I love making media with young people. I love watching people tell their own stories, become inspired to create, and lose their inhibitions as they learn how to use equipment. With a little time and energy, a pencil, video camera, or audio recorder can easily be turned into a powerful tool for transformation, connection, and organisation.

I spent Friday May 14th until Monday May 17th at one of El Salvador’s most beautiful beaches making videos with 25 young people from various Progressio partner organisations. People came from various regions in the country, urban and rural, as representatives of youth and women’s organisations that work with Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (UNES), Asociación de Desarrollo Económico Santa Marta (ADES), and Instituto de la Mujer (IMU).

These groups were invited because they have all been involved in media workshops with Progressio development workers and have different levels of experience and practice to share with each other. We also saw this invitation as a way to validate the work they are doing and encourage them to continue.

participants at the media workshop
Participants in the media workshops

We used a methodology that is part of a worldwide artistic movement called ‘Kino’, where video lovers come together in ‘Kabarets’ to make video shorts in little time and with little resources. Kino is based on the values of everyone sharing resources and responsibilities: everyone pitches in towards the necessary steps to make a short – acting, makeup and costumes, scripting and storyboarding, video shooting, and editing.

What I love about this methodology is the value of working with whatever resources you have, and of valuing the entire process of making a video (the collaboration, team work, and fun), not just the final product.

The participants usually make media about issues like climate change, mining, deforestation, youth rights, HIV and AIDS, and sexism. For our youth media-making retreat we decided to make media about whatever subjects people wanted, and I found it interesting that in the end, all the videos people made were comedies: parodies of traditional Hollywood movies, a mummy on the beach, receiving a phone call from God on one’s cell phone, and what would have happened if the whole Kabaret had gone wrong.

On Friday we brainstormed ideas for the videos, formed our groups, and made the scripts and storyboards for our shorts. All day Saturday we spent running around shooting video, trying to coordinate the needs we had for actors and actresses, props and scenery, learning how to use the equipment, and learning a lot about each other along the way! Of course we took time to enjoy the setting, taking little breaks to cool off in the ocean when we could.

Sunday was editing day. Many people hadn’t edited before, so it was a chance to get to know editing programs. Then we lost electricity for six hours. Not having power to continue editing put the pressure on, but at about 10 pm we were all able to present our final videos! The waves of laughter were an affirmation that the process had been a success: we had all learned something and there were hopes and a commitment to continue the friendships that had been forged.

Each person who was at the retreat is a fabulous youth activist involved in important community and national work. To have had the opportunity to give everyone an enjoyable experience to learn, exchange, and express interest in continuing personal and organisational relationships was a gift, and I feel lucky to have been a part of the process and what’s to come.

Maggie Von Vogt is a Progressio development worker in El Salvador


It's great to hear that this approach - working cooperatively - to making videos is happening in Latin America.

What a contrast to professional programme-making in the UK which is intensely hierarchical. A newcomer is allowed to progress only when they have made tea for the next person up the scale for three months.

It's interesting to see what happens when the two approaches meet. Years ago as a cooperative video producer I sat in a meeting with a commissioning editor who couldn't get his head round the absence of clear-cut roles: 'how do you know who'll get the camera out of the van?' he asked. 'We'll just know', came my colleagues' less than reassuring reply.

While his question showed rigidity and a lack of political imagination (likely borne of understandable concern about financial accountability), our response was wholly inadequate. Just because you're treating each other as equals doesn't mean that you don't need to be organised. In fact you need to be even more organised, because nothing's taken for granted... You can't rest easy on someone else making your decisions for you...

Telling your own story - or more properly, having your story heard - is a very empowering thing, so hats off to this project.

All the while you feel that no-one understands your situation or experience, you can feel very disempowered, possibly frustrated or even angry.

Journalists can't tell all the stories in the world. There simply isn't the space, especially with the shrinking of the traditional media and its resources. So it's great to see that people are telling their own tales, if only to a limited circle.

Part of the trick then is to be heard: listening is a skill and one this group no doubt developed during its time together.