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Jessica Mayberry ’95 on Empowering the Marginalized With a Voice

Jessica Mayberry ’95 has lived in India since 2006, when she founded a community media and human rights organization, Video Volunteers. As India’s only reporting network that is focused exclusively on providing broad coverage for the mainstream media from the poorest, most media-dark districts in India, Video Volunteers works to empower the most marginalized with a voice.
Mayberry came to Spence last month as the final speaker in the Spence Perspectives lecture series focused on service and activism.
According to Mayberry, the basic belief that drives Video Volunteers is, “only when no voice is too small or unimportant to be heard can a country be called a democracy.” After a career working at TV news organizations in the United States, she went to India on a fellowship program to train women in the slums to make films about their lives. In turn, she explained, the experience changed her life as well.
“The issue in India is that on any given day, only 2 percent of the coverage in the media has to do with rural India where 70 percent of the people live. Al Jazeera watched the six biggest channels in the country for two months straight and found that only 30 minutes of coverage related to poverty issues,” she explained. “It’s not just enough to change the stories we’re telling. Of course that’s extremely important, but we also have to change who is telling those stories. We have to fight for much more diversity in the media.”
Video Volunteers’ world newswire called India Unheard is covered by community correspondents who are recruited through social movements. Many of them have no previous experience with a computer, cameras or phones, but after 10 days of training through Video Volunteers, Mayberry explained they can become journalists.
“They shoot on simple $60 flip cams and graduate to tablet computers,” she said. “They are also paid for their videos. Despite our name, this is a creative livelihood option. Overall about one in five videos we produce solves the problem the videos are about. Giving people information about what their rights are and providing phone numbers for government officials are vital. At the community level, change is about persistence.”
Videos are distributed through YouTube as well as other mainstream media organizations in India. In addition, the company also holds various discussions surrounding gender.
“We don’t compromise around gender,” Mayberry said. “The network is always 50 percent women. We reject videos from correspondents if they don’t show enough women. Conversations about gender don’t happen unless we make them happen.”
Mayberry explained that Video Volunteers even received a grant to train correspondents to report on patriarchy, such as violence against women, discrimination toward widows, marriage ceremonies and menstruation.
“It’s been interesting because when you get past the visually horrific things that happen, the more you can see the similarities between the female experience everywhere,” Mayberry said.