Celebrating the success of our friends

Tomorrow our good friends and partners at the University of Rongo celebrate their Graduation Day. Below is a lovely piece outlining what our friends in Rongo feel about CM4K.

We wish all the students and staff who we have worked with, and who have supported us so generously, a happy day of well deserved celebrations. We wish you all good luck  wherever your futures lie. Stay in touch.

Asante wote

Bahati nzuri wapenzi


Day 11 – reflections from the trip organiser

Day 11 and our final full day of participatory learning through community media partnerships is ahead of us tomorrow (day 12). We might not have internet connectivity from here on in and I’m not sure if I can even upload this but I will give an outline of yesterday’s activities and post as and when I can.

After the raw content collection at the Kagan Village with the Luo dancers and subsequent visit to various politicos and bureaucrats (including the Director of Culture; the Chief Officer; The County Secretary & the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning at Homa Bay County Government the previous day – this was production day. Brain storming; ideas sharing; storyboarding; transition and links recordings and editing was the nature of the day. The students worked flat out all day and progress was evident – as at times was the frustrations of the creative collaborations!

Moving between the various groups – suggesting ideas; listening to collaborative dialogue and decision making and resolving conflicts – I was impressed by the levels of engagement and commitment of all participants. I’ve said it before but it is worth saying again – I am incredibly proud of all participants of the CM4K 2016 collaborations. It has been amazing & so are the participants. Special shout-out to Lewes Bridson this time…as he was working on ploughing through 9 hours of video data yesterday night in an important sense-making exercise in readiness for the final editing sessions in Kenya.

This has been a particularly successful field-trip and I have high hopes that we have reached an important watershed for CM4K. The students of the LM376 Community Project module in the School of Art, Design & Media at the University of Brighton have been absolutely incredible and I salute them. I’m going to close this off for now. If I get a chance to upload the post I will include picture of the discussions at Homa Bay County Government as well as a few of the participants collaborating at Rongo University. That’s all for now. Watch out for the next post as Maasai Mara here we come J

Days 7 – 10 reflections from the trip organiser

20160127_125835 20160127_134115 20160127_134135Days 7 -10 have seen a complete change of rhythm and location. Gone are the long traffic jams and urban creativity of Kenyatta University and in are the bumpy dusty roads and more laid back but equally confusing schedules for the day at Rongo University. Confusing in that a course of action is agreed one minute only to be changed on the way and yet somehow things seem to get done!

Day 7 was as I indicated in my last blog a day of transfer. Some 7 to 8 hours in the Rongo University bus – not the most comfortable bus in the world but we were met in Nairobi by Isabelle from Rongo and she is always pleasant company. Little to be noted about the trip for me apart from the notable stopover in Narok and the disgraceful, money grabbing service at the Kenoil Petrol station restaurant, which used to be really nice but no more! I will never take a party there again and that is all that really needs to be said about that! It is always nice to stop at the Rift Valley view point and watch the students’ face as the take in the scale and scope of the wonder that is the Kenyan Rift Valley. At the bottom of the hill on the left is the most picturesque glad filled with beautiful Acacia trees, directly opposite from a small Catholic church built by Italian POWs during the 2nd World War. We arrived in Rongo at around 8pm to be greeted by all our friends from previous visits (as well as the great news that Chelsea had defeated Arsenal 0-1 – always a cheery bit of news to receive). After a a welcoming meal we were accompanied to our digs for the week and a good night’s sleep.

Breakfast on day 8 was most welcomed but before that we were officially welcomed by the Principal Prof Samuel Gudu, who is always so pleased to see us and so hospitable. After our repast we got down to business – kicked off by an introduction to this year’s project by Prof Jerry Agalo and a contextualisation lecture from me introducing students to Community Media as tools, spaces and processes for community empowerment, capacity building and voice. This took us up to lunch and gave the students time to reflect and socialise before kicking off the pre-production planning meetings for the 3 different groups – audio, video & photography. They spent the afternoon shaping and refining their own take on the project before presenting their ideas in plenary. As an educator committed to the PEARLS approach to Commnity-based Learning, it did my heart good to see how engaged all the participants were not only with each other but with the tasks they were creating. It was a really great session and whilst all the students did well, Oscar Faina was particularly articulate and passionate in presenting the video group’s ideas.

Day 9 saw us head off to Kagan village someway outside the town of Homa Bay – an area with some significant problems of poverty and social deprivation. We were greeted by the Kagan dancers from the Luo tribe who introduced us the tribal practices and customs of Luo culture through their dances and music. It was a fantastic experience and a great way to start of this embryonic research project – I dare say I will be speaking more about this in much more depth in future trips but the outline of this project is crystallising in my mind and day 10 will see us test it on politicos and bureaucrats (not my favourite folk in the world but tomorrow I have a job to do!). I think this was a significant day for the students….it was certainly enjoyable and also tiring and I am conscious that they are getting tired. I always try to factor in a down day for R&R but for some reason it has not happened this year and the guys are getting tired. I will leave them to explain and articulate their perceptions of this once in a lifetime day.

Day 10 was one of those days that we start with a plan which changes at every twist and turn of the hardened mud roads. After a last minute courtesy visit to the District Commissioner we set off to see the County Director of Culture at Homa Bay. She was in a meeting at the local airport (which was just opening up to international or at least national flights – this is a big deal and many dignitaries at national level were there so we slipped down the agenda). We had planned to visit the fishing market on the Lake (Victoria) for some contextualising photos. With little else to do we turned the next few hours into down time and the students took a boat trip and loads of photos. Eventually, the County politicos and bureaucrats were ready to see us and after 45 minutes of tourist spiel and taking phone calls when talking to us both Prof. Agalo and I decided to intervene. I refocussed the direction of the discussions and woke him up to the fact that we were looking to develop a serious research project in their County and beyond. At this the demeanour changed and Prof. Agalo explained what we were looking for from the potential partnership. At this point we were urged to make a courtesy call to the Minister of Finance and the County Secretary, who welcomed us in within a matter of minutes and pledged to develop a partnership with us and craft a memorandum of understanding with us to work as partners. This was a significant breakthrough and now we just need to write the proposal and secure funding! 🙂

However,  I was feeling very sorry for the students as I had promised them the afternoon off in recognition of their amazing commitment but before we knew it, it was 5pm and we headed back to Rongo. I have decided to give them the morning off tomorrow. This means we will only have 1.5 days for editing as Saturday has now been arranged as a trip to Obama’s homeland and a visit to a volcanic lake complete with pink flamingos. I think the students are more interested by the latter than the former but both will be great I am sure. For the first time we might have to finish editing when we get home as these are very adventurous and complex project.

Day 6 reflections of the trip organiser

Day 6 & a quick update – I’ve been in touch with Safi (the student who was refused permission to travel. Naturally enough she and her children are devastated but I will discuss everything with her when I get back and see what can be done for them for a future visit.

Well as day 6 was a Saturday I had planned on taking them to the Maasai market in the centre of Nairobi. It is a really intense experience and great fun. However, there were final tweaks needed in the editing of both the video and audio projects. As the guys were happy to stay behind and do that I arranged for our tour operator to accompany the girls to Nairobi City Centre whilst I stayed with the guys (and finished the small audio edits and exported it to MP3 format. No small task when you’re not used Macs, which don’t recognise the version of Lame we use. Anyway, I managed it eventually but it just confirmed my dislike of the Mac environment – oh and Keji your Mac is sooooooo slow 😉

Eventually all was done; the girls returned having had a good time and we were able to get to the exhibition just in time. In the event, as nice as it was for the French Embassy to give us the space for free, it didn’t really work out for the audio and video projects. The photography exhibition was OK although I think the photographers wished they’d been there a tad earlier to organise the actual presentation of pictures and accompanying narratives. There were a number of celebrations going on in the building and the noise from these made it impossible for people to take in the audio aspects of the podcast (everything) and the video projects. This was a shame but I think everyone enjoyed the exhibition as a social gathering at least. There was some nice food and drinks, speeches (well done Lola & Lewes) and before we made our exit there was dancing and a flurry of crazy selfie shots.

After some sad farewells and promises to continue the collaborations which we will do (I have extended an invitation for the Kenyan partners to submit content to the CM4K Exhibition in April. So watch this space). Everyone is having a bit of a lie in this morning ahead of a long trip to Rongo. Internet connectivity will be problematic there in all likelihood so expect blogs as and when, or as a great flurry on our return.

Well, that’s the first week done and dusted. It is been quite amazing. The students have worked harder than any group I can remember – very proud of them! Each year’s cohort have their own personality – not had a bad bunch yet (and fingers crossed it stays that way). Whilst not as manic and boistrous as last year’s bunch these guys are nice and I am enjoying working and socialising with them.

PS I’ll post some pics to this when I get a moment but for now it’s breakfast, final bits n bobs of packing and getting the sleepers up and about. 🙂

Day 5 reflections of the trip organiser

Day 5 provided us with the first real glimpse of the Kenyan sun. I think we all hope that that is he last we shall see of the rain. Whilst it’s not like UK rain, being warm and in its own way quite pleasant at times – I think we’ve all seen enough of the rain back home to want any more. Also it was extremely heavy in some areas which meant water coming down from higher ground often found its way into urban areas and onto roads – causing even more traffic problems.

Once we finally made it into Kenyatta University, it was all systems go! Luckily most of the participants from KU & SEMA arrived on time and those who were stuck let us know. So it was time to crack on with the editing and preparations. One of the things you notice over the years is the length of time this stage takes and it is at this point that students begin to realise the enormity of the production planning decisions they made a day or two earlier during the exciting stages of early collaboration with people from different backgrounds. This has certainly been the case here but the students, to their credit, have not let this deter them – working at times to 2 in the morning to get it finished right. Truth be told I am very proud of them for their determined enthusiasm.

The Video team chose to produce two pieces, which they had hoped to merge although I suspect they will now be two standalone pieces. One will be a documentary on the issues surrounding tribalism, which was shot both on campus and in the community of KM. The other is a short drama dealing with the pressures and issues surrounding mixed marriages (this comes complete with its own wedding ceremony) through a tribalistic lens. Oscar and Lewes have been working flat out on this and have impressed me heaps. They are still at it now as I write this.

The radio crew have also been very adventurous. They have produced their own 30 minute radio show in podcast form focussing on the issue of food security and hygiene, which is receiving a lot of attention at the moment, especially in food outlets in poorer areas. This has been a very vibrant and energetic group and Lola & Keji have also been burning the midnight oil getting this just right.

The photographers have undertaken a number of community shoots and have produced literally thousands of some quite stunningly atmospheric pictures. Their topic is happiness and joy as an alternative way of perceiving Kenyan life. Students taking Communications for Development next semester will think about representations of poverty in this kind of way. They also went out and ran a participatory photography session in the local community and got some great process and product shots. I think they are just about ready to go for the exhibition later today at the Alliance Francaise in the heart of Nairobi city centre.

This will be our last activity in Nairobi this year as we head to Rongo University in Migori County tomorrow. When we get there the blog frequency will depend on network conditions which are not great.

All in all it has been a great week and the students have done themselves, their families, the University, CM4K & myself proud!

Postscript: One sour note when I woke up this morning there had been a call from one of the students who was travelling with her children to join us for the final week. She was meant to arrive this evening. She and the kids travelled up from Brighton on the 01.40 bus to Heathrow terminal 2 only be stopped at check-in and told she would not be allowed to travel. Apparently it is law that passengers have to have 6 months validity on their passports to travel. As we return from Kenya on the 1st February, her passport falls outside of this law. Had we travelled back on the 31st, she would have been ok! This is so frustrating. I was face-timing with her on Keji’s I phone and both she and the kids are absolutely devastated – to say nothing of the loss of money she paid on the tickets. I think she has been able to get a refund for the children as she paid at the airport but as for her own fair, etc I suspect it is lost. I felt so impotent 1000s of miles away and unable to help them. Such a shame!

Day 4 reflections from the trip organiser

Day 4 got off to a very dodgy start! I’d received disturbing news about my ageing dog Tobey at home – who time is beginning to catch up with him. Luckily after a trip to the vet he seems to be a bit better – which was a relief! However, that wasn’t everything. After almost 2 hours in the Nairobi traffic we arrived at KU only to find that no-one from SEMA Media had arrived and only a few of the KU students were there. Over the next few hours this started to change following a few frantic messages between myself and the leaders of the other groups – who couldn’t attend in the morning but hadn’t made that clear to me. As this was the main content gathering fieldwork day – it was a massive frustration to say the least. However, as the day progressed the SEMS participants, who come from different communities and have to change Matatus several times, arrived – as did the KU students. To make matters worse I was scolded by the tea lady, who herself was an hour and a half late, for sending my students out into the field without the fruits of her efforts. This latter development was as much bemusing as it was amusing. 🙂

After the lunch the guys started to get very creative and I can’t comment on the final content presentation but the effort and enthusiasm to share knowledge with one another and engage in the production of some very creative content planning warmed my heart as an educator and developer of the PEARLS community-based learning approach (see previous blog). In this respect the collaborative dialogic and reflective approach we adopts to the development of a community of learners is beginning to win admirers here. It was this that attracted Fred Ochieng from KU Media and now SEMA Media (having engaged in an earlier workshop) to become a CM4K partner. However, Shikuku (my counter-part from Kenyatta University) arrived he stood watching the participants engaging in the development of participatory photography; audio and video productions and a big beaming smile brought his face to light. He looked at me and said,

”this is learning my friend. Look at how engaged they are and how they enjoy the knowledge sharing. I will take some pictures to show my colleagues….it’s amazing.”

With this my day got even better and certainly a lot better than the miserable start. 🙂

Days 2 & 3 reflections from the trip organiser

12597028_10208406647662604_718934832_o Day two of the CM4K fieldwork trip kicked off as it often does with a frustrating drive crawling through Nairobi traffic. Taking us well over an hour to get what is normally a twenty minute drive – however, after a few days we’ll get used to this and next year we might well stay on the Kenyatta University (KU) Campus as the partnership with them develops.

So the first day’s activities comprised formal introductions and a 2 hour lecture by me on: the history and vision of CM4K complete with the associated learning theories we apply to our community media practices; a participatory breakout session discussing what community means to the partnership participants (always an interesting and insightful activity); and a critical expose of the meaning; role and practices of community media. I think it went down well……I was certainly enjoying it but I suspect the most enjoyable part of the morning’s proceedings were the paper, rock, scissors & cheerleaders ice-breaker session Lola organised……Kenyans have never played this game but they certainly enjoyed it. We might have to include this into every year’s trip from here on in.

The afternoon session was spent organising the participants into practice groups – photography, video & audio. I spent that period flitting from group to group….throwing in the odd thought provoker and listening to the participants get to know each other through dialogic knowledge-sharing and planning. All in all it was an interesting and rewarding day but I was ready for an early night when we got back to the hostel and I swiftly drifted off as I laid on the bed to relax and think a while.

Day 3 and an even longer delay getting to KU saw us kick off the workshop a little later than planned…..but with impeccable timing we were there in time for tea J, which was a nice way to start the day. The participants got stuck in and soon were finishing off the assessment and planning stages (engagement was the previous day) stages of the Participatory Education & Action Research Learning Scenarios (PEARLS) – developed as part of the CM4K work. What I found encouraging about the work they were doing (over and above the level of enthusiasm and commitment from all) was the level of dialogue and critical reflection through the morning’s workshops.

In the afternoon, the three groups went out into the community to start work on their digital stories projects. The photography group working with a range of local people to express joy and happiness in Kenyan life. The audio team and working on producing a radio show focussing on food security in Kenyan communities and the video team are producing a participatory video project focussing on mixed marriages and tribalism in modern Kenya. The projects are ambitious in the time available but all participants are determined and excited and I am pretty sure some strong content is going to emerge. The work will be exhibited at the Alliance Francaise Exhibition Centre in Nairobi City Centre as part of the CM4K/SEMA Media ‘Stories from our Cities’ collaboration.

Arrived safe and sound

Good morning everyone and welcome to the 2016 CM4K field-trip blogs. We arrived in Kenya safe and sound although very tired. Nairobi is experiencing a few days mild and warm rain but at least it’s better than the snow we left back in Blighty.

The students are having a lie in. Today is an orientation and planning day. We’ll be heading off to the shops and a bit of a walkabout before settling down for a planning meeting for tomorrow’s workshop week at Kenyatta University with SEMA Media and surrounding communities.

I expect the students will start posting soon but for now……we are here safe n sound.


Stories from our Cities

Sunday 25th

Stories from our cities

The end of our first week in Kenya was marked with a street photography exhibition called Stories from our Cities in which photographers from K-Youth Media (an NGO that trains young people to be community reporters) and the University of Brighton exhibited their work on the walls of the Babadogo Road in Ruaraka. The exhibition lasted for a about 4 hours……mainly because our driver was late coming to pick us up. This was probably too long because some of the students, girls especially but not only, were attracting attention that made them feel a little uncomfortable. I think they were pleased when the bus finally arrived.

That said the exhibition overall was successful. There were some from the community who questioned why we were there and this was a fair point but when either I or Fredrick from K-Youth Media discussed the purpose of the collaboration between youth most were happy. One or two, were wary and one or two other were clearly spaced out on Miraa or some other form of herb! There was never any danger to anyone and this was the first time students from CM4K have come face to face with the stark realities of poverty in the developing world. It was a shock to some of them and several started to discuss their feelings with me. I am glad they started to think critically and question why? It is so easy to fall into the viewpoint that Kenya is just a place of smiling happy faces and simple generosity and feel comfortable with that view. Just to put anyone’s mind at rest, the exhibition was not held in any of the areas we are advised not to go but there was enough poverty and deprivation to give students who want to interpret the harsh realities of the world realistically to do so!

The students from CM4K and K-Youth Media were interviewing each other and getting the photographers to comment on their picture – thoughts, composition, intended message, etc. Lots of content was captured and I witnessed collaborative discussions taking place all over the place. I was most pleased with this because it signified a successful collaboration.

January 26th

The next day was meant to be a critical reflection on the exhibition between both sets of young practitioners in the K-Youth Media offices. Unfortunately, our driver was arrested…….again…..for not having a music liscence! In the middle of rush hour…..I mean I ask you…..really? The Kenyan Police certainly take copyright laws & public performance in a 14 seater mini-bus very seriously! Or were they just after pocketing more cash from this poor man?

The upshot of this was that when he finally arrived it was too late for the reflective discussions. This was a big shame but I am going to try and organise a video-conference when we return because I think everyone will benefit from it. That meant there was some time for a little relaxation and a football game started downstairs for a while. Eventually Alex & I called everyone together to pack and plan for our departure from Nairobi and our collaborations with Rongo University in Migori County. We leave today in an hour or so and internet connectivity will be hot and miss so dear readers you have been warned 😉