It’s the first day of the working week and there’s a sense of trepidation mixed with exhilaration. Community based participatory research blended with community media practice is no easy task. This is especially the case when you’re setting off with a party of 6 from the School of Media in Brighton and 17 from the School of INFOCOMS in Rongo plus a security guard dressed in British Army olive green, a friendly driver and a growing number of community members we picked up along the way or met when we arrived at our first port of call – the District Chief’s Office in Cham gi Wadu. By the time we arrived with a full bus of about 50 people – the challenge to conduct our community communications asset mapping and record the processes were mounting. Oh and by the way, this was in response to my request to try and keep the numbers down. 😀 As it was the first session I was expecting a few teething problems and sure enough what ensued for the next hour or so was at times tantamount to chaos in research terms. However, with years of community communications experience I could see that ties were being formed and/or strengthened and the partnership team was being developing – even though the Brighton students couldn’t see this at the time.
I understood their frustrations (which we discussed later in the evening) but I see community media research and practice as processes and spaces as well as tools and in my opinion this was an important part of the partnership building. The main problems related to: 1) A lack of organisation (or sticking to the agreed plan) usually caused by excitement and wanting to capture content; 2) People milling around chatting and catching up; and 3) a certain formal cultural protocol of being introduced and speaking and expecting more and more people to say things (even when we all know what we are there for). It is true that at times I feel like a token muzungu (white person) wheeled out to show that this is something special. It is a cultural thing and it is their way. So not wanting to offend I allowed it to happen but we fell further and further behind schedule – especially as the Assistant Chief was there. Chief David is Assistant to the District Chief Eric Ochieng (my brother – you may recall I was given a Luo name of Ochieng). Both are big supporters of the project and it was important that we met requests.
At the end of the day David thanked me for making his people very happy! We are seeking to build a sustainable partnership so this support is important. However, by the time the day was finished and we had all been out in the baking hot equatorial sun for around 6 hours. I have since suggested we needed to find a compromise, if only for health reasons. It was understood and I’ll report more on this tomorrow. It is not accurate to say the time spent at the Chief’s Offices in Cham gi Wadu (where the radio station is to be located) was unproductive because it wasn’t but it was incredibly difficult to keep an eye on and supervise. We collected the pictures of the area; the GPS details; video content for the vox pops we need for the crowd funding campaign we plan to run; footage for the community communications asset mapping video we are planning and a whole heap of other pictures and audio footage for a podcast and digital story we intend to produce.
It was tiring and it was challenging but it built ties and assured the community that CM4K is here to stay. Even when the Cham gi Wadu community is fully in control of the day to day operations of the radio station we will be their friends and partners. After around 3 or 4 hours (2 hours, at least, behind schedule) we said our goodbyes to a few community folk and moved on to Kakwara Primary School who are situated at the top of a hill where a mobile telephone mast overlooking Cham gi Wadu. It is here we are thinking of seeking to place the radio mast but time will tell on that one. I had visited Kakwara Primary in September with the 2 Janes from the community and Isabel and Evelyn from Rongo. I had mistakenly thought that because of this previous meeting we might be able to catch up a bit of time.
It appeared that on my September visit I met the Deputy Head not the Head. On this visit the Head was eager to show his authority and glean whatever information he could about the project. It seemed as if he was looking for a financial contribution from us from the manner in which he described the agreement with Safaricom that permitted the latter to locate their pylon on School grounds. This turned out not to be the case but just a formal manner of his. Once he asked the question that was clearly at the centre of his thoughts – whose radio station was this? – and I answered in the ‘correct’ manner (i.e. that it was the community’s) he became more supportive in his manner. After around 20 to 30 minutes of this he became aware that excitement levels among the children had risen significantly he stated that we should proceed outside as the rest of our group had clearly started recording “without his permission” – oooops!
I feared we had caused offense but that was not the case, he just wanted to welcome the rest of the group, which he proceeded to do. He then asked me to address his full cohort of staff – who by the way were in the middle of staff meeting that we had “interrupted”. Our translator for the day and CM4K supporter Mac’Ouma was an old school pal of the Head and so the Head asked him to introduce me. I was then expected to address the meeting – another attempt at the collective greeting in Luo – I acknowledged those we had met before and greeted the others before explaining the purpose of the visit. The Head then asked Mac to introduce everyone from our group who were in the room (others were still recording outside). I could see he was in a bit of a pickle so stepped in and introduced everyone. The Head then reciprocated and asked his Deputy to say a few words and then someone else and then….eventually a community member (Alice) responded to a point about building a community partnership/network.
After almost an hour and a half we were allowed to leave but not before they showed us how they were running the staff meeting using digital technologies (laptop and projector) – something they were extremely proud of. It was getting late and our schedule had us taking picture of the shopping centre – i.e. the shops either side of the main street but we had one more surprise. The chief insisted that the Schools at Omara were waiting for us and that we must go there. Not wishing to offend but a little miffed that our plan had been arbitrarily changed – especially as Omara is near the Kopala Water Spring project that we wanted to visit later in the week. Just to add additional confusion the Chief stopped us at the shopping centre for a “couple of minutes”. It turned out that he had decided to buy soft drinks for everyone – a kind gesture but had he explained we could have knocked off the shots we wanted here there and then. “A couple of minutes” turned into 15 or so before eventually setting off again for Omara.
Although we were all a tad tired and the effects of sun was beginning to tell our spirits were soon lifted soon after our arrival. There was much shade and after the usual formal greeting that was nowhere near as ‘formal’ as Kakwara I was asked to sign the visitors book and address the staff and pupils. Internal warning bells started to sound so I asked whether rather than listening to me it might not be better for the young pupils to interact with students closer to their age and our equipment. The Head readily agreed and before we knew it the staff (mainly mass communications and media studies) and what appeared to be a significant number of pupils were sitting on chairs under the accommodatingly shadey trees with chairs, for us, facing them. I was still asked to address them but I made it brief. I explained why we were there and about the community radio collaboration.
The polite but unresponsive looks on the faces of the pupils told me my earlier decision was correct. I asked if anyone was interested in photography. One nervous hand went up so I pulled her out of the crowd and linked her up with the CM4K photographers. Turning to the Journalism Club students who had been positioned off to the side I enquired if anyone was interested in audio or video – several stepped forward and before we knew it everyone was on their feet and being given basic introductions to the equipment by the CM4K students. It was amazing – classic participatory media techniques. Show the equipment; talk them through its use and then hand it over and let them explore and learn. Before you could say ‘wow this is amazing’ the pupils were teaching each other. One of the most rewarding sessions I have had in Kenya. The students and the pupils intuitively understood and responded to the opportunity I had facilitated (this had not been planned) and everyone was learning from the experience. It was the mutuality and reciprocity that underpins the ethos of CM4K in action.
However, this visit had not finished with its surprises. I was then introduced to Paul Odhiambo a young journalism club member who likes to commentate on local football matches. He was asked to show us his technique and after a deep breath he was off. Absolutely stunning and……he had positioned himself at Stamford Bridge and he was running through the Chelsea team members in action during a game. As a Chelsea Season Ticket holder this pleased me no end. It was clear he was a Chelsea supporter (Premier League football is very popular in Kenya). We then organised a co-commentary with Oliver a Rongo student and Man Utd supporter. Both did excellent jobs and everyone appreciated their obvious talents. It just showed what I have always known and always tell my students whether in the UK or Kenya. Local communities comprise of so much untapped talent that is seldom given the opportunity to shine but it is there. Community media is and should provide the tools and the spaces to enable these processes of community voice and empowerment.
A video of this young community talent was shot and edited by Aaron from Rongo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHyJv4uMOuI. We took our leave from Omara Secondary School promising to return for further collaborations and popped next door to the primary school of the same name. We had visited here last year and so this was simply a courtesy visit. From there we headed home, very tired, for a late dinner. Back at the Pastoral Centre the team from Brighton, who have bonded really well and are working incredibly well, spoke with me about the positives from the day and some of their concerns about how we can improve organisation. I bade them good night and went to my room, exhausted, to reflect on what they had raised but more of this tomorrow.