When Bipin Solanki, a community film-maker in Gujarat’s Surendranagar district, was working on the issue of water problems in his area in 2012, he came across a village that had been severely affected by fluorosis. He found that 70% of the people in Khambhlav village, with a population of 3,000, were suffering from dental fluorosis and a handful were also suffering from skeletal fluorosis.

Solanki made a short documentary after collecting samples and testing the water, interviewing people and local government authorities. He screened the film in the village. “The people of the village had to rely on groundwater that was contaminated. After watching the film, the village head and others decided to act on the issue," says Solanki. As a result, a water pipeline was put in place in 2012 at a cost of 10 lakh by the Water and Sanitation Management Organisation (Wasmo), an autonomous organization set up by the state to work towards drinking water security and facilitate the participation of people in implementing and monitoring intra-village water supply.

Less than 30km away, Neeru Rathod, 25, another community film-maker in the same district, has been highlighting water and other infrastructure issues like roads and electricity in the district.

Both Solanki and Rathod are part of Video Volunteers (VV), a community media organization that trains and equips people with video journalism skills with the aim of telling the stories that are otherwise “untold". The aim of the videos is to inspire viewers to take action and reach out to communities to address specific problems such as lack of healthcare, livelihood opportunities and corruption in local governance.

“One can say that VV is a step ahead in journalism. From reporting we take it to action, using videos as evidence. We want the community and its people to act to bring good governance in rural areas," says Stalin K., co-founder of Video Volunteers, which was founded in 2003 and registered in India in 2009. VV, with its headquarters in Goa (they also work out of New York, US), has a network of 206 “community correspondents", mainly villagers and slum-dwellers, spread across 23 states. Some of them are also students, teachers, artists and photographers. They undergo two-week training to equip them to tell compelling stories through video journalism. The organization provides them with flip cameras donated by Cisco Systems. They have 14 editors (four full-time ones, based in Goa, and 10 on field) who help edit the films sent by community correspondents. There are about 20 mentors in the field who guide the correspondents in selecting issues and documenting them.

Jessica Mayberry, a US national, founded Video Volunteers in 2003 after spending a year training rural Indian women in film-making at SEWA, or the Self-Employed Women’s Association, in Ahmedabad, as a W.J. Clinton fellow of the not-for-profit American India Foundation.

“In 2003 when I started, there were hardly a couple of community video projects in India. We worked on small projects initially and we kept experimenting before registering in 2009," says 36-year-old Mayberry, who has worked with Court TV, Fox News Channel and CNN.

Such initiatives of participatory videos are important for a country like India, where more than half of the population lives in villages. “The government and the mainstream media cannot easily access these perspectives which provide a window into what is actually happening in rural India. If information flowed upwards, we could better tackle issues like rural corruption or gender inequality," says Stalin.

The process of selecting video volunteers is a long one and VV prefers people who are interested in talking about the issues in their community. “We look for people who are not pressed for time. Rest everything can be taught…technology, even activism," says Stalin, a documentary film-maker, trainer and human rights activist from Gujarat. Community correspondents are paid a stipend of 1,500-2,000 for each video they produce. For each “Impact Video", or a video that brings direct change to the community, they are paid 5,000.

Once a short film—usually less than 5 minutes in duration (that takes four to 10 days to research and shoot)—is made by a community correspondent, it is shown locally to the community and government officials. These videos can be seen online on VV’s website and are also fed to mainstream television channels and social networking sites. One challenge for VV is the problem of Internet connectivity in rural areas. Moreover, they are not able to air their videos “live" since they don’t have their own news channel. They do, however, outsource their videos. Some have been picked up by news organizations like Tehelka, IBN7 and Headlines Today.

VV aims to have at least one correspondent in each of India’s 671 districts by the 2019 general election. “We have worked in Brazil for two years and we plan to expand our presence to other countries like Indonesia, Kenya and Pakistan in the near future," says Mayberry.

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10,000 can help them to

• Make a video that will enable the community to mobilize for its rights.

• Buy one media kit that includes a video camera.

If you volunteer, you will

• Make a short film about a community correspondent, on the way she solves her community issues.

• Organize screenings made by a community correspondent in your college or neighbourhood.

Recent donors

• Oak Foundation

•Ashoka India

• United Nations Development Programme

• Poorest Areas Civil Society (Pacs) Programme, UK

To contact Video Volunteers, visit www.videovolunteers.org, @videovolunteers.