Putting the focus on human rights

Learning various tasks in an editorial office (Photo: GIZ)

Learning various tasks in an editorial office (Photo:GIZ)

Guatemalan youths from rough urban areas are often stigmatized, but their new website “Reporteros Jóvenes” is giving them a voice. As project manager Camilla Hildebrandt reports, this has been an intensive undertaking.

Explaining and conveying human rights in a country where they’re largely ignored and, at the same time, not only teaching journalism basics to youths from Guatemala City’s poorest districts but also developing a website together – that was an exciting challenge.
We – the project managers and trainers – came up with the idea last November but weren’t sure whether young “Guatemaltecos” would want to get involved in a “German” project. But they were, and when “Reporteros Jóvenes” (Young Reporters) got underway in spring 2014, we knew we’d struck a nerve. The participants were between 15 and 19 years old and told us what it felt like to be constantly stigmatized, to live in districts that were marginalized and ignored. They told us that people hardly gave them a chance and would instead say things like “They’re a bunch of criminals” or “They all belong to those ‘pandillas’” (gangs).
The media reinforce stereotypes like these. “Participants felt that the reports weren’t reflecting their real lives,” says my colleague, DW Akademie trainer Hans-Günter Kellner. “They liked the idea of starting a website that countered that image – a website that would be created by young people and aimed at a young public, and one that would report on their own reality and intertwine human rights issues.”

Not used to being heard

That was the first step, but there was a lot more to do before the website could go online. In the first workshop held in March the Argentinian media expert, Alvaro Liuzzi, and I introduced the participants to journalism basics and Internet skills. We looked at the difference between articles and interviews, at potential topics that could interest readers and, of course, at how to set up a website.
The participants were enthusiastic but wary about expressing their own opinions. We encouraged them, pointing out that human rights are for everyone and not just for a few chosen groups. Martina Richard from the development organization GIZ’s “Prevenir” unit supported us by holding workshops on human rights, and our local partners Puente Belice and IGER had been part of the project since the beginning.

It seemed that the participants had never had this type of attention – not even from their parents. In one of the discussion rounds Rogelio, for example, told us that he’d once been sent home from school because he wasn’t wearing a uniform. This was because his family couldn’t afford one, he told us, “but my parents were convinced that I’d done something wrong.”

When participants told us stories like this we would again underline that human rights were for every single person – and that one of those rights was education. Our project manager in Guatemala City, Neslon Oliva, always held the group together and always listened to their concerns.

Courageous and moving reports

The participants worked hard and produced reports that brought tears to our eyes. Maria, for example, wrote about her brother who had been a member of a “pandilla” but had tried to get out. The other gang members accused him of betrayal – and then murdered him.

In another report, Roger photographed an overflowing garbage can in a schoolyard, explaining how garbage was contaminating the groundwater and creating a potential health hazard.

We held another intensive workshop in June 2014 where the participants formed a “real” editorial team – as reporters, photographers, graphic artists, multimedia and social media journalists and editors.

The participants want to change things in their neighborhood and continue with “Reporteros Jóvenes”. At some point, they’d also like to run the website on their own
They’ve come far, and are proud of finally being heard.

By Camilla Hildebrandt, DW Akademie

This article was first published by DW Akademie.

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