Rising Voices aims not just to get new communities actively participating in the conversational web, but also to introduce their voices to mainstream media outlets so that, for once, under-represented communities are portrayed by their own residents. While the majority of the ten current Rising Voices outreach projects have been covered by mainstream media organization, Voces Bolivianas takes the prize when it comes to attracting national and international media attention. The citizen media outreach project, which trains new bloggers in El Alto, Santa Cruz, and other sites around Bolivia, has been featured in El Deber, the BBC, Argentina’s La Nación, and OH! Magazine. They were featured yet again this week, this time in the Santa Cruz-based Vamos magazine.

The article by Nicole Nostas is titled “Voces Bolivianas: the microphone of the forgotten Bolivianas.” What follows is an excerpted translation of the original article.

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For Bolivians, the internet is a communications medium which is relatively new yet powerful. We still haven’t begun to explore it deeply. The small amount technological development and information increases the differences which already exist in Bolivian society. Luckily, there are projects that aim to integrate our population through this medium, but in order to do so the first step is digital literacy, which has already started to bear fruit.

The voice of the least represented

Voces Bolivianas is a non-profit which aims, as its name suggests, to give under-represented groups a voice with easy-to-use digital tools like blogs. “We show them how to use the basic tools of the Web 2.0 – how to open a blog, and that they can write in it what they want,” comments Jessica Olivares, a representative of Voces Bolivianas in Santa Cruz. To speak about Voces Bolivianas, it is necessary to go back to its antecedent, a web page called Global Voices Online.

A group of young North American university students found that those who publish online were from middle-upper classes with their own computers and with internet access at home or at work, giving them the luxury of surfing the web every day. It was for this reason that they created “Global Voices Online”, a web site which gathers all of the least represented voices from around the world. What this site did was give a space so that people could publish articles which were translated into seven languages. Eduardo Ávila, a young Bolivian who lives in the United States, was a volunteer for the site and summarized every week what was written in Bolivian blogs.

“I believe that those blogs did not represent the diversity of the country, which is why we saw it as necessary that other groups enter the world of blogs in order to take part in the dialogue taking place in the Bolivian blogosphere,” recalls Ávila, who proposed the digital literacy project to Rising Voices, an organization which seeks the same objectives. Voces Bolivianas managed to place itself among the five selected projects worldwide to receive funding. “This project is important because the internet is a place where we are all equal, where it doesn’t matter if you are a businessperson, manual laborer, politician, or housewife. We all have the same opportunity to express ourselves on a blog. It is free and easy to use; you just have to have a little bit of knowledge. Voces Bolivianas tries to spread this information in order to create a bridge between people without generalizations and stereotypes,” comments Ávila. This is how, along with Mario Durán and Hugo Miranda, Ávila began to develop a workshop in the city of El Alto. They wanted to give residents of El Alto the same opportunity to describe their lives from a different point of view. In September of 2007, Bolivia had 23 new and active bloggers trained in how to use new media. According to Vania Valderram, a volunteer blogger, the participants had the positive attitude and enthusiasm which is needed to open a blog and keep it updated.

The article goes on to describe how Voces Bolivianas then expanded from El Alto to Santa Cruz where Jessica Olivares led a similar workshop series in the Plan 3000 neighborhood of Santa Cruz. You can download a PDF of Vamos magazine and read the entire article in its original Spanish from their website. You can also see the pictures of and read quotes from the diverse group of new bloggers trained by Voces Bolivianas including Pedro Velasquez, a 55-year-old professor, and Kevin Ayllón, a 13-year-old student. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can still follow the latest featured posts by new bloggers from Voces Bolivianas on the English version of their website.