Friday, 14 October 2022

TechCamp Addis Ababa: An Eye Opener For Africa

The Author at the training
 By Paul Shalala

From 28 September to 3 October 2022, I was privileged to be in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa were the United States government hosted a TechCamp whose aim was to train Ethiopian professionals in media literacy.

A TechCamp is a training opportunity which the US Government uses in various parts of the country to teach locals on various skills they need to use locally.

The three-day training attracted over 60 young Ethiopians who came from various fields: journalists, fact checkers, web developers, doctors, engineers and many other professionals.

TechCamp Addis Ababa was held under the theme “Empowering Ethiopians through media literacy.”

10 of us were selected by the State Department to facilitate the trainings.

The trainers came from Lesotho, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zambia and the USA.

I have no doubt that my selection to be a trainer was based on the fasct that for 12 years now, i have been running a blog The Zambian Analyst which has won me several media awards. I have also been a successful social media influencer who is followed by thousands on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LikedIn and many other online platforms. My participation in the the Mandela Washington Fellowship at Syracuse University in New York in 2016 is just the icing on the cake for my career, am a committed US alumnus and this has brought me closer to the State Department and i take part in its activities worldwide.

The fellowship is a flagship youth program run by the State Department which takes 700 African youths annually to various US universities to sharpen their leadership skills over a period of six weeks.

In Addis Ababa, I was given an opportunity to facilitate sessions on the topic “Utilising the Digital Space to tell stories.”

In one of my trainings

In my sessions, I showed how Ethiopian professionals can use their influence on social media to be role models in fact checking, sharing credible information and promoting a culture of using the digital space to promote unity in the country.

Through the lessons, I also showed the trainees how they can tell stories using picture, videos and text from any mobile phone which has access to the internet.

One interesting aspect which most trainees didn’t expect was monetization of digital storytelling.

I took them in various ways they can use their digital platforms like Facebook and YouTube to make money and earn a living.

Of the 10 of us doing the trainings, two were the most popular, due to their unique topics.

On average, a trainer was allowed to have 5 or so trainees but for Josephine Dorado and Mandolin Kahindi, their sessions attracted over 20 trainees at a time.

Josephine, an American citizen who now lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa, delivered lessons on Empathy Engines: Combating Disinformation through Immersive Experiences (webXR).

The trainers and the organisers
Her practical lessons were always over subscribed and on the final day of the training, she gave out an unscheduled one hour training to the participants.

Mandolin was another most sought after trainer.

The Tanzanian journalist came to Addis Ababa with his mobile video equipment and taught the Ethiopian professionals on the topic Mobile Video Production Skills for Journalists: Producing Innovative and Compelling Videos.

Using the training itself as an area for filming, Mandolin allowed his trainees to get videos of other trainings and in the end, he helped them produce compelling videos which they shot, edited and produced on their mobile phones.

This made the trainees learn how they could utilize their mobile phones to tell stories from any part of the country.

Like Josephine, Mandolin also presented an unscheduled one hour training on the final day due to the overwhelming demand from the trainees.

Being the first TechCamp for me, I learnt a lot especially that the organisers showed so much respect and interest for us to share what we do in our day to day lives.

Trainers and Trainees at the Friendship Park

It was an opportunity for me to also see how Addis Ababa had grown from the last time I had visited it a couple of years before.

With the ongoing tensions in Ethiopia, TechCamp Addis Ababa gave the professions tools which they can use to verify fake news as well as report credible and accurate news.

In this era where lies spread faster than the truth, the training helped many Ethiopians know where and how to find credible news which they can rely upon.

In the end, TechCamp Addis Ababa showed me that Africa needs more of such trainings to enlighten the citizens and fight disinformation and misinformation.

If possible, more US Embassies across the continent need to apply to the State Department to host TechCamp in their host countries.

This will help impart more skills in local professionals on the continent.

I went to Addis Ababa with many expectations and when I departed Bole International Airport for Zambia, I was sure that all my expectations had been met.

Trainers having dinner at a restaurant
Thanks to the State Department for this awesome opportunity and if granted another opportunity to facilitate at another TechCamp in future, I would definitely jump on the opportunity.

Thanks to Jenny Beth Aloys (JB) and Manuel Pereira Colocci (Manny) from the State Department for organizing this great event.

Thanks too to the guys at Google Development Group (GDG) Ethiopia, Manuel, Bereket and others who made sure our stay in Addis Ababa was as comfortable and as fulfilling as home.

The GDG team made sure the trainers refreshed their minds every evening by taking them to cultural events and traditional restaurants were they could watch local musicians and dancers perform live on stage.The highlight of those nights was Yod Abyssinia, a traditional restaurant were they sale exotic Ethiopian food enjoyed while one is watching cultural perfomances.

In the end, thanks to all the trainees for sparing their time and listening to us as we trained them, it was such an awesome experience.

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