Category Archives: IYIP Educational Officer

Zen and Goats: Last impressions of the little things in Tamale

I checked my phone – 9:30am. Half an hour had passed since my last meeting in Tamale was due to start. No sign of the big boss. Having waited up to 2 hours for meetings to start in the past, this was business as usual. This was my last day in Tamale and after a quick meeting with the principal it was back to packing, writing reports and saying goodbyes. I had planned for every moment to count, but this being Ghana, you have to go with the flow of the unexpected.

Rather than roll my eyes and carry on counting the goats in the courtyard, I figured this moment of calm in the warm Tamale sun on the balcony at my school was a keepsake of the bureaucratic tango of meetings in Ghana. “Remember this,” I whispered to myself.

“I am SOOOO sorry!”

I turned as I heard feet pounding and giant palms slapping the metal railing up the dusty staircase to the balcony I was leaning over.

“I had a problem with some guests. You know how they are, always rushing you around.”

It was the big man on campus, Al-Hajji Razak Saani, the recently appointed principal at the IIJ. I like Al-Hajji – he joined the school as principal at the same time I was preparing to leave.  I was gutted to have met such a welcoming man only to leave a few weeks later.  A man of the world, he spent much of his time in the US studying Communications, and the way he so authentically said “Chicaaaago” always cracked me up.

I assured him it was no problem. It had rained heavily the night before and the breeze was cool on the skin. I could have stood on that balcony for much longer, contently playing the tapes from my last six months in Tamale. But it was time for business.

Dusting off the couches with a flick of the rag, we sat down and asked each other about our families, the last meals we took and if our houses had survived the rains. All the boxes were checked.  I made a move for my bag and told him I had a gift. I handed over the tactile culmination of my time at the school: a curriculum document and guide for the jhr chapter for the next semester.

“I’ve been working on this for a couple weeks and I think it could be really useful for the school and the chapter. You guys can reference it and keep up the amazing work you’ve started.”

He brushed the cover with his hands and turned to take mine. I was taken aback but held on to see where he was going.

“You have given us so much. This book is so important to us, I can’t thank you enough.”

Being someone who is almost allergic to one-on-one praise, it was all I could do to squirm in my seat and just return the sentiments. I made a move to open up the book and walk him through it but his giant palms pressed it firmly shut.

“This program you are working on, I can’t thank you enough for the vision you have given our students. The worst thing in the world I could imagine would be to have this momentum come to a close.”

“So would I,” I said.

A montage of our workshops, brief moments in the hall, laughter, taps of chalk on board all came flooding back to me. I would have burst into tears if I hadn’t  bitten my lip so hard. “You guys have given me more than anything I could have asked for,” I stammered. “If you can keep this program going, then we will have all done our jobs.”

“I will do just that. Now tell me about this curriculum thing,” he said.

Just like the breeze on the deck and the taking of someone else’s hand in an unscheduled moment of zen, it’s the little things that have taught me can bring the biggest impact. While there was many a moment I was unsure of my impact, of what I were here to do, I’ve learned from my time in Ghana that no act is too small. Just as much, it has been in the little things, the little gestures and comments that have lead me to believe that jhr is making an impact on the lives of those it works with. Not always as grand and not always in the manner you expect, but if you keep your eyes and ears open like every good journalist should, you’ll see it.

Empowering Malawian women one seed at a time

Across Malawi, 5000 women have been trained by Annie Bonomali, a mother of six who’s been involved in making products such as soap, jam and oil out of tree leaves and seeds. What started out to be a family business in 1994 rapidly evolved into making Malawian women financially independent.

“In 1998, the International I foundation called and asked me to train my fellow women in soap & jam making, mushroom growing and oil processing. Overall, I’ve trained 5000 women in 26 districts. Nchisi and Karonga are the only districts I haven’t been too”, explains Mrs. Bonomali.

Even though she studied tailoring, over the past 20 years it’s the Jatropha, Baobab, Moringa and Neem trees that provided Mrs. Bonomali with the sufficient source of income to send her children to university.

This is why she agreed to train her fellow women when she was approach by several NGOs and later registered her own business as Khumbo oil Refinery and Consultancy.

“I wanted them to improve their lives and depend on themselves not on their husbands, uncles or brothers. Life will be hard for these women if the people they depend on end up dying. In the villages a lot of women rely on their husbands to take care of them”,  she says.

Currently 150 women work hand in hand with Mrs. Bonomali in the Michiru district. It takes five hours for the women to extract ten liters of oil from the baobab seeds. Every 250ml bottle is sold out for 500 kwacha, which amounts to two Canadian dollars.

However, Mrs. Bonomali admits that involving women in generating income activities is challenging since they are most likely not to have access to loans. Another issue is that many men refuse to see their wives being empowered; being afraid that earning their own money will make them too independent.

Like mother, like daughter

While many women in Malawi were recently initiated to the business culture, it is not the case for Mrs. Bonomali who admits that her business idea came from her grandmother. After practicing tailoring for 14 years, she thought it was time for her to follow the path of the woman who had inspired her own mother before her.

Grounded moringa leaves sold has nutrient for the people with diabetes

“My grandmother and my mother were both business women. They had a garden were they pound ground nuts and sell the powder”, she explains.

Even though Mrs. Bonomali grew up surrounded by business women and has been exporting her products to foreign countries such as Japan for more than 20 years now, the inaccessibility to funds makes it very difficult for her business  grow as she would like.

“If I receive an order today, the bank will still refuse to grant me the loan that will help me process it and won’t giving me any reason for declining it. Most people here in Malawi do things politically. People look at you, who you are, who you are supporting politically and if your business is profitable to them”, she admits.

Though Mrs. Bonomali is yet to reach her goal of expanding her business, time and commitment enabled her to get her products known across the country. While her products are available in various drugstores around Blantyre, she admits that word of mouth remains so far the best advertising to help sell her products.

Experiencing the “real” Malawi: A media development journey in Nancholi.

 

Women in Mchokera are patiently waiting to access the clinic.


A month ago I was approached by George Nedi, projects coordinator at the Nancholi Youth Organization (NAYO), to produce a short video presenting their community-based programs related to youths and HIV/AIDS.

Among their many projects, one I remember most is the construction of a clinic in Mchokera, a village located about three hours walking distance from the downtown Blantyre, in order to ease the access to health services.

The beauty of NAYO is that most of their employees, including George himself, are volunteers devoting their free time for the development of their own community.

When I first visited Nancholi I was by myself  and I rapidly realize that even though I could help, the potential of that project was bigger than me taking a few hours of my personal time to realize a ten minutes long video.

Students from MIJ are interviewing a volunteer

Working in media development, you often come across the question of effectiveness and sustainability of your work. How could I combine my work as an rights media educational officer and help NAYO all at once? That’s when I decided that I wasn’t going to do that video: Instead, I would train several of Malawi Institute of journalism (MIJ) students in documentary filmmaking and have them, with my supervision, produce the documentary from the script development to the video editing.

Seven students signed up to join the project where their time and investment were offset by a transportation & lunch allowance given by NAYO. After a week of production I had to admit that I could have never done this project without them.

Never could have I spoke to a woman digging a canal to irrigate a community garden where maize, cabbage, egg plants & green pepper will be plant in order to sustain Nancholi if it wasn’t from my students. On the other hand, never could MIJ students film and produce their 1st video work if it wasn’t from me and never could NAYO have gotten this video for their potential donors if it wasn’t from us.  Exchange. I like to think this is what development work is all about.

MIJ students with George and Watson (two volunteers of NAYO)

One thing  I didn’t know then that I know now is that by agreeing to take in charge this project, I also paid myself a one week long VIP pass into what I know now to be the “real” Malawi.
Above the language barrier created by my practically non-existing knowledge of Chichewa, I also realized that despite the fact that I’ve been living in Blantyre for almost five months now; I am still a novice to Malawian culture and an outsider to the rural region where 80% of the population is located.

I remember many of my Malawian colleagues at MIJ telling me: “If you haven’t been into the villages, you haven’t seen Malawi.”

I now know they were right: You haven’t truly experienced Malawi until you’re in a village, dancing to the sound of the drums or sitting on the floor eating Nsima with your bare hands.  This was last Monday. Like one of the student told me on that very same day: “Ndiwe, M’malawino.”  I’m a “Malawian” now.

Queuing for treatment: “In Malawi if you’re diagnosed with cancer, you die”

Being one of the 24 countries with no radiotherapy machine and limited access to medications, Malawi’s health care system has very little to offer to patients battling with Cancer.

“In Malawi if you’re diagnosed with Cancer, you die,” says Yohannie Mlombe, hematologist at Malawi’s College of Medicine in Blantyre.

The Ministry of health external follow budget allows public hospitals to request transfer of cases that cannot be treated in Malawi to the neighboring countries.

“These patients who are referred to other countries are benefiting a full package from the government to sponsors all the requirements for the external trip,” explains Chifundo Chogawana, chairperson at the Cancer association of Malawi.

Unfortunately, these demands have to be submitted to a committee and patients are most likely to end up on the government’s waiting list.

“All the patients I had put on the list eventually died,” explains Mlombe.

At 24 years old Peter Kaunyolo was one out of too many of Dr. Mlombe’s Cancer patient to be placed on the government’s external follow list for several months in hope to be treated for Acute Leukemia.

“In the past, patients who have benefited quickly from the external follow allocation are the ones who have been backed up by someone who is highly respected in Malawi like politicians. If you have no backing, you could be on the waiting list forever,” admits Thumba Mhango, Chief Administrator at QECH.

The now deceased young man lost his battle on March 10, 2012 after his family was asked by Queen Elizabeth’s Central Hospital (QECH) to contribute half of his 2.4 million Kwacha treatment fees in order to put in place an intensive care self-contained room, even though Malawi’s health care system is to be entirely funded by the government.

“Health system in Malawi is public and funded 100%. It is free on paper and everyone should get basic drugs but this health treatment is too expensive,” says Mlombe.

Even though Malawi’s Cancer association conducts various awareness campaigns they do not possess the necessary funding to proceed with a national data collection which means that most Cancer victims in Malawi are unaware of their health situation. But screening for Cancer is not priority since the country has no treatment to offer.

“If we screen and realize the patient has Cancer what can we do about it? People don’t know what’s happening but even if we catch them in an early phase we have nothing to offer,” concludes Mlombe.

According to him, approximately 2000 Malawians die every year from this disease but the Cancer association of Malawi was not able to confirm these numbers.

Many developing Cancers in Malawi are HIV related. It is the case for Kaposi’s sarcoma which is one of the four most common Cancers in the country.

Fighting for the front page: The challenges of environmental reporting in Malawi

In Malawi, parliamentary proceedings and political scandals dominate the headlines and radio waves.  Whether it is a mere press conference or cabinet reshuffling, journalists jump at the chance to report on governmental affairs. The prevalence of political coverage, however, means that other issues are sidelined.

The country’s state of underdevelopment, coupled with intermittent electricity and water shortages, serve as a constant reminder that there is a long way to go in the creation of even the most basic infrastructure.

Undoubtedly, sustainable energy and water management are worthy topics of discussion. Furthermore, clear-cutting in Malawi’s northern region has left large tracks of land barren, and poaching has devastated animal populations in the country’s national parks and game reserves. Nevertheless, such pressing environmental issues remain largely ignored by the mainstream media.

In recent years, a multilateral effort to encourage journalists to cover environmental issues has been underway. Various organizations under the United Nations (UN) banner, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), are behind this push driven by global objectives – namely the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

For the past two years, MIJ FM reporter Anthony Masamba has been a regular participant in environmental reporting workshops.

Masamba explained that at these workshops, journalists are trained to understand the linkages between climate change and a range of issues, from agriculture and health, to transport. Through these sessions “journalists have been imparted with skills that allow them to write good stories from an informed perspective, as most of these journalists have not been trained to report on environmental issues,” he said. While “most of them have knowledge in journalism – they know how to write,” Masamba explained that many journalists have yet to grasp the technical languages and jargon of environment and climate change.

For this reason, the Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) offers an Environmental Reporting class for certificate and diploma-level students. The course aims to equip students with knowledge on major environmental issues facing the contemporary world, as well as stimulate interest in the topic. The curriculum encompasses environmental issues, ethics, policies and legislation, as well as the idea of sustainable development.

MIJ student Patrick Botha believes that workshops and coursework are a valuable means by which to encourage journalists and journalism students to work to ensure a sustainable environment. “[Journalists] have a role to play and it is their duty to inform the masses and expose issues. There is a need to engage these journalists to create an interest in them to report on such issues,” Botha said.

Undoubtedly, journalists play a crucial role in information dissemination, knowledge acquisition and overall awareness. While media houses are a useful outlet for the promotion of sustainable development and campaigning for social change, clear challenges remain.

“Here in Malawi, if a newspaper is to sell, it must have a political story on the front page,” Masamba explained. “No one will buy a paper with a headline that reads climate change impacts development – Malawians want to read about politics. If a paper has politics on the front page, it will sell like hot cakes,” he added.

At the same time, further challenges arise as a result of the hierarchical newsroom structure. Masamba outlined a typical scenario: “I can have an idea for a story. I write my letter seeking financial support but if my request is not approved, what do I do? I just sit because I cannot support myself to go that far to do just a story.”

Botha explained that for journalists concerned with nabbing a front-page byline, there is even less motivation to report on environmental issues. With such an article, “they will probably make the third, fourth, or twentieth-something page.” According to Botha, another deterrent “is the belief that the majority of people will not bother to read [an environmental story] unless they have nothing better to do.”

Despite the workshops and other efforts, Masamba attests that the impact has not been realized due to a lack of political will. “At the moment in Malawi we do not have a climate change policy. This is a policy that would provide guidelines through which climate change issues can best be addressed or integrated into various programs,” he explained.

Masamba believes that the Malawian government’s failure to implement such a policy is unacceptable. “How do they handle climate change issues without having a climate change policy? This is a policy that would provide guidelines, but they don’t have it,” he explained. “We as journalists have our own challenges, but the government, on their part, must show political will,” Masamba said.

As for the future of environmental reporting in Malawi, Masamba has high hopes. His optimism stems from the country’s new leadership, which has already outlined a way forward. For instance, in place of the Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources and Environment the Joyce Banda administration has established the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. “In coming up with this ministry, I think this government has shown political will towards addressing issues to do with climate change,” Masamba said.

Malawi’s motion pictures to contribute to economic development?

“Very few people look at the film industry as a business here in Malawi”, said Shemu Joyah, the director of the film Seasons of a life, during a public lecture given at Blantyre’s sports Club on April 29th.

According to Mr. Joyah, the movie industry is a viable way to generate additional revenues for the country in addition to attracting tourism.

“Nigeria’s film industry started 20 years ago. Today you will be surprised that Nollywood is the second largest filmmaking industry in the world generating revenues of 20 million US dollars yearly”, said Joyah.

For Joyah, Malawi has the potential to create movies up to the industry’s standard but the lack of funding makes it very difficult for any aspiring filmmakers and scriptwriters to make their way into the business.

Malawi’s government has an estimated 20 million kwacha annual budget dedicated to culture (approximately 117 000 Canadian dollars) which is not enough to support the Malawian art industry. Joyah’s first movie, whose cost amounted to $ 60 000 US dollars, was funded using his personal savings.

But the lack of funding is not the only thing holding Malawi’s film industry back: Accessing  information and obtaining the necessary authorisations to film is still very difficult in Malawi. According to Mr. Joyah this is mainly cause by the fact that employees working in public institutions do not want to take any decision because they are afraid they will lose their jobs.

“I went to different institutions like the court, Chancellor College and the airport but they rejected my demands to film in these locations without giving me any good reason”, explained Joyah.

It took Mr. Joyah two months and several phone calls to receive a letter from the national court denying him the right to film inside their premises. However, he admits that the situation as eased a little since his movie was awarded in Canada, Tanzania and Italy.

“To my surprise, the people who couldn’t provide the support at first where willing to when the film received recognition” he explained.

Joyah sees a great future for Malawi’s film industry  internationally even though he admits that art in Malawi is still a “newly born baby”.

“Films offer great inside of our culture. This happens only when we are able to tell our own stories and sing our own songs”, he said.

Seasons of a life is the only Malawian film currently available on the international market. The last fishing boat, Joyah’s second long feature film is to be launched in June.

 

 

 

 

 

Why we do what we do: rights media in Northern Ghana.

“Always leave your office door open, because you never know who will walk in,” a kernel of wisdom from my father that has always stuck with me. So when I arrived at the International Institute for Journalism (IIJ) in Tamale, the first thing I did was prop my door open with a blue plastic chair and wait to see who would walk through.

The power of an open door.

The power of an open door.

2012 marks the first year that jhr has partnered with the IIJ on a rights media program. The IIJ is the first journalism college of its kind in the Northern Region of Ghana. A campus of two rooms, 12 staff and 40 students, their aim is to educate students on professional journalism with a focus on issues specific and often underrepresented in Northern Ghana. While still the younger brother to schools such as the African University College of Communication in Accra, the number of students enrolling is growing steadily at the fledgling school in Tamale.

Mohammed is a first year student at the IIJ and was also the first student to walk through my door. He had come by to pay his fees and check his class schedule and was eager to have a chat when he knocked on my door. A former secondary school teacher and development worker, Mohammed enrolled in the IIJ to add a practical component to his passion for spreading awareness in his community.

“My goal is to give a voice to the voiceless and journalism with a purpose is my best effort to do that,” he informed me.

Only a few months earlier, a small group of IIJ students established a jhr chapter looking to bolster its presence on campus and the role of rights media in the Tamale community. I explained the concept of rights media and that there was a place for him in the jhr chapter if he wanted to join.

Mohammed grinned and placed his glasses on the table. “I knew there was a reason I came into your office today.”

He expressed a great interest in coming to our meetings and the skill set he could contribute to getting the chapter off the ground. Having only met one student so far, I was thrilled to meet such an enthusiastic student eager to get involved with rights media. We shook hands, parted ways and I went back to my desk, buzzing with anticipation for the next five months.

Later that afternoon, there was another knock on the door. Mohammed was back and he had a group of other students in tow. Their professor hadn’t shown up for lecture. Not wanting to waste time, Mohammed rallied the group and brought them to my office, asking me to lead workshop on human rights to give them a head start.

After spending my first few weeks in Tamale while the students were on holidays, I was taken aback by his initiative on his first day. Despite only just arriving on campus, he explained that he was very interested in what jhr was in Ghana to do and was just as keen to get other first year students involved in rights media on campus. I jumped at the opportunity to introduce them to jhr’s rights media pillar PANEL and discuss how we could make the most of this semester. After wrapping up our workshop, they all expressed that they would attend our jhr introductory meeting next week. Mohammed turned and thanked me for taking the time to come and talk to him and I insisted that the pleasure was all mine.

“Same time tomorrow, ok?” he said.

I nodded, trying to hide the ridiculous grin on my face. The work we are doing is meaningless without people like Mohammed  who believe in the cause of rights media. Building rapport and strengthening rights media education is a process, one that is made much more meaningful and enjoyable with students like those at the IIJ.

The success was not leaving the door open, but being inspired by who walked through it.  To see students taking initiative and seeking out knowledge, eager to see what jhr can do for them, that is where we are building success together.

Ghanaian women march to promote peaceful elections

An audio slideshow of 40 women marching for peaceful elections in Tamale, Ghana

On International Women’s Day, 40 women in Tamale, Ghana marched to promote peaceful elections. The paraded the streets of the city, holding signs promoting their cause. They were addressed by Tamale mayor Alhaji Abdulai Haruna Friday. The event was sponsored by the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding and the Swedish International Development Agency.

Photos by Robin McGeough and Gwyneth Dunsford.
Audio by Gwyneth Dunsford.

Linking farmers to markets one SMS at a time

For smallholder farmers across Malawi, crop production is merely half of the battle. The real challenge comes postharvest, when the race begins to access markets and secure a profit before a yield spoils. With no information, determining potential points of sale, buyers and the going rate is a game of chance.

In the past, such uncertainty left smallholders in a vulnerable position. Isolated, and often desperate to make a sale, rural farmers would unknowingly agree to sell goods at rates far below the market price. Furthermore, large portions of harvests would go to waste as smallholders struggled to locate viable markets for their goods.

Malawi’s agricultural productivity has been hampered by this clear lack of transparency. The inability of farmers and traders to access information has led to inefficient supply chains and overall market inaccessibility. Beyond the obvious issue of food security, a vibrant agriculture industry is essential to furthering economic growth, expanding trade partnerships and creating income-generating opportunities in developing countries like Malawi.

Aiming to improve the productivity of Malawi’s agribusiness sector, the Market Linkages Initiative (MLI) was launched in 2009. Sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Famine Prevention Fund, MLI sought to revolutionize Malawi’s agriculture sector by establishing a broad communications network to integrate isolated, rural farmers into Malawi’s regional and national markets – thereby, strengthening food security. In light of the rapid uptake in mobile phone usage across Malawi, communication via SMS text messaging was determined to be the most efficient and cost-effective way to enable access to information.

Today, MLI’s electronic market information system platform informs approximately 4,000 Malawian smallholders of price variances and trends on a weekly basis via SMS text messaging. The platform, Esoko, sends farmers and traders price updates for particular goods – maize, groundnuts, grain, etc. – in their respective marketplace directly to their mobile device. Currently, MLI offers updates from 13 key markets spanning Malawi’s northern, central and southern regions.

When Malawian farmers travel to the marketplace today, they have “a clear location and clear price because of SMS technology,” explained MLI Bridging Activity Chief of Party Rob Turner. “The important thing is that for the first time they have information to base their decision on,” he added.

Knowledge is power and according to Turner, access to information is empowering farmers to make informed decisions on when, where, and how to sell their goods. With real-time information at their fingertips, Malawian smallholders have succeeded in bargaining with traders for better deals, increasing their profits and identifying opportunities for expansion into new markets.

While “the Ministry of Agriculture also provides price information,” USAID Senior Agricultural Technical Analyst Vincent Langdon-Morris noted, “it is often criticized for being obsolete and out of date.” Furthermore, this official government data is not distributed via SMS, or used for commercial purposes. Instead, this information is released to the media who report prices for select commodities via radio broadcast.

However, USAID Communications Specialist Oris Chimenya said that if a smallholder happened to miss a particular market price announcement, there is not a secondary avenue where that information can be retrieved. “There is no website, there is no written material, and there is no other linkage between the farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture,” Chimenya explained.

“There has been discussion, because of literacy issues, that it would be more effective to use radio or send voicemail to farmers,” Turner said. Upon further investigation, however, it was discovered that smallholders generally prefer to receive information via SMS. Essentially, the ability to save and refer back to information, as well as note trends over time, add to the inherent value of SMS technology. Overall, SMS remains the best method for cost effectively reinforcing a message in a timely manner.

According to Turner, “SMS is tailor made for a place like Malawi.” As “the value of SMS goes up the poorer the country,” Malawi’s underdeveloped infrastructure and communications networks create a better climate for SMS projects than countries like Kenya – where 3G networks rule. Interestingly, Turner also noted that rural Malawians have proven to be “willing to spend a very significant amount of their income in order to have a phone because it is so valuable to them.” As for the future of SMS technology in Malawi, Turner believes that this mentality is proof that “there is a lot of room for growth.”