"Since mainstream media don't report our villages, we chose to learn to make videos." --Pushpalatha, IX standard, Ismailkhanpet village, Medak district.
"People fall ill because the drains aren't clean. That is why we make films on such problems." --Md. Akram, IX standard, Doulatabad village, Medak district.
"It felt good to watch our films on TV. Our neighbours too encourage us to make good films." --Durgaprasad, IX standard, Pragnapur village, Medak district. Quotes from a video on the CAMP (Children As Media Producers) initiative.
The conviction that children can be more than just passive consumers of information -- that they are capable of finding an independent voice and telling their own stories -- was the genesis of the Children as Media Producers (CAMP) initiative. It grew out of an unusual partnership between UNICEF and the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad.
Children's voices are otherwise seldom heard in mainstream debates on child rights and development. CAMP, launched in June 2009, strives to empower children to actualise their rights to self-expression and participation enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which India is a signatory.
Translating these rights into reality depends on children gaining the opportunity, ability and credibility to engage in dialogue with others in the community and expanding the notion of civil society at the grassroots.
"We trained school-going children in communication skills and use of video technology, and helped them to understand how the media works" says Vasuki Belavadi, trainer and Associate Professor at the Department of Communication.
The training programme included the basics of visual grammar and skills in camera work, production and basic editing, as well as skills in interviewing, information collection and reporting.
The children have acquired impressive technical skills. Anitha reels out all the seven shot-sizes like a pro. Some have even progressed to working with professional non-linear editing software.
The training gave the children a completely different understanding of the mainstream media. Nagraj, who used to think that the stories shown on television were shot that way, says "Now I know that there's a lot of selection that happens in telling a story."
The young film-makers focus primarily on local issues.
"I want to do stories that will bring children's issues to the attention of the Sarpanch so he can solve problems," says Pushpalatha.
"Bathukamma, the festival of flowers is celebrated only in the Telangana region. Not many people know why it is celebrated, so we made a video on the nine-day festival," says Vijayalaxmi.
The children have so far produced 30 films, many of which have been hosted online and also screened at the International Children's Film Festival, 2009. "Agriculture going to seed", a poignant film on farmer suicides, is noteworthy for its sharp analysis of the state of agriculture in the country.
Parents and teachers, initially apprehensive of what CAMP was attempting, are now enthusiastic and supportive. "Once they saw our videos, our teachers began encouraging us," says Mohd. Akram. "Our neighbours say, 'Our village head hardly heard us; now it seems he's learnt his lesson. Go on with good work,'" says Vijayalaxmi.
There has been a steady progress in the children's capacities in collection, documentation, dissemination and monitoring of news. Plans for the future include a "Training of Trainers" programme for representatives of civil society groups and schools from across Andhra Pradesh.
"We are working on an arrangement with the local TV channels so the children's films can be telecast during prime-time news," says Vikas Verma, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Hyderabad Office.