‘The kids we work with don’t present as victims. They’re kids. They have crazy ideas, blend fact with fiction and laugh a lot’
if you're reading this right now then chances are you're online. You're also free to leave whatever comments you want in that little box below – your 'voice' as such. It’s something easy to take for granted when you're graced with WiFi, unlimited phone data or a landline connection.
The kids of Wings of Life School in Kibera, Africa's largest urban slum, are just a small number of young people falling into the chasm of the digital divide – often not connected to the internet, or even on the digital spectrum at all. This is something that Zinester, a new initiative on a mission to give "silent minorities in digital dead spots a voice by teaching them to make and publish their own magazines", is aiming to change.
“There’s a joke here that if you want to hide money from a Kenyan put it in a book. But a big reason that kids don’t pick up the reading habit is that there’s no light to read” – Harrison Thane
Combining citizen journalism with DIY zine-making, Zinester began with a series of three hour workshops that saw the students tear up old issues of magazines to create their own stories, marking the images with pens and writing their own narratives. They were then taught simple camera skills and how to interview people, giving them new and simple tools for storytelling within their communities.
Zinester co-founder Harrison Thane (alongside Tom Grass), who now resides in Kenya, says the students were in complete creative control of the process and admits he's grown tired of the "old fundraising tropes that the NGOs churn out". Explaining, "The kids we work with don't present as victims. They're kids. They have crazy ideas, blend fact with fiction and laugh a lot. Despite all the chaos and the stress their environment puts them under they are confident in it and hopeful about their future."
He continues, "We got them to tell stories and at first all we got were traditional stories which were interesting but we told them not to be afraid to tell true stories. Their grip on objective reality was refreshing – once they relaxed and realised they could say anything they wanted. So we saw this shift then from traditional, moral stories that they recited almost by rote to fantastical nonsense tales that mashed up snippets from their actual experience and real people they had encountered or famous people they had seen or watched on TV with animals and monsters."
For the kids of Kibera, Thane tells us they feel lucky to just be able to go to their 'tin roof' school – full of enthusiasm and desire to learn. “There isn't much outside space at the school and the streets get too dangerous to be out at dark but they still find the space and time to play and imagine and dance between chores. A big limiting factor is the lack of light in many of their homes. There's a joke here that if you want to hide money from a Kenyan put it in a book. But a big reason that kids don't pick up the reading habit is that there's no light to read. That of course affects their ability to do their homework but also to escape into the world of the imagination. And this, in turn, has an impact on the reach of the world that is known to them, which is why visual storytelling is really important."
The completed zines themselves are turned into digital copies and sent to international printers to be distributed to independent book shops across the world, as well as to the people helping fund them through the Zinester Kickstarter page (just £15 gets you the zine, delivered). Thane hopes to reach out to other communities on the continent, like a group of Samburu women yin Umoja who have kicked men out of their village. "Three ladies formed a household after they were raped by soldiers in the early nineties. Word spread and now Umoja is a safe haven for women who have experience gender based violence," he says, hoping that by telling their stories they will inspire those around them who have experienced similar horrors. Further ahead, they hope to gain wider visibility and opportunities for the kids. "It would be amazing to take commissions from papers around the world and run workshops that allowed those on the ground who are affected by the events reported by the global news agencies to give their own version of events,” he reveals, adding, “There's a raw power when you switch off the editor and let it all just spill out on the page.”
Zinester are currently raising funds to continue their work in Africa, click here to find out more, to donate or to purchase a zine