Strassenfeger: A media project that helps the poor
By Phyllis D. Osabutey
Sometimes, during political seasons such as the period leading to elections, new newspapers spring up just to promote the political agenda of one political party or the other. These papers often fold up after the elections.
There are hardly any newspapers established only to promote the cause of the poor, although almost all news media have some segments devoted to pro-poor issues.
However, a street newspaper, Strassenfeger, exists for the benefit of homeless people in Berlin, Germany.
The newspaper is published by a charitable organisation called Mob Association, which is the abbreviation of “Obdachlose machen mobil” or “Homeless People in Action”. The newspaper comes out twice a month, on Mondays. It has a circulation of about 20,000, and is sold by about 1,000 registered homeless people.
The Chairman of the board of Strassenfeger, Mr. Jan Christian Ghattas, explained that initially, the homeless people who sold the newspaper were not registered. However, with time, the people wanted an identity, and so they are now registered by the newspaper.
Unlike other regular newspapers that are distributed through stores, Strassenfeger (German for “Road Sweeper”) is sold directly by the homeless people at train stations, shopping malls and other public places. The homeless people, who buy the newspaper at 60 cents, sell it for 1.50 Euro. They keep the profit for their daily upkeep.
The idea is to provide them with an opportunity to earn their own money. This is why they tell people at the places where they sell the newspaper that they are doing this to make a living in a dignified way, rather than beg for money, or be dependent on social benefits.
According to Mr. Ghattas, allowing the poor to sell the publication “gives them a feeling that they can also work to earn their own money.”
The 60 cents they pay for the newspaper is used to pay for the publishing cost. This is particularly helpful, because the newspaper does not benefit from state support, but only survives through private donations, Mr. Ghattas said.
Though the publication has a professional editor-in-chief, it does not have professional journalists. It mainly receives articles from volunteer writers, while some of the homeless people also contribute articles occasionally.
The paper targets readership among people between the ages of 25 to 55 years. Thus, it focuses on topics of poverty and problems of housing shortage regarding social, cultural and political aspects. It also covers general news and music for variety.
Through these articles, the publishers hope to attract the attention of the people who are sympathetic to the situation of the poor.
Some of the challenges the newspaper faces include little or no money at all from adverts. This is because Strassenfeger does not have the personnel to handle advertisements. Mr. Ghattas said they had a few contacts in some companies. But, often when the companies relocate, they are unable to maintain contact.
Another challenge, he mentioned, was that the newspaper did not have a good image in the eyes of the public. This is because it is sold by the homeless “who sometimes smell, some are known to be drug addicts, and others look untidy and too tired,” he said.
However, he and his colleagues were working hard to change the perception of the public towards the newspaper, so that people would become interested in buying it.
As to why the newspaper was not seeking assistance from the government, he said it was to maintain its independence in the way it operates to help the homeless.
There is another street newspaper in Berlin called Motz. However, Mr. Ghattas said the Motz does not pose any serious competition to them, because it focuses only on the topic of homelessness, and is based in a different part of the city.
The Strassenfeger-project also runs a shelter for homeless people at a very low rate of 1.50 Euro per night. This shelter has ten beds for men and seven beds for women. A person can live in the shelter for a maximum period of eight months.
Additionally, it has a café where food is sold at cheap prices, and poor people other than those who work with the newspaper can also buy from the cafe.
Indeed, this is an initiative to help the poor. One can only hope that with time, the general public will come to understand and appreciate the work of Strassenfeger and help it support the homeless.
Also, as the Ghanaian media landscape expands, one hopes that in the future, initiatives such as the Strassenfeger-project would be replicated to further advance the cause of the poor in society.
Long live Ghana, long live Africa.
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