A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Coffee Eureka.

The search for a decent coffee has finally come to fruition. Welcome to Mozambique.

In coffee growing countries, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, I have been amazed at how difficult it has been to get a good, ground, proper cup. Necafe instant has been the constant. Africafe, equally insipid, comes in second place. Only the brave attempt either. But here in Beira it is different. The real stuff, in a little cafe, on the side of a street. Eureka.

Meanderings in Mozambique

This does not feel like a new country, but a new continent. I am on some strange footing, somewhere between Africa and Europe. The portugese influence is everywhere. Wide, tree lined avenues run to open squares. The language remains the offical tongue. People promenade in stylish dress. There are long, sleepy afternoons. There is a forgotton feel to the place, like as if the Portugese just up and left, forgetting to tell the rest of the world.

I decided to fly from Dar es Salaam to Beira (in the middle of the country, on the coast), where I have come to met a man running a sustainable forestry programme in an area just north of here (more on this soon).

I got here safe and sound, but my bags remained in Tanzania, and trying to get information about when I might expect them has been a test to my patience. It could be Saturday, it could be Tuesday, it could be.. well, whenever. I am finding that time takes on new dimensions here. What you think may take an hour, takes a day. What you think may take a day, takes three. There is an element of just having to go with the flow, and seeing where it takes me. I am hoping it will eventually bring my bags to Beira, and in the meantime, I am off to camp in the forest- just have to find a toothbrush first!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Movies with a Mission

John and Louise Riber are seriously cool folk, and have welcomed me warmly into their home while I am staying to Dar es Salaam. They run an organisation called Media for Development, producing and making socially conscious films and radio shows. The material is produced for an African audience, dealing with African subject matter- and some of their productions have been among the most commercially successful films on the continent.

The thrust behind all their material is to encourage audiences to think more seriously about social issues, giving them scope to explore their own solutions to problems. Take ‘Yellow Card’ as an example. The film, made in Zimbabwe in 2000, tackles teenage sexual health issues; from unwanted pregnancy, HIV/ Aids to abortion and shifts the focus to the role teenage boys play. The tag line, ‘Boys have babies too’, is a comic means of encouraging boys to understand their responsibilities more fully. While the subject matter may seem heavy, the treatment of it is comic- with some hilarious scenes throughout. The music score is similarly vibrant and upbeat and there is some beautiful cinematography. Yellow card won the Jury Prize at the Zanzibar film festival in 2000 and the Los Angles Pan African Film Festival in the same year.

Over the last year in Tanzania, John and Louise have been working on a radio drama series which promotes family planning issues. John is also soon to work with the Ethiopian police force, developing a comic book to promote good governance and is currently working with a team of scriptwriters in Uganda who, through a radio drama series, are promoting rural development issues.

Alongside production, Media for Development also act as film distributors - no point making good films if nobody views them. Films are shown in urban cinema halls and distributed through commercial and grassroots video distribution channels. Dubbing also takes place into local languages. In Africa alone there are 100 million Swahili speakers, and by targeting this market Media for Development have greatly increased their audience.

Both John and Louise grew up in India, both to American parents. They met at the age of five (!), attended the same primary school, became friends, and by the age of 23 were married. University for both was in the States and following graduation they worked as freelance filmmakers in India and Bangladesh for 10 years. However, after an assignment in Zimbabwe, they decided to stay put in Africa, remaining in Zimbabwe for 18 years while raising their three kids. However, due to the political climate in Zimbabwe, and with inflation on a vertical trajectory, doing business became impossible. It was a tough decision but they decided to relocate to Tanzania- having to leave behind a state of the art recording studio. They talk with frustration and sadness about Zimbabwe now. It was home to them, but like one third of the population, they had little choice but to leave. One thing for sure is that the Tanzanian film industry will be all the better for it.

Dar oh Dar.

There is a small buckle in my wheels. I have been in Dar es Salaam a few days, am feeling pressed for time, but transport south of here is harder to arrange than anticipated. Plus there are administrative visa duties which always take longer than expected (in this case a few days longer!). Time to take out my patience, throw in a healthy dash of perseverance- and see what I can learn here!

Rush Hour Zanzibar

The Island Call

Exotic lure. Ancient trading route. Azure seas. The mystery was all too tempting and so a visit to Zanzibar was called for. The timing was excellent, as it coincided with the annual Zanzibar film festival (ZIFF); a hub in the regional cultural diary.

The festival plays host to a wide spectrum of events; film screenings (shown in an outdoor amphitheatre, in a fort- not bad!), critic workshops, music shows, photographic and art exhibitions and literary workshops. This year ZIFF also incorporated a ‘women’s panorama’, two week series of events promoting women’s issues. Topics included ‘Gender Challenges for Women in Leadership Roles’, ‘Women’s Mental Health’, ‘Women’s Entrepreneurship’, and ‘Relationship Skills & HIV Prevention’.

Zanzibar is an interesting mix of the ancient and contemporary influence. The architecture with a distinct Omani and Persian twist. An Indian influence came through the spice trade. Islamic heritage is heard daily through the call to prayer. The majority of islanders are Muslim, and women wear the traditional headscarf, and some, depending on their religious orientation, the Burka- eyes only showing. Henna patterns adorn hands and feet.

The contemporary influence come with the flurry of tourists and the dollars they bring. Touts gather at the ferry port, selling their wares, and far to keen to escort new arrivals to hotels. The main thoroughfare is best avoided if tourist trinkets are not on the cards. But as soon as the white sands beckon, and the sunset does its splendid tricks, and you know it was worth it, so very worth it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Schooling Questions

Take this as a ratio; 1:100 -the average pupil teacher ratio in a government school in Mombasa. In the photo above, this is only half the class.

When visiting a couple of schools in the area, the noise level of 2400 pupils is deafening. Resources are few. Three or four kids on a bench is common. Sometimes there are school books to share but oftentimes the books are locked away, to ‘keep them new’.

Frequently classes are left unattended. Children roam.

The soccer pitch at one school more resembled a small crater.

It is hard to know the level of education being achieved. I hear of kids coming out of school, barely literate. Others don’t make it to the last year, and drop out rates are high.

For the teachers who do make the effort, who remain dedicated and committed, I have unending admiration. And for the kids who turn up, day after day, eager to learn, I hope, really hope, that school does at least serve them some benefit.

This is the reality of education in this country; a reality which has to change if the country is to prosper. ‘When’ and ‘How’ are the questions which urgently need to be asked. And not soon enough in my view.

Crafting their Futures at Bombolulu

Located on the outskirts of Mombasa, Bombolulu craft workshop and cultural centre provides employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities. Currently with a workforce of approximately 180 people, the centre is hive of production- making quality crafts from carvings to jewellery. The workshop is tied into the Fair Trade movement, and much of it revenue now comes from export orders.

To support the workshops, there are a number of ancillary initiatives including a medical clinic, a nursery school for the staff’s children, a school fees support programme and an employee trade union.

The workshops are an initiative of The Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK), Coast Branch.

If ever in Mombasa, I recommend a visit- and if buying crafts, you can be assured of quality products.

Rush Hour Mombasa

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

So, how are you finding them?

It is an obvious question, and I have been getting asked it a lot. The answer is, in many ways.

There are a few global networks which connect and support leading social entrepreneurs around the world. One such network is Ashoka, another The Skoll Foundation and another the Schwab Foundation; each enterprising initiatives in their own right. Through these organisations I have had introductions, and the word spreads. I’ve also had some great support from the Omidyar Network, an online forum which promotes social change issues. From connections there, I have met some interesting individuals, and had offers of places to stay all around the world.

Word of mouth has also been a powerful connector. I get to a city. Meet one or two individuals who I initially planned to interview, ask them for recommendations, do some more research, and soon there is a flurry of opportunities.

It reminds me a little of a game of dominoes. Once the initial pieces are in place, the first push leads to momentum which carries the game through.

Let the games, well, continue.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Coastal Call

13 hours of a bus journey later, I arrived from Kampala back into Nairobi, and got to catch up with a group of Irish volunteers working with an organisation called Suas (the Irish word for ‘up’)

Suas, based in Dublin, works with a number of educational organisations in India and Kenya. Each year they also send volunteers (mostly university students) to work with their partner organisations for the summer months. The programme is designed to promote youth leadership and global awareness among young people in Ireland, while at the same time providing a service to the schools. Over the last few days, I have been meeting the teams in Nairobi and Mombasa.

The programme is a challenging one. Given the large class sizes in Kenya, volunteers can find themselves in front of 100 children, and are required to look for ways in which they can have an impact. It is interesting to talk to both the volunteers and the teachers as they learn, discover and face the realities of education in Kenya.

It can take a few weeks for the teams to settle in, but volunteers are now at a stage of seeing the scope which is available. They take some of the slower learners for extra-tuition, they organise sporting activities and summer camps. They see the potential of a particular child and try to nurture it. All the time their perceptions are being challenged and are changing. It can be a formative time, and a catalyst for many to expand their career, and life, horizons. (I have a slight invested interest in the Suas programme, as I was the programme manager for two and a half years prior to embarking on this project!)

I am now in Mombasa, beautiful Mombasa, and will be in town for a few days. Here the muezzin marks the hours of the day, as the call to prayer to chanted from the minarets around the city. The weather warms. The bright colours of jacaranda bloom line the roadside. The beach, white sands and tropical palms, is in sight from the rooftop. Unfortunately a bout of food poising put a buckle in my wheels for a little while, but momentum in building again, and frankly, there are worse places to get food poisoning!

I am moving South from here- to Tanzania and on to Mozambique, until I reach Capetown for the end of August. Exciting times ahead.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Awakening the Sleeping Genius

Kagadi, a small town in Western Uganda may be off the beaten track, but what is happening there in the form of Uganda Rural Development and Training (URDT), has more than a few things to show ‘mainstream’ development.

‘Awakening the Sleeping Genius Within Each of Us’ heads the administration building, and it is a motto which has filtered into the very fabric of the place. Established in 1987, through the visionary leadership of Mwalimu Musheshe, URDT is based on a core belief that individuals, when connected with their own goals and visions, are motivated to develop both themselves and their environment. Only when the development process moves from ‘reactive’ to ‘creative’, and when people are viewed as ‘active’ rather than ‘passive’, will lasting change take place. URDT facilitates this planning at a village and individual level, and has build up a host of complementary projects to support the vision.

The programmes are designed in a way which demonstrate the inter-relationship between the various development disciplines- health, education, nutrition, sanitation, rural technologies, income generation etc. Included are the following;

-Land and Human Rights Centres- where the local community can gain access to legal information, plus use them as a forum for resolving disputes, such as domestic violence cases and land desertion.
-A community radio station- broadcast to over 4 million people, on which local social issues are discussed. A large body of trained volunteers help to run the station, including pupils from the local schools.
-An Institute for Business, Vocational and Media Studies, involving a whole host of initiatives.. a computer training centre, a demonstration farm, irrigation and solar technologies, bike and car maintenance, carpentry workshops, a mill, a large resource library, an internet café, a ‘green belt’ around the campus and a cultural museum.
- A Girls Secondary School- specifically targeting marginalised and disadvantaged girls in the district, viewing girl child education as an essential leverage point in the overall development process. Currently there are around 250 full time borders on campus.

“We are endeavouring the create a centre of excellence in inquiry, research, documentation, and tapping into the experiences of the rural community to inform our plans, curriculum and interventions’, commented Mwalimu. ‘We started with a view that development can be done differently, from the stereotype of ‘people are poor out there and let us help them out’, to our motto, ‘Awakening the sleeping genius’. Meaning that as a people they have inherent wisdom, they have power within, and what needs to be done is to help them discover that and then unleash that spirit”.

Many, many things impressed me about URDT. One in particular was the girl’s school unique ‘two-generation’ approach to education. It is a place where not only are the girls are educated, but so too their parents. Every term, the girls prepare projects which are relevant to their home and communities. The topic may be anything from business skills to hygiene issues. When their parents arrive at the school, the girls present workshops on the topics. Through this, the benefit of girls education is seen, and attitudes towards gender roles are shifting.

The garden at URDT is also most impressive. Taking a small demonstration plot (the average size of a local holding), they show what can be achieved in the space. They introduce new vegetable varieties to encourage a more varied, nutritional diet. Manual pumps operate. Organic farming and composting are encouraged. Bio-gas is extracted and used to fuel the kitchen. Tomatoes are rotated in the greenhouse.

Sitting with Mwalimu in his round, window-rimmed office ,
‘MBWA’ he says.
‘What?’ I quiz.
‘Management by walking around’.
We laugh.
‘I observe’, he adds. ‘I see what is going on, then I coach’…
‘You see the way we think determines the way we act. If you think you are powerless, then you act powerless. If you think you are powerful, then you act powerful. So that is why we need to move people from just being aware, to take action because they are aware’.

Just then, a cheeky monkey jumps through the window, grabs a lollipop and eats it like a child.

(Mwalimu, Clare, and Jackie Akhello, Director of Programmes at URDT)

Mixed Marraige!

If you are looking for a visual defination of 'juxtapose', come to Hoima, Western Uganda!

The International Hospital- Meet Ian Clarke

I first came across Ian Clarke through a viewing of the ‘Longest River’, when he joined the rafting crew down the Nile (see previous blog ‘Quite Bright and Filming’). Watching him in action, I was impressed by his commentary and observations while passing through the conflict zones of South Sudan, and particularly with his leadership ability within the team. So when I heard about his work in Kampala, I was eager to track him down.

Ian, an Irish medical doctor, originally came to Uganda as a GP and from there set up a rural hospital North of Kampala. His work there showed him the need for high quality medical service provision across the country. He was also eager to show that when it comes to the medical profession that ‘quality’ and ‘Uganda’ can be combined. ‘I decided that my goal was to start a hospital in Kampala and raise medical standards’, he commented. ‘But this time, instead of targeting the rural poor, where I had been working, that I would target the emerging middle income group, and use the money that they pay to upgrade the services and thus effect the overall health services’

So emerged ‘International Hospital Kampala’, a private hospital which provides specialist services in the city. Included are Oncology and Plastics departments, and a nursing school. ‘So it means that you can have a third world country, but it does not mean that it is third rate’, he added-with pride.

The hospital is now at a stage of attracting private sector sponsorship to support a charitable ward in the hospital, so that people who cannot afford the services can still access them. There are also has plans for a medical university, so as to raise the bar on training, and to expand clinical services regionally.

‘The core value is making a difference- and if you are making a difference, you are bringing hope. The ideal of wanting to make a difference, is wanting to multiply ourselves. We are not there just for our service, even making the competition buck up a bit, but we want to take some of the principles we learned and teach other people’.

It has been an intense few years for Ian, who himself has had a battle with illness. I asked him what has kept him going. ‘I have a very strong belief in people, and I think it is my belief in people which enables me to do what I do’, he added. ‘Plus some of it is just determination. You don’t give up and you don’t expect to make huge strides at once. Things happen incrementally, and then you look around in a couple of years, and say, yes, look at what we have done’.

The Solar Solution

The ‘power situation’ in Uganda is giving rise to multiple business opportunities. The sun (in abundance) gives rise to solar power potential- put the two together and you get a timely, environmentally conscious business model.

Blending the two together is exactly what Abhay and Rita Shah have done- and in doing so have been providing the means for solar energy to take off across the country. ‘Ultratec’ supplies solar panels, batteries, back up power systems, invertors (which charge when the mains power is on, and use the power store when it is off). Income from these sales keeps the business running, and in turn provides then with scope to promote solar power and energy efficiency. Ultratec is an active participant is ‘Energy Awareness Week’ in Kampala, and also conducts ‘energy audits’ for companies, to see where they can save on power usage. They have also teamed up with The Shell Foundation to promote solar across rural Uganda.

Abhay grew up in Kenya, and then moved to the UK for his studies. It was there that he met Rita- and they ended up remaining in the UK for 20 years. But a relocation opportunity brought them back to East Africa, and it was there that Abhay, an astute businessman, started seeing the need and opportunity for the growth of the energy sector in Uganda. The country, he explained, is turning to alternative power sources out of necessity. It could take five years for the ‘power situation’ in Uganda to be sorted- and so there is now time for the solar energy industry to establish.

I asked him what it takes to do business in Uganda, and he calmly responded, ‘patience’. And would be recommend it?
‘Uganda still has an enabling environment’, he commented, ‘We have seen that with a little bit of patience, you can get things done. The weather is very good- so we hang around!’

I am tempted to join them!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Diversion to the Falls

There is a 7m wide chasm in rock, where a river doesn’t just run through it- but gallops, surges and thrusts itself forward with an almighty burst of energy. Murchison Falls, in the North West of Uganda is where the Nile knocked every ounce of awe out of me. The noise thunders. The spray drenches. Rainbows hug the cliff edges, as sun and spray meet. This is gravity at its best.

The Falls themselves are nestled in 3840 square kilometres of National Park- part thickly forested, part savannah. The combination has given rise to a plethora of life- elephant, lions, giraffe, crocodile, hippo in abundance, kingfishers, warthog, bush buck…- and the odd tourist.

The sheer volume of natural life astounded me- but so too, the fact that in the middle of it all, the local community gathered, hooked up a satellite dish, connected a TV to a car battery.. and there you have it, England V Portugal, ‘middle of nowhere’ style.