The Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media project (YETAM) kicked off on Wednesday with a press event, and then a training of trainers until Friday. At the press launch, I had to give an overview of social media and the YETAM project. The focus was on how social media can serve as a tool for community development, social change and augmenting participation, because it is based on some of the same principles and approaches as good community development work: partnership, ownership, collaboration, sharing, openness, communication, voice, power sharing, accountability, transparency, and democratic processes. I was bit afraid to use any examples of human rights/election monitoring or mention how social media is forcing the media business to change and impacting on social ‘revolutions’, not knowing if it could be threatening to the government and media attending, so it seemed better not to bring it up! Photo: YETAM launch announcement hanging in the lobby at Plan Cameroon.
For me the most interesting part of the 3-day workshop was listening to the participants debate about whether arts/media are tools or products. People said that they really learned something from the debate, that it really sparked their thinking about what is art and what is media and what both are for. They concluded (as I had hoped) that arts and media can be tools that help youth (in our case) research and deepen their understanding of themselves and their communities during the creation process. Yet arts and media are also products that are ‘consumed’ afterwards, catalyzing more debate and dialogue (sometimes via more arts and media) and if successful, eventually lead to some kind of positive social change. And the cycle goes around and around. Photo: Press event for the closing of the training of trainers.
The idea of tool vs product can be a struggle sometimes when we start work on YETAM and the concept of participatory video or social media for social change and working with rural communities. Sometimes people think that we want fancy commercials or television spots or 30 minute professional documentaries or fiction films, or they don’t believe children/youth will have the capacity to make their own videos or edit their own films, or that people from rural communities can learn to use the equipment. It can be hard to explain that we don’t need to write long scripts and set up scenes with lights and big media teams with large expensive cameras, and that if we bring the technology down to simple language and hand over the camera, it’s very doable. We don’t need a week of theory before we allow the kids to touch the cameras or to paint something, that the media and the art are the means for having the discussions and theorizing about the issues as well as the end for continuing on with the discussions. And we don’t need to disrupt the community and or have ‘outsiders’ doing it for the media or art to matter. Local people can make their own media and it can be even more meaningful that way. Photo: Plan and partner staff working on the agenda for the youth training that starts on Monday.