Tag Archives: MIJ

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.

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.

Dumping grounds fast becoming residential areas – but without the clean-up

By Nina Lex, Timothy Banda, Arthur Cola Mvuta, and Glitter Ndovi

A garbage filled river outside Blantyre’s main market. Photo by Nina Lex.

As Malawi becomes one of the world’s fastest urbanizing countries, more and more Malawians are being pushed off their land and forced to live in areas used as dumping sites, known as “kuntaya”.

Although one of the least urbanized nations in Africa and with a population of just 13 million, the United Nations forecasts that by 2050 this number will double, forcing many rural dwellers into urban settlements in search of better economical opportunities.

Only 20 per cent of the national population lives in urban areas; however, since 1998, the urban population has increased by 63 per cent. The government has attempted to set up small towns, such as the informal settlement of Misesa located between Limbe and Blantyre, to divert rural-urban migrants away from major cities. But these areas have grown into slums, according to a report by Mtafu Zeleza Manda, an expert in urbanization who helped establish the Malawi Urban Forum and the Malawi Award for Human Settlements.

According to Manda’s report, poor access to water and sanitation means that dumping areas and slums pose numerous health concerns for residents, as they become a breeding place for pests and disease.

A survey done by the Ministry of Health shows that these areas are at high risk for diarrhea, especially in the rainy season because drinking water is often contaminated by garbage.

Water and sanitation in urban areas in Malawi, where over 60 per cent of the population lives in informal settlements – also known as squatter settlements or slums – falls under the public health department. However, government agencies are reluctant to provide basic services to informal settlements because they feel that this would encourage their development or growth.

According to the Blantyre City Council public relations officer, Luzana Khanga, dumping sites are located away from areas where people live so they can be easily monitored.

“We are trying as much as we can to help the people living in these areas, because cleaner conditions where people live will decrease cases of diseases in hospitals, thereby reducing the money spent on buying drugs,” says Khanga.

Khanga claims that people move into these areas illegally putting themselves in danger because of toxic garbage and water-borne disease. However, residents of these areas argue that they have been forced to move to dumping zones because of a shortage of land to settle on.

Students also miss school because of poor sanitation in schools.  According to The Nation newspaper, in the Mchesi area of the country’s capital city, Lilongwe, two schools remained without toilets for five years, causing student to use the nearby woods, which subsequently led to a high drop-out rate among female pupils.

Only 10 per cent of Blantyre’s, Malawi’s commercial center, population live in homes connected to sewers lines. While only 8 per cent of Lilongwe’s population is connected to sewers, the country’s third largest city, Mzuzu, has no sewer lines.

In 2008, the then Foreign Affairs Minister Joyce Banda said that Malawi had already surpassed the Millennium Development Goals target related to water and sanitation, which had aimed to provide 74 per cent of Malawian with access to safe drinking water by 2015. As of 2006, 75 per cent of Malawi already had access to clean water.

“At this rate our projection is that by 2015 about 94 percent of the population will have access to sustainable water sources,” Banda said.

However, contained within his report, Manda argues that Malawi has a long way to go in order to meet the MDG definition: to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.