Video and Cultural Awareness

An Egyptian Experience

Information technologies could help solve some of the most pressing problems of developing "Third World" nations by facilitating better education and training through access to knowledge. However, is it possible for a culture to assimilate the new communication technologies without being destroyed in the process?

Video, in particular, can be a uniquely appropriate and effective educational tool, not only because of its ability to overcome illiteracy but because it can be adapted to the different developmental needs of people.

I went to Egypt in November 1978 to produce a videotape about a small solar-powered television set in the Egyptian Delta village of Basaisa and research the application of video to local level needs. We used mostly 1/2" portable video "equipment borrowed from friends.

Why did we choose to do this work in Egypt? First, Egyptians are already very visually oriented. Next to India, Egypt has the largest film industry in the developing world. Television is widespread, and there are increasing numbers of private homes with video cassette playback machines. Second, Egypt has the Nile Centers for Information - institutions set up by the German Hans Siedl Foundation, and designed to produce or support with equipment and personnel any film or video project in rural areas. The films or tapes can be shown in any of the centers in Ismalia, Cairo, Shebin-el-Kom or Aswan.

Village participation is a vital and necessary component of any grass roots development program. A project designed without two-way communication channels which actively involve rural villagers wastes valuable time and resources. In this way the maximum potential of both the individual and society, culture or nation, can be released. Villagers in the Third World can become active directors as well as participants in their own social and economic development; but international institutions and extension workers rarely make a space for village input into policy planning, implementation or evaluation.

We wanted to show national policy-makers in Egypt and interested people outside of the country what rural village life was actually like. By becoming partners with villagers in the production of a video program we were able to present their knowledge, awareness, and activities.

From this experience we learned:

1. Video can, through its instantaneous feedback, initiate growth and cultivate in an individual, community or organization the creative power to realize their resources.

2. Video playback allows individuals and communities to analyze what their needs are, to reflect upon their experience and to recognize that change can occur.

3. The use of video and discussion of individual or community activities on a videotape can foster an expanded sense of community. Individual and community needs fuse when individual growth is reinforced through social networks.

4. Video can show an individual his own capabilities, increase individual or group sensitivity to the environment, and increase initiative and creativity. People often fear the "unknown." Producing a videotape requires "learning by doing" which can familiarize a man, woman, or child with a new idea, process or product. Role-playing and simulation activities lessen fear of change if integrated into an appropriate educational framework.

5. Video can allow information to be generated, played back, erased or re-used. Thus new ideas or techniques can be taught and re-taught, presented, improved upon and presented again. Reviewing videotape produced days, weeks or months earlier can be an exciting consciousness-raising event and can encourage self-reliance and competence.

6. Video can improve the processes of evaluation and project re-design. While input, output, cost and income changes may be measured as effects of a project, there are also important effects which are not quantifiable and may not be noticed immediately. These include changes in psychology, social structure and values, effects which are often overlooked both in project evaluations and in the planning and implementation of project activities. Video helps leaders understand the technical, economic, social, cultural and institutional variables. The collection of baseline data on rural knowledge, opinions and creative endeavors can make a major contribution to the growth of cultural identity and pride. Many developed nations could learn a great deal from rural men, women and children in the Third World who have skills we in the West often know little about.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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