Commentary

Media foster cross-cultural connections for Moroccans

“Three, two, one, record!” Melanie, a German student, and Bouchra, a Moroccan student, both in their 20s, are producing their first radio interview as they stand in front of their peers and members of civil society in a Marrakech community center. “What do you learn in school in Europe?” Bouchra asks Melanie. “Why are you studying philosophy in Morocco?” Melanie questions Bouchra.

It was an exciting moment for the young reporters, who were pioneering the international youth media project “We are the future of Morocco,” organized by the German non-governmental organization Radijojo World Children’s Media Network. In a world in which misunderstandings between the Arab world and the West abound, and youth voices in both regions often go unheard, Radijojo’s mission is to create media based youth empowerment as a source for free expression, intercultural dialogue and peace.

Bouchra was one of 50 university students of diverse backgrounds from across Morocco to participate in the first workshop; Melanie joined the team from Germany as a volunteer working for the Moroccan-based partner Youth Association for Culture and Development. The two girls symbolize the project’s longer-term goal: to work for peace by building cultural bridges between the Arab world and Europe through the power of sharing media projects.

In this workshop, the first of four this year, the young Moroccans learn to use grassroots media to express their opinions, concerns, hopes and ideas. Students are able to discuss the changes they want to see in their country, such as better education and job opportunities.

The group in Marrakech is developing constructive approaches to solving these pressing problems by combining media with conflict resolution tools. As one student put it, “We think that there is need for change in our country, but here in Morocco, we go about it peacefully.”

Dounia, for example, a student from the rural Marrakech region of El Kelaa des Sraghna, wants to establish a youth media center in her village that would allow girls to access educational lessons through radio and new media. In her community, many girls leave school after fourth grade because their families need their help at home. Education does not have as much value for these families as work. Dounia’s initiative could help girls to learn at home using free online educational resources.

Along with local empowerment, the international approach of the workshops allows them to share their ideas with peers worldwide and to tap into international resources and networks to help turn their vision into reality.

In a second phase of the project, the young media activists reach out and meet with school kids at the Radijojo headquarters in Germany via Skype, exchanging songs, poems and questions about everyday life. Because most of the Moroccan participants have never been abroad and have had little contact with Western countries, this is an important part of the project.

The Marrakech youth media pioneers also present their work, using Skype, at one of the world’s most important media, cultural exchange and education events, the Global Media Forum in Germany. For the students, having their voice heard at such a top-level event is encouraging. For the experts at the Global Media Forum, it is a chance to directly talk with young people in the Arab world, not just about them.

Toward the end of the project, the Moroccan state radio station SNRT (Société Nationale de Radiodiffusion et de Télévision) shared the young Moroccans’ messages with thousands of households across Morocco during a live show.

This exchange will continue to grow. Young activists want to help establish Radijojo Arabiya, a regional chapter of Radijojo’s World Children’s and Youth Media Network. And some of the Marrakech participants will take part in future workshops to share their newly acquired knowledge with young school kids in rural areas, who will also learn to share their ideas via radio.

The Radijojo project is just one example of how the media has become a crucial tool in fostering cross-cultural connections, and providing a platform for young voices that might otherwise remain on the margins. In today’s interconnected world, we need more opportunities to hear young voices like these and to create powerful connections across cultural divides.

Thomas Rohlinger is a sociologist, journalist, media educator, children’s rights activist and the founder and editor-in-chief of Radijojo World Children’s Radio Network, based in Berlin, Germany. Check out the work of Radijojo at www.radijojo.org. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service (www.commongroundnews.org).

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 28, 2012, on page 7.

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