The social media revolution has been a plus in creating opportunities and leveraging the voices and visibility of women and children in rural communities, such as Murewa in Zimbabwe. Rozaria Memorial Trust has embraced these possibilities with zeal and gusto despite the many barriers and constraints that face such community organisations and networks.
The pictures, varied photos and videos that we have shared on flickr have given a tangible feel of the reality of our work. It has brought laughter and nostalgia to many friends, support groups and community members; bringing joy and excitement as members of a wider community. We have of-course faced the usual challenges, no real technical capacity; a poor single and old video camera that serves multiple functions; low internet bandwidth and access to electricity that limit what we can upload. We have recycled some of the pictures and still feel good that at least, we can give life and visibility to our work.
When we started on facebook, we were hesitant, unsure and yet driven by the need to bring out the voice and the visibility of the real experiences that we experience in our communities. We wanted and still want to engage, interact, share perspectives and challenge the norms. We still feel the digital divide can be narrowed if communities are empowered. Today we celebrate over 1,600 friends and hundreds of followers on our fan page. In the last two years that we have built this platform and used this network, our members and volunteers in the Trust have grown confident in public communication. We have used the platform to support our fundraising efforts, and many have responded with donations, gifts, advise and volunteering opportunities. It was therefore a great moment when one of our young board members, Kudzanai Mugaragumbo sat in the same room with Chris Hughes, the co-founder of facebook, both young advocates for issues of HIV and AIDS. We invite you all to friend us, be our fans, support our cause and know that you are linking with the spirit of our village.
The potential for on-line giving and fundraising has been one of the biggest opportunities and resources that social media has brought to community organisations like Rozaria Memorial Trust. The many barriers that we face for e-banking in economies like Zimbabwe, we have leveraged and benefited from platforms such as those provided by Global Giving for us to access a wider community of individuals passionate about our cause and our mission. We have been able to tell our stories of reaching out and providing access to treatment and education for children living with HIV in rural Murewa to a much wider audience. We have been able to receive training, connect with like-minded groups and have greater impact. Within 5 months of our global fundraiser for $10K in support of children living with HIV, we have been able to receive over $7k from 100 special gifts and donations. The outreach of combined emails, twitter and facebook as been a powerful tools for us. We hope this Easter, you will all use this power of social media to give, and enable us reach our $10K and have more HIV positive children with access to ART in the coming months.
Mobile telephony and its connectedness to various media has been at the heart of our efforts. With all the limitations of internet access in Murewa, and in the country generally, we have relied on the phone for relaying content from the community to the volunteer with internet access. We have used the phones to take some of the photos, and just text in an urgent message. Many of our friends and volunteers who make posts and contributions use mobile phones. The mobile telephony lies at the heart of e-health revolution in Africa is a welcome development. I shared this view at the first meeting and launch of the UN Commission on Information and Accountability on Women and Children’s Health.
Despite these possibilities, we have remained acutely aware of the many barriers that we experience to maximise these opportunities, such as:
a) lack of consistent and quality access to energy sources such as electricity or its alternatives. Rozaria Memorial Trust has no generator, so when the power is out, we can only resort to mobile phones, which also have limitations of its own, as such a community organisation can not afford high end i-phones.
b) cost of internet access and limited options on the market. There are very limited products on the market for internet access, including wireless services, especially in remote communities like Murewa. The NetOne and EcoNet services, do not offer wide range of options for community groups with shoe-strong budgets and yet whose potential can be leveraged by power of social media.
c) skills, trained and dedicated staff. This is also an area of investment for such organisation that is we are unable to offer quality resourcing. The meagre resources go to direct support to children living with HIV, the poor families and other such life-saving and supportive services. Communications and social media actions are mostly handled by volunteers and this at times compromises the consistency and quality.
The opportunity and benefits outweigh the barriers, as we harness the power of the diaspora, the possibilities of multi-media and the power of human voices, stories and experiences of our communities. This Easter, may you seek to reach out to Rozaria Memorial Trust through our multiple social media. And yes; listen to us on youtube, read some of our scripts on scribd and oh well, we are growing our linkedin profile!