Monday, March 21, 2011

Umthathi meets Radio G...

The past week has involved a lot of patience on Litha’s and my behalf. A key goal for the week was to finalise agreements with Radio Grahamstown, with regards to their commitment to broadcasting a show in partnership with Umthathi. It was, in our view, important to establish whether the station saw value in continuing with the show after we complete this project in the middle of the year.  If they did, our proposal was that the station should identify two people in their volunteer team who could commit themselves to anchoring and producing the show in the long term.  The idea was then for them to take part in our training programme, in order to strengthen their production and anchoring skills, and also to build a strong relationship between them and the people from Umthathi. We wanted these details in place before Thursday afternoon, when we planned to facilitate a strategic planning workshop involving both the Radio Grahamstown show team and Umthathi. But despite Litha’s and my careful planning and time management, it felt as if we were getting nowhere slowly. As soon as we started to interact with people at the station, we found ourselves running up against the true essence of ‘African time’. But my experience is that this timing always has a way of working itself out, and once again, to my surprise, by Thursday 14h15, in time for our workshop, we had achieved what we had set out to do.  .
It all started on Tuesday, when we spent a number of hours hanging around Radio Grahamstown while waiting to speak to the station manager, Phumlani Wayi. However, once again patience proves itself to be a virtue. While waiting at Radio G we become more familiar with the people who work there, meeting old and new faces alike.  And then, when we finally got to sit down with Phumlani we were able to have a very fruitful discussion.  Phumlani had read through our proposal plan for the show and told us that he is pleased with what he has read and seen. He indicated that the station would be happy to commit itself to having a weekly 30 minute broadcast of the show, starting in the 4th week of April. We are currently hoping for the show to be broadcast on a Friday as this day suits the Umthathi facilitators who are stationed at the Umthathi offices every Friday.
Thus, on Thursday, having established these details Litha and I were eager to get cracking with the second of the four workshops we had planned for the Umthathi facilitators and Radio G.  The workshop was all about introducing the Radio G and Umthathi participants to each other. The aim was also to do some strategic planning in order to build a shared editorial vision for the show, so as to insure that we all set off on the same footing. Once again Litha and I were holding thumbs that all would go well and at 14h45 we kicked off the workshop in one of the seminar room at the Rhodes Journalism department. Xoliswa and SD, who came from Umthathi, were quite late in arriving, but this did not set us back as we soon started chatting about the show. It wasn’t plain sailing, though! We had a lot of filling in to do as we quickly realised that the members from Radio G had no idea of what they were there to do. Apparently Phumlani had simply asked them to come to the workshop, without explaining what he was committing them to.  But eventually we got the ball rolling and all seemed to be on the same page by the end of the workshop.

As a key strategy for achieving this goal, we had included an exercise in the workshop in which we created a poster, working with the outline of a tree - including roots, a trunk, and branches. All of us then sat together and filled in words, labelling the different aspects of the tree. The tree roots represented the values and beliefs that will inform the show, while the tree trunk identified   those values and beliefs that the team feels is of the most fundamental importance and will make sure the project will hold together and survive. The branches stood for the themes that will be incorporated into the show while the   leaves indicated the people, voices and sources that should be represented in the show. And finally the fruit indicated what the achievements of the show should be and the impact it should have on the community. The ideas was to keep this poster as an editorial resource, and to make copies to  give to both Radio G and Umthathi to serve as a reminder and motivation of what the show stands for. I believe this exercise worked well as it helped to clarify, for the whole team, what the show is really about.

The second part of the workshop zoomed in on one of the skills areas that we want to focus on in our training of the team - i.e. that of writing for radio.  We started this section by presenting a short slide show discussing techniques and tips on writing for radio, as well as what makes for good radio and ideas on how to hook an audience. This slide show was accompanied with the handing out of a file that Litha and I created for each Umthathi and Radio G. This file included the show’s proposal plan along with slightly more detailed notes which elaborated on the slide show. Both the slide show and notes were created with the knowledge in basic radio training that we have gained as a JMS 2 radio tutor this year. The object of these files is so that Radio G and Umthathi can keep them for further reading and share what they have learnt with those unable to come to the workshops. These files will have notes added to them at each workshop.
All in all it has been a long but successful week, and I feel that we have achieved what we set out to do. Our workshops are now in full swing with the next one taking place at 14h30 this Thursday. It will take place at the Rhodes Journalism department’s radio studio, focusing on the art of radio presentation and interviewing, and hopefully we will even come up with a show name by the end of the week.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A great start...

The ball is now rolling with our preparations getting a Kick start during our first official workshop with the Umthathi facilitators last Friday, 11 April.
Litha and I arrived at the Umthathi offices equipped with our workshop plans in hand. Once again the facilitators were timely and ready and waiting to start. Litha and I had one main concern, which was to continue establishing a good relationship with the Umthathi facilitators. So we began ‘breaking the ice’ even further in order to gain the confidence and trust of the facilitators. To my delight we seemed to have done something right over the past few weeks. The facilitators, who in previous weeks were quite distant and slightly apprehensive to share information with us, were now more approachable and showed a sort of confidence towards Litha and myself. I also became aware of their keen interest and enthusiasm in the creation of the radio show. This inspired me, as I felt a greater need to help make the show a continuous success, especially once our project has come to an end.
I believe that one of the key contributors in our relationship with the facilitators thus far, has been Litha’s and my approach to the Umthathi project. From the start we have shown great respect and a genuine interest in the project and its facilitators. Along with our realisation in knowing the profound importance Umthathi has within the community it operates.
One of the aims of the workshop was to establish key features relating to the landscape, community lives, social issues, challenges and advantages Umthathi has within the community. Thus an editorial discussion and brain storming took place. This was especially interesting for me as most of the conversation took place in isiXhosa, with Litha facilitating the conversation. To my surprise I managed to keep up the gist of the conversation with the help of Litha filling in when needed; as a result I was quite happy and comfortable in allowing this conversation to take place.
Together with the facilitators we established five main themes which will be integrated into the radio shows. These very basically consist of: the benefits of gardening, nutrition, medicinal plants, how to garden and gardening as an income generation. We then wrapped up the workshop by detailing our plans for the next two workshops which will deal with the practical aspects in basic radio production skills, interviewing skills, writing for radio. The final workshop will focus on strategic planning in the preparation for the first broadcast of the radio show, which will be aired in the second week of next term.
With our first workshop done and dusted we now finally have the feeling that our project is gaining momentum. It is now up to Litha and me to play the role of teaching the Umthathi facilitators to be content gatherers. While emphasizing the building of a strong relationship between Umthathi and Radio Grahamstown, who will fully take over the responsibilities of the show once we have ended our participatory project. And ultimately the true test of our success will be in the continuous relationship between these two parties.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It’s time to do some planting…

On Friday, Litha and I set off to the Umthathi offices, not really knowing what to expect in our first encounter with the project in action. By the time we got there one of their practical workshops was in full swing, teaching the community to cultivate their own vegetable gardens. So I set off eagerly with my camera and recorder in hand, ready to immerse myself in the community’s reaction to the project. However, to my own surprise, before even getting to grips with what the community thought, I started to reflect on my own responses to what the Umthathi facilitators were talking about. I soon realised my own ignorance in the matters of small-scale cultivation, and even when talking to the community, I felt the need to soak up this knowledge myself in order to make sense of it.  
There were little stations set up all over the Umthathi property, each dealing with different aspects of cultivation. As I stood under the warm sun listening to the facilitators talking to the small groups of community members gathered around their displays, I began to understand the true importance of the Umthathi project. They are truly ‘bringing the culture back into agriculture’ and passing essential skills to the community.
And with this insight, I have no doubt that the Umthathi project is well on its way in helping create a sustainable life for the community in which they operate. The facilitators work hand in hand with the community to provide hands on education and training in methods of organic permaculture cultivation. Throughout the workshops the community has the chance to get physically involved in the planting experience and two way conversations are encouraged between the facilitators and participants. This allows for knowledge to be shared and greater learning experience is thus reached. A neglected culture is therefore brought back to life through the sharing of such knowledge. Simple wisdom such as which household plant can be used to cure an illness to mind-boggling methods of cooking which utilised the power of the sun, consequently avoiding the unaffordable commodity of electricity within rural communities. I found that the true ingenious of the project lies within the simplicity of their methods. Their simple techniques can be used by anyone and don’t cost a cent.
The workshops also talk to the community about the importance of healthy living, nutritional eating and the effects of climate change. I believe that it is the combination of both the practical experience and theoretical knowledge that will allow the participants to create and sustain their own livelihoods through vegetable and plant cultivation, even once their training is completed. Even after attending just one of the Umthathi workshops I feel that they are putting the foundations in place for something that goes beyond the Grahamstown context and has far reaching potential in the creation of a much needed sustainable world.
However, what really stuck me was the keen interest the participants had in learning about what the project was teaching them.  They were egger to be taught and many were getting involved by getting down and dirty while digging, shovelling and planting in order to experience what the facilitators were talking about.
Ultimately, the whole workshop was well organised, timely and efficient. And even though it was carried out in isiXhosa, through the help of Litha’s translation and my minimal understanding of the language, I think we all left feeling that we had learnt something. More importantly we now had the practical experience to put theory into practice in our own gardens.