Friday, December 25, 2009

What am I doing here?

Hello everyone in this blog,
I am honoured that this blog has invited me to be an author, especially since I am not associated with the WAVE wave:)
But the premise of this blog interests me: I cant do the video blogging part because I wasn't part of the training. I don't know the technicalities of making videos: I just love the visual medium and belive that it has immense potential to tell compelling stories. We see there is a space for video citizen journalism: CNN-IBN's Citizen Journalist being a case in point in India.
But to come back to what I am doing here:
well, I am based in Imphal, the capital of a state called Manipur located in the North Eastern part of India. Not many would have heard of us for we are a vague part of history and conciousness. The few who have heard of us would know us either through a lens of: culture, sports, HIV/AIDS and of course, the naked protest staged by 12 women in front of the Kangla Fort protesting against the brutal rape of a woman by the Assam Riffles. But as with every other place, there is more to Mnaipur than this. Apart from the conflict and the chaos, there are also women who are doggedly fighting the odds in their lives. There are also other women forced to various situations because of their vulnerabilities: taking up sex work, drug peddling, being arms couriers. There are the women in the famed Ima Keithel (litearaly meaning Mothers' market) run by women and though most outsiders, if not all look upon it as a symbol of "women's empowerment" the real story of course is that the market is made of two diverse classes: women belonging to the well heeled section, the upper classes; women who have retired after being Government employees on one hand and those at the lower end of the poverty ladder. The ones at the top come to the market for business, the ones at the lowest rung for their stomachs. It's got noting to do with empowerment. For a reading of just how women running the market are left much to the situation around them, please follow this link:
And that brings us to a pressing need to look at what is women empowerment.
Is it the fact that there are now women getting jobs and earning? Is it the fact that there are more women in political positions? There can be and there are more questions on this track but for now, let's just concentrate on the two above.
Can we say that a woman is empowered if she has a job and earns? Would we still say it is, when the money she earns cannot be spent according to her wants and needs and intent but taken away by her husband at the end of the day? Would we say a woman is empowered when she earns about a 100 rupees at the end of a day, carrying bricks on her head at a construction site? There is also the other side: the various self help groups sprouted by NGOs: the ones that teaches embroidery, sewing, making snacks etc etc. Is this really about empowerment when all that such groups are doing really is going into gender stereotypes of "training women to be empowered" by merely changing some conditions of their lives but NOT changing the POSITIONING of women in society?
I would so love a discussion on these thoughts. And yes, the women in political positions. Yes, 33% reservation in Panchayats etc have brought out the women from the homes and the hearth. Yes, there are a few women who have done well for themselves and for other women but the majority occupy positions because of the reservation policy BUT still insist that you talk to thisr husbands about what they are supposed to be doing!!!
As young women doing documentation, it is also important that one is clear about what is it that you are trying to say: would your images and the sound bytes and the choice of your story, person in the story follow the oft mistaken "women empowerment" track or would you question? How does one balance the way you question?
These are questions that one has to think through.
My best wishes to all of you.
Chitra Ahanthem

50 women from each of India's 28 states gather to learn about videoblogging for community development in Goa!

Hi everyone, I meant to get this out a lot sooner but nonetheless, here's an account of the WAVE training we had recently in Panjim, Goa for 11 days:

T minus 1, Friday November 27
We finally meet most of the 50 girls attending the training, whom we had talked to and emailed with for over a month, at Lar de Estudantes, a lovely dormitory in the pretty Altinho hill area of Panjim. I felt a mix of emotions -- that of elation, seeing the diverse faces in the group, mixed with pride from accomplishing the task of recruiting from every state in our vast country. The girls were very quiet as we briefly introduced the team and answered some of their immediate questions, which worried us a little, but we chalked it down to the girls being tired from their long train journeys. As it turned out days later, this was certainly the case because once the girls became more settled, we never ran short of conversation.

Day 1, Saturday November 28 (OVERVIEW)
We had start-up tech problems setting up the projector, as Angana and I try to introduce ourselves, but fortunately the equipment worked in time for Meena Bilgi's presentation on Gender and Community Development. We were also able to show the website and talk about our funders, as well as videos about Berkeley Community Media (where I used to work for 6 years and where I learned about using video as a tool for social change), and Angana's film about the Women's World Bank, which was relevant and inspiring.

Meena did a great job explaining our Millennium Development Goals as well as leading the girls through an interactive exercise where she would call out a word such as 'farming' and they had to associate it with a gender. She said our group was very different from others who had done this exercise because their responses were more evolved. For example, instead of associating a word like doctor with men and nurse with women, they would do the opposite.

After lunch, we welcomed Frederick Noronha, a renowned blogger, author and journalist from Goa, to talk about blogging and videoblogging. He pointed out many useful sites online and also showed a video interview with one of the organizers of the Pink Chaddi campaign, an example of a highly successful advocacy action.

Later in the day, Stalin K (Video Volunteers) joined us for a lively chat about what community really means and sparked a debate about religion and feminism!

Day 2, Sunday November 29 (DAY OFF but with first camera shooting exercise)
We decided to give the girls a day off early in the training program so they could familiarize themselves with Panjim and also explore Goa's beautiful beaches, architecture or anything else they would like to do. However, we distributed around 10 cameras in groups and asked them the shoot video of each other and do casual interviews about how their experience had been getting to Goa as well as what they thought of WAVE.

A few friends helped us give basic pointers about camera use: Donovan Zane, a professional videographer of online videos from the US and director of a Global Water NGO; Gasper D'Souza who has taught digital story-telling in Goa and started a Goan video blog; and Faiza Khan, director of incredible 'Supermen in Malegaon' documentary which was being featured at the International Film Festival of India at the same time as our WAVE training.

In the evening we watched some of the videos shot and provided some feedback about exposure, framing shots and interviewing techniques.

Day 3, Monday November 30 (PRE PRODUCTION)
The first session was with Bishakha Datta, director of Point of View (WAVE's NGO partner) who is also a well known documentary filmmaker. Bishakha asked the girls to describe how they visualize the first frame of their first video submission for WAVE, which is to be a simple video profiling themselves. The ideas that emerged struck us all with their ingenuity, sensitivity and diversity, and gave us a first glimpse into the excitement ahead working with this extraordinary group of women.

Next, Ruchika Muchhala and Faiza Khan showed a number of powerful online videos that used different techniques and then critically analyzed why they worked or didn't.

Finally, Venita Coelho, an experienced scriptwriter and long-time media trainer, explained the basics of story-telling and writing so well, that the girls insisted she return for another session.

Days 4-6, December 1 to 3 (PRODUCTION)
Kavita Joshi joined us from Delhi to train the girls in video production techniques including composition, exposure, using tripods, mic-ing, interviewing, speaking on camera, capturing sound, and lots more. The girls were glad to get practical hands-on exercises in the field and present their work in class.

Day 7, Friday December 4 (POST PRODUCTION)
Venita Coelho started the day by lecturing the ladies in the art of editing. Ashmith Kunder, a professional editor from the Hindi film industry, thrilled the girls with his editing examples from Bollywood movies and adverts. Then after lunch, I gave an overview of the recommended workflow for WAVE and the process for shortening and uploading video clips for us to edit in Goa, with the help of step by step projection showing how the software work. We ended the day with breaking up into groups and having each of the groups create a 'paper edit' visualizing the profile video of a main candidate from that group.

Day 8, Saturday December 5
We started late to allow time for the groups to gather footage, music and still images to edit into their nominated profile videos. Sadly, tech troubles from rental computers caused havoc through the day but the girls plugged on with their task of editing videos with the help of a few professional editors - Shane, Marianne and Shweta from Prudent Media, Ashmith and Gasper.

Day 9, Sunday December 6
The girls chose to take the day off mostly but most groups managed to present their videos in the evening. Angana and I tried to provide constructive criticism regarding improvements that could be made, but the overall quality of the videos was quite impressive.

Day 10, Monday December 7 (ANIMATION)
Nina Sabnani, teacher of animation at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay and Cathy Greenhalgh from the London College of Communication led the girls through storytelling techniques using simple animation. Nina, who has made a few animated films based on Indian folk tales, encouraged the girls to draw storytelling techniques from the rich arts traditions of their native cultures. At the end of the day, everyone was wowed by the animated shorts presented by the girls and I was amazed with how fast the girls conceptualized a story, shot still images and used laptops to put these images in a sequence to tell an interesting story.

Freeman Murray, now the director of a community art space in Bangalore called Jaaga, but also has background in videoblogging having set up what could be India's first video blogging site - - took the girls through some social marketing tools such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as explained Google analytics. Next, I explained the contents of the WAVE toolkit created by Ruchika Muchhala, Faiza Khan, Angana and myself. After lunch, Christopher Fogg and Beryl Nasse from Connect Goa joined us along with Freeman, for a conversation about social entrepreneurship. Christopher entertained everyone with his anecdote about managing to become a travel photographer for British Airways without a camera or previous training as a cameraman. Freeman stressed the value of putting information online from the diverse places and NGOs represented by the girls, and also pointed out this could generate an income for the girls too. After this, we took group pictures and wrapped up with a wonderful last Q&A session and Maori farewell where two people meet and say one nice thing they've learned about each other.

In the evening, we treated the girls to a farewell party on the beach at a friend's new restaurant where we danced, watched a fire juggling show, and ate delicious Thai food. It was quite melancholic as we all said our goodbyes in a large circle at the end of the night, sharing how we have changed as a result of the intensive training experience we all participated in. The group of 50 women from diverse areas like Kashmir, the Andaman islands, Pondicherry, Arunachal Pradesh, and literally every other part of the country had all become a tight-knit group of friends - dancing in the dorms, teasing Solano (aka Solanosaurus) on the WAVE team for his repeated announcements about travel reimbursements, and commiserating about eating sandwiches for lunch (sorry everyone!). I realized that the training was a huge success, not just because of all the learning that occurred but also because of the strong bonds created amongst us, a community of strong, concerned women who care deeply about empowering their communities and together, possibly make a small change in our country, for the better.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A wonderful article by Venita Coelho in the OHeraldo newspaper in Goa

The Accidental Activist - Women Aloud!

One of the first things that a girl is taught is that she shouldn't
make too much noise. " it's not ladylike... girls shouldn't be so
loud... stop shouting!' Then you grow up and discover that there are
many things that you want to raise your voice about. There are
inequalities and injustices woven into the system that make you want
to shout out loud. Women get such a bad deal in life that very often
you are so mad that you want to scream.

I spent last week involved in an initiative that helps women raise
their voices. WAVE - Women Aloud Video Empowerment is the hard work of
Sapana Sahani and Angana Jhaveir and their NGO - Point of View. They
managed to raise the funds and get together thirty women from across
India to teach them how to represent women's issues in media. The
project aimed to train women to become citizen journalists to tell
stories of positive change in their communities to an international
audience. And so I found myself facing a room full of young
enthusiastic woman. They came from as far away as Jammu and Kashmir
and Andaman and Nicobar islands. I was there to train them but the
truth is that I learnt more from them than they did from me.

My first lesson was about the reality of other lives in India. One of
the participants said that she wanted to make a film about half
widows. I had no clue about what she meant. ‘ Half widows are women
whose husbands have been picked up by the police or the army’ she
explained. ‘They are not officially widows and neither do they have a
man to run the house. They live in a twilight world.’ She was from
Jammu and Kashmir.

Another participant wanted to make a film that taught the inhabitants
of slums how to cope with climate change. That left me bewildered
until she explained ‘the woman in slums have no real access to water.
They have no official connections and they fight every day to get
their share from the tankers that come to the slums. When climate
change hits, the rich will still buy water - what will these poor
women do?’

Another participant from Bihar wanted to teach women how to cope with
both water shortage and with floods. she came from a land that was
racked by extremes.

My second lesson came in sensitivity. Many of the participants already
ran NGO’s of their own, even though the average age was less than 25.
One amazing young woman ran an NGO that helped tackle child abuse -
and a tattoo parlour. As I began to use examples from different issues
that came to mind, hands went up in the audience. Young women began to
share the reality of what for me upto then had mainly been’ issues’. I
had to slow down and think about the top-of-the-mind examples I was
handing out.

My last lesson came in motivation. There were several girls who did
not speak English. A translator did the best she could and I switched
into Hindi occasionally. Still - we were tackling complicated concepts
and I was sure that taking the Hindi speakers were being left behind.
When I paused to take questions - their hands shot up and their
questions proved that they had been fiercely following what I had been
saying. These women were not about to let language get in the way of
representing the issues that they cared about.

I looked at all those determined young faces in the audience. I
thought of the huge change that is needed to come about to make the
lives of women in India even close to equal to those of men. In
choosing to be part of this initiative these women had already become
a major part of that change. They were far too young to understand
the tremendous thing that they were setting out to do. I truly wish
them all the luck in the world. I hope they go out there and shout as
loud as they possibly can. Loud enough to be really heard.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Last day of WAVE training

It's been a wonderful 10 days here in Altinho Panjim, Goa and the WAVE team is going to miss all you very much. Please stay in touch!