Teens discover voice through media outlet in Egypt’s peripheries

Bashkatib provides training that targets skills ranging from creative writing, photography and cartoons to design, management and marketing.
Saturday 14/09/2019
Changing the mindset. Two neighbours read the publication prepared by the local branch of Bashkatib in Dar El Salam. (Marc Espanol)
Changing the mindset. Two neighbours read the publication prepared by the local branch of Bashkatib in Dar El Salam. (Marc Espanol)

CAIRO - Dina Abdel Aziz, a 17-year-old student of commerce from Cairo’s Dar El Salam neighbourhood, said she was always interested in writing about what is going on around her.

However, it was not until she and her mother discovered Bashkatib, an initiative aimed at establishing and supporting media outlets run by teenagers in marginalised Egyptian communities, that she was able to develop her journalistic skills.

“With Bashkatib, I expect to get more experience in journalism and end up working in one of Cairo’s big newspapers. At a personal level, I expect to become more social, to become more open to the people and have the courage to explore,” said Abdel Aziz.

Founded in 2013, Bashkatib has been gradually expanding in Egypt. It supports projects such as Dar El Salam in Aswan, Mansoura, Minya, Port Said and Sohag.

One of Bashkatib’s goals is to introduce young people in areas where the opportunities beyond school are limited to new experiences. Bashkatib provides training that targets skills ranging from creative writing, photography and cartoons to design, management and marketing, so participants can identify their interests and run a small media outlet.

“These teenagers receive a very bad education and are exhausted from going to school in the morning and come back late after private lessons,” said Bashkatib founder Ahmed Elhawary. “There is nothing [else] provided to them: no music, no theatre, nothing [that allows them] to get to know anything about themselves and about their potential.”

Bashkatib focuses its attention on the marginalised and peripheral communities.

“Most of the media are located in Cairo and local reporters are not as well-trained, [so] the news coming from local governorates are usually not well written or mislead because of a lack of knowledge and experience,” said Elhawary.

“When you have a good community outlet that keeps talking about a problem in [a specific] neighbourhood, such as the garbage in Dar El Salam, local authorities respond after some time and the problem is not solved but the situation is better.”

Elhawary said the main challenges grass-roots media outlets face include ensuring they have adequate financial resources, navigating a vague legality about social entrepreneurship and gaining the trust of the locals.

“Engaging with communities that are more traditional and are not used to this kind of work adds another layer, as well as the suspicions, because people are suspicious of anyone trying to do something different,” he said.

As the projects become more well-known, the perception of the community starts to change as well. “They start to see us in a different way [because] we had their credibility and, if we have the trust of the people, we can be the voice of these areas,” said Ziad Ali, 20, a writer with Bashkatib since he was 15.

“On television, they only talk about Cairo as a whole, so, before joining Bashkatib, I did not have any idea about all [its particularities],” said Mariam Ashraf, a member of the project since she was 13, defending the importance of community media outlets in Egypt.

In Aswan, for instance, Bashkatib’s work led to the relocation of a smelly fish market.  An article about flooding in Dar El Salam caused by a broken pipeline along a main road went viral and attracted the interest of national television stations.

“These media outlets can reflect better what is happening in all these areas where the voice of the people is not heard,” said Ali, who added that the projects also “change the mindset of the people regarding how things work, [showing] that they should not wait until people talk about them but rather that they can talk about themselves.”

“Community media offer the young people an opportunity to explore, find out many things about themselves and build their character, their personality and it gives them a goal: that they can be useful for their neighbourhood,” said Sameh Badawy, a writer in Bashkatib who has been part of the team since the beginning.

Elhawary said Bashkatib builds a useful vehicle for residents and authorities to talk to each other. “We really believe that conversation can fix things,” he said.

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