SHARING WISDOM. Using videotape, people in many isolated villages are being given the opportunity to share in problem solving
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With its central office in New York, VVN consists of groups in Mali, Egypt, India, Jamaica, China, Guyana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Antigua, and Canadian Inuit communities which have been trained in video production techniques, and to whom video taping and sound equipment, as well as blank videotapes, have been supplied. Each time a group produces a tape, it sends a copy to the New York office, which then forwards it to other countries on a lending-library basis. Tapes are almost always made in the local language, but an additional sound track in another language can easily be provided by New York or local staff.Skip to next paragraph
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People on opposite sides of the globe can learn from each other's experiences by screening the tapes they borrow from VVN. A recent exchange between China and Guyana illustrates this point.
``We did a workshop in China where a group of villagers documented the ecological cycle of pig manure to biogas,'' says Barkley Stuart. ``In the tape they give you a tour of their village and show the process of making biogas. And they show a demonstration of how clean the biogas is compared with the burning wood they used to use. As a result of this tape, people in Guyana who saw it made their own biogas digesters. . . .''
Video equipment is relatively light and easy to handle, providing much more mobility than would be possible with film equipment. It also offers the advantage of instant replay, with no time or money spent on developing film. Video cameras and sound equipment can be operated off a battery or generator.
``We found that you can't tape in a village without giving the people some feedback -- letting them see themselves,'' says Barkley Stuart. ``It's a big event -- when you play the tape back you get the whole village there in no time.''
Martha Stuart had worked in television and radio since the 1950s. In 1965, she arranged a conference on birth control for Planned Parenthood of America, which resulted in a book, ``The Emerging Woman: the Impact of Family Planning,'' published by Little, Brown. Martha Stuart began producing video documentaries in 1966.
In 1974, she went to Egypt to produce a video program on family planning, consisting of a group discussion among village women. It was then that the idea came to her which provided the inspiration for Village Video Network.
``It occurred to her that what she was doing only served her purposes,'' Barkley Stuart recalls. ``She wanted other people to understand these villagers, yes. But she also wanted the villagers to have the same access to this communications medium as she did. Instead of only gathering information for international purposes, she decided to give the communications tools to the people themselves. So while she was there, she taught a group of people how to use the video equipment -- and then she left it with them. Those Egyptians were the first members of the Village Video Network. ``Later, she started training groups in video production in other countries.
According to Barkley Stuart, his mother felt ``that we live in a world where politicians represent people -- but the people's views are not necessarily the same as the politicians'. She didn't think this was fair. When you use film or centralized television, you end up with controlled or managed information. But when private individuals learn to use video, information is no longer controlled by politicians. If you give the people who are actually doing something the tools for communication, you get much more pure, succint, and emotionally true information.
``She started working through local organizations in various countries -- teaching them how to use the equipment and how to establish communication -- how to get someone to talk, for example.'' Some of her first participants were family planning groups in Jamaica and Indonesia.
Since 1981, VVN has been affiliated with the United Nations University in Tokyo, which provides some of the funds that allow the network to supply its various branches with materials such as blank videotapes. Additional financing comes from the proceeds of the other activities of Martha Stuart Communications, such as the sale of ``Are You Listening'' video programs to television, colleges, and libraries in the US. Funding for training and equipment is also provided on a project-by-project basis. Sally Stuart is currently conducting a video workshop in Guyana, funded by the United Nations Development Program.