29.03.2005 -

Gunsi, Suriname. A Village Comes Alive during Community Multimedia Centre Training Workshop

During the week of 7 to 12 March 2005, 15 villagers of Gunsi, a rural community in Suriname, attended a weeklong training workshop in ICT applications for community development, organized by UNESCO in collaboration with VILCOMM International, the Jamaican training consultants of the project.

UNESCO's Alton Grizzle reports from Gunsi.


"This workshop was the first in a series, in an effort to expand the Caribbean network of four Community Multimedia Centers (CMCs) to include Radio Muye, Suriname; Radio PAIWOMAK, Guyana; and Radio em ba Mango, Dominica as fully fledged CMCs - the others being, Radio Toco, Trinidad and Tobago; Radio GED, Barbados, Roots FM, Jamaica; and Radio Cocodrilo, Cuba.


Gunsi is a rural and remote village along the Saramacca River over 200 kilometers (4 ½ hours by car plus 1 ½ hours by boat) south of the capital of Suriname, Paramaribo. A small community of approximately 200 people, fishing, agriculture and eco-tourism are their chief means of livelihood. Gunsi is one of over 60 small villages along the river mainly occupied by Maroons who escaped from the Dutch plantations in the 18th century coupled with migrants who were forced to leave their environment in search for another place to live due to hydro electric plant and rising water levels. Ironically the village has neither electricity nor running water.


Mothers carrying around babies on their backs; older children clinging to their clothing was a typical sight in the village. Even during the training, the mothers had to tend to their children. A culture of male prominence was evident...


The training activities, primarily hands-on, were administered with a focus on the manner in which new knowledge and resources may enhance local content development, boost economic activities and included the following aas; Radio Communication Skills, Basic Computing, Digital Audio/Video Manipulation, Multimedia Production, Digital Archiving etc. Due to the lack of connectivity, the use of the Internet and the World Wide Web to facilitate Radio Browsing Techniques was simulated. The application of these skills to cultural tourism, local content development and packaging, health etc was highlighted.


UNESCO also provided appropriate multimedia equipment to facilitate this training workshop. Of the 15 trainees, 10 have never seen or touched a computer or peripherals equipment before this UNESCO intervention. Two of the trainees were volunteers of another UNESCO supported community radio station, Radio Wamakwa (which means "togetherness") located in Apoera, a small district of 1200 people. They traveled over 450 kilometers (12 hours by river and 8 hours by bus) to participate in the workshop.


After the first day of training, we wondered how much we would be able to impart to these villagers whose ardency and evident hunger for knowledge was overwhelming. But then "A Light Shone and the Village Came Alive..." On the penultimate day of the workshop we realized that the trainees were grasping far more than we had anticipated. . On that same evening Sandra, one of the tinees from Radio Wamakwa was encouraged to gather the women of the village for a meeting with a view to sharing how they could organize a radio programme for women, similar to what happens at Radio Wamakwa, and how the new computer systems could help in achieving this.


The meeting started out with only two women, with the sentiments that the others just would not come. Ritha Linga, a villager and the Director of Radio Muye made several attempts to get the others to come and was encouraged not to give up. The gathering grew to 10 women. This was one source of the Light that Shone.


We were in a incomplete wood structure adjacent to the Radio Station, 60' x 20' in area, the area was lit by a sole 12" incandescent bulb in the centre of the ceiling (powered by solar) coupled with the light from the computer monitors (powered by a diesel generator).It was almost darkness. The ladies sat in a circle...Sandra and Ritha took the lead. Glenn Geerlings, Chairman of a local cooperating organization, Educons, a myself relieved two of the mothers of their babies. What seemed like solemn discussion ensued in Saramacca language. Giggles and chattering came from approximately a score of children that gathered around the computers, supervised by two of the male trainees from the village. ,I did not understand a word. Yet I understood clearly! Radio Muye was On-Air . The sound of local music could be heard, gently, like soothing and invincible wind with a message, interrupted occasionally by the radio announcer, a man from the village. this was unusual I later learnt .It was 11:00PM ...


Prior to this event, programme/content development at Radio Muye was mainly analog. The operators of the community multimedia centre are now able to integrate the new and trational technologies in the production editing and publishing in the media of digital audio and video. Certainly follow-up training is needed. Internet connection via VSAT is a necessary next step. UNESCO hopes to work with its partners to ensure the strengthening of this new CMC; capacity development, social stimulation, economic activities as well as expansion of this facility.


UNESCO is thankful for the excellent cooperation received from the Suriname National Commission for UNESCO, the national telecommunication company TELESUR, as well as Educons, a local organization, which focuses on ICT in education."

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