Wednesday, June 15, 2016
In Zimbabwe, mainstream media hardly report on local issues. Mobile Community Zimbabwe aims to change this. By training citizens on how to use mobile phones and to teach them how to report these hidden stories.

“The project has not only made a huge difference in the lives of the people we trained, but also in the communities they reported on”, says Natasha, project manager of Mobile Community Zimbabwe. “I am so proud, we came such a long way.”

In the last three years Mobile Community Zimbabwe has offered citizen journalism training to students, civil society representatives and journalists to enable them to produce reports on their mobile phone. Previously, the project used the free mobile application - StoryMaker - which enables journalists and activists to develop and improve their stories using their mobile phones. This was a cheap and easy way of telling what was going on in their communities. Natasha, who is a digital storytelling trainer and has managed the project over its three years of existence, tells about the importance of the project.

What does your organization do?

“Mobile Community Zimbabwe started in 2013 with a pilot training. In this pilot course, 48 young Zimbabweans were trained in digital storytelling using mobile phones. In 2015 we continued with the project and decided to form partnerships with higher education institutions. Because of the economic crisis, less and less funding goes to education. Students who study journalism often only learn the theory, but have no chance to acquire practical skills and especially multimedia skills, due to a lack or shortage of training equipment. The project has been contributing to helping the institutions to professionalize and offer education in digital storytelling. In total, we trained 70 people in 2015: 30 students, 10 key players in civil society and 30 freelance journalists.”

Why is this project important?

“The media landscape is highly polarized. Mainstream media tends to focus on politics and political parties. This means that there is hardly any media attention for social and humanitarian issues. Through this project we make sure that these stories are told. Furthermore, we create employment opportunities for young people. Unemployment is around 70% and a lot of graduates can't get a job. With this program, youngsters can acquire specific skills and have a better chance to find a job or to be self-employed with the practical skills they acquire.”

What makes this project unique?

“This was the first project in Zimbabwe using mobile digital story telling. Mobile phone penetration is enormous in Zimbabwe. Even the poorest households own at least one mobile phone. Moreover, using a phone for storytelling makes it affordable for everyone. Instead of needing sophisticated and expensive technology, reporting via mobile phone makes it possible for anyone to produce reports.”

Which obstacles did you encounter?

“The technical aspects of using Storymaker was initially a challenge. The application wasn't very stable in the beginning, so that was frustrating for the participants. Another challenge is that the police and public in general are obsessed with journalists having accreditation, for which you need an official journalistic background. This means that it is often complicated for citizen journalists to produce and publish their stories. Finally, sustainability has been a difficult aspect. Some people followed the training because of the mobile device they got and they didn't continue their reporting after the training. To motivate these people to engage for a longer period of time is really complicated.”

Which results are you most proud of?

“Over the years, I have witnessed the professional growth of many young people that we trained. I remember one girl who came in without any confidence and she is now able to produce her own reports: she even experiments with different angles and techniques of filming.

Another thing I am proud of is the partnerships with the educational institutions that we created. One of the institutions we collaborate with has incorporated a module in their curriculum about digital devices. In this way, a lot of people beyond our initial training sessions will learn how to do digital story telling.

Last but not least, the project has not only made a huge difference in the lives of the people we trained, but also in the communities they reported on. One of our reporters, Theresa, reported about the absence of toilets on the market place nearby her hometown. The video went viral. The council of that areas decided after that to construct new toilets.”