My 7 months in mountainous Kenya: A profile of Roberta Muchangwe

A friend of mine recently told me that he was writing a piece that I might find interesting…and as you all know am all about all things, even “Recognizing women doing great work”! I must say, I did find the woman in this practitioner profile very inspiring especially that I also deep my toes every now and then in communications and public relations work.

In this profile, Suzyika captures the experiences of Roberta Muchangwe when she worked in Kenya as a communications specialist with Community Research in Environment and Development Initiatives (CREADIS). The idea is to get first-hand information from practioners in public domains on challenges and opportunities.

You can find more information about profiles of practioners on http://courses2.cit.cornell.edu/fit117/

robertaMy 7 months in mountainous Kenya: A profile of Roberta Muchangwe

From October 2009 to April 2010, I worked in Kenya under MS Kenya and ActionAid Denmark. I was placed with a partner organisation called Community Research in Environment and Development Initiatives (CREADIS). After graduating from the UNZA in 2009, I found this job advertisement online and I applied for it. I didn’t even think I was qualified enough but I still applied for it. I pushed in my Journalism Diploma and my Mass Communication Degree and went through the selection process. I later received an email saying I was appointed. It was quite surprising. I put my things together and I was off to Kenya.

CREADIS is an NGO whose aim is to eradicate poverty in rural Kenya by using different innovations in agriculture. They go to different villages and teach farmers how to grow their crops and introduce them to new technology or innovations in the field of agriculture like new chemicals for their agricultural products. Through CREADIS, communities are taught about planting trees and how to conserve the environment. Besides that, it engages communities on how to improve nutrition practices of rural households. Their nutrition program also focused on orphans and vulnerable children especially those that have lost their parents to HIV and AIDS. For the orphans, they would offer sponsorship to go to school and buy them what they needed such as books and clothes.

As a communications specialist, I was there to capacity build the organisation in communications and was expected to inspire the staff of CREADIS in communications. I was there to help them see ways in which they can bring in the use of the media in their projects especially as regards their fundraising strategies. We worked on building the image of the organisation by improving public relations in order to draw donors and well-wishers to their organisation. I trained them and ran workshops where we looked at writing for the media as well as writing to attract the media. We also looked into ways we could organise events that would attract media coverage to put the organisation on the map.

I revived, designed and laid out the CREADIS Newsletter and other communication tools such as brochures, information sheets, photo gallery and posters. Staff member were then trained on how to utilise media in their work through capacity building workshops‏. Capacity building is always crucial, especially for NGOs working with communities to ensure continuity of programmes.

I went out into the field with project officers and got involved with the work that they engaged in and tried to find stories that we could write about. I had to balance my work between the field and the desk though I spent more time in the field where everything was happening. I gathered, edited and wrote news stories and other communication write-ups for the organisation.

My experience was not short of challenges. I never understood Kiswahili which is the other official language that is spoken in Kenya apart from English and of course there are other local languages. CREADIS is an organisation that works in deep rural Kenya where people do not use English. The good thing is Kiswahili is a Bantu language which makes it similar to languages here in Zambia. I could get the meaning of some of the words but for the sake of accuracy, I had to have an interpreter with me which proved a challenge of language none existent.

I found Kenya fast paced compared to Zambia. Zambia is slow paced if you ask me. Kenyan people are always up and about doing a lot of things. Most Kenyans are not in formal employment but are into business and they seem to catch on with the latest things happening around. I guess it is a personal thing and that’s why I might I have felt that way. I am more of a laggard as I always catch on much later on certain things, be it personal or technology wise‏. Adapting to this kind of arrangement was quite a tough one but eventually I managed.

Besides that, I felt some form of intimidation from the staff of CREADIS. I think some of them felt they didn’t need an expert from a different country to come and teach them about communication when they had people within country with those skills. Who can blame them? though the idea with ActionAid was to let the African region create links. Yes they have their own experts; it was about learning from one another and sharing experiences.

As a project, there were times when we didn’t meet the project goals, especially as regards fund raising. Times when I drew up fund raising proposals to different funders and some did not go through. Such times were usually the crucial times for me. But then again, we could only try again.

In terms of social life, I was able to fit in quite well. I understand how African culture works as regards behaviour, dressing and such things so this was no big deal, I was able to easily fit in. I just had to practice a bit of “when you go to Rome do as the Romans do”. An African really just fits in [laughter], but of course I had to ensure that I was sensitive to each and every cultural norm I encountered that was different from mine‏.

Looking back now, I think anything is possible even if you have barriers. You can still break through if you really want to effect change but you have to be patient because you are working people who have different attitudes. If you are going to work with other human beings, you have to be humble. Place yourself in a position where you also want to learn from them. In as much as I went out there to impart this knowledge, I came back with a lot of knowledge myself.

When it was finally time to leave Kenya, I felt like I was living my family behind, I had met great people that I wished I could stay and work with forever. At the same time I looked forward to going back to my country which I missed every day. Mixed feelings encompassed me during my last days in Kenya.

Despite the fact that I didn’t have the required experience, managed to carry out my duties effectively. I worked has and my passion to work with communities and helping to see them develop got me doing the work without the required years of experience. Additionally, I had a previous eight months experience in community work from my previous voluntary job with Restless Development and also with different Media houses as an intern. By the time I was leaving I really felt like I had archived something huge. I left a happy woman because they knew how to utilise communication in their organisation with regards to their projects.

Kenya is beautiful and I had beautiful experiences there. It is a land of diversity though there are divisions amongst people from different tribes. I loved the great landscapes that Kenya has and of course the coastal area with its beautiful beaches. The beaches were a great get away place most times for me. This is not to say I didn’t miss home, I missed it every day but I knew what I went there to do was worth missing home for‏. I did not only learn a lot from the project but I made life long memories and friends.

Roberta Muchangwe is a Lecturer at The University of Zambia in the department of Mass Communication and Coordinator of the Media Project (Zambia).

About the Author:

Suzyika is a Graduate Student at Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy University studying Public Policy.

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