Having finally made it to Goa after a delayed arrival in India, I was very excited to be thrown into the workings of my NGO, Video Volunteers, straight away. Based on my previous media experience, I have been placed with an NGO that focuses on empowering marginalized community members to produce media content that enables them to create social change. This form of citizen journalism is especially powerful in a country like India, with its multitude of languages and cultures, where local issues can often be overlooked by mainstream media.
Video Volunteers was conducting a training camp for its Community Correspondents from its India Unheard program. 20 correspondents from all over India, from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu and Gujarat to Nagaland, gathered to share their experiences and receive an in-depth training to further develop the impact of their videos. These Community Correspondents are truly remarkable and inspiring. They each had such a unique personal story to tell, sometimes painful- but always powerful, and they were each committed to creating change from within their own communities. It was wonderful to see how barriers were being broken down inside the training camp itself, where everyone became equal- regardless of gender, caste, religion, or creed. Many had traveled for up to 4 days by bus or train from their remote villages to attend. They were rewarded for their commitment by getting a to chance to experience the vacation atmosphere that Goa is known for. It was wonderful to watch them splash about in their guest houses’ pool after a long day’s training- some of them for the very first time in their lives!
Not only was the training a fantastic way for me to learn first hand Video Volunteer’s mission and work, but it was powerful to meet the individuals from the front lines so to speak. Over the course of 10 days they each grew immensely from the contents of the training, but also from the continued support they gave each other, creating a truly unique community. The most memorable part of the training for me was attending a community screening event held here in Goa in one of the community correspondent’s tribal village.
All of the other correspondents and I boarded a bus to take the 3 hour journey south into the jungles of Goa. I finally felt like I was in India again- experiencing the wind in my hair, the lush green landscape drifting by, and the fun of passengers serenading each other with Hindi tunes at full blast! Once we arrived at the village our host, correspondent Devidas Gaonkar, greeted us and we all began to help him prepare for the big event- the screening of his work in front of his whole community. We rolled out some sheets on the side of our bus, set up a projector and lights, and watched as his village came out for a night of unique entertainment.
Devidas produced a video entitled: “Goan Rural Women Await Biogas” to educate his community about a government scheme that subsidizes the purchase of biogas stoves. Often in India laws are in place to create improvement in rural areas, but community members lack the information they need to access the assistance. By holding his first community screening, Devidas was not only showing off his journalism skills to his community, but he was educating them on issues that effected them on a very real and daily basis. By using biogas stoves women would no longer have to walk great distances to cull wood from the forest, they would be less likely to suffer health conditions from cooking in smoke-filled rooms, and the environment would be protected.
I was able to help Video Volunteers document the whole process on video and interviewed members of the community to get their responses to this unique event. Prior to the screening most villagers were unaware of biogas, but afterwards many were excited by the information and seemed eager to start using biogas stoves. It was incredible to see how one small screening could communicate such a powerful message and mobilize a whole community!
Not only were Devidas’ family members proud of him, but the other community correspondents lent a supportive and festive atmosphere to the whole event. I felt truly blessed for the opportunity to experience so many different levels of “community” in India and be inspired again to participate in a movement that utilizes media for social change!
To watch the Community Correspondents’ videos please visit India Unheard’s webpage: indiaunheard.videovolunteers.org