Pringles and crema inspire training design for HCR's new course

By Ross James

The distance between gastrophysics and community-centred media training is long, but stay with me on a journey that pauses at Pringles, coalesces with crema and arrives at a resolution.

Charles Spence is an experimental psychologist. He chose 20 people then got each person to sit in front of a microphone one at a time, take a bite of a Pringle, spit it out, and rate their satisfaction for taste. This was repeated over and over for each person. The munchers heard their crunches through a set of headphones, but they didn’t know the sound of their crunch was manipulated as Spence adjusted audio settings such as frequencies and volume. Spence ran statistical tests by crunching the Pringles, sorry, the numbers, and proved chips were perceived to be fresher with a louder, higher-pitched crunch than those with softer-sounding crunches, even though all the chips were exactly alike. It was the first experiment to show food could “taste” different just by altering the sound of eating it. Thus began the scientific discipline of gastrophysics that studies how the five human senses work together to form our perception of what we eat. Master chef Heston Blumenthal, a convert to Spence’s ideas, offers diners a fish dish, accompanied by ear buds to listen to sounds of the sea, waves and cries of gulls as they dine.

All this came back to me in Pakistan recently. A weekend between onsite training sessions was a weekend to devote time to HCR’s new training course. Writer’s block was the perfect excuse to stroll down a familiar tree-lined street (I lived in Islamabad for some years) from my guesthouse to Jinnah Bazaar. Coffee shops abound in modern Islamabad; even Gloria Jean’s is here! But I like MJ’s because the barista has got the crema right.

Crema is the caramel-brown froth on top of a shot of espresso, a combination of air bubbles and the oils from the ground coffee. The visual appeal and texture of crema creates the sensory experience of coffee when it bursts on the tongue. Forget fancy designs, swirls, flowers, hearts or faces. It’s all about the crema, the sensory evidence of an alignment of everything that makes a good coffee.

For reasons related to a specific HCR project (another blog for another day), I completed a barista course. Rule number one was drilled into us: get the crema right because that first sip has to capture the sensations of aroma and taste that make a coffee memorable. When I took my first sip of the doubleshot flat white I ordered at MJs, the crema met my expectation. Well done, barista!

The crema sensation reminded of gastrophysics and that began a reflection on the sensory elements of good training. I’m leading the development of HCR’s new training course to be fully accredited as a vocational training program for the community-centred media work we are known for. It pulls together everything we have learned in projects we have influenced in the Philippines, Pakistan, Nepal, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Africa and elsewhere. Our purpose is to develop community leaders who can organise and lead media partnerships with media content that “gives to the listeners, it doesn’t take from them like our commercial radio programming does”, to quote a radio station manager initially suspicious of our approach in handing over the microphone to community, not keeping it in the hands of “radio professionals”.

My writers block was not about methodology: HCR already has a proven innovative cross-cultural method of competency based training for specific topics. Pringles and crema gave me the insight into the way we could design the course and distribute it across the proposed seven-day intensive workshop. We don’t need people who “know”. We need people who are inspired to “be and do”. And that led to my resolution for a course design to be sensory-focused and experiential. We’ll keep you updated on progress and our emerging design. Meantime, get gastrophysical: enjoy eating as a sensory experience, and critique your barista’s crema.

A Voice For Peace in Troubled Mindanao

By Ross James and Jon Hargreaves

Amidst the turmoil on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, following clashes between government forces and Islamic militants, a voice for peace continues to ring out.  Radio Gandingan, an HCR-supported community-centred radio project, is providing critical information to residents and displaced people from Marawi city, where the fighting first broke out on 24th May.  A number of people were killed and taken hostage by the militants who had reportedly occupied several government buildings in the city, torched others, including a church, a school and the city jail and took over a medical centre where they replaced the Philippines flag with a black, ISIS-style banner.

Community volunteers from Radio Gandingan out and about in Mindanao

Community volunteers from Radio Gandingan out and about in Mindanao

Meanwhile Radio Gandingan is helping provide critical information about the situation and the martial law rules that have been imposed by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. Community volunteers are working around the clock to provide up-to-date information and the station’s popular serial radio drama now includes the Marawi situation into its story-lines.

Since 2004 Radio Gandingan has been broadcasting in the primary language of the minority Magindanaon people, empowering them to voice their concerns and gain access to government officials and services to improve their quality of life.  Preliminary results of an evaluation currently underway by HCR shows how the project has helped community cohesion by resolving family and community conflict, strengthened family bonds and relationships and improved understanding between community members and leaders.   Radio Gandingan listeners have also expressed how the project has helped to improve health and develop livelihoods in their communities.

Relationships built on trust

By Hazeen Latif

Sitting in a “hujra” (a room in the house for meetings and discussions) my host’s uncle asked me, “What is your interest in coming to our village (Swabi, KPK)?”  This question is rarely asked of anyone when it comes to hospitality in KPK region, a province to north of Pakistan.

Before any kind of reply from me, my friend’s (the host) uncle changed the tone and said, “Oh, you must not misunderstand me. It rarely happens that people come to visit us in this hot weather, with no facility of any kind in the village, and having to sit on the ground with us. Please do not take this the wrong way as we are honored by your presence.” This dialogue gave me an opportunity to share how I felt in their midst. It was through my friend that I had been invited to visit the community and asked to help the community become healthy and prosperous. I told them that my visit to the community was the fulfilment of a promise to my friend; no more than that.

In the hujra (house), a council member from government was present who was elected to the union council for that region comprising of eight villages of which one was the village where I was sitting. All the men agreed to develop a CBO (community based organisation) for the villages. They all happily decided on the name which is Khush-hali meaning prosperity. Amazingly, they all agreed on the name. With my guidance, they identified the issues of the community for the first time and even proposed some solutions.  Major issues which came up in our discussion were education for all, but mostly for girls, and health issues as there is only one BHU (basic health unit) operational in the region for over ten thousand adults in the union council. Other issues discussed were youth being neglected, hygiene and poor infrastructure. The men asked me to develop a program and to proceed in developing Khush-hali by establishing a proper legal frame work. The meeting ended with a delicious lunch we all shared by eating from the one dish.     

Call for peacebuilding radio station ahead of Kenya's election

By Jon Hargreaves

With just over four months until Kenya goes to the polls amidst concerns that there will be election-related violence, HCR is exploring the feasibility of a new radio station in eastern Kenya's Tana Delta.   

Last year we partnered with the Sentinel Project to set up a peace centre in the town of Garsen. In this interview, John Green from Una Hakika describes how rumours and misinformation are often a key driver in the conflict between different groups and how a radio station could help build peace in the region. 

Since the nineteenth century, eastern Kenya's Tana River County has often been the scene of violent conflict, largely between two ethnic groups, the dominant Orma, who are nomadic cattle-herders and the Pokomo, who are farmers.   Many of the disputes have been over land use and access to water, however the intensity of these conflicts has increased in recent decades.  This has been fuelled by the easy access of weapons flooding across the nearby border with Somalia, growing poverty, the pressure caused by poorly managed resources and political interference.  Add to that toxic mix, the extremist group Al Shebab, which is trying to destabilise Kenya and Tana River County, is at risk of descending into violent conflict.

In June 2015, HCR, helped a Hola-based community organisation, Kenya Sustainable Health Aid to establish Tana FM which is now on the air supporting the peacebuilding process in the region in the run-up to August's critical election.

Got my confidence back!

On 26th February, Hazeen Latif, Director of HCR in Pakistan visited Charsadda to present a refresher course for a previous radio group who were trained in 2014. The meeting was held at the residence of Asad Ullah, an active community member and a certificate holder of the HCR Radio Skills Training Workshop.

The content of the refresher course covered the strengths and weaknesses of radio, types of microphone, how to use the microphone, and target the audience. The participants found the training valuable, and in the words of Asad Ullah, “this refresher course has helped me get my confidence back in using the microphone and availing myself of every opportunity as host of a program on my local FM station. Thanks so much to HCR for their follow up and support."

           Hazeen as he facilitates the refresher course

           Hazeen as he facilitates the refresher course