Kenya’s Community Reporters

Day one of a two day training for community media in Nairobi, Kenya

Day one of a two day training for community media in Nairobi, Kenya

I believe in the power of community media to transform communities.

In my home country, due to the National Film Board of Canada’s Challenge for Change program from the 1960s to 80s, marginalized Canadians came together to speak truth to power through participatory filmmaking.

This tradition now continues in documentary film and on the community radio airwaves every day across Canada and around the world.

Today, social media is helping organize protests and spread information, but newspapers and, especially, radio still have the widest reach, making it the most relevant media to educate and inform marginalized communities.

Last year in Nairobi, I met with Kenyan community organizer and founder of the Shining Hope for Communities movement, Kennedy Odede.

The “Mayor of Kibera” as he’s referred to in the book A Path Appears, took me on a short tour of the SHOFCO office and its crowning achievement, the Kibera School for Girls.

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A girl in Nairobi’s Mathare slum teaches me how to capture an image with her toy camera

A mirror in Kibera

On the walk, Kennedy handed me the latest copy of SHOFCO’s monthly Ghetto Mirror newspaper. On the cover was a picture of its new Mathare School for Girls, located in Kenya’s second largest slum.

I had become quite familiar with Mathare as my friend Wairimu Gitau started an online radio platform for youth called Mathare Radio. Just like Kennedy, Wairimu was born and raised in a Nairobi slum.

The two realize that community radio and newspapers are a way to empower citizens to make informed choices and contribute to development in their respective communities.

In A Path Appears, Kennedy’s story of how he founded SHOFCO is shared by authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: “He bought a cheap soccer ball and started a youth soccer club to unite young people, give them a purpose, and help them tackle local challenges…

Kennedy knew that he wanted not just a soccer club but a real movement, like the ones Mandela and King had led.”

Inside the Ghetto Mirror newsroom, Kennedy expressed the need and importance to train local journalists so they could better report on their community. I agreed.

My only condition was that we include Mathare Radio reporters so they could also benefit from any community media training.

Mathare Radio founder Wairimu Gitau

Mathare Radio founder Wairimu Gitau

Wairimu helped plan the training, as she’s also a dedicated journalist and media trainer. We decided to hold day one in Kibera and day two in Mathare. This would make it easier for everyone no matter where they reside (as Kibera and Mathare are on opposite ends of Nairobi).

I think it’s important in media trainings to cover the basics of journalism, what I call “Journalism 101,” but then it’s important to put it into practice by taking trainees into the community to look for stories and speak to residents, or “Community 101.”

By covering both slums we’d be able to gain a better idea of the common goals these two communities share.

Radio with roots in Mathare

Wairimu developed the idea to start a radio station in Mathare around the time of the 2007-08 election violence in Kenya. A lack of accurate news and information in the slum led her to launch an online radio platform.

Her purpose: to give voice to voiceless youth.

Ghetto Mirror newspaper editor-in-chief Liz Mahiri

Ghetto Mirror newspaper editor-in-chief Liz Mahiri

“I always knew I wanted to be a journalist. I felt the mainstream media wasn’t serving the Mathare community fairly enough,” Wairimu said.

She hopes to build a community movement, the likes of SHOFCO, which would include a radio station, a learning centre, and library for youth to find books on Kenyan and, more importantly, Pan-African history.

This is her goal. Mine is to support it. By developing the skills of reporters in the community, it can help empower others to share ideas on how best to make change, online or on-air.

During our afternoon reporting workshops, reporters pitched story ideas. The group decided to cover the most pressing issue: Kenya’s National Youth Service cleaning up Nairobi’s slums.

Equipped with pens, notebooks, an audio recorder and a video camera, we broke into three small groups to produce print, radio, video and photography for this community-focused story.

My trainees film a report on  Kenya's NYS clean-up of Kibera slum in Nairobi

Trainees film a report on Kenya’s NYS clean-up of Kibera slum in Nairobi

Media ethics for all

The result was overwhelming as most residents in Kibera and Mathare were willing to speak on the need for improved sanitation and how NYS was helping out in that regard. Ghetto Mirror reporter Eunice Otieno raised an ethical dilemma she faces often while reporting on Kibera.

“What should I do when conducting interviews and someone asks for money?” the 29-year-old mother asked us trainers.

Our response was to explain to this person that as a journalist you must never, under any circumstances, pay sources. Ethically this is wrong. We told her and the other trainees they should explain to residents that as community reporters they have a responsibility to give voice to the community.

This means they must go around and find different residents to speak on each story. If some refuse or ask for money, then it’s best to thank them for their time and find someone else to interview.

To provide a forum for dialogue, we started a Facebook page called Community Reporters, where media mentors like Wairimu and myself can keep the conversation with community media in Kenya, and East Africa, going online.

I believe this training gave the reporters a better understanding of their journalistic responsibilities, and made them realize they are all a shining hope for the future of community media in Africa.

The Community Media training for Ghetto Mirror and Mathare Radio took place June 27–28, 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Published online @ Medium

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Dharavi slum tours and poverty tourism in India

At Mahim Junction in Mumbai, India interviewing two Canadian tourists on the Dharavi slum tour.

At Mahim Junction in Mumbai, India interviewing two Canadian tourists on the Dharavi slum tour.

‘Slum tourism’ exists in many parts of the world and draws huge numbers of visitors, seeking to get a glimpse into the lives of the urban poor. But is it a modern version of a curiosity show or can it really help the community?

I put this story together while backpacking through India in early 2015.

This story aired on DW WorldLink June 12, 2015.

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Nile FM: A Community Radio Station Born in Response to Crisis

Julia Paulo Ding

Julia Paulo Ding reporting for Nile FM in Malakal’s Protection of Civilians site.

As the sun rises and a new day begins, Julia Paulo Ding gets ready for work in the two-and-a-half-by-four meter blue and white tent she shares with her older sister’s family. They all — three adults and three children — live together in a displaced peoples’ camp on the outskirts of Malakal, Upper Nile state, in South Sudan.

Ding, 22, places an Internews identification badge around her neck, then shoves a small audio recorder, headphones, pen and notebook into her backpack. She quickly leaves her temporary home in the United Nations Protection of Civilians (UN POC) site.

South Sudan’s 16-month-long civil conflict has devastated the world’s youngest nation, and has shown few signs of resolution since its eruption in December 2013. Even today, an astonishing 1.5 million people are estimated to have been displaced across the country.

Ding is a Shilluk, the third most prominent ethnic group in the region, following the Dinka and Nuer groups. The Shilluk people have lived on the banks of the White Nile, a tributary of the Nile River, for centuries. In the current conflict, which has often split along tribal lines, Upper Nile state, where Ding lives, has become a flashpoint for ethnic rivalries in South Sudan.

Ding reaches the main gate of the UN Mission in South Sudan’s “humanitarian hub.” Flashing her ID badge, she’s allowed to enter. She has spent much of the last year working with Internews, learning how to produce humanitarian information audio programs.

The Boom Box Talk Talk team provided a critical humanitarian information service to Internally Displaced People in South Sudan’s much contested Upper Nile State. Now, they’ve launched a radio station.

Courtesy of Jean-Luc Dushime

Courtesy of Jean-Luc Dushime

Internews’ humanitarian information service, Boom Box Talk Talk, or BBTT as it is widely known, became an instant hit with people living in the POC site when it launched last July. It was a practical but innovative information solution in a place where the only previous radio station had been destroyed during the conflict, making information a scarce commodity. BBTT journalists produced a news program, then played it at designated stops within the POC site via boom boxes. Listeners learned about critical aid distribution and other news, all while going about their daily routines.

Boom Box Talk Talk soon became a two-way communication platform, as those living in the POC could share their concerns with the BBTT correspondents who would then inform the aid agencies and provide answers to community questions.

Now, the enormous success of the Malakal team’s efforts has allowed a new radio station to be set-up on the UNMISS base. Nile FM began broadcasting in March 2015, and extends critical information into the community beyond the barbed wire fence and UN-protected perimeter. Thousands of displaced people in camps and settlements along the Nile are now able to access vital information on humanitarian services — as well as much-welcomed music and community news.

Listeners tune in every morning to hear Ding as she begins the Good Morning Malakal show in Arabic: “Marhaba, muztamayin, wa marabin bikom fil barnamij! (Hello listeners, and welcome to the program!”)

Julia at Nile FMNile FM is putting the community back into community radio.

Ding exits the Nile FM studio booth to join her colleagues at the daily news meeting. Paulino Sebit, 23, is Nile FM’s news editor. He leads a meeting where all of Internews’ 11 community correspondents — a mixture of Shilluk, Nuer and Dinka — are present. It’s a multilingual team for a multilingual radio station.

“We all work together,” Sebit said. “There is no conflict between us.”

The Internews team in Malakal has produced some of the most informative and educational radio programs during the conflict in South Sudan. All of the correspondents live in the POC site and work there everyday, reporting on its residents’ daily activities to restore some semblance of their former lives.

Chanjwok Simon, 20, is the youngest reporter and newest member of the team at Nile FM. He was away from his family when the conflict broke out on December 15, 2013. By the time the fighting reached Malakal nine days later, he was already safe at the UNMISS base.

“I’m luckier than most who fled to the POC,” Simon said. “Now I want to help them rebuild their lives.”

The news meeting concludes and Ding shakes everyone’s hand before leaving.

“I want to become a better journalist,” she said. “When I see people in the media, I want to be like that. They’re doing a good job helping people by sharing stories.”

Published online @ Medium

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Former child soldier in South Sudan shares story

28-year-old Anthony Thon was only 15 when he was captured by the SPLA, Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, and made to fight Khartoum government forces in Sudan’s second civil war.

In 2005, after the signing of the CPA, Comprehensive Peace Agreement, he escaped the SPLA and returned to school.

After South Sudan received independence in 2011, Thon was teaching primary school students in Malakal. When the current conflict erupted in December 2013, Thon fled from his home to the UNMISS, United Nations Mission in South Sudan, base on the edge of town.

Thon now lives as an IDP, internally displaced person, at a UN protected camp in Malakal, South Sudan, where he works to educate and inform other displaced people in his community.

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India: Prayasam’s endeavour into Calcutta’s slums

Kolkata Puja

Courtesy of Saptarshi Ray

KOLKATA, India – “When I first visited the slums…The community became my canvas and the children became my paint brushes and colours,” said Amlan Ganguly, founder of Prayasam (Endeavours) to me during an interview on the balcony of his home and office.

Prayasam is a community-based organization working with youth from six of the 65 slums in Calcutta, where groups of children and young adults advocate for change.

The 2013 documentary film, The Revolutionary Optimists, shares the story of a group of Indian youth in the city’s Rishi Aurobindo squatters’ colony and brick kilns, where child labour looks like modern day child slavery.

Known affectionately as The Daredevils, these audacious Prayasam members in Rishi Aurobindo have mapped their entire community and now work to educate others about vaccination campaigns and access to clean drinking water.

“Prayasam is part of a tradition that supports children’s rights and teaches them to make their voices heard in order to advocate for changes that will improve their communities,” states the Child Rights International Network.

Two of Prayasam’s most outspoken are the two main characters in the documentary film; Sikha and Salim. Both are now 17. These two young adults are leading youth to be the change we all want to see in this world, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi.

Agents of Change

Prayasam has a highly mobilized group of youngsters who don’t sit back and wait for their elders to clean up their community, city, and country. They take action.

I took some time while at Prayasam to help Sikha and Salim write up the English translations to their biographical short films, as well as suggesting some needed audio transitions which they added willingly. Both films were screened in Cape Town, South Africa at an international slum dwellers conference.

Watching Sikha and Salim’s stories told through film, I was blown away at how these two were able to direct a film, by using friends and family members to reenact the roles they played in educating marginalized members of their community on important health and education-related issues.

What amazed me most is how these two agents of change are completely bypassing the traditional news media in Calcutta, and India, by taking their stories to a wider, international, audience online.

Sikha even told me personally that it’s her dream to be a filmmaker, and is fascinated by cinematography, which she learnt a bit about during the filming of The Revolutionary Optimists. The making of this documentary film empowered her, and others, to begin producing their own videos.

On my visit to one of Prayasam’s youth groups, not Rishi Aurobindo but Nazrulpully, I met another group of boys and girls producing media for the world beyond their borders.

Nazrulpully is a slum located under and alongside New Town bridge in Calcutta’s burgeoning information technology (IT) sector. This area of the city is known as Sector 5, and yet most people I spoke to in the city don’t even know Nazrulpully exists.

I walked along a river bank, watching residents of the slum bathe and clean clothes, until I reached a small structure; the office of Prayasam’s youth group in Nazrulpully. Monish and Priya introduced themselves to me. They proudly displayed the numerous awards the group has won.

These two, along with a few others, produce regular videos about life in the slum. During their shoot, I stepped in to make some recommendations about framing and lighting. They took my advice and began filming: “Live from Nazrulpully!”


Okay they didn’t say this, but my Hindi language skills are non-existent so I just stood there watching. Again, I was excited to see how passionate they were in producing media (I’m sort of a radio and documentary film nerd, if I say so myself).


Courtesy of Angel Anusua

Monish and Priya took time to sit down and talk to me about the work they do here, in Nazrulpully. This award-winning Praysam group has collected books and opened a community library. The group’s next goal is to push policymakers for a new primary school, which would be the community’s first.

Calcutta stole my heart during my travels throughout India, and the reason for this was due to my visit to Praysam. Meeting the youth and seeing the work they do in their own communities was inspiring. It’s hard not to be inspired when you speak to Amlan Ganguly, a man who’s spent so much time empowering youth to be the change they want to see in the world, to paraphrase Gandhi once again.

I was even fortunate enough to take part in a puja, or ceremony, for the Hindu goddess of knowledge and learning, Saraswati, at Prayasam’s office in Calcutta. It was fitting that I participate in a ceremony dedicated to the idol in the Hindu pantheon I admire most; a woman advocating for education.

For me, it was a real educational experience to meet everyone at Praysam, and I look forward to returning to Calcutta to help conduct media training. Once its new Adobe Foundation grassroots film studio, as Ganguly refers to it, is up-and-running.

Mark Tully, the famous BBC correspondent based in Delhi wrote in his 1991 book No Full Stops in India: “Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal, is synonymous with poverty and squalor. I would suggest that Calcutta’s bad name is not entirely justified, but there is no doubt that its slums and shanty towns should be fertile ground for revolutionaries.”

I couldn’t agree more with Tully, a fellow radio journalist. I can’t wait to be a part of the next endeavour at Prayasam. Let it be a journalistic one, something I’m much more familiar with so I can help them share their stories with the world.

“Each one, teach one,” as Ganguly would say.

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Tanzania: Animals and crops provide mutual benefits in mixed farming

Madanji Awe practices mixed farming in Babati, Tanzania

Mr. Awe demonstrates how to use a forage chopping machine in front of his home (Babati, Tanzania).

Madanji Awe holds a recently-picked maize stalk which he has stripped clean of cobs. He places the long, yellowy-green stalk into a forage chopper and pulls the cord to start the motor. After a few attempts, the machine roars to life and shreds the stalk into bite-sized animal feed.

Mr. Awe grows maize, beans, cowpeas, vegetables and bananas. But he is most proud of his seven young, zero-grazed dairy cows.

He used to let his cows graze freely, but they did not put on weight or produce much milk, especially during the dry season. But with the forage chopper, he is much better able to integrate his animals with his crops. He can better feed them and collect their manure to fertilize his fields.

Mr. Awe lives with his wife and four children on a farm measuring just under a hectare near Seloto, a village outside Babati, 170 kilometres southwest of Arusha.

The 49-year-old teacher says, “The machines are expensive, but hopefully the government will subsidize the cost. It would help us produce livestock feed during the dry season.”

Mr. Awe looks after the three forage choppers that were placed on his farm as part of a project called Research In Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation, or Africa RISING. The project is part of a donor-funded initiative in three districts of central and northern Tanzania that encourages farmers to adopt mixed farming and improved seeds.

Mr. Awe says, “This machine saves me time and labour. Plus there is no post-harvest loss.”

Farmers who keep both animals and crops use the forage choppers to turn dry, harvested maize stalks into animal fodder to feed their livestock during the dry season.

Africa RISING model farmer Monica Pascal

Mrs. Pascal shows her intercropping techniques at the plot behind her home (Babati, Tanzania).

Gregory Sikumba is with the International Livestock Research Institute. He says that research in Babati district showed that farmers didn’t have enough feed for their livestock. But now that the farmers have access to the forage choppers, this situation is likely to improve.

Monica Pascal lives in the neighbouring village of Galapo. She too practices mixed farming. She raises chickens and uses their droppings to fertilize the tomatoes, eggplants and amaranth that she grows on her quarter of a hectare plot.

Mrs. Pascal works with a group of 70 farmers. She trains them to intercrop vegetables and fruits and use manure to maximize yields on their small parcels of land.

Mrs. Pascal says: “I didn’t know much about nutrition. I was planting local seeds, but now I’m planting improved seed varieties and teaching other farmers how to improve the health of their families.”

Inviolate Dominick is an extension officer at the World Vegetable Centre in Tanzania, one of the partners in the project. Ms. Dominick explains, “We selected Mrs. Pascal as a farmer-trainer due to her leadership and communication skills. Farmers come to her plot to learn.”

She says that small-scale farmers in the project area are now better equipped to improve their families’ food security and nutrition, as well as generate income.

Mr. Awe is pleased that his farm is making a better profit. He uses the extra money to supplement what he earns teaching agricultural science at a local secondary school.

He says: “I am paid [only] a small amount as a teacher, so I need to make money as a farmer. I practice zero-grazing instead of allowing my cattle to graze in the open because I want them to be free from disease and not easily injured.”

Published online @ Barza Wire

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Uganda: Teacher leaves classroom behind but keeps educating

John Kaganga and KEA young farmers

John Kaganga and his Kikandwa Environmental Association young farmers, also known as his children.

John Kaganga is transforming the lives of rural youth. The retired teacher is inspiring young people to pick up their hoes and build a brighter future in Kasejjere village, 70 kilometres northwest of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city.

Mr. Kaganga says: “When I returned home after living in the city for 20 years, I saw the community was lagging behind. Everywhere you looked, trees had been chopped down for making charcoal and the soil was degraded.”

To respond to these problems, he founded the Kikandwa Environmental Association, or KEA. With a garden hoe in one hand and a notebook in the other, Mr. Kaganga encourages children and young adults from seven to 30 years of age as they farm. The 59-year-old teaches his “class” to use farming as a way to achieve food security and tackle climate change.

He says: “I was born into a farming family. My mother died when I was only two years old, so my grandmother took care of me and taught me to love agriculture.”

The now-fertile farmland on which Mr. Kaganga teaches young farmers was once used for slash and burn agriculture. Farmers cleared all vegetation to create more space to grow crops. But many struggled to put food on the family table.

Mr. Kaganga explains: “This wasn’t environmentally friendly and caused serious soil degradation. When I started [KEA], my objective was to inspire young people to become sustainable small-scale farmers and to stop deforestation.”

There are 200 households and nearly 1,000 residents in Kasejjere village. More than 100 young farmers have joined KEA, including some of Mr. Kaganga’s eight children and ten grandchildren.

Claire Nakate is Mr. Kaganga’s granddaughter. The 14-year-old is in her first year of secondary school. She wields a hoe as she digs in the family farm alongside two brothers and four helpful friends.

Ms. Nakate says happily: “I like to do weeding and pruning and sowing seeds. Most of all I like to rear animals like goats, pigs and cows. Through farming I can get money for my school fees and food to eat.”

Her proud grandfather smiles broadly and sets down his hoe. Picking up a handful of soil, Mr. Kaganga says, “A lot of youth today want to make quick money, so they sell land to buy motorbikes or move to the city looking for work. Not many want to get their hands dirty.”

Mr. Kaganga thinks young people should turn to farming to create their own jobs. He says farming can have a huge impact on food security and the environment, if young people are taught sustainable techniques.

KEA is supported by Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers Forum, or ESAFF, which helps to train many small-scale farmers in Uganda on sustainable agricultural practices.

Yvette Ampaire is ESAFF’s campaign and advocacy officer. She says, “It’s inspiring to see the work [Mr. Kaganga] is doing. He’s quite an exceptional farmer. He learns something, puts it into practice, and passes on the information to others.”

She is impressed by the ambition of Kasejjere’s young farmers. Ms. Ampaire says, “For them, the sky is the limit.”

Mr. Kaganga has helped Kasejjere become a model farming village. He has also established a community resource centre for young people to prepare for a successful future in agriculture. KEA’s library houses books on sustainable agricultural practices, environmental issues, and climate solutions.

Mr. Kaganga says, “Information is power. If we are going to solve the climate crisis, we must connect rural villages across the world to share information.”

Published online @ Barza Wire

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