Saturday 21st & Sunday 21st January

Not too much to report for this weekend. It was largely intended to give the students some time to relax, acclimatise and prepare themselves for what would be a week of hard slog in hot and sometimes frustrating circumstances but with a lot of satisfaction, discovery and joy.

The plan for today was to visit the Thimlich Ohinga Archaeological site – a UNESCO World Heritage site of a dry-stone walled settlement built in the early 16th Century. In all the years I’ve been coming to Rongo, I have never visited this site, so I was very excited. Located around 46Km from Migori Town, this site provides insights into the history and culture of the Luo peoples. We set off with a packed lunch in hand and drove for around and hour to an hour and a half, largely off road, to reach the site. We picnicked under the shade of some trees. As we were eating, we saw a dog skirting us. As a mad crazy dog lover, I went over and started sharing food with him. Slowly but surely his trust began to grow (many Kenyans, especially in rural areas, have a totally different relationship with dogs to us – I can’t help but think they are missing out) and he started to edge towards us. One or two students started to feed him with bits of food till eventually, he was lying happily amongst us. Anya named him Lentil – perhaps in honour of his colouring but probably in honour of the lentil and veg samosas in our packed lunches. Whatever the reason, it seemed appropriate. Mind you, Lentil’s owner and tour guide – seemed totally bemused when I told him his dogs new name – as they don’t name them.

The tour started with an introductory walk around a mock-up village used to explain the social structure and familial hierarchy and customs of the time. We then set off for a really interesting inspection of the protective stone wall and the village ruins within. Libby sat this out under a tree as she was feeling a little ropey. The nap seemed to do her the world of good because she was much improved on our return. The village tour was fascinating and I was in my element as I love this stuff. The setting in the woods just added to the enjoyment – mind you those trees would not have been there in those days as the guards placed strategically along the wall needed to be able to see advancing enemies in order to prepare for battle and defend themselves.

Leaving the site, we were taken on a rather long ‘short-cut’ and after about 46 minutes we found we were just entering Migori Town. We stopped stocked up on some provisions, which for some included Kenyan cream buns, and then headed ‘home’ but not before another delicious meal on campus.

Sunday morning began by being awoken by what I can only describe as religious caterwauling (I mean no disrespect to their beliefs but it is bad – as I type this a week later over breakfast waiting to leave for safari, I am listening to it all over again and it is still bad). The morning was one of relaxation and chilling, with a visit to Homa Bay and Lake Simbi beyond that to see the flamingos and hear the myth of the lake. As I had a lecture to prepare for the next day, I left the students in the care of Prof Jerry and the driver. You can read the account of the visit from the students. On their return we had dinner on campus and returned for a quick drink and bed.

Friday 20th January

Firstly, apologies for running behind the students’s posts. There is so much to organise for this trip and the Community Exhibition is tomorrow (Friday 27th). I’ll catch up eventually but this is a really great but exhausting trip and I am not getting any younger 😉

We took a relaxed entry into the trip’s work. We were scheduled to meet with the VC of Rongo University – Samuel Gudu – at 10am, so we left Treat House around 9.45 to arrive on time. As we arrived we discovered that the VC had been called to Nairobi for a discussion with government ministers and officials and that a group had commandeered the media centre (booked for CM4K for the week) for PhD research presentations and that they were in full swing. Prof Jerry & I found somewhere else to hold a planning meeting and we gave the students the morning off to explore campus. They basked in the sun for a while and then found the huge tree on the periphery to wait, chat and probably doze in the shade.

Lunchtime was soon upon us and we had the first of what was to be an amazing meal, which catered for most diets – simple but oh so tasty. I have to observe here that I am always struck by the hospitality and generosity of spirit and practice of Rongo University when compared to the University of Brighton on the 4 occasions we’ve had return visitors from Rongo.

Don’t get me wrong the accommodation in the community is always great and those hosts do a wonderful job but on campus I have to print tickets with a value that the visitors aren’t able to exceed. It’s the ‘oh sorry you can’t have that that’ and ‘can you swap that out’ that is embarrassing and demeaning.  Our visitors never complain but I see these things and can’t help but compare. Similarly, we are always taken everywhere in Uni transport but here I either have to pay for transport out of my CM4K fundraising budget or out of my own pocket. Perhaps that this is about values and culture? Mind you the last time was several years ago and with new management things may change but with the cost of living crisis, who knows? It’s reasonable to note, I think that Rongo is a university in a marginalised rural environment in what is quaintly termed a lower-middle income economy and the financial situation there is worse than here but they do the small but important things well and so much better than Brighton.

After lunch we met our Kenyan students for the first time. Jerry addressed them and then I gave a brief lecture about the history of CM4K together with my personal vision of its future. We then sent the students of for ice-breaker games so that they could get to know each other. This is always an interesting and very important part of the project. Students start off quite nervously but within minutes they were laughing and hollering……..and I smiled because I knew all would be well in the team.

The final part of the day centred around group exercises. Normally, I mix groups but today I wanted each group to hear and think about the other’s worldviews. I sent them off to discuss what community means to them (Jerry had been concerned that community as a construct is often equated to tribe here in Kenya). As a second task I asked them to think about the roles and significance of community radio in their worldview of community. What emerged from this were 2 really inciteful and thought provoking presentations when back in plenary. The Kenyans’ presentation was certainly more emotive but the thoughts from the two groups were certainly not dissimilar, which was interesting. There followed a really interesting discussion as I tested and probed their arguments. To be honest, we’d have probably still been there if I hadn’t brought things to a close for dinner. However, it was an excellent start to the project. One that filled me with joy and hope. As an educator, I love that feeling when young people display their potential in this enthusiastic manner.

After an excellent dinner, we went back to the Treat House, freshened up then sat by the pool and chatted over a beer before I headed up to bed leaving them to play games and enjoy themselves.

Thursday 19th January

I awoke with a sense of excitement and trepidation. This was the first Community Media 4 Kenya trip to Rongo in 4 years. A lot had happened in this period. Over 2 years of the Covid19 pandemic and ensuant lockdown as well as a road traffic accident in Nairobi and 4 major reconstruction surgeries on my arm. I’d been in Nairobi for 2 days making plans and awaiting the arrival of the students. Would these students be as enthusiastic as previous groups I’d taken? Would the community not have become disillusioned and moved on due to the enforced break? How would Rongo University, our initial partners in CM4K (there are 2 more universities waiting to join up with CM4K – Machakos & Kibabi), receive us? Much had changed at Rongo since our last visit. Isabel Zattu a founder member of CM4K from Rongo had completed her Master’s and had gained promotion in another job at Kibabi University. Jerry Agalo, former Dean of the School of Infocoms and the main driving force at Rongo had retired but was now teaching part-time and Professor of Outreach & Community Research. It felt like a tipping point. Either we would move on and CM4K would evolve and live up to its pre-Covid potential or it would fade into a natural passing. 10 years of amazing people and experiences through which we have been able to share knowledge, transform our worldviews, learn much and make many friends.

As I pondered these matters, I prepared to meet the students at Jomo International Airport, Nairobi for our internal flight to Kisumu, where Jerry would be waiting for us with a University bus. As I walked from the carpark to the arrivals gate, I saw the student group walking outside into the waiting embrace of the many taxi drivers, sales-folk and scammers that accost tourists as the arrive. I smiled to myself, having danced that jig many times over the years. I got to them and we all smiled and I urged them to bring it in as we embraced in a rather clumsy group hug. They were certainly excited and please to be here. Their trip was not without incident as Rachael’s case had been left in Istanbul. This was to prove to be a 5+ day saga, that I will leave to Rachael to share. Except to say a special thanks to Okope & Jerry who took 7 hours out of their days to drive to Kisumu and collect it when it finally arrived.

The flight to Kisumu was uneventful and we met Jerry & Charles (driver) on time. We stopped at a bank in Kisumu so they could withdraw money as well as a supermarket to get water and provisions. The trip to Rong was filled with excitement and yells of glee and joy as they snapped as many pictures as possible of the new environment and scenes of rural life that the cramped minibus would permit. We were all glad to finally arrive in Rongo at the Treat House Resort. I have stayed here many times and the staff and I have become very close over the years. The students disappeared to their rooms for a deserved sleep/rest, although some did venture into the pool for a short swim. I bought them all dinner and the traditional first ‘pint’ before finally retiring to my room for a well-earned rest. I had forgotten how fielding the bombardment of questions from excited young people could drain you but I went to sleep with a smile on my face as I was getting a good feeling about the group.

Day 14 Final editing day

Well here we are, the last day of editing! It is just amazing how this trip has flown by this year. A great group of students from Brighton, interesting and full of dynamic differences but really hard working and here truly to try and make a difference and not just for an adventure. They have been really great, as have the Kenyan students from Rongo – hard working, friendly, funny and again committed to CM4K’s objectives. I am really happy with them all and proud of each and every one.

Ok enough of the soppy stuff……there is no way we will get everything done today. We have achieved a lot but set ourselves, or rather were set by the community, enormous tasks in the time available. That said it has been great fun, hard work and exhausting for everyone, but great fun. We have one radio show very nearly complete as I type, with another in production. We have a digital story of the fieldwork processes well under. We have process pictures for the first time. We have nearly every location descriptor written up and the translation into Luo is now underway. We have location and profile pictures. We have various video clips for the map; vignettes and a documentary – all in various stages of production despite laptop problems. All in all we have a mountain of data captured using a range of media tools and techniques.

The day‘s editing started with a real big effort by everyone but as Raila Odinga declared himself Kenya’s people’s president in Nairobi our hosts’ attention turned to what might be a momentous day for their nation…..or might just be a damp squib that might be forgotten as a publicity stunt if there is no strategic campaign to follow it up. This remains to be seen – it might be a new start for ‘Baba’ or the beginning of the end. One thing for sure is that Uhuru Kenyatta has damaged himself as a democrat. As events were unfolding in Uhuru Park, Nairobi he ordered a mass communications blackout and TV stations were closed down so coverage could not be seen. Of course there’s the Internet but slowly but surely our access to the Internet was pulled. It started with no access to news channels at Uni. This was then followed by no access to Google to find other news outlets as the University’s connection was pulled. I remained online for a while longer as I had a personal modem and was working on the map. I tried to stay under the radar by staying on My Maps but eventually I was found and that connection was pulled also.

Make no mistake, whilst I am not quite sure of what Odinga hoped to achieve with his declaration, this was censorship by a government with something to hide. It flew in the face of democracy and freedom of speech and assembly as allowed by the Kenyan constitution. I sincerely hope Kenya is not on the slope to dictatorship! I care for this nation and its peoples. I have dear friends on both sides of the political divide and to me the things that bind them are so much more than the differences that are used by some to create fracture and division. If only they could learn to celebrate these differences and embrace them as cultural strengths that make them a richer nation.

Oh well…..time will tell I guess. That’s it for today.

Days 11 & 12 a weekend break

This trip is moving so quickly. Perhaps it’s the non-stop nature of the work we scheduled or rather the community scheduled that is keeping us occupied but it is sad to think that in a few days we’ll be leaving Rongo and the Cham gi Wadu community. So that makes this our last weekend here so we thought we’d make the most of it.

Day 11 Saturday 27th January

I’d asked Jerry and Isabel if we might travel to Lake Simbi this weekend. It’s a lovely salt water lake in a volcanic crater on the other side of Homa Bay, near Kindu Bay, about an hour and a half away in the Rongo Bus. We visited there 2 years ago when, there wasn’t nearly as much water as this year and we were able to walk around the lake close to the shore. That wasn’t the case this year, the shore line was much higher and although we could get down to the shore line, and did, we couldn’t walk around it as close to the water as previously. The surrounding grass and vegetation was also much dryer this year. Then it was verdant green and lush, now it was scrubby brown and very dry. Nonetheless, it was still beautiful in its own way. These weren’t the only changes though, the story of the myth surrounding the lake and its mysteries told by a number of local men to earn a few shillings from visitors was elaborated upon by James our story teller this year. He seemed to get carried away as Mac translated from Luo to English for us – although I am not sure why, as James spoke perfectly good English as I discovered when I chatted to him afterwards. Jerry got a little embarrassed by the elaborations in the story, the narrative of which had a tendency to jump around a bit, although the old story was still discernible. This video by Aron Kipkoech tells the story further

After the story s few of us went to the lake shore to find an old Mumma scrapping the soil by the lakes water to extract the Bicarbonate of Soda or soda ash as they call it. They use it to settle the stomachs of their cattle and fight worms; in cooking vegetables; to clear spots, pimples and other skin conditions and various other uses. Similar to ways in which it is, or was, used by previous generations in Britain. For me this was a lovely way to spend an hour or so but it was soon time to head back to campus.

On the way through Homa Bay, we heard that Raila Odinga – leader of the NASA opposition to Uhuru’s Jubilee Alliance government, former president, freedom fighter and hero of the Luo people was speaking at the local football stadium with other NASA leaders. There was bound to be a huge turnout, and there was, and I feared we might get stuck but we didn’t. Lucky in a way because he is about to have himself sworn in as President – the people from the Nyanza region are convinced the results of the first election was rigged. This is complex affair that I don’t know enough about but I was hear just after the results of the first presidential election were declared null and void. From everything I read and saw on TV it was clear that something didn’t add up but I have no idea what that was. It is a sad fact that in this lovely land, with its lovely peoples (regardless of tribe), corruption is rife. Anyway, we got through easily enough, had dinner and returned to the Pastoral Centre for a chat and a couple of beers.

Day 12 Sunday 28th January 2018

Not too much to tell here from my point of view. The morning was passed with the girls going with Isabel to a salon to have braids put in their hair. They did look great, especially Halima who had her braids removed, her hair treated and put in a sort of loose bouncy curl effect. I know Katie was a little apprehensive about having braids but they look good. Meanwhile Sam, Luca and I did a little shopping and chilled back at the Pastoral centre.

On the pleading of the students I asked for us to be able to skip lunch at Uni so they could eat chips, and who knows what else, at the Treat House. It made them very contented so it was worth it! Meanwhile Mac and I chatted about research and the possibility of him doing a PhD as part of the CM4K partnership. I have already supervised one PhD here to completion (the mediation of intra-tribal conflict and peace building) and have just agreed to take on another (communications for development and gender imbalances). Mac is a great supporter and I think will make a great CM4K researcher so I am happy to encourage him. Whilst chatting we watched his, and that of many Luo’s, team Gor Mahia beat the Leopards in the Kenyan Super-Cup Final. To be honest it was a dull game but Mac’s team deserved its victory. We then watched Chelsea (my team and his UK team) beat Newcastle in the 4th round of the FA Cup. All in all a pleasant afternoon with not much more to say about our quiet Sunday.

Day 10 More editing and more lessons

Please bear with me. A few months ago, when I started planning this trip, I made a request on the University of Brighton’s (passive and pretty ineffective) staff communications platform. One or two kind people saw my plea and offered their thoughts but largely my request went ignored. This is in no way an indication of the staff’s lack of generosity at Brighton or their willingness to share, simply that this new communications platform is passive and ineffective whereas the old one was very effective. Now before I get side-tracked on the platform the point is no-one at UoB offered my any pertinent advice and so I took it on myself to do a quick self-taught session on geo-mapping – plotting waypoints, etc. etc. I learned how to use Google maps; I learned how to use My Maps and I set up a little practice map. So far so good. I looked around at GPS trackers and read up on mobile phone apps. Did a little practice and all was well with the world……or so I thought!

It turns out that there are a number of things I overlooked not least that the manner in which waypoints are represented numerically varies and, if your name is Peter Day, this can lead to much head scratching and much cursing because plotted co-ordinates are either ignored by the google maps search engine or take you somewhere else. Admittedly in the same County in Kenya but not where we were expected. Clearly, my knowledge wasn’t up to the task I had set myself.

Now I knew that there are various ways in which waypoint co-ordinates can be uploaded but this is currently beyond my personal knowledgebase – if anyone reading would like to help me out please give me a shout, I would be very grateful. Anyhow……we had problems with the map I was developing but I am a strong believer that there are always other solutions to problems, one only needs to find them. I looked back into what I knew about map reading and orienteering. As a kid I was a boy scout with excellent map reading skills and as a young man I was a surveyor in the British Army. So I put my keen sense of direction; my map reading skills; my good memory plus my ability to read what the land is telling me to good use. I started to identify the locations we had visited on My Maps. So far so good.

However, and before you ask – why didn’t you just enter the place names in the search engine? – Google maps has been extremely lazy and lax. The Google car that drives around photographing every street in the developed world hasn’t made it to remote rural Migori County. There is no ‘Street View’ and the satellite imagery is pretty remote and grainy…….so doing what I wanted to do is a challenge. Not impossible but a challenge! However, we had 2 advantages….my personal assets (as described above) and local assets in the form of local knowledge. So I set about plotting the waypoints by hand. This is a long drawn out process as the satellite image is unhelpful at times and the map (without contour lines etc) is pretty nigh on useless. So plotting, e.g. Okumba Hill when the paths leading to it are hidden by trees and bushes and there’s lots of them, was problematic but once I knew roughly where we were on the map, it was just a matter of time before I could read the images of fields, etc running in a circular(ish) pattern. I could see this was the hill and confirmed by identifying the buildings on top. From there is was just a matter of working our way backwards to where we had parked the bus for a final confirmation. By then placing the cursor on the building I was able to plot the waypoint. Simple! The problem is it is easier to write than do here, especially when you have a room full of young students in edit mode seeking your attention at regular intervals as thoughts pop into their heads.

Anyway, this was my day, oh and chasing the University of Brighton’s Finance Department. It is now 17 days (and counting) since students paid for their end of trip safari and our tour operator of 8 years standing has still not received the payment. I am receiving no ‘helpful or useful’ information apart from the transaction has been sent via Amex. I do not blame the staff member back in Brighton but there is a problem with the system.  8 days after the transaction was sent the payment has not been made. To me that suggests a problem. Right now I don’t care about the reasons but I will do. Either tell me something helpful or retrieve the payment and I will make the payment on my card……please!

The frustrating thing about this is that Kenya has one of the most advanced and accessible personal payment schemes in MPESA and I could have made the payment in seconds before I left the UK but oh no…..the University has rules! Have I told you how I detest bureaucracy? I know we need rules and structure etc but it is the total lack of commonsense and flexibility that makes me seethe (apologies). This is not fair on our tour operator Rufus, who spent all last week running back and forth to the bank. Banks in Kenya are not like our High Street Banks and the process is not always pleasurable nor quick. Neither is it fair on the students, who have worked so hard on this trip and deserve some R&R. Oh and it is not fair on me. I work 24/7 on these trips, and love it, but I do not need this unnecessary stress. Anyway, let’s hope Monday brings a happy conclusion to this sorry episode!

On a lighter note, whilst some of the students were editing, I had given Hafsah permission to facilitate a Focus Group for her dissertation study. It took away half the Kenyans but from what I could hear from time to time it gave her some great data and she was very happy. A nice way to end this post about a day of trials, challenges, discovery and lessons. The weekend is calling and it’s time to relax a bit.

Day 9 Fieldwork and more community asset mapping refinements

I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying this trip despite feeling a bit drained from Wednesday’s samozagate incident. There are always things that crop up and barriers but that is community work. I just really feel like we are making progress. A range of things seem to be falling into place which I can’t make public yet as they are not confirmed just indications that they will be confirmed.

On Wednesday I started to develop the community asset map. Reflecting on this process made me realise that we were capturing content about/relating to the physical assets and not enough about the people – especially in the photographs. So before we set off I spoke to the students and asked them to try and strike a balance and capture more ‘community life’ in their work. A note on the map – I am currently using Google’s My Maps and will continue to do so for now but when I get home I am going to seek out a map app with more flexibility in the content functionality. My Maps is limiting the visual experience of some of the fantastic pictures the team have taken.


We set off for the 7th Day Adventist Church at Osiata. Visually it is just a largish wooden building with a corrugated iron roof and the inside has been fashioned into a traditional church with whatever materials are to hand. However, the place came to life a bit when some Church Elders (women) came over and gave us an interview. Mac was back with us and translating between Luo, Kiswahili and English. The interview jumped around a bit in both the questions and the languages but the latter adds authenticity (imho) and the former can be edited. There was a storm very close by and the rains threatened but really on dribbled on us. As the road was very narrow we had parked the bus and walked to the church (this was to be the story of the morning) but this was a pleasure as it allowed us to walk through a countryside otherwise denied us on the bus. All in all a lovely experience although one or two of the party were less pleased when we had to do the same again at our next stop but with an added twist.

Lang’o Arek Mixed Secondary School sits at the top of Okumba Hill. We left the bus at a point circa 0.5K from the main road and made our way along a bridle path. This path widens to the right at a crossway which leads up to the school. Looking for all the world as if the Romans had laid a 30 or so metre stretch of cobbles the hill then steepens sharply and some started to lag. I turned back to encourage Isabel, Fiona and Halima who were feeling the pace. The walk up is definitely worth it though as there is a breath-taking 360⁰ panorama of Nyanza and Kisii. The Head was busy with other visitors but he arranged for teachers to show us around and do the interviews. This process was now running quite smoothly and we were away with what we wanted within the hour.

The walk down was pleasurable although back at the bus we couldn’t make it out fully boarded so we alighted and got back aboard once Baituk had us clear of the rather tricky ditch. I have to say he is a great driver and has worked so hard for us during this trip.

Our final call of the day was a revisit to Cham gi Wadu. It was market day and nothing brings a place alive like a local market. I asked Hafsah to retake the shots of the shops as the previous ones made the shopping centre look like a ghost town. I got Mac to accompany her so he could ask the shopkeepers permission and explain what it was for in Luo. She produced much better shots. However, it is the market that is the hub of this community. Located off a side street behind the shops we had to work fast because the storm that had held off was about to break. There was some reluctance to be photographed to start with but some of the local students got people to agree and before we knew it we had captured the essence of the market.

A crowd had gathered on a nearby street corner where Halima, Fiona, Lydia & Charloth – our audio group were interviewing a local man. Word started to spread and people gathered and as the locals started to hear of the possibility of a radio station for them, by them and in their community people were becoming excited. It was heartening to see my Kenyan CM4K students of 3 to 4 years standing doing so well. Aron came over with his video cam and started filming and the crowd grew larger with the steering group members also chatting to people on the street nearby. Just then a massive dust storm introduced itself by blowing up the street. Those out in it (like me) got covered in the fine red silt particles of the locality. The rains weren’t far off and it was time to go but the word is out in Cham gi Wadu and I look forward to hearing the audio capture and watching the video footage collected here but even more, I look forward to enabling community radio in Cham gi Wadu. We are making progress without a doubt!

Day 8 Editing day

So far our editing time has been hit by unforeseen or unpreventable circumstances. Monday, as reported in a previous post, saw our editing time gobbled up by cultural protocols and additional visits organised for us. Today (Wednesday) introduced us to 2 additional challenges. The first came in the form of sickness & stomach cramps. Hafsah was too poorly to travel to Uni; Luca did but returned to the Pastoral Centre at lunchtime. Angelica was sick all night but had seemed to recover somewhat; Sam had had severe stomach cramps during the night and as I left my room to join the other to travel to the Uni I became aware of the first signs of cramps.

I suspect there were at least 2 causes for these ailments. Monday’s over exposure to the heat and sun together with an albeit shorter exposure on Tuesday as well as the packed snacks, which comprised mandazis , various cakes and vegetable samozas (with green lentils) all wrapped up in little plastic bags and left to cultivate various things on the big old, hot, metal bus. Although more used to the conditions and snacks even one or two of the Kenyans were feeling a tad under the weather. The end result of this was that editing day had not only less participants but also had less energy and enthusiasm – despite the efforts clearly being made. Editing did take place but we were again behind our intended schedule.

To be honest there is little more to say about this day. Those of us who stayed struggled on but while the others seems to be improving as the day drew to its close I was weakening rapidly. I suspect because I am now a little more used to the heat than the others and didn’t take lunch. However, there was that mini samosa I was offered later in the afternoon, which I was really regretting. To be frank I just wanted to get home and lie down. When I am poorly all I want to do is get away from everyone and make my recovery. By the time the evening meal came around, where I took a small bowl of plain rice, I was really ready to leave. It seemed to go on for a lifetime and the laughter and conversations of the young folk, which I normally enjoy, was beginning to grate as I felt more and more drained.

There was a huge downpour, so our departure from campus was delayed. By the time we finally arrived at the Pastoral Centre I was really needing to be on my own. I heard someone (no idea who) ask Hafsah and Luca how they were. This was met with a response in the positive (ish). This was good enough for me. I entered my room, locked the door and laid down on my bed. Tomorrow is another day!

Day 7 Revisions to Fieldwork

After yesterday’s critical reflections and mulling it over during the night I decided we needed a team talk. The Brighton students had asked if they could get together in groups to discuss roles so that there was a fairer distribution of the recording and those not so technically advanced as others had a chance to learn rather than fade into the background. This struck me as a good idea so over breakfast I spoke with Jerry and Isobel and we decided to leave a little later than we had originally planned so our reflections could be aired with everyone and hear their thoughts.

Back in class I spoke with everyone (Jerry & Isobel included) taking care to state that on the whole and certainly in terms of community engagement and participatory community media practice, I was very happy and what was to follow was by no means an admonishment. I reminded everyone that we were trialling/piloting a community communications asset mapping exercise and that this was our main purpose during this fieldtrip. I know Jerry is starting to work with Isobel, and I am advising them, on developing community media modules for their curriculum. It is therefore important that the students are capable of continuing the community asset mapping when we have left so there will be elements of revision and fine tuning as we progress. I urged everyone to keep this all in mind and not to allow themselves to get carried away with the opportunity of engaging in creative media practice – although I have factored in an element of this into the work (perhaps I should have focussed solely on the research element but I don’t think their learning would have been quite so enjoyable).

I sent the students away for the 30 minutes in their groups so they could speak openly with each other. A funny thing on this note – the Brighton students who had been articulate, considered and reflective when speaking to me the night before suddenly went silent when I asked them if I had covered everything we discussed. It is interesting that despite the encouragement of their active engagement, at times there is still a sense of ‘them and us’ in their minds.  I spoke to them about this later and it turned out that they didn’t want the Kenyan students to think they were “dropping them in it”. This presents an interesting challenge because one of the main components of CM4K’s PEARLS (Partnership Education: Action Research & Learning Scenarios) approach is open and honest dialogue.

Whilst the students were in their groups I also spoke with Isobel and Jerry to see if it wasn’t possible to find a compromise about the time consuming formal protocols that had caused so many delays and put us way behind in our schedule. They agreed and said they would speak with our community contacts so they would explain to our hosts at each community asset stop. We left as soon as the students were ready. We were all soon aware once in the field that our discussions had been useful as this fieldtrip session ran so much more smoothly and everyone, as far as I could see, was sticking to their roles and working hard whilst enjoying themselves. We went back to Cham gi Wadu shopping centre for the photos we missed yesterday (more on this in tomorrow’s blog); we visited the Ongo medical centre and dispensary, the neighbouring primary school as well as the 7th Day Adventist Church next door; we then headed back to visit our old friends at Kitere Primary where we met the Chief and were asked to briefly address a parents meeting. They seemed pleased to meet us and applauded the idea of a community radio station although one vocal man seemed to think we were bringing dinner and seemed upset that we weren’t ;-).

From Kitere, which is just down the road from Campus, it was back to INFOCOMS to start sorting through our data. For some reason we were served packed lunch, which they called snacks, that they had been carrying with us on the really hot bus. I declined as there were more community members than expected and I really wasn’t hungry. No sooner was that cleared away than it was announced that lunch was ready. We looked horrified! Without causing offense we were able to convince them to keep lunch over for an early dinner, which had an added bonus for the catering staff that they could have an easy afternoon. During the afternoon one of the Kenyan students shared one of her 2 remaining samosas with me – big mistake! Those packed lunches were to come back and haunt a few of us the next day.

Day 6 Mapping community communication assets begins

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 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.