Breaking for the weekend….

Well as the first working week here in Migori County draws to a close it is time for the students and staff to let their hair down a bit and relax although for staff like Isabel even when relaxing she’s working hard whilst we’re here making sure everything is running as smoothly as possible – we are extremely grateful to her, our driver Bituk, the catering staff, Prof Jerry Agalo and all his staff who work to make this trip happen and make it special. They treat us so amazingly well!

Saturday 20th Jan.

Our first down day saw both university contingents head off to Rusinga Island. It is approximately a 2 hour drive away. In previous years getting from the mainland to the island in Lake Victoria has been an interesting navigational feat but the bridge has finally been completed and so everything went like clockwork.

We headed off the Rusinga Island Beach Resort, which is a lovely hotel/conference centre on the shore of Lake Victoria. Tropical trees; canoeing; boat trips. Etc. In fact, pretty much everything you could wish for to relax and enjoy yourself.

We have discussed previously holding an international workshop here – it’s not huge so a conference might be pushing it a bit but a workshop could definitely work. I’d been put off previously by transport logistics but now it is possible to fly direct from Nairobi as they have an airstrip next to the resort. So we are considering this possibility again.

For Prof Jerry and I this trip gave us a chance to discuss the progress of the CM4K and the challenges ahead in an idyllic setting. For the students they had a chance to spend more quality social time together developing bonds. The speed boat trip is always favourite among Brighton students but I always feel bad that the Kenyan students don’t get to experience it – so this year Jerry & I paid for them to take a ride also. Isabel’s daughter, Zerah, went in with our students as did Andres a graduate from Rongo with amazing tech knowledge who has worked with CM4K for the past 4 years and was one of the first students to visit us at Brighton. They all had a great time.

Unfortunately, the time at Rusinga was all too short and before we knew it it was time to head home. The journey home was rather upsetting for me as I received a call from my daughter Kate that my cat (Brody) had passed away. My granddaughter Kelsey, who lives with me, had been looking after her and of course was devastated as Brody used to sleep with her. My girls and son-in-laws Paul & Dom took care of the burial because I am here – which made it even worse because I am usually the one that deals with the passing of our pets. I was somewhat deflated on the journey back to Rongo and greatly saddened as Brody had been part of my family for 15 years and had endured several traumas in her life – bless her. Anyway RIP Brody.

Sunday 21st January

Sunday was pretty much a rest day. Students spent the morning trying on local clothes, shopping and washing. Later in the afternoon we went to the Treat House Hotel where Jerry, Isabel, Mac and I discussed a research proposal we’re working on. The boys stayed there working on their blogs and relaxing and were joined by the girls later as they’d been off looking at hair extension options. They ran out of time to get them done this week but I suspect next Sunday will be spent at the salon – well by them anyway. 😉

The days seem to fly by here and before we knew it we were back at campus having dinner before an early night. I was in bed by 9 and I couldn’t hear the students – most unusual 😉 – so am guessing they headed off early also. Just before I went to bed I noticed I had a room mate 😀.

Day 3…….the community arrive

After a busy day yesterday in class we were due to meet the Cham gi Wadu community steering committee. We sent the transport to pick them up after breakfast, which gave us time to do a bit of admin work. Worryingly, I am still waiting on the University of Brighton Finance Department to authorise payments for the safari we aim to take at the end of field-trip. Students paid for this on the 10th January and 10 days later we are still waiting. I am assured that it will be authorised and passed for payment soon but it is worrying as I have much to organise at this end and our safari operator is in Nairobi 8 hours away. I am also waiting for the money my first year students collected for the Biwati Orphanage through Just Giving last year to be processed. As I am just about to meet the folk who run this orphanage it is a little embarrassing although much of the delay for this was caused by Rongo’s administrators…..nonetheless it is me who has to explain.

At 11am the 12 strong steering committee arrived and were so delighted to be with us again as I was with them. I recognised the delegates and even remembered the self-help groups they are from – so perhaps old age hasn’t caught me just yet! 😉 I quickly explained the delay in transferring the funds to Biwati to the 2 Janes (the drivers of this community group and responsible for the orphanage) – they were very understanding. After a series of brief round table introductions – community people and students are so much quicker at this than academics – and my rather clumsy attempt at greeting and welcoming them to the session in the Luo language (which they appreciated) it was down to business. Knowing they had recently had a community meeting to discuss the project I invited them to give us a report from the meeting.

This report gave us both food for thought as a collaborative partnership and great joy. It was stated that in their outreach work among the community groups there was enormous support for the idea of building a community radio station. The obvious benefits for improving community communications such a radio station could bring through knowledge sharing and access to relevant and contextualised information across many areas of community life has been readily understood it seems. However, it was said that there was some concerns, perhaps impatience is a better word, about the time it was taking to be implemented. In response to this last point I explained (again) that there are many stages to go through before the community was fully mobilised to build and operate a sustainable community radio station. I also explained (again) that we are neither a charity nor an NGO with ready streams of funding. That all monies raised towards this initiative were raised by student fundraising efforts; the support of colleagues at the University of Brighton and the friends and families of participating students. I suggested that the time it takes us to raise the 3 million Kenyan Shillings (£20K) to build a solar powered radio station would provide time for the essential community outreach and mobilisation activities to ensure both community engagement and commence capacity building and training activities.

This honest and open exchange of views was clearly appreciated and my message was understood by the steering committee. Of course, it is less challenging to simply raise funds, parachute a radio station into the community and let it fend for itself but in my community communication experience (circa 35 years as a practitioner and 25 as an academic) such initiatives are usually doomed to fail (my PhD thesis is available upon request ha ha ha). At this point we moved on to discuss our activities for the next 2 weeks. Last year we undertook a needs analysis of various subsistence self-help groups (the video is available at This year we plan to conduct a community communications asset mapping exercise. From both research exercises it is hoped that a strategic action plan will begin to emerge.

The rest of the morning was spent in a brief introduction to community asset mapping and how we would go about this. Organising them into breakout groups for a participatory learning workshop (PLW) participants were asked to reflect critically on their understanding of mapping and the geography of community before considering how communities communicate with one another in Kenya and what community radio’s role might be in this. A fascinating discussion in the groups ensued, which I tried to facilitate going from group to group before some really interesting points were raised back in plenary. I had students taking notes of all these sessions and it is my intention to write these up as co-author/co-created papers/presentations at a later date.

After lunch, the afternoon, which was to be a brief session, ran into a few technical problems – not uncommon in community technology projects. I had asked Rongo to test the geo-coding functions on their phones prior to our arrival but somehow this slipped between the cracks. So when we got to this point it turned out that the community only had one smart phone (without a battery) and the UK party had a range of technical problems (mine being O2 telling me my android was unlocked when it wasn’t). This left the Rongo students, all of whom had android smart phone but which appeared to interact with google maps in ways different to ours. Although this caused me a few problems, I knew I had purchased a mobile modem for fieldwork, so despite a little embarrassment I wasn’t really phased and moved on to show and explain the draft community asset map I had produced using data we collected last year and Skype conferences since then. This done, we decided upon a plan of action for next week and called the session to a close. The community went away excited at the prospect of the forthcoming collaborations and for our students the day had brought an element of reality to their CM4K experiences.

The weekend will be spent in a more relaxing mode and I’ll write about that later.

Day 2…..and so to work

Today was probably the toughest day we will encounter during our time here. We have a tight schedule but I needed to get the students into the correct headspace and there was a lot to do. One of the drawback of working in this lovely land is the heat in a classroom. No matter how enthusiastic they started off and they did the heat was going to make them tired. Especially as we had much ground to cover before the community come in for our first meeting tomorrow.

The morning session was actually the killer for the students. During my lectures I always like to get the students into breakout groups to discuss certain points we’re covering and report back. This morning’s session focussed on Community Radio in an African context. This is based on the work of Abdou Sarr “Community Radios – Tools to promote peace, culture, democracy and development in Africa” which tells stories and shares experiences of various community radio initiatives across the continent. Whilst here in September I had gotten the media Studies Diploma students to review the text by section and took notes (compared to my reading of said text) of their presentations and their reflections on the arguments and issues raised by Sarr. Subsequently I knocked it into shape for a presentation but as I hadn’t used it I had no idea whether it would work or how long it would take. Well it worked well enough and generated some really interesting discussions among the students when they reported back from their breakout sessions. The problem was it all led to a very long session for the 12 Rongo and 5 Brighton students (as well as me).

One of the points I made to them before we started was that for the next 2 weeks there are no Brighton or Rongo students – there are only CM4K students who are co-investigators with our community partners. The ice breaking games the day before had got them communicating socially. This session was intended to get them communicating intellectually.

The much shorter afternoon session was designed to introduce them to community-based participatory research as a methodological approach and how community research is linked to community media practice through inquiry, discovery, knowledge sharing and dialogue. All attributes of community-based and community learning. Although a shorter session than the morning lecture it tied together CM4K’s approach; jogged a few memories among students from both institutions and prepared them for tomorrow’s session with the community when we employ CM4K’s PEARLS approach (Partnership Education: Action Research & Learning Scenarios) and introduce the concept of community communications asset mapping.

After dinner, we visited the Treat House Hotel where I sometimes stay to buy a few cold beers (we earned them today). I was greeted like a long lost friend by the staff which was very heart warming. We then spent a pleasant evening sitting in our little social area (a sort of folly – I’m sure there’s a proper word for it but my brain has switched off) which is encircled by the rooms of the Pastoral Centre. It was my first chance to socialise with the students since we arrived and the chatter and humour was very relaxing.

CM4K2018 Departure & Arrival

This was the smallest group of students I’ve taken to Kenya as part of the CM4K partnership in 4 years. 5 students and I left Gatwick’s North Terminal with Emirates at 8.25pm on Monday 15th. That was about the only difference those. As usual they were chatty, laughing and very excited. Of course there was a touch of trepidation for the unknown but on the whole they were very excited.

Of course flying, via Dubai and Nairobi, half way round the world to arrive at Kisumu airport at 6pm the next evening and still with another 3.5 hours minibus journey takes it out of you but spirits were lifted when we were met at Kisumu by Prof Jerry Agallo, driver Bitook and 4 Rongo students – Evelyn, Charloth, Halima & Mercy. That was very kind of them and my students appreciated that act of kindness and warm welcome.

So it was we arrived in Rongo at 9.30pm on Tuesday 16th and bless their hearts the catering staff were there waiting to greet us with a tasty hot meal. After 25 hours of airline food it really hit the spot even if we were too tired to really do it justice. Without word of criticism I couldn’t the University of Brighton organising something like that for guests – neither would I expect them to but it was the first illustration of cultural differences and the amazing generosity of our Kenya partners. Their friendships and respect for us means so much to me.

Aster a great night’s sleep we were up and at ‘em for breakfast, which again was delicious, and a chance for us to start this year’s fieldtrip rolling. I popped up to the Media Centre – which is to be our base for the next 2 weeks, only to see about 15 of the Rongo students that I have taught and worked with previously waiting to greet us. Again another really nice touch and so thoughtful. Once again they were so happy to see us. After a very quick chat we headed off to Kisii – the capital city of Kisii County – for SIM cards (which is always a palaver), cash (better exchange rates) and a few bits n bobs. Then it was back to Rongo for a late lunch (more like dinner number 1) and the meet n greet. The students from both Uni’s met up for ice breaking games and to get to know one another – I will leave them to describe their experiences – whilst Jerry, Isabel and I had our first meeting to finalise the plans for the next 2 weeks.

The meeting was very productive and I really like working with these guys – no personal agendas; friendly, happy, honest – it’s just great. Then after a late dinner (number 2) it was back to the Pastoral Centre where we sleep for a quick meeting with the students before a deserved rest. I slept like a log!

I am really happy to be back here and can’t wait to get started.