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Neighborhood diaries: Young citizen journalists getting into the act

It has been eight weeks since the Neighborhood Diaries project first started. Every Monday evening from 6pm to 8pm the participants have gathered in a classroom on the 3rd floor of Bowbazar High School in Kolkata, India for their workshop on citizen media. Only one session was rescheduled due to an electricity outage, which is common in these parts of the world. So, all together, seven sessions were completed. Their curriculum has been well-detailed and the methods are both innovative and impressive. It would be great to collect them and make a manual for training citizen journalists elsewhere in the world.

From their project blog:

We start off each session by sitting in a circle and sharing last weeks reading. Then we proceed on to the next assignment through interactive activities, discussion, group games, individual and sometimes, outdoor writing. Catch a glimpse of our Monday evenings below:

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Details from the sixth session:

“Session Five’s journalism assignment was an investigation and interview on different personalities and characters of Bow Bazaar. Through our discussion in the session, the youth journalists came up with Goondas (neighborhood bandits), Neighborhood Beneficiaries, Heroic Survivors, and Bhashan Baaj (folks who have something to say about everything).”

Below are some highlighted excerpts from the participants portrayals of neighborhood characters. The original texts were in Bangla which were later translated by the ND project leaders.

Tania and Jyotsna portrays Monoranjan Das, A Kind Hearted Para Beneficiary:

“He gives away blankets in winter time to the poor and needy. He provides medicine from his shop to people when they need it.”

Supriya and Pinky Lal writes about Tulshi Mashi a surviving woman:

“She thinks only one thing– that there was a time when she had to beg for rice. But now she has been able to stand on her own feet. She has come a long way.”

More writings on what it's like to live in the community by participants were updated recently in the project blog:

Surojit writes about a Garments seller:

“After having studied till standard viii, he had to leave studies due to problems at home. He is now 24 years old. He sells clothes underneath the Sealdah over-bridge. At home he has his parents and two sisters. He shoulders the responsibility for each of them. Since he could not complete his education, he hasn’t been able to land a better job. He hopes that his sister will stand beside and support her parents when she becomes independent.”

Pinky Lal shares the plights of a domestic help:

“The rooms have beds in two tiers there. If one takes the upper bunk, the cost is Rs.1450/-on a monthly basis whereas the lower bunk costs Rs. 1300/-. So Buli decided to opt for the lower bunk.”

Tania Mondol writes about the struggles of a fish seller:

“Tapa is doing this business ever since childhood. He has had some level of education. Even with his education, he was forced to take up this job because he had to take up the responsibility of his parents, a younger brother, an older sister and her ailing son. He sells varieties of fish in the Bowbazar area, and earns enough to be able to meet the demands of an ordinary life.”

Rahul Goswami shows the inhuman living conditions of a shoemaker:

Musha da is a shoemaker. He is not a bit ashamed about this identity. He belongs to a lower middle class Muslim family. His room is like a dark, claustrophobic pigeon-hole. Musha da himself does not recall what colour the walls of the room had been. It is a 6 foot by 4 foot room. There is no bed, but a chatai and pillows are laid out on the floor. The walls are nearly covered by hanging heaps of saris and other clothes. There is no separate space for cooking, the lavatory has been curtained off to create a small kitchen. There is no window in the room, not even one as small as a mirror. The smell of the room is a peculiar medley of leather smells, the smell of cream shoe polish and dampness. Though it is not apparent from outside, once you enter the room you feel that it has ended even before it has begun.”

And Anjali shares the heartbreaking story of a sex worker, Jyotsna:

Jyotsna had studied upto class 2. She did not enjoy studying, and therefore left it. When she was 11-12 years old, she was married off in a social ceremony. Her puberty started 3-4 months after her marriage.

Read on the upsetting story how her husband committed suicide and how she was compelled to choose prostitution, to feed her daughter.

Session seven’s assignment included showing participants ways to make changes in the neighborhood. One of the methods to teach these budding journalists is enacting a problem they see emerging in their neighborhood (from their own perspective) and enacting a solution they think is feasible (from their perspective). They were given a home assignment to write an article researching a Problem/Issue of their neighborhood.

We hope that with these amazing workshops these citizen journalists will not only be good writers but enrich their knowledge and human qualities as well. Though the Neighborhood Diaries participants will be taking a break throughout February and March in order to prepare for their school exams, we look forward to their return at the beginning of April.

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