A foot in both graves? OURMedia, here I come!

I’ve just arrived in Sydney, Australia, to participate in, and speak at, OURMedia/NUESTROSMedios 6 Conference, 9-13 April 2007.

There are over 130 presentations planned over the 5 days from representatives from over 85 international and Australian organizations and over 35 countries. I’ll be talking about ‘Communicating Under Duress: The Children of Tsunami experience’ on April 10 afternoon.

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According to the conference website:

OURMedia / NUESTROS Medios is an international network and forum founded in 2001 by a group of engaged academics interested in advancing the democratic potential of community, alternative and ‘citizens’ media. Recognising that the intellectual and policy frameworks for citizens’ media are often out of touch with the on-the-ground reality, the purpose of OURMedia is to connect scholars, practitioners, activists and policy-makers towards defined outcomes. OURMedia is now a network of over 500 people from 50 countries and has generated an extensive body of practical and theoretical knowledge primarily in English and Spanish. It constitues a unique space of dialogue between academics and practitioners, advocates and artists working in community, alternative and citizens’ media.

Past OURMedia conferences have been organized in the United States (2001), Spain (2002), Colombia (2003), Brazil (2004) and India (2005). These conferences have consisted of scholarly and academic presentations, media activism initiatives, policy workshops, community cultural development roundtable debates, new media labs, research-led forums and engagements by local media producers.

I’m not an academic, although in my media and communication work I often work with researchers and academics, always asking them to say things in simpler words. I speak and write in very practical, pragmatic terms — not in academese. I sometimes wonder how it goes down with academic colleagues who typically utter four jargon terms out of every ten. But somehow, I must be doing a few things right because I often get invited back!

Which reminds me what John Naughton, British columnist on new media and academic said about the double-life of a journalist-cum-academic (or the other way round):

When I was an undergraduate I became heavily involved in student politics and in the process got to know some newspaper editors who asked me to write articles for them. So I did — and to my astonishment they sent money in return. Figuring that this was a great racket I continued to do it. One of my famous fellow-countrymen, Conor Cruise O’Brien has also been an academic and a journalist all his life. He describes it as “having a foot in both graves”. I try and keep the two sides of my life separate. My journalistic mates think I must be a good academic on the grounds that I’m not much of a journalist, while my academic colleagues think I must be a good journalist (on the grounds that…). They’re both wrong.

John wrote A Brief History of the Future: The origins of the Internet. He writes a weekly column about the Internet in the business section of The Observer newspaper in the UK.

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Pacific ‘Voices from the Waves’ on climate change

Some of you have asked to share more information on Truth Talking: Voices from the Waves, the half-hour documentary on climate change and its impact on the South Pacific people that we produced in 2002.

It was the first-ever documentary on climate change and the South Pacific, made by a native Pacific islander (all films till then had been made by visiting foreign film crews). Directed and produced by Bernadette Masianini of Fiji (photo on extreme right below), its story was based on the experience and impressions of two teenagers growing up on two islands, a girl and boy, both facing uncertain futures.

Here’s what I wrote for the Truth Talking book that accompanied the film series.

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Dilagi loves her village. Her parents and grandparents, and generations before them, were born and raised in this village. Her family has lived here for centuries, but by the time Dilagi has children of her own, her village might no longer exist.

In Fiji, where Dilagi lives, traditions and cultures are rooted in the home; the village is an integral part of a person’s identity. Like most of the eight million people who live in the Pacific island states, Dilagi’s village is located close to the sea. The bounty of the ocean has long sustained the islanders, but now the same waters have begun to threaten their future. Every year, the shoreline seems to move a little inland, and the beach gets a bit smaller. Before the current century ends, according to scientific projections, many low-lying Pacific islands will go under the rising seas either in part or full – and their histories, traditions and unique cultures will be lost forever.

Dilagi is somewhat aware of this perilous future, but can do nothing about it. The changes in global climate that are causing sea levels to rise and triggering severe storms and cyclones are the result of pollution and environmental degradation generated thousands of miles away in the industrialised world. Says Dilagi: “The villagers cannot understand why the waves are coming on to shore. They think these are signs that the end of the world is near.”

The Pacific contains 22 states, made up of thousands of small islands, with a multitude of cultures and traditions. Diverse as they are, they all share Dilagi and her neighbours’ concerns about the future.

Two thousand and five hundred kilometres north-east of Fiji, sitting on the island of Kiribati, Bernard stares at the same ocean that seems to be lashing out at his tiny island nation with increasing force every year. One of the lowest lying islands in the world, no place on Kiribati is higher than four metres (13 feet).

Building sea walls has provided only a temporary respite against the waves. Not even the grave yards or tombstones are spared. Bernard visits Mrs Saipolua’s house, which she has had to move twice to escape from rising seas. In her backyard, the gravestones of ancestors are being constantly battered by the waves. “Even the final resting places of our loved ones are not spared…the sea action had cracked the gravestones,” she says.

“With our islands being so small, the sea is our biggest resource,” says Bernard. “Over the years, the generations have perfected the ways to use the oceans respectfully for our survival. Ironically, it is the very ocean on which we depend that now threatens us.”

All Pacific islands – including Kiribati and Fiji — have their own unique culture and traditions. They may share the world’s largest ocean and sometimes common ethnicity, but no two island cultures are the same. From the way they collect their food to how they celebrate festivals, their traditions revolve around the geography and natural resources of the islands and the sea.

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In this intricate tapestry weaving islands with humans, everything has a place and purpose. For example, the traditional dances entertain and also record the people’s history. Costumes for these dances are produced from plants unique to the Pacific and decorative garlands are made from the brightly coloured flowers. Extreme weather events and climate anomalies that now threaten the environment of these islands may soon drive many plants and animals into extinction. As Bernard asks, “If changes to the climate affect our environment, how long will these aspects of our culture survive?”

For a majority of Pacific island people, climate change is a very real concern that is already impacting them; it’s not a doomsday scenario sometime in the future. Closely linked as they are to their islands and the sea, they just cannot accept relocation in a far away land as a survival option.

“Everything I need in my life is here on this island — my elders, my parents, my friends,” says Bernard. “I cannot imagine life anywhere else, and I cannot imagine that I might have to go and live in another country if my islands are no longer habitable….”

From across the sea, Dilagi agrees: “Our villagers have lived here for hundreds of years. Their traditions and cultures are rooted in this area. They cannot imagine life anywhere else.”

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