The outbreak of the coronavirus and the resulting national lockdown, has had a devastating effect for many grassroots activists, community-based organisations (CBOs) and communities in general, who – along with the rest of the world – suddenly had to adapt to a ‘new normal’. This has had a direct impact on activists and the causes they advocate for because grassroots engagement relies on more personal communications. As a result, a number of climate change movements and initiatives in the verge of collapse, especially in communities.

With important meetings now being held mostly online, many South Africans are being left out of the various conversations taking place, nationally. In an effort to eliminate the inevitable exclusions and limited voices from affected communities around the country – as a result of the restrictions put on civil freedoms during the lockdown – Earthlife Africa is offering communities from Limpopo, Gauteng and Eastern Cape an Online Digital Storytelling Workshop for Grassroots Energy and Climate Change Activists.

According to Earthlife’s Nuclear Campaigner Ulrich Steenkamp, “There are so many important decisions being discussed and made online during this period, even while many South Africans don’t have access to the internet. For example, the government wants to bring in more nuclear energy, while Eskom wants an extension on its emissions compliance requirements (from its coal-fired power stations). How are our people supposed to challenge these, if they are not skilled at communicating online?”

“The Online Digital Storytelling Workshop for Grassroots Energy and Climate Change Activists – supported by our partners, Greenpeace Africa and the Life After Coal campaign – is put together to help grass roots activists, working in energy and climate change, learn a few basic principles of telling stories using digital and media platforms,” he says.

“Digital storytelling is crucial, especially in the current situation, to sharing our energy and climate change stories, here and with the global society. The online space must be leveraged to amplify the unheard voices of affected communities and tell their stories, share their experiences with energy and climate change,” adds Steenkamp.

Programs Officer at Earthlife, Thabo Sibeko says, “Since the online space is so overloaded with information, digital storytelling should be seventy percent (70%) what you see and thirty percent (30%) what you say. Therefore, it is important that activists learn how to capture effective images that not only draw attention, but essentially speak for themselves in ways that stimulates dialogue. These images and stories should trigger discussions that will accelerate a just transition to a low-carbon intensive energy sector. We want to know what is happening in their communities, especially during CoVid-19 and the lockdown period.”

He says, “We asked activists to try and visually capture moments and images to show the issues that they face, that the wider public are unaware of. These stories and images will be amplified via social media and will be used to send a message to our leaders, calling for the acceleration toward a just transition.”

In addition to various technical advice, such as how to use your phone settings, the workshops also includes more about how to take images that tell stories and how to amplify success stories using digital media platforms. The team also shared more on how to create awareness through engaging the media, sharing a number of tips to help build good media relationships, while safeguarding against strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) suits.

Earthlife Africa currently has nine (9) digital storytellers from three (3) provinces – Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Limpopo.

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