As Video Volunteers’ second program, India Unheard is gathering steam, with some wonderful stories by our new community correspondents, we can’t help but think about all the wonderful and dedicated community producers we have worked with in the past – and are still working with.

As many of you know, it takes about a year and a half to train our community producers, all of who come from situations of dire poverty. What they have in common is their honesty, passion and intelligence. Our aim in training an individual with immense potential is not just to create a technically sound and editorially sharp professional, but also to encourage leadership in their local communities.

I’d love to share the story of one such person: Zulekha Sayyed.

Zulekha grew up in a slum under harsh conditions; her father died when she was young and her mother worked as a domestic maid, earning roughly $35 a month. Often, they went hungry. She remembers how she would scavenge food from the roadside. She joined Yuva, a local NGO, at the age of 13. Yuva is an organization that has been working with slum dwellers for 25 years to help them formulate their own action plans and mainly, secure their right to housing. They have been organizing slum dwellers against the city’s continuous cycle of forced evictions, in which the government razes the shanties of thousands of the city’s workers. Yuva has initiated an extensive water campaign in response to the proposed privatization of Mumbai’s water supply, and the CVU contributed in a real way to the success of that campaign.

Yuva also runs the Knight-funded CVU Hamari Awaz (literally translated as ‘our voice’), which Sulekha joined after finishing high school. She is well aware of the turn her life has taken and says that she wouldn’t wish her childhood on anyone else.

Hamari Awaz is a CVU that operates out of the slums of Mumbai. A quote Zulekha has given for our official brochure tells us a lot. She said, “The TV reporters never come to the slums. They only come when something like a bomb blast happens. We are the only local reporters here. So, community media is necessary.”

As part of her team’s efforts, Zulekha has been helping slum dwellers organize action plans to secure their right to housing. She has helped to organize people to fight against the city’s continuous cycle of forced evictions, in which the government razes the shanties of thousands of people to make way for new developments.

As Zulekha’s example demonstrates, using the community media in these underprivileged areas is not merely creating journalists, but creating leaders and social activists. To that end, our mandate increases from simply providing journalistic training to supporting entire campaigns carried out by communities. For example, when we aired a story about applying for “Below Poverty Line” cards issued by the government, our producers had to help with filling out application forms too. So, the producers cannot behave like traditional journalists, for whom the story can end once filed with the bureau.

But that is the genius of community media and community journalists. There is no “off” switch. It becomes a passion and a calling. It is then VV’s duty to constantly innovate methods of communications and provide them newer platforms to make their voices heard.

Producers like Zulekha make it well worth the effort! (To read more about the work of Zulekha Sayyed, check out this story on GlobalPost.)