of a fortnight-long workshop, take up the task of news reporting for a publication called Rural Chronicle .

It's an innovative concept initiated by the Ahmednagar-based NGO Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) that has been working in the areas of water harvesting, women's empowerment, education, and entrepreneurship.

Explaining the concept behind training rural youth to become the ‘ears and eyes' of their villages, Joseph Shinde, coordinator of the workshop, says: “During our organisation's work in rural development, we realised that collective participation is very important. While dealing with various issues we touch many lives and there is a gradual process of transformation. But these impacts are not taken note of in our march toward the next milestone. Therefore we thought of compiling and sharing the good experiences through our publication. Also, reportage of this kind can help focus on shortcomings that need to be addressed. Ideally then, the stories must come from those who are living in the villages, because they know the situation best.”

The reporters, whose news reports will be translated from Marathi into English, will later find their work uploaded on the WOTR website. In fact, Dr Marcella D'Souza, director of WOTR, wants to take it a step further. “We might even train them in video newsgathering,” she says.

The mood amongst the participants is therefore understandably full of curiosity and excitement. “This is an opportunity for us to learn something new. It will also help create better interaction between the villagers,” says Sanjay Harpade of Chandvad taluka in Nashik. In his village, Vad-Varadi, infrastructural facilities are at a bare minimum. The primary health centre is located 7 km away, while the weekly bazaar takes place at Manmad, which is at a distance of 12 km. It's the same with Pangra village in Beed, and Sampat Misal, a resident, explains how they have to travel at least 25 km to avail of any medical, educational or civic facilities.

Swapnil Bhilkar of Chincholi village, in Wardha district, has done his HSC and an electrician's certificate course. He also has a fair knowledge of computers and hopes that these skills can be utilised to report on issues like water shortage during the summer months, the condition of roads, unemployment and alcoholism that affect his village.

For these ‘rural journalists' in the making, the motivating factor is not the desire to see their names in print but to be able to usher in change. “We are here to understand how to go about collecting news, interview people, follow up with government agencies for information, and understand the various policies and schemes that are meant for us so that we can do a proper job not only of disseminating information but also pointing out lacunae that exist in the system,” says Sanjay Pathade, a participant who is currently studying for his commerce degree and has also worked as a computer programming assistant.

Undoubtedly, these young people are also impressed with what they see on the television news channels. “Journalism calls for a lot of fearlessness,” says Anil Gavande of Wadala village in Amravati district. A few of them, in fact, say that they might even think of pursuing a fulltime career with the media. Will we have, in the near future, Dhongde Sindhu Nivrutti reporting live from Akole taluka on bird flu? Why not?

That such experiments work is borne out by the dramatic success of Khabar Lahariya , a newspaper in Uttar Pradesh that has rural women reporters rewriting the rules and making headlines. The newspaper reaches out to 200 villages and represents the best in journalistic courage and ethics. Published in the Bundeli language, Khabar Lahariya has broken stories, pinned the administration down on varied issues, and held up a societal mirror to gender, health and other issues. Moreover, the paper is managed by women who have stepped out of their homes and sheltered existences to earn a living through an abiding commitment for everyday truths -- bettering their lives and those of people around them. They go from village to village, mostly on foot, looking for news on the functioning of panchayats, the bureaucracy, schools, hospitals, and crime. In one instance, the team exposed officials for not providing medical facilities in a remote village where eight people had died of tuberculosis. Naturally, the authorities were not happy with the coverage and even abused the women. But that has not stopped more women from joining the ranks of the rural journalists.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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