In Liberia, a country where radios and televisions are luxuries most people cannot afford, one enterprising journalist has found a way to get daily news and information to Liberians. Alfred Sirleaf founded an innovative newspaper, The Daily Talk.
The paper is Alfred's answer to the misinformation he says caused Liberia's brutal civil war. His innovation is to write it up each day on a blackboard in the centre of the capital, Monrovia, accessible to all.
Witness goes behind the scenes of The Daily Talk, following the tireless Alfred in his pursuit of news and getting to know some of the readers who make the newspaper a central part of their daily routine.
|Filmmaker's view: David Lale
I spent much of my time in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, loitering on a traffic island amid the dust and fumes of Tubman Boulevard. As it happens, this turns out to be a good vantage point to watch the world go by: presidential motorcades, boda-boda cycle taxis, Chinese construction machinery, liveried NGO vehicles and UN Land Cruisers trundle by, as well as the tide of pedestrians flowing into town in the morning and back to the shanties at sundown. All of Monrovia passes here. And on their way, many stop to read about what is going on in the world at The Daily Talk, a chalkboard 'newspaper' displayed on the side of a decrepit wooden shack.
I had recently produced a documentary project about Nairobi's 'jua kali' culture, the ingenious solutions that the city's slum dwellers find for the demands and difficulties of slum life, from inexpensive shoes fashioned out of old tyres and kerosene lamps from coffee cans, to bootlegged electricity and jerry-rigged water supplies.
So when I heard about a hand-written news service in Liberia's capital it struck a chord as very much part of the same do-it-yourself spirit.
This street news service is the brainchild of Alfred J Sirleaf, a tireless dynamo of a man who lists founder, proprietor, editor-in-chief and principal correspondent among his job descriptions at The Daily Talk.
He is on a mission to provide daily information on local, national and international issues - free of charge - for a community that might otherwise not be able to access or afford the news.
I set out to document Alfred's work - but more than this I found his homespun news agency offered a window onto everyday life in Liberia at a critical time of change.
"The legacy of the war created poverty, hardship. It is this war that prompted the creation of The Daily Talk. I saw the need of people wanting to be informed but there was no means of getting information, so the idea of the board came to me, The Daily Talk newsboard, the chalkboard newspaper. I believe that people should be informed of what is happening."
- Alfred J Sirleaf, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Talk
While the world's media waited for a verdict in Charles Taylor's war crimes trial, Liberia was gearing up for its next presidential elections and life in the capital was at last returning to normality following 14 years of civil war.
As I hung around Alfred's traffic island on Tubman Boulevard I met some of the passers-by that depend on him for their news: Michael, a former child soldier who makes a living selling souvenirs to international aid workers; Nathan, a trainee pastor striving to build a new church; Kormassa, a single mother who juggles nightshifts at the hospital with raising her children; and Larry, who teaches the pupils at Hope School for the Deaf how to fend for themselves.
These characters, who I happened to meet as they stopped by Alfred's shack to read the day's news, tell their own stories in this documentary, and if this random sampling of Monrovian society is anything to go by it is clear that Liberians do not have time to dwell on the past - they are busy making the best of the present and dreaming of the future.
While the global media too often define Liberia in terms of the tragedy of the recent civil war, from its street-level perspective The Daily Talk describes a busy, hopeful nation in the process of renewal.
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