Building Blogs of ASEAN Social Bonding

Abroad, my sentimental friend Abdul Razak, a fair-skinned Indonesian, liked to quip that he is an Asean Man.

He says: “When I am in Singapore I passed for a Chinese; in Vietnam as a Vietnamese, in Philippines as a Filipino, in Laos as a Laotian; in Thailand as a Thai and in Malaysia as a Malay,”

You see Razak was for many years the Permanent Secretary of the Confederation of Asean Journalists (CAJ). Razak  felt a special affinity with fellow journalists in the region. He was ahead of his time.

CAJ itself was advocating a Press freedom-with-responsibility model, aligning with the  Association of South-East Asian Nations(ASEAN) efforts to forge a regional identity.

Founded on 8 August 1967  against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and made up of a mosaic of communist, military dictatorships and democratic political systems, ASEAN is on course to realize a vision of a EU-style community by 2015.
Yet the milestones of the past 45 years, said analyst, have been credited to governments with the media and civil society as supporting cast.

But now new media is opening the way for citizens and NGOs to take bolder steps in forging stronger people-to-people bonds.
One such initiative came out of a workshop on Social Media in Community Bonding hosted by the Asian Media & Information Centre(AMIC) in Singapore. It is to set up a website devoted to stories and video footing of social problems affecting the 500 million people in different ASEAN countries.

A preview of such a master online platform at the AMIC workshop took the form of presentations on how social media helped citizens cope with life’s struggles.
To start with, imagine seeing a group of boys and girls trudging through knee-high mangrove swamp  to get to school every day. Worst, when the tide is up, they even have to swim their way there, school bags tied to their bags.

That was the lot of the children of seaweed farmers living in the Layag-layag village, 2 km from shore, off Zamboagan City, and 500 km south of Manila, Philippines islands…till their plight was highlighted on Facebook.

Jay Jabonetta, a media Philippines–Getting kids out of water officer at Presidential Office, was “shocked” to learn about it from a volunteer, Juljima Gonzales, during the 2010 Presidential election campaign.

“I had a sleepless night thinking about the children,” said Jay. The next day he acted.
“I put up photos on Facebook and asked, ‘How could we help?’

Buy them a boat, friends responded. Within a week they raised US$1,600 through online appeals. With logs donated by a government agency, Jay and friends got a local boatman to build a speedboat, in the name of gotong-royong or community spirit.
In five months on 22 March 2011 the Yellow Boat began ferrying the village kids to and from school.

“The role of the new media is to empower people and use stories to inspire them to act to solve their problems,” said Jay, who initiated the Philippines Funds for Little Kids,

A heart-warming case of what citizen journalism can do for local community bonding.

Next, we see how a 40-something freelance journalist has made it her mission to help the elderly age gracefully and actively.

Old ages need not be a wintry passage, instead it could have all the promises of a second spring. Eleanor Yap, a freelance journalist has started an online magazine, Ageless, to help give retirees a new lease of life.

The US-educated Malaysian who has made Singapore her home, said she took up the cause beause she felt aged folks were  put in the back burner in the face of society’s accent on youth.

“We need not feel depressed about growing old–with its attendant weaknesses and illness.”

Eleanor knows better as her mother is being treated for kidney cancer. She interviewed  the doctor treating her mother and featured the story in Ageless. Sharing such travails of the old is but part of Ageless agenda. Upbeat features like that of a Singaporean migrant of England who goes skiing at age 50s is the leit-motif of Agless-to foster the spirit of active

Ageless has around 1,400 hits a month, telling Eleanor she needs to make her portal better known. Indeed, she has just redesigned her webpages to make them more  informative, with health and finance tips.

“Singaporeans age 18 to 44 have 84 per cent Facebook penetration but most senior citizens go online mainly to see photos of friends and family and made new friends,” she said. Eleanor hopes senior netizens will turn to Ageless online to do more.

Finaly, we look at how citizen journalists in Thailand have made an impact during the  flood disasters last year. In Thailand the 2011 floods that overwhelmed outlying areas of capital Bangkok and various provinces in the North and North-east proved to be a catalyse for citizen journalists. The tepid reporting on the flood situation by the mainstream media led citizens to post pictures and stories about the floods in their own neighbourhood.

“Friends said, ‘Who could we depend upon for flood warning?” said academician Paphol. “My house was going to be flooded within hours but information from the Bangkok Flood Alleviation Centre was not available and came too late.”

Even after the government media gave the public faster access to the information, there was still anger at the lack of real-time news. However, flooded areas could be seen on satellite photos and there was no way you could hide the fact.

“I knew one month ahead that my house would be flooded. I expected water to come near my house and don’t have to wait for the government media to inform me about it.”

Facebook users stepped into the void to highlight the problems and needs of residents in the flood-hit areas.

On Twitter, people were saying, “Tell me fast, if you have news on the flood.”
Their numbers rose 130 per cent to 2.5 million compared to before the flood according to Paphol.
“It reflected the people’s unhappiness with the way the government handled the flood crisis,”  he said.

Even companies ventured online to offer discounts for materials people needed for flood control. “Before this, some brands monopolized the market. During the floods, new brands of goods entered the market and new companies emerged using people’s faces to promote their products,” said Paphol.

These three case-studies are as inspiring as they are instructive. They highlighted the use of social media to create awareness of a problem. Next, they helped rallied people to act on their own rather than wait for governments to ease their plight.

Writ large on the master portal, such airing and sharing of national adversities will touch hearts and minds, the early stirrings of Asean fellowship. Something my fellow journalist Razak felt in his travels through the neighbour.

One Response to Building Blogs of ASEAN Social Bonding

  1. Pingback: 아세안(ASEAN)은 어떻게 소셜미디어로 교류하는가 « All « 아시아엔

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