In February 2021, Video Volunteers recruited and trained 11 new Community Correspondents belonging mostly to the tea gardens of West Bengal. This was an extraordinary bunch of people whom we’re thrilled to introduce you to.
The tea gardens of West Bengal are one of the most neglected and marginalised sections of India. Daily wages of tea garden labourers are as low as Rs. 200 for a full day of work with no social security benefits. They are also infamous as a hotspot for human trafficking-related incidents. Our Community Correspondents have grown up in the tea gardens areas and are well aware of the most common problems facing them.
Within one week of their training in video reporting and editing, our Community Correspondents (CC) were up and running, determined to become a vital link between the government and the community to facilitate positive change.
TRAINING NEW CORRESPONDENTS
The trainees’ new-found skills are a result of their training and mentorship back in February 2021. Video Volunteers had consciously selected a small group of new joinees for the training keeping in mind the protocols of COVID-19 pandemic.
See the trainees on Day Zero of their training!
Starting off with a brief overview of Video Volunteers and its work over the years, new CCs quickly started analysing the current media landscape. They were trained to differentiate between the commercial media and community media landscapes. Filled with sensationalism and hot news, commercial media is essentially a for-profit venture with no responsibility towards governance and accountability of the establishment. Whereas community media is a network run by the people, is for the people and belongs to the people.
The training then moved towards how to leverage the usage of social media for digital activism and creating change. Video reporting could be used to highlight issues of infrastructure, lack of grievance redressal by the administration and also used as evidence against atrocities. Some of such examples are negligence in medical care, untouchability, corruption, forced evictions, police atrocities, Dalit atrocities (caste-based violence), dam-displacement/flood-prone area rehabilitation done wrongfully, environment damage, protests and demonstrations.
Once the media landscape was clear to the batch, the trainers moved to filmmaking. New CCs were trained on various techniques of camera movement, shot-taking, editing techniques, how to interview to get the story behind the problem, the usage of 5Ws and 1H (the Ws being ‘who, what, when, where, how’ and the H being ‘how’) to get all necessary information. All CCs used these shooting techniques practically to create a small video to test their abilities and get their queries cleared.
Over the next few days, CCs also learned about how to research laws, regulations and policies concerning the issues they are reporting on, editing techniques using Kinemaster, strategies to create impacts, writing Right To Information requests etc.
IMPACTS BY NEW CORRESPONDENTS
Our Community Correspondent Anju Subba from Kalimpong in the Northern areas of West Bengal reported about ‘Iron Lady’ Shanti Rai who helps the administration in relief and rescue operations. So far Shanti has led 250 rescue missions in Kalimpong and surrounding hilly areas. Anju’s video profiled her work and how people revered her for her contribution. “The video that I made about Shanti Rai went viral on the Video Volunteers Facebook page. A lot of people from my own community saw it and shared it. This feels so good,” said Anju.
Manjil Thapa, another Community Correspondent from the Gorubathan block had undertaken awareness campaign as part of the ‘Jaan Jao Jaan Bachao’ initiative. This initiative, in the first phase, saw Video Volunteers Community Correspondents spread awareness about COVID-19 and its vaccine in the tea gardens. Rumors and unverified information forwarded through social media had created doubts about the vaccine. Eliminating these rumors via distribution of fact-checked information was a big part of this initiative. Manjil was also a part of this initiative in a big way. So much so, that local residents of his community had started addressing him by the name ‘Mask Man’, as he was always seen carrying masks to distribute to tea garden workers. “During the campaign I created a video about the lack of a vaccination centre in my block. I also engaged the local lawmakers as they were active in the area due to the impending state elections. Today, after five months I achieved my first impact and more than 15,000 people living in my community will not have to travel too far to get vaccinated,” said Manjil happily.
Puja Thakur, one of the other Community Correspondents from the Kumargram area is currently working on the provident fund issue of retired tea garden workers. “Some of these workers have been retired since 2009 and have not received their provident funds yet,” said Puja. Corruption and lack of awareness among the tea garden workers has led them to suffer at the hands of the tea garden estate clerks. They demand a bribe as much as 50% of the total provident fund corpus to clear their files. Several women tea garden workers are also widows and have no source of income to support themselves. “I will be working for this as hard as I worked during the Jaan Jao Jaan Bachao campaign,” said Puja. Puja was one of the most active Correspondents on the field during the campaign. She stood in the centre of one of the weekly markets in Kumargram and spread awareness about COVID-19 and its vaccine. She also did not spare anyone walking without a mask and called out to them with the loudspeaker system she was carrying.
Several other new Community Correspondents are working on identifying new issues of their community and are simultaneously working on creating Impacts from the issues reported.
If you ask Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondent Bideshini Patel to rate her childhood on a scale of 1-10, she would probably give it a negative marking due to the neglect and abuse she faced. But if you ask her to evaluate her professional life as an impactful journalist, resolving basic...