Stories Promote Peace in Eastern Kenya

By Jon Hargreaves

“I never realised how the Orma people came to be in this region of Kenya,” said a retired teacher from Tana River, “but since I started hearing their stories on the radio, I have begun to understand them better.”

The man, from a rival community, was responding to a series of cultural programmes he had heard on a new station set up by HCR and its partners, Amani (Peace) FM, in this conflict-affected region of eastern Kenya.  The programmes are made by Mole Hashako Yako, a community activist, teacher and social historian.  The Orma people of Tana River don’t have a written history, so Mole has been talking to elderly people in her community who have a rich knowledge about the past, and then telling their stories on the radio.

“Telling stories about our past, not only helps young people in the Orma community understand their roots and identity, but it also helps promote empathy and understanding between the communities,” she said.  “Once you hear someone else’s story, you humanise them and begin to understand them.”  Although there has been conflict particularly between the pastoralist Orma and agriculturalist Pokomo communities in recent years, Mole points to the past and to a time when the two communities lived side-by-side in peace and harmony.  She believes the past will help the communities connect with the future, where Tana River can be peaceful and prosperous.

Mole Hashako Yako: Telling stories promotes empathy and understanding between communities.

Mole Hashako Yako: Telling stories promotes empathy and understanding between communities.

Amani FM was established in August ahead of Kenya’s controversial elections in an effort to promote peace and build on and complement the work of Una Hakika which has been combatting rumours and misinformation since 2013.

John Green, the Director of Una Hakika, who is also chairman of the board of Amani FM, says that without a shadow of a doubt, Amani FM has contributed to peace at a time when there were many rumours circulating, which could have resulted in violence.  During focus groups conducted this week, among different communities, John says people appreciated how well Amani FM had advocated for peace and that how integrating the work of Una Hakika and the radio has produced a powerful model of using technology and relationships to foster peace and development.

A mother, but still a child

Early marriage is a major obstacle for girls in acquiring education and has many physical, social and psychological implications. The girls are forced into this cycle of poverty, inequality and illiteracy.

One of the solutions to assist girls to escape discriminatory customary practices like early child marriage is providing education and skill building opportunities. Education is the most valuable asset and ultimately empowers the girls to reach their fullest potential.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which define global development include target 5.3 ‘Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations’ (under Goal 5 ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’).

HCR faces these issues in some of the communities in which we work. Recently, in a village in Pakistan, an HCR associate was confronted with child marriage at a women’s empowerment session. A girl, aged 15, had an eighteen month old baby and was married to a 45 year old man. She is a mother, when she herself is still a child. In a culture that tends to be patriarchal, the birth of a son is celebrated as boys are considered assets who will provide support for ageing parents, whereas a daughter is often considered a liability. This traditional culture, along with poverty, reinforces practices like early child marriages.

At HCR we continue to work towards the education of girls and women all over the world and target many of the underlying issues that keep them in a cycle of poverty.  



'Who will marry you?'

By Hazeen Latif

Sahib Gul is 25 years of age and has never been able to walk. He uses his arms to go places in the community. The ground is covered with dust, stones, glass and rubbish. Sahib Gul’s hands get dirty, cut and blistered. He never thought he would be respected in the community. Almost every day he hears humiliating remarks from the community, even from relatives. Street kids taunt and tease him about his short stature.

His uncles and parents comment, “Who will marry you, your clothes and hands are always filthy, and how will you stand or walk with your wife”. These words have always echoed in Sahib Gul’s mind, that he is not worthy of a family life.

However, through all this, he has remained hopeful that someday he will hold his head high and have a family. This is what he shared with me when I met him a year ago.

Sahib Gul in 2016

Sahib Gul in 2016

A year on and things have changed. Recently HCR gifted Sahib Gul a wheelchair.

Sahib Gul's response:

‘I am so much more confident sitting in this wheelchair. I feel I have got my own feet I am no longer on the ground. To me it's not a wheelchair but it’s a journey from being dependent to independent. Through this wheelchair I can earn, contribute financially for my family, and will have a beautiful wife of my dreams. Now, no one can say, “who will marry you?”’

Sahib Gul in June 2017, after receiving his wheelchair

Sahib Gul in June 2017, after receiving his wheelchair

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.