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Bangladesh, through different eyes

Rebecca and I had a very simple mission in mind when we started discussing the Global Voices project. We both felt that coverage of the developing world we read in mainstream media didn’t have enough voices of the people who live in the developing world. We saw the rise of weblogging as a way to give an audience access to a wider range of voices, the unedited voices of people choosing to write or speak online.

Two years into the Global Voices project, it became clear that the voices we were hearing from the blogosphere – while much broader than the voices we heard in mainstream media – had their own biases. Bloggers tend to be young, well-educated, urban, better off than many of their countrymen. The voices from the blogs aren’t voices of the average man or woman on the street. This doesn’t detract from their value as a window into another country or culture, but it raises the question of what we’d hear if a broader range of voices were speaking online.

That’s the question we’ve been trying to answer with the Rising Voices project. Sponsored by the Knight Foundation as part of their Knight News Challenge, Rising Voices is going to give at least a dozen projects around the world the chance to reach out to new authors and give them a chance to express themselves online.

David Sasaki, the director of Rising Voices, has hit the ground running, issuing the first five grants less than six weeks after Global Voices won the grant from Knight. And he’s starting to see results. The Nari Jibon project in Bangladesh is working poor and underprivleged women, who – as part of their training in IT and work skills – are becoming bloggers. The words and pictures they’ve put online are pretty incredible – a hard look at begging in Bangladesh, the complex circumstances that led a woman to become a prostitute, a plea to see beyond the poverty and slums of cities to the natural beauty of the country.

If the Nari Jibon blog catches your attention, it’s worth listening the podcast David’s put together with the project organizers. Projects like Nari Jibon are small steps to bring new kids of bloggers online, but they’re the sorts of steps we need to take if the digital world is to be as rich, diverse and complicated as the real world.

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