Teens and organizers at the Bashkatib magazines have been working hard to put out a bilingual (Arab/English) publication, Our Streets, featuring news and stories written by teenagers in Cairo’s Dar El Salam neighborhood, Aswan, and Mansoura. They’ll be launching the magazine with a benefit and concert on March 18 at Rawabet Theater, at an event featuring Nubian singer Sayed Rikabi:
Bashkatib, which is headed up by Ahmed Elhawary and ran its first training workshop in 2013, mentors Egyptian teen writers and helps them create their own newspapers and literary supplements.
Bashkatib Development Officer Amira Hanafi answered a few questions about where Bashkatib is at now.
ArabLit: How did Bashkatib come about? How were the communities chosen?
Amira Hanafi: Bashkatib grew from a pilot workshop held by Egyptian journalist Ahmed Elhawary on a skeletal budget in Ard El Lewa, Cairo, in 2012. The workshop took place at artellewa art space, where neighborhood teenagers aged 12-17 were trained in basic journalism, creative writing, comics, photography, and newspaper design. The budget was enough to cover only one issue of a printed publication that the youth decided to call “Ahl El Lewa.”
The workshop was really successful in that the kids wanted to continue writing and publishing, even after the training finished. Some of them even changed their occupation on Facebook to “journalist.” They went out and sold advertisements to local shops in order to print their second issue. But on their own, they weren’t able to continue.
That was the impetus for founding Bashkatib, which now works in long-term projects in select marginalized communities throughout Egypt. The idea is to initiate media outlets that are run by youth in their communities. They publish news and stories in printed publications, which they then distribute for free in their neighborhoods. We also upload this content and more to www.bashkatibnews.com.
We want to fill a huge gap we see in Egyptian news coverage. Media outlets are really concentrated in Cairo. In general, Egyptian media doesn’t see a priority in covering local news, and when stories are reported, journalists often make mistakes. With community media, you have inhabitants of the local area reporting on news and issues from within the community, in their own voices.
AL: Yes, the local-local aspect of the coverage is great. I hardly ever read about anything that happens outside Cairo/Alex. Are you thinking of expanding to any other communities?
AH: Absolutely. Our vision is to build a nation-wide network of community media outlets run by teenagers in marginalized areas of Egypt. We aim to start three media outlets each year: one in a poor or informal neighborhood in Cairo, and two in areas outside of Cairo. The magazine launch and benefit in Cairo next week is aimed at helping us to keep working towards that vision.
AL: Who are the mentors? Are there cartoonist-mentors for kids interested in cartoons, short-story mentors for kids interested in short stories, journalism-mentors for kids interested in news? What sort of training is involved? Are you looking for more mentors and trainers? AH: Over a two-year period, we give one basic and another advanced training to each of our youth groups, as well as smaller workshops and ongoing mentoring by Bashkatib staff, trainers, and local coordinators. The whole project starts with a basic workshop for about six weeks, and in another year our trainers return for advanced training in video-journalism, management, and investigative journalism. Our trainers are professionals in their fields: for instance, we’ve had fiction-writer and journalist Omneya Talaat teach creative writing, cartoonist Anwar teach comics, and photojournalist Alaa Elkamhawi teach photography.
The workshops give participants basic skills, but it’s in the field where they do a lot more of their learning. This kind of education is really different from the way they learn in Egyptian schools, focused on rote memorization and regurgitation. So, when a participant is writing a report and comes across an obstacle, they turn first to their peers, and then to their trainers and mentors for help in solving the problem. It’s a very active and hands-on process, and we encourage as much independence as possible from the kids who participate.
If you’re interested in working as a trainer for Bashkatib or volunteering as a mentor, you can send us an email introducing yourself to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re growing constantly and would love to build up our team.
AL: How do you find the kids & the kids find you?
AH: Bashkatib works with partner organizations in local areas to find participants. We’ve worked with Khatwa Library in Dar el Salam, Future Association in Aswan, and Books and Beans in Mansoura. We also go into local schools to present the project and community spaces to pass out flyers. Our selection policy is very open; kids only have to be able to read and write to participate. Our projects have been well-received in the areas where we’ve worked, since there generally aren’t a lot of activities for teenagers outside of school. We’ve found these kids are really hungry for something interesting to do with their time.
AL: How many copies are being printed?
AH: Each of the community media outlets prints 5,000 copies of their publication, nearly every month, and distributes it for free in the local area. The magazine, Our Streets, which is meant to reach a different audience and help to raise funds to sustain the youth media network, was printed this first time in an edition of 1,000 copies.
AL: When did the website launch? The kids are given a password and upload content themselves, or is there an editor and editorial oversight?
AH: The website has been in its beta phase since mid-2014, but we’re hoping to launch the final, error-free version very soon! If you’d like to hear about the launch as it happens, sign up to receive Bashkatib’s newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/NeG3r
Each youth group has access to the website and a local, adult coordinator they work with to help upload content to the website. It gets reviewed by Bashkatib staff, who may make corrections on the level of language. The only time we’ll ever intervene on the level of content is for legality. Other than that, the kids themselves make all editorial decisions.
AL: Do you worry at all about the kids potentially getting in trouble for what they write?
AH: It’s quite possible to worry about anything and everything these days in Egypt! Joking aside, we do make sure that the kids aren’t writing anything that is obviously illegal. Our staff and trainers have quite a bit of experience working in Egyptian media, and we have a good community around us that provides legal advice when we need it. The more unpredictable environment for the kids is actually the public. We work closely with the kids, their families, and their communities to make sure we’re providing as much protection as we can when the kids go down to work in the street.