Sometimes we need to see something out of context before we can understand a situation. And sometimes a new context has to be imagined before a solution to an entrenched problem can be found.
In an ambitious effort to raise the Australian public’s awareness of the causes of poverty, Action Aid has launched Project Toto (The Overseas Training Operation). During this two week project, Australian blogger Stilgherrian is in Tanzania to provide some insight to the plight of villagers living in Kilimani. But he is also there to educate – to bring the technology, processes and an understanding of blogging to the locals who very much see education as a way out of poverty.
But as Archie Law, CEO of Action Aid, explains, the risks and consequences of blogging in a country like Tanzania go far beyond a few snarky comments:
In spite of the challenges in training people to use technology it’s far more complex to explain the implicit threat in the use of the technology and how bloggers engage with that risk. For example a blogger could be posting some confronting views on the activities of mining companies in Tanzania and then face severe backlash from Government if that is seen as opposing economic development.
If a blogger understood the risk and is prepared to take it that’s one thing… if a blogger is unaware of the risk and stumbles in to a situation where he or she places themselves, colleagues and communities at risk, we potentially have a disaster on our hands.
It is perhaps, in communities like this, that the greatest potential exists for social media to transform lives. For not only does it change an individual’s capacity to reach, inform and educate others, it also opens us all to the powerful, first hand stories that are so easily drowned out by the noise of mainstream media.
But like anything, success needs more than just a blog here and there – and this is where the training kicks in. If this is done right, Stilgherrian will leave behind in Tanzania a group of people armed with the technology (thanks to some generous sponsors) and the skills to begin using the “social” media platforms that we have taken for granted. It will be fascinating to see where this goes (update: minutes after posting, Stilgherrian advises that the first blog posts are live!).