South Sudan is a country emerging from two decades of devastating war; it is also the newest State in the world, and a country filled with hope and aspiration. Its communities are passionate about being part of a new South Sudan but they, and their leadership, have many challenges to overcome to achieve a peaceful and prosperous country. This is particularly true as the country is continually rocked by tribal and ethnic violence. There is little doubt that addressing the distance between communities both in terms of geography and ethnicity is critical to South Sudan’s future. Rural communities can be incredibly isolated and have little access to information or news from other parts of the country. Newspapers rarely circulate outside the major towns, there is little culture of listening to the radio and literacy levels all over the country are extremely low. But South Sudan enjoys two special features; a proliferation of mobile phones, and a great love of video.
With the support of the Journalism Foundation, Integrity intends to harness the atmosphere of hope and positivity to train ten young people from different rural communities in journalism skills. During this pilot project, they will be trained to shoot and edit news and feature stories about their communities on mobile phones. The short films will be broadcast in different communities via mobile cinema connecting communities with each other, building relationships and mutual understanding where little currently exists, and providing a platform for real stories to be shared with leaders and service providers in the capital. Training and support from the Integrity team will help the trainee reporters chose the right stories to share and build their understanding of safe, ethical journalism. Ultimately, the films and the newly trained journalists will contribute to people’s access to independent news and information in the communities that take part and beyond.
South Sudan represents a radically different environment for journalism not least because of the poor accessibility of information, but also journalists’ ability to forge neutral space in a State where the former rebel militia are now the political leadership. Up until now there has been little recognition of journalism’s incredibly important role in South Sudan, and while some investment has been made in creating locally led radio services , there is still much to do to champion an accessible, free and independent press service.
Voices from the Ground is an innovative pilot project which seeks to demonstrate the immense value that community-led journalism can offer to real people in real need. It is only with the support of the Journalism Foundation that this novel idea has the chance of becoming a real project. Without doubt, the ownership and sharing of knowledge is a powerful tool which can help communities communicate and empathise with each other, opening up dialogue, and encouraging democracy by empowering them to speak to leaders. Voices from the Ground is an important project which aims to promote that ownership and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and issues that are important to real people on the ground.
Lauren Pett is Head of Operations for Integrity, an organisation which implements projects across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.