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‘Blogswana’ Gives Voice To AIDS Fight

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For Curt Hopkins and Brian Schartz, a meeting between U2 rocker Bono and President Bush doesn’t go quite far enough to highlight Africa’s ongoing struggles with HIV/AIDS. What is needed, they say, is a view from the inside, utilizing the point-of-view power of the weblog.

Through advocate organization Committee to Protect Bloggers, a group dedicated to highlighting free speech and humans rights violations international bloggers face, Hopkins and Schartz created “Blogswana,” a one-year pilot project designed to give a voice to Botswana citizenry otherwise unable to tell their stories.

The project will enlist a group of 20 college students from a major university who will devote a year to “blogging for others” in the southern African nation with the aim of highlighting those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Students would have a “partner” for whom they would set up a blog in addition to their own blog. All students and partner blog posts would be funneled to a central website.

“In other words,” writes freelance journalist and Committee to Protect Bloggers president Hopkins, “they would create a blog for someone, say a farmer in a remote village who had neither the money for the hardware, nor the expertise, nor perhaps the time or literacy, to blog himself, or to an urban prostitute, or a nurse in an AIDS hospice, or a politician, or a minister.

“They would go out, at least once a month, interview this person, maybe take photos, video or audio, return to their computer and blog for this person. They would take the comments and questions out to the person the next time they went out.”

Hopkins expresses the concern that traditional journalism, with its stings of editors, sponsor pressures, and memetic tendencies, is naturally limited in the attention that can be given to what many in the West see as an “abstract tragedy.” In addition, journalism can also lack the “insider” feel that weblogs are so adept at providing.

“One thing that both journalism and history writings often lack is a sense of things on the ground: What’s it look like there? What’s it sound like? How do people think about what’s going on? To listen to the bureaucrats and rocks stars, Africa is one gigantic symptom in need of medicine that can only be provided by well, bureaucrats and rock stars. One of the benefits of reading blogs is to get a more accurate view of things apparently far removed from your immediate reality.”

Blogswana, which was granted non-profit status in December, is created with the goal of rehumanizing AIDS by putting a face with the reported statistics – by bringing “voices from the far side of the digital divide into the global conversation.”

Botswana, independent since 1966, says Schartz, is riddled with HIV/AIDS infection estimates that range from one in three to two in five.

“But not just about the disease. People are not merely vectors. It is our desire to create a rich, interesting site about the daily lives of Botswana,” said Schartz. “We would like to add to the public awareness and hopefully to help reduce the stigmatization of infected individuals.”

If the pilot is successful, Hopkins and Schartz hope to extend the program into other countries.

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‘Blogswana’ Gives Voice To AIDS Fight
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