November 06

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Sustainable change- Not just another jargon

It’s Monday morning, I step out of my week long isolation to be welcomed by the city with a warm breeze heavily laced with precipitation and car fumes. Street vendors were coaxing pedestrians to buy from them while fresh fruits and vegetables doused by a quick spell of rain glistened in the morning sun. I walked, slower than usual, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the city. Normality had almost been restored to Tanzania post-elections (severe unrest still prevails in Zanzibar).

Having arrived at work post-hibernation, I turn on my computer to be greeted by a mail from GSK which reads– “re-entry to GSK orientation session”. Gradually it dawned upon me that the end of my PULSE assignment was near. The one question that was popping into my head whole of last week was “Have I created sustainable change during my assignment?” and this sentiment has been echoed by my fellow colleges also on their PULSE assignments. First things first, what is sustainability? The oxford dictionary defines sustainable /sustainability as “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level”. It is the ability to endure i.e., to replace existing resources with those of higher or equal value. We, PULSE volunteers are valuable resources to the NGO’s we are working with and as with any resource; we will soon be depleted (metaphorically speaking). So what happens next? Was our presence beneficial to the organization and did we effect change?Will the initiatives we championed continue to be implemented once we leave? Make no mistake, change does not occur overnight, let alone sustainable change. However, we as volunteers begin with the end in our mind.

After much deliberation, I decided to keep my approach simple- sharing my skills, knowledge and experience with the NGO and letting them decide how they wanted to use it. Conversing with my manager at Amref, it was evident that the staff was keen on developing their writing and communication skills. Amref Tanzania’s staff are actively involved in the writing of proposals, manuscripts, abstracts, posters, project reports as well as writing of newsletters, interviewing beneficiaries and sharing stories with the media. My role with Amref involves working with project teams as well as the communications unit to aid them in these activities. Like the pieces of a puzzle falling perfectly into place, I was assigned the task of conducting capacity building sessions for the staff of the country and field offices of Tanzania on communications and writing.

The first capacity building session I facilitated was in collaboration with the health systems research unit of Amref TZ and an external facilitator from Muhimbili University. The week long workshop was held in Morogoro, a quaint little town 170-kms from Dar with magnificent views of clouds breaking over Mt.Uluguru range in the distance. The agenda was packed with sessions on scientific writing, manuscript writing, abstract writing and sharing best practices. The success of this session manifested in the form of completion of pending manuscripts and initiation of new ones post training.

The second session was conducted last month along with the communications unit of Amref TZ and trainers from University of Dar es Salaam’s School of Journalism and mass communication (SJMC). The scope of the training’s was different this time around. The focus was on the use of social media for creating brand visibility, ethical reporting of stories collected in the field, interview skills, writing stories, editing and proofreading, etc,. Since the content was more upbeat and informal the sessions were also informal with games and activities and sharing personal experience and learning’s rather than just presenting slides.

What fascinated me the most about this experience was that I gained a whole new perspective and respect for the complexities involved in communication. The ways and means of communication varies vastly in Africa than other parts of the world and I am not even going to delve into the cultural aspects of it. The world today, increasingly communicates via the internet, especially social media. However, in Africa, majority of the people still don’t have access to smart phones, computers or even television. Amref communicates to the majority of its beneficiaries using face to face interactions, radio broadcasts and by distributing pamphlets and flyers at social gatherings. These means of communication might seem outdated, but this is what works here and you develop on things which work. For example: many regions have limited to no electricity, let alone having access to television or the internet. Therefore, the need of the hour is to get the foundation in place prior to building different communication platforms. Having said this, Africa is embracing technology and its immense possibilities (read my other blog for more on this- https://gskpulsevolunteers.com/2015/08/21/technology-transforming-lives-in-more-ways-than-one/).

Apart from conducting capacity building sessions, I am also involved in the setting up of processes and databases around communications at Amref TZ which did not exist previously. I have also been involved in establishing the organizations presence across popular social media platforms.

This incredible opportunity has afforded me the luxury of traveling, meeting new people, interacting with educational institutions and understanding the needs of a wide range of audience. It has also helped me improve my presentation and training skills, but most importantly I have gained a lot of new friends. So coming back to the question-“Have I created sustainable change”? I would have to say yes, in my own small ways, I have.

An article on the training session is featured in Amref TZ’s newsletter (being guest editor of the newsletter helps get featured I guess):

Amref Health Africa_Issue #3_TZ_Newsletter July_Sept_2015

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Morogoro city center with Mt.Uluguru in the backdrop

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With my colleges at Morogoro

Unlike Dar, many houses in Morogoro did not have fences and the residents grew their own food in the backyard.

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Local football tournament in Morogoro.

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Clouds ascending over Mt.Uluguru range

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Many such markets could be found alongside Morogoro-Dar highway.

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Handmade baskets by Maasai tribals along Morogoro-Dar highway.

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Communications training with UDSM’s SJMC

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Sharing a lighter moment at the session

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Training on editing and proofreading

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With my colleges and participants of the training session on the final day

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A candid shot by one of my collegue