On Friday September 8, 2017, the world celebrated World Literacy Day under the theme, Literacy in a Digital World. The choice for the theme is based on the belief that the digital divide will increasingly widen as people «who lack access to digital technologies and the knowledge, skills and competencies required to navigate them, can end up marginalized in increasingly digitally driven societies ».
It is also believed that literacy is an important prerequisite for use of the digital technologies. As an ardent educationist who firmly believes that literacy is a basic human right that should be accessible to all, I am also cognizant of the fact that for many Africans this right is not immediately realizable. Their illiterate status however has not prevented them from interacting with the new technologies.
This however, is dependent on a number of factors which include the sociocultural settings in which they live; their access to and ownership of the new technologies as well as their interest in them and willingness to use the technologies. It is not uncommon to see illiterate individuals use mobile phones, tablets, television, radio and cameras for personal and business purposes.
This realization has made many individuals and organizations develop projects and programmes using digital technologies to promote personal and social development for illiterate persons, particularly youths and women. Some examples of these innovations include video halls for women; multi media centres for women and Participatory Video Programmes for Women.
Worldview The Gambia (WTG) adopted the Participatory Video Camera Women Programme for illiterate women from Worldview International who had been using video applications as a dynamic and effective method of working with marginalized, disadvantaged or otherwise vulnerable groups for a wide range of purposes. Working with youth and women, Worldview was able to build their capacity to use video to address a in a multi-dimensional range of disadvantages including social hardship and exclusion, HIV/AIDS and other disease prevention, Violence against Women and Girls and political participation.
Participatory Video (PV) can therefore be described as a process that creates video narratives to communicate what those who participate in the process really want to communicate, in a way they think is appropriate. As an organisation that aims at giving a voice to the voiceless and most marginalised members of society WTG found the PV programme to be a most effective tool for community transformation.
The PV camera women programme was implemented in five communities in rural Gambia. The girls who had not benefitted from any form of formal schooling were identified by their communities to participate in the self and community empowering programme. The selection of the girls (2 per community) from Saaba, Ndugu Kebbeh and Ngain Sanjal in the North Bank Division and, Njaw and Boiram in the Central River Division was done on a participatory, impartial and objective basis by the PV Women Camera Committee which was set up by the village specifically to oversee the programme.
The Committee who were sensitized by Worldview Gambia on the ethics, specific objectives and intentions of the programme and of the participatory video process in general drew up guidelines on the modalities and its ways of working. Selected by members of their community the Committee was charged with the responsibility of selecting the girls who would participate in the programme, monitor activities of the programme, safeguard the equipment which were kept under the custody of the village head for security purposes and manage the funds which would be divided into three parts: programme operations; repairs and maintenance of the equipment and honoraria for the girls.
Worldview as the implementing agency had an advisory position on the committee in a process where video was seen as bringing about transformational social change in communities. They were also responsible for the procurement and distribution of the equipment as well as training of the girls and monitoring and evaluating the programme. Action Aid The Gambia funded the programme and played an important role in its implementation. From the inception, ActionAid’s rights-based approach that is ‘involving people in their own development not as a privilege, but as a right was incorporated into the PV programme.
The girls went through a rigorous process of training in using high tech, state of the art camera and in filming, producing and editing. They mastered the art of pre-production, production and post-production techniques. They played an important role in decision making on what it was that they wanted to film. Their oral scripts went through a process of iterative cycle of shooting and reviewing.
The PV had manifold impact. It gave the girls knowledge and skills in use of digital knowledge that they would not otherwise have had. It developed their creativity in a vast field of expressive form. It allowed for collective realization and action on matters affecting their lives and enabled them to disseminate information on unforeseen situations such as when a bush fire broke out in one of their communities causing extensive damage.
From the perspective of WTG the PV programme for women was able to enhance personal and social skills of the participants. It was an easy and accessible way of making video. It brought people together to explore issues, voice concerns or simply to be creative and tell their stories documenting their experiences, needs and hopes from their own perspectives. It initiated a process of analysis and change that celebrated knowledge and practice, whilst stimulating creativity both within and beyond the community. It gave visibility ‘a voice and a face’ to those who are normally not heard or seen.
Like any participatory process the PVP for women had its pitfalls. Transformational social change requires knowledge of the power relations that exist within a community. In implementing a project or programme introducing new technologies focus to communities many outsiders like WTG focus on implementing their activity and do not have the time to understand the dynamics of community power relations.
While WTG and AAITG were involved in programme implementation the community lent their full support to the girls. Once the training aspect of the programme graduated and the girls were on their own they suffered many challenges emanating from the patriarchal structure of their communities. Stereotypes about women took over and the girls were no longer involved in decision making about use of the cameras. The men took over.
On their own the girls were unable to fulfill their dreams of becoming fulltime camera women as they could do little in isolation. Some of the girls also got married and moved out of their communities.
The cameras and equipment were expensive and difficult to maintain and a lack of transparency and accountability in the management of funds meant that there was no money for maintenance and repairs.
The problem of disposal of equipment when their lifespan ends was also not incorporated into the programme design. It is likely that old equipment would be thrown out and or end up in landfills, the toxic metals and flame retardants they contain can cause environmental and health problems.
On hindsight, inspite of the great impacts of the PV programme, it was unsustainable. The girls who had acquired digital literacy skills in operating digital video cameras and other equipment were unable to stand on their own after the funders pulled out.
These are some of the major shortcomings that should be borne in mind when introducing digital technologies to illiterate communities. While there is no doubt that knowledge and skills are imparted, sustainability is always a major issue.
By Adelaide Sosseh
Gender and Education Specialist
Former Director of Worldview