MoJo Empowers a Young Man to Serve His Rural Community

Monday, August 24, 2020
Behind the scenes of Raseem's COVID19 reporting for MediaCorps Watch

Flashback to August 2018, when a group of people are on a pier in the midday heat, waiting for the familiar sight of the ferry. This ‘moving bridge’ would take them to the other side of the river. Until the ferry arrives, they are exposed to the scorching heat, their minds revisiting the risks of an impending ride across a deep river on an ill-made ferry. Those are risks they have long chosen to accept in the absence of a safer alternative.  On the sun-baked eastern coast of Sri Lanka, these people from two remote villages remain separated by a giant body of water, with a conspicuously missing structure: a bridge.

A young man, separated from the crowd, is busy capturing the scene on his mobile phone. He shows no impatience to join the approaching ferry. He is more focused on capturing the setting and the expressions of the people. Their everyday ordeal has suddenly become an interesting story for him, the story which would be his very first ‘MoJo’ story.

Almost two years later Mohamed Raseem is a proficient mobile storyteller. Moreover, he is a Mobile Journalism - MoJo - trainer, running a successful first-ever video tutorial series about MoJo video editing on YouTube. The series is in the local language, Tamil, and he has produced three tutorials so far. Raseem plans to do more.

Raseem recalls his journey since 2018. “Growing up, I found myself drawn to photography and videography. After completing my GCE Advance Level exam in 2018, I joined Muslim Aid as a volunteer. One day, a friend showed me an advertisement in the newspaper about a video storytelling workshop. I had never undergone a proper training before but given my interest in videography I applied for the workshop, curious to learn more.”

Raseem was selected for the video storytelling workshop. There he learned, among other things, the existence of a new tool called mobile storytelling. “I had never heard of MoJo before. I instantly realized its importance and knew that it was going to take me a long way. Until then I thought that one needed an expensive video camera and other expensive equipment to produce a quality video story. My new discovery with MoJo proved that I could do the same with my mobile phone. I decided to look more into it and try it on my own”.

The training program was supported under USAID’s Media Empowerment for a Democratic Sri Lanka (MEND)    activity. MEND has trained 112 young journalists from different ethno-linguistic and geographic settings. They have enjoyed unique cultural experiences in each other’s communities and produced more than 200 multimedia stories.

Raseem’s first experiment was the story he did on the ferry connecting the two villages, and it was a success. The story made its way to an advocacy campaign related to the video storytelling workshop and it was brought to the attention of relevant authorities.

Like many aspiring youth, he did not stop at this first success. “I then started to produce brief documentaries for an international non-government organization. The organization was surprised to learn that the videos were shot and produced from one single mobile phone. As a result, from being a volunteer, I got a permanent position in the Media and Communications Department of the organization. My engagement in MoJo showed signs of turning my life around, for the better”, recalls a grateful Raseem.

He craved to learn more. He applied for intensive training on MoJo, supported under the USAID MEND initiative. He also wanted to learn more about Journalism to make sure that his MoJo stories were  not only technically correct but also able to bring out a comprehensive, unbiased and ethical story worth telling.

“I might have learned the basic techniques of MoJo, but MEND’s MediaCorps Fellowship was completely a different experience. For five consecutive days we had an intensive MoJo training coupled with essential concepts of journalism, including conflict and gender sensitivity, social media dissemination and media ethics. It gave me a complete picture of what a true journalist should be. It also added more value to the stories I produced.            Previously I would      capture mere stories, oblivious to other implications”. All this happened in a backdrop of inclusion      and empowerment, where budding journalists from diverse ethno-linguistic backgrounds came together to learn MoJo and give voice to post-conflict and marginalized concerns of Sri Lanka. “The fact that it was not just a MoJo training, but a training that served a bigger and better cause of fostering inclusion, empowerment, and reconciliation, made it all the more interesting”, says Raseem, who was partnered with two other fellows from Sinhalese and Tamil communities. The trio collaborated in the months that followed, visiting each other, investigating the stories of their communities and producing MoJo stories based on their find.

MoJo is not yet a popular concept in Sri Lanka, not even among the mainstream electronic media in the country. Due to the lack of popularity and practice, there are limited resources available in local languages for anybody who wants to try MoJo.

With the knowledge he gained from training, Raseem developed his YouTube Channel with the hope of starting a      tutorial series on video editing. His dream was to produce in Tamil, a local language, using a smart phone. “I had posted more than 10 MoJo stories on my Facebook profile, and created a regular fan base of more than 900 followers. They appreciated the MoJo videos I made and wanted to know more.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and he was confined to his home, Raseem invested the time to develop      tutorials. Many other people were stuck in their homes, looking to do something productive. It proved to be the perfect time to launch the tutorial series.

The tutorial series became a growing success with more people subscribing to his YouTube channel. By the beginning of June 2020, there were more than 750 subscribers. Alongside his YouTube channel, Raseem joined with a few friends to start a Facebook-based news channel called VTV. It disseminates news and stories based in his region. This Facebook platform also boasts of over 7,000 followers and an average 3,000 views per video. Both these initiatives have received encouraging feedback from followers.

And there was even more! In the wake of the COVID-19, MEND launched a news magazine called MediaCorps Watch. MEND tapped into young journalists it had trained, reaching into every nook and corner of the country to report ground-level stories related to the pandemic. Raseem saw this as yet another opportunity. He produced five stories related to COVID-19 from his community.  Eventually, he became the regional reporter for his area.

Raseem is grateful for being able to find a purpose in life and a clear journey ahead. “That advertisement about the MoJo training was the turning point in my life. Thanks to MEND, I became a MoJo storyteller and everything in my scattered life fell into place. I was empowered when I was desperate. Now I try to empower others. I am passing the light that I received, to those others who are still in the dark”.

Last updated: August 24, 2020

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