The making of … a hero

How long it takes to shoot a 30″ TV commercial? It takes months and months of preparation, concept development, testing, drawing, shooting, post production. And a huge team: client, agency, production house, you name it.

Soooo, when on a Wednesday morning I received the list of people, locations and interviews VIP wanted to cover for an article in just a couple of days, I said, “No way! It’s impossible!”. And I handed distrustfully the list to my colleagues from Save the Children in Bungoma office.

It took them exactly 3 working days to prepare a detailed program (more precise than a shooting board!) and mobilize local ministry of health, health facility staff, boda boda (motorbike) drivers, mothers… On Monday we were set to go, VIP arrived, in 2 days we met and recorded between 20 and 30 people.

In my work in Communications with Save the Children, identifying and writing good case studies is important. Case studies are included in donor reports, in fundraising projects, they can trigger the interest by potential donors, by general public, by media. These are personal stories of beneficiaries, showcasing the impact of Save the Children interventions.

VIP is a journalist, who’s writing for a major news corporation in Kenya, who came to cover the story of Godwin, a boda boda driver. What’s interesting about this story is the context of why this story is interesting for the media. In Kenya boda boda drivers are used universally as taxis, however they have a very bad public image, because a lot of road accidents, robberies, and other crimes are associated with them. Yet, in Bungoma, boda boda drivers are used as ambulances by Save the Children, in partnership with local ministry of health. Why? In Bungoma, where the intervention takes place, distance is a major barrier why moms give birth at home, in many cases mothers would have to walk a few kilometers to the nearest health facility. So moms either walk, or give birth at home. Or take a taxi. A boda boda.

Boda bodas are a low-cost, fast, affordable and acceptable way to get to the health facility. And as an expert in behavior change programs, Save the children understand that it’s easier to offer to the community a solution that comes from the community itself. And to work to improve it. It’s the community that chooses the boda boda drivers, they select the most experienced and trusted drivers on so-called “men barazas” (men meetings). For the selected boda boda drivers this jobs is a privilege, they say “it’s a calling”. So this story actually sheds a different light on the otherwise socially controversial profession. It creates a good image of boda boda drivers, of Godwin. The image of a hero.

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It took us 2 days to interview local ministry of health officials, Godwin and his family, mothers, who were driven by him to the health facility, other boda boda drivers, health workers, traditional birth attendants.

We started off with general shots in the health facility. An ambulance and an … ambulance. There are few ambulances in the health facilities, but they are used to transfer patients to bigger hospitals, and not to take them from their homes. There is a gap. In this case covered by boda bodas as alternative means of transporation.

We then visited Godwin’s home, on the way people knew him and greeted him, Godwin is popular within his community.

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Godwin’s home is a cosy one, and what would a house be without a cat!

Then we visited two families, interviewed two moms with their babies. To enter the houses, we were officially welcomed by the local chief. The chief turned to me, being the only “mzungu” (white person) in the group, “You did not warn us that you were coming” he said. “But here I feel most welcome, thank you for that” I answered, a bit puzzled with what would be the right respectful response. He smiled back, “You are welcome! Come in”.

On most of the occasions I had to introduce myself formally. They knew Save the Children, but did they know GSK? How could I explain? Luckily, it was an easy one – see the logo on Godwin’s top? See those posters hanging on the wall? Well, the product on the posters is produced by my company. The company that is a main donor behind the Health Signature Program in Bungoma.

Most of the time I felt warmly welcomed by local community wherever we went. Even they gave me the name Nasimiyu, which means “one of the Simiyu family”, a popular surname in one of the Bungoma sub-counties. So this is how they introduced me when at the end of day 2 we met the boda boda drivers, Godwin’s colleagues.

The boda boda drivers told us a myriad of stories. Their job is not an easy one. Many of the births take place at night, so on many occasions they need to drive at night, when roads are dangerous. Occasionally it happens that moms give birth during the trip. Sometimes the drivers get attacked, stoned at. Also, a lot of mystery lives in these villages, some of the boda boda drivers were telling us stories of a ghost driver who scared people at night. Too bad I could not capture those priceless stories with my poor non-existent Swahili (on the other hand, what a good motivation to learn it, no?)

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And no story is complete, unless you take some gorgeous photos of the children of Africa!

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So 5 working days, including preparation, lots of hard wrok, 20-30 long and mini interviews, tons of emotions and lot’s of fun! An experience that proves two things: (1) the power of Save the Children to mobilize local community is amazing. (2) Impossible is nothing!

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