Citizen journalism gives rural communities a voice

Sukulwenkosi Dube
IN recent years, the role of information in tackling poverty has been a major component of African governments’ social policies, Zimbabwe included. Poor information dissemination has left most rural communities in the country isolated from the rest of the technologically advanced world. It has been identified as one of the stumbling blocks to development in rural areas.

The government of Zimbabwe has come up with several national programmes that include President Robert Mugabe’s computerisation programme and district information centres, funded to address social inclusion.

Augmenting government’s sterling work is a Plumtree community-based organisation, the Plumtree Development Trust (PDT). The community-based and development-oriented organisation has rolled out a programme of training villagers and residents, equipping them with skills and tools for collecting, documenting and disseminating information.

So far, 40 individuals have been trained as citizen journalists. Each of the “journalists” was given a smartphone to be used for their information gathering process.

PDT Executive Director, Thomas Sithole, said the training had been conducted under the “amplifying citizen voices and revitalising citizen participation through new media” programme.

He said the project sought to improve rural community’s access to information through utilising new media.

“We decided to introduce the concept of citizen journalists or community reporters as a tool of channelling development. We selected people from different wards in Plumtree, Bulilima and Mangwe Districts and they’ve been equipped with skills to document developments within their communities.

“The citizen journalists can document projects which are being implemented in their respective areas then they share the information among themselves through the use of new media. This information will serve as an inspiration and a learning aid for communities,” said Sithole.

He said each community reporter was required to collect information pertaining to their community and then send the information to the PDT offices using smartphones.

The citizen journalists were expected to collect data which comprised statistics, photographs as well as development stories. Sithole said the trust had a duty to package the information in different platforms then disseminate it locally and internationally.

“Once the citizen journalists feed us with information on the ground we then package the data into CDs, new letters, social media and even onto our website. Our thrust behind this whole project is to have an account of what’s taking place in rural communities through the voice of a local person.

“Our hope is that once this information is properly disseminated people are informed about proceedings in remote parts of the country. This way we can grab the attention of potential investors,” he said.

Sithole said the project was meant to help communities to access and disseminate information on community development, local governance and public policy making as well as other related issues.

Communities will be empowered through community dialogue meetings on matters that are pertinent to them.

They will share innovative ideas and solutions that can be used by other communities to tackle community challenges.

One of the trained citizen journalists, Samantha Ncube, 22, who is from Tshitshi Ward in Mangwe District, said she was using new media as a tool to implement development projects within her community.

She said some communities still believed that development projects were only possible through intervention of donors. Ncube said she had managed to use success stories of other wards to inspire her community. “We have a Whatsapp platform where as citizen journalists from Plumtree, Bulilima and Mangwe we share our success stories and information on development projects within our wards.

“I got to learn of a project in Tokwana area which is in Bulilima where villagers mobilised resources to build a clinic in their area through this platform. I told my community about this project and they felt inspired. At the moment people are mobilising resources to build a classroom block at Tshitshi Primary School. Pupils at the school are crowded as the classrooms aren’t enough for the enrolment,” said Ncube.

She said whenever she had ideas on development projects which she intended to share with villagers she would attend community meetings.

Ncube said she and other community reporters received training on information gathering, interacting with community members and writing stories.

She said they had also been trained on how to translate the information gathered into development projects within their respective areas.

“I would want to see my community develop and I believe that communication is an effective tool for developing. In the remote parts of rural areas, villagers are usually disadvantaged as they aren’t up to date with what’s happening in surrounding areas.

“If I work hard I can keep people in my area informed on current affairs. While there are traditional methods of sharing and disseminating information, new media is an effective method,” said Ncube.

Another citizen journalist, Manuel Ndalumane, 57, who is from Gwambe area in Bulilima said the citizen journalist programme enabled participants to brainstorm on potential development agendas.

He said the project could also help entice locals working in South Africa and Botswana to invest in their local communities.

Ndalumane said their focus as community reporters was mainstreaming development issues.

Under the programme each ward in Plumtree, Bulilima and Mangwe Districts is expected to have two trained community reporters. The reporters shall work on a voluntary basis as information workers for their ward.

PDT shall receive content from the community reporters, process it and redistribute it to the community through citizen journalists and elected community structures within the wards.

This is expected to increase access to information by rural and urban communities, improve meaningful participation of ordinary citizens in local and national processes.

The programme is expected to increase engagement between duty bearers (elected and traditional leaders) and rights holders (ordinary citizens).

It is also expected to increase accountability and improve service delivery within rural communities as well as increase community-led development initiatives.

The trust works with community-based organisations and government departments in Bulilima district, Mangwe district and Plumtree Town. It implements programmes that promote citizen participation in governance, social accountability, empowerment of youths and women through ICTs, climate change awareness campaigns, research and information dissemination.

The trust also seeks to create a forum for the celebration of Kalanga culture, language and identity in Bulilima and Mangwe districts as well as in Plumtree Town by promoting local programming such as music, drama and talk shows.

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