This is no BBC or Discovery Channel crew. As reporters and producers make their way through Nairobi’s slums with cameras and microphones, they halt from time-to-time to chat amicably with the residents; they seem untroubled, even at home. And they are: born and raised on the same streets as their interviewees, the young staff from the Nairobi Community Media House (NCMH) can boast about their first- hand knowledge of local issues.
Self-reporting on local communities has grown in many African countries: the Voices of Africa Media Foundation, a media training organization founded in 2006, empowers young locals to make use of mobile technology to report from their own communities.
“Traveling Africa made me realize people there could not raise their voices; mainstream news is only interested in hunger and civil war. So when wireless Internet and mobile technology emerged, I thought we might have a chance to give voices to communities that were usually deprived of them,” explains Pim de Wit, managing director of the Foundation.
And use it they have: since completing theirfirst pilot programs in Ghana and Kenya, the project has successfully produced over 1,000 videos on their training website. Equipped with smartphones with capabilities toto record, edit, and even createvoiceovers, youths in 8 African countries (Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Cameroon, DR Congo, Tanzania, South Africa, and Zimbabwe) have gained significant practical journalism experience..
“We don’t dictate a topic to be covered. We tell people to look around, find something interesting around them, and get a story out of it,” argues senior trainer Dr. Olivier Nyirubugara.
Learn now and go forth
The project’s goal is to provide promising and media-oriented young people a chance to develop reporting and news-gathering skills during a six month program. Thus, the trainees produce one weekly video story and professional journalists give feedback on how they can improve. The prospective candidates must be proficient in either French or English, be Internet literate, and prove previous interest or involvement in media.
“I’m convinced that a society without strong media is weak and, the truth is tht the media sector in Africa is very poor. As a journalist, it is very difficult to make money,” points out De Wit.
Voices of Africa not only teaches technical skills, but also tries to educate its trainees on the value of journalism. For each piece delivered on time, the reporter earns around $10, and they get a smartphone of their own use which they payfor
throughout the program in order to feel accountable for it. The Foundation believes journalism can be a full-time occupation for its trainees and encourages them to follow this path.
The Foundation aims to get the freshly trained youths to get paid for their work, the logic being that, for instance, any NGO working in Africa has the need to monitor the progress of its work. Who could be better to show its impact (or lack of) than local reporters?
But finding clients proves to be a major challenge; only a few prospective journalists prevailed in their quests to become wage-earning journalists. De Wit and his colleagues discovered that while their coaching model was successfully turning average youngsters into sharp reporters, the equation was still missing something.
That’s why Nairobi Community House took this process to another level. Launched as an official company in July 2011, the project’s revenue are distributed between the Voices of Africa Media Foundation and the reporting team, which comprises an editor and 10 staff members on its payroll, all of them from Nairobi’s slums. Yes, ten township-based young Kenyans ranging between 20 and 28 making journalism have made journalism a profitable occupation.
Even they reported losses for their first year of operation, their 2011 Annual Report states that in the last quarter of 2012 they are expected to breakeven. The House’s work is primarily video journalism, and they also produce a bi-weekly episode for the Africa Slum Journals initiative.. Other products range from documentaries to a children’s puppet format program.
And Nairobi is just the start. Voices of Africa Media Foundation’s strategic plan foresees the opening of five new Media Houses across Africa in the forthcoming years, one every twelve months. Nairobi’s reporters visited Kampala to help set up their chapter, while two Ugandan colleagues travelled to Kenya to observe the concept in action.
De Wit believes in the power of his work, saying, , “If one medic can attend to 10,000 people, how many people can you serve with one community reporter?”