Indigenous communities face a double threat: COVID-19 and disinformation. In Guatemala, more than 800 young people report misleading content and transmit truthful information in their languages.
"Fear of the pandemic led young people to shut themselves away; they focused on digital media and shared information not knowing if it was true or false." This is how Feliciano Mo, local MIL producer in the Q'eqchi' linguistic area in northern Guatemala, describes the enormous confusion about COVID-19 in indigenous communities, generated by an avalanche of WhatsApp and Facebook messages as well as Tweets.
Nearly half the population of Guatemala is indigenous (43%) and speaks at least one of the 24 local languages. However, state communications and the media are mainly in Spanish. The country’s COVID-19 information campaign and vaccination access plan are no exceptions. In this context, disinformation becomes even more dangerous: Fake news flows freely and effectively.
That's why knowing how to distinguish between truth and manipulation can save lives. Media and Information Literacy (MIL) empowers people to develop media competencies for the critical and responsible use of media, including skills to navigate more safely online.
Since April 2020, the Comunicares Association, a strategic partner of DW Akademie, has trained young indigenous people like Feliciano, giving them media skills to benefit indigenous populations. Because of the pandemic, Comunicares had to reinvent its way of working and replace face-to-face training in communities with remote teaching. Due to limited connectivity in rural areas, teaching methods had to be adjusted. The young participants were reached through their cell phones, via video or audio-only calls. And the new method was successful!
The strategy was to form a team of local MIL experts, one for each linguistic area: Q'eqchi', Kaqchikel, Achi' and Quiche'. The role of Feliciano and the other three MIL producers is to guide young indigenous people in their communities through digital learning spaces, in line with their cultural traditions, tastes and needs. "I have the same feelings as them," says Feliciano. "We have all been affected by this crisis."
The innovation is already showing results, and the knock-on effect continues to grow. As of July 2021, 825 indigenous people between the ages of 14 and 23 have been trained. "Our education system very rarely invites us to be critical or to analyze available information. That is what MIL teaches us," explains Mayary Cutzal, local MIL producer from the Kaqchikel linguistic area in Chimaltenango in central Guatemala.
The MIL training sessions were developed using kits of educational materials that combine participatory methodologies such as digital games and interactive videos. All with the aim of introducing young indigenous people to MIL, teaching them to pass on media skills and to report on what is happening in their communities.
"We are opening spaces for young people to express themselves," says Feliciano about the first face-to-face experience with indigenous young people in March 2021. A team of seven MIL experts from Comunicares visited the four linguistic regions with a mobile audiovisual production studio.
On the recording set, the young people created audio and videos explaining to their communities, in their mother tongues, how to deal with information about COVID-19. "They are MIL trainers in their communities," says Mayary. "They are very motivated and happy, because they can show what they have learned."
The productions were disseminated through both local media and social networks. They are also available from the Comunicares MIL digital library.
Of the young people trained, 70 learned to be spokespeople, to explain MIL to others in their local languages. They are known as 'Informatecos', a wordplay in Spanish that combines 'information' and 'from Guatemala'. For Mayary, "an 'Informateco' is a person who informs, analyzes, guides, reflects and, above all, acts on the information available to him or her."
Mayary is convinced that the practice of creating audio and videos, and their cultural relevance, is decisive in bringing young people closer to MIL. "Doing it in our own language helps us to strengthen our identity," she stresses.
This project is supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).