09 Feb 2020  |   04:20am IST

Making video makers the might of India's villages

Moira based and USA born Jessica Mayberry of Video Volunteers a revolutionary media organisation of video volunteers, has been named the winner of the 2019 Eva Haller Women Transforming Media Award, an annual international prize that recognises outstanding women change makers through film. VV, one the world’s largest alternative media platforms, trains people in the most marginalised communities to become video journalists using media to drive change. The journey of her life in New York and London, studying in the best educational institutions to coming to work in Ahmedabad and finally Goa, her home now, is one of change. And that in turn has led to the journey of transformation of so many young people to lead stronger lives and becoming amazing video journalists
Making video makers the might of India's villages



Quiet Moira is home to a quietly-determined harbinger of

change—Jessica Mayberry.

You may not have heard of this soft-spoken, New York native, but chances are you’ve heard of her impactful co-creation, the non-profit Video Volunteers (VV). It’s what every prime time television news viewer hopes mainstream journalism could be—relevant to the real issues that affect people and a medium of change.

Earlier this year Jessica added the 2019 Eva Haller Women Transforming Media Award to her many accolades for VV. This annual prize recognizes outstanding women change-makers through film.

And yet, mass media as a platform for social change wasn’t what this 42-year-old had in mind when she started her career.

Jessica’s bio-data lists big-name American media houses, including CNN and Fox News. Read it carefully and you’ll see that most were short stints. She has no qualms stating in it that her five months at CNN saw her ‘logging footage, welcoming guests, making coffee’.

These trysts, she says, were crucial to cement her inherent calling.

The older daughter of Francesca Kress, a psychologist, and Jack Mayberry, a lawyer by training and an investment management professional, Jessica and sister Claudia were born and raised in Manhattan and studied at New York’s 125-year-old, private, all-girls’ Spence School.

“The school was very progressive, very liberal. We were made to think of identity, race, the privileges we take for granted. My school put me on the path of wanting to make a difference,” says Jessica.

Ironically, she got her real taste for mass media while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in French and Modern History from Oxford University. England, incidentally, was only her second solo journey living outside America, having spent a year during school at France’s international boarding school, L’Ermitage.

During a break in her first year at Oxford, while back home in New York, she did a three-month internship with New York One News. She assisted the 5am reporter with interviews, shoots and field productions.

It changed her thinking. “I saw life that was so very different from what I was used to. Covering say a murder that has happened 5 miles from where I lived. That’s a reality I had missed. It made me want to become a journalist,” says Jessica.

Over the years, this stint also shaped her perspective for VV—“Unlike a CNN that has 24 hours to cover an entire nation, here was a news channel that had 24 hours to cover just one city. People were really attached to it because it covered their issues.”

Back in Oxford, she joined the fledgling college radio, Oxygen Radio. As editor and anchor she raised issues, including the exclusion of women from Oxford’s several all-boys’ drinking societies clubs, some hundreds of years old.

Her efforts taught her that she had the tenacity to stick by issues she felt strongly about and to handle the often uncomfortable outcome. “It’s the undercurrent of the VV philosophy. Stand up for what you feel strongly about and especially those things that touch your life personally,” says Jessica.

She also felt strongly about India’s poverty and developmental issues, which is why instead of joining SAIS John Hopkins University for her Master’s degree, she came to Gujarat to work with SEWA on a W. J. Clinton American India Fellowship.

Her 10 months at the NGO saw her develop a video communications strategy and teach grassroots fieldworkers to “think like filmmakers”. It also saw her inherent calling take shape and find a destination.

“I have always believed that I will learn more about myself if I am among people who are different from me,” says Jessica.

In love with Goa—VV operates from Anjuna—Jessica, with her work partner and husband, documentary filmmaker, Stalin K, are raising their sons, Jahan (9) and Pax (6), in Moira.

The boys’ names, which mean ‘universe’ and ‘peace’, are the couple’s effort to counter the father’s infamous eponym. “When your father’s name is Stalin you want to put a stake in the ground for world peace,” says Jessica.

Jessica speaks good Hindi and Stalin, whose first languages are Gujarati and Malayalam, speaks Hindi with their children. “We believe it is very important to speak the main language to get to understand a country better,” says Jessica, who also speaks French and Spanish.

Passing on to the children values she was raised with—to experience cultures other than one’s own—the family travels once a year to villages where VV has its community correspondents.

“They all live in really beautiful, interesting places and it is incredible to see India through their eyes,” says Jessica. “It shows our children the real world too and now they are old enough to remember these moments.”

Jessica’s also doing her bit for Goa. “VV is about community media and in Moira our family is getting to practice community living by trying to be as involved as we can with the local panchayat—an underutilized system to make any community better—to address issues like garbage.”

Identifying garbage and illegal constructions as Goa’s big issues, she says both can be tackled through people’s participation. “There’s plenty of media coverage of issues in Goa, but what is lacking is easily accessible information on how a concerned citizen can do something about it.”

Towards this end, www.actforgoa.org, a platform for concerned citizens, where information on laws, volunteers, resources, etc, can be found and shared, is being fine-tuned with a number of different Goa-based change-makers.

“The question is will Goa still be beautiful 10 years from now?” asks Jessica, adding, “There’s a need for people to take action now. All it takes is knowledge and time. I want to put more of my time in the next few years into working on Green issues in Goa.”


Iddhar Udhar