By Hannah Wilkinson
Monday night, 29 July, sees the official opening in Garden City of the offices of Bashkatib, an organisation which facilitates a network of local news publications, written and produced by young people aged twelve to seventeen, living in marginalised areas of Egypt.
Ahmed El-Hawary, the founder of Bashkatib and a journalist at the newspaper Al Masry Al Youm, first ran a series of workshops in Ard El-Lewa last year, teaching local young people basic journalistic skills, including reporting and photography, and helping to develop their capacity for critical thinking and understanding of media ethics. These workshops culminated in the production, by the workshop participants, of a news publication which dealt with issues affecting their local area, including poverty, environmental problems, local charitable initiatives, and the perils of tuk-tuks.
The participants also learnt about how different forms of written communication can impact people in a variety of ways. As such, the paper also includes several short stories which were written during the workshop, dealing more emotively with issues such as poverty, child labour and unemployment.
El-Hawary confirmed that one of the stated aims of the project is the improvement of regional journalism in Egypt. “For existing media outlets, reporting on local areas is not a high priority,” he explained. “Those who do report are often unfamiliar with the areas they are covering, leading to errors and misrepresentations.” A lack of competent local reporting means a lack of scrutiny over local authorities, allowing them to govern largely unchallenged.
According to El-Hawary, the professionalisation of the local press cannot come soon enough. The need for a well-trained, ethical media has never been greater in Egypt, where the press is dealing with a daily flood of events which are often both divisive and sensitive. “There are a lot of rumours around which increases the need to have a credible sources of information, particularly about local events,” El-Hawary said.
El-Harawy plans to launch a second series of workshops later this summer. The offices in Garden City will act as a base for the organisation and a meeting place for those involved in training the young journalists.
The office also functions as an exhibition space and the official opening on Monday 29 July will feature an exhibition of photographs taken by the young people who participated in the workshops in Ard El-Lewa.
The photos show different aspects of life in the neighbourhood. Hundreds of photos were originally taken, and the participants voted to decide which ones would be included in the exhibition.
The photos have already been exhibited at Artellewa and El-Fann Midan, but El-Hawary wanted them to be seen by a different audience, who are unlikely to have frequented the previous exhibitions, as well. Those who attend the opening on Monday will experience both the problems of Ard El-Lewa and its beauty, through the eyes of the young people who live there. “Those photos are telling about the neighbourhood in a different way than the stereotypes of the neighbourhood,” El-Hawary added.
The photo exhibition is intended as a confidence boost for the workshop participants, as well as an important platform for those who want to go on to be professional photographers.
Indeed, at the heart of El-Hawary’s project is a desire to elevate the status of young people in their local communities. “The newspapers also… give power to their voices,” El-Hawary confirmed. “Journalists are valuable members of their communities; by giving youth the opportunity to identify as journalists, we raise their value within the community.”