A scoping and partnership building visit
by Nick Lunch, Director and Founder
“We need people from within to be trained in PV who will live among us”. -Molu Kulu, d’abeela, Gabbra Elder
Between 24th June and 1st July 2013 I made an 8-day overland journey into the rangelands of northern Kenya, just east of Lake Turkana. It was a scoping visit to several of Kivulini Trust’s local partners; small community organisations based in Isiolo and Marsabit counties. My travel companions were Mercy Gakii (Kivulini Trust Projects Manager), Kula Boru, the driver, and we were joined in the field by Denge Bonaya and Roba Iyesa.
Above: Samburu morans, young warriors. Photographed by the Kivulini Trust
Kivulini Trust was founded by Dr Hussein Isack, a gentle and wise man known in Gabbra circles as Baba Simpirre –the Bird Man! We met at an exhibition launch in Washington nearly 3 years earlier and were drawn into a fascinating discussion where we explored the potential reach, impact and applications that participatory video (PV) could have in his native region. Now we are beginning to work together to manifest this most exciting programme. Conversations with the Earth (CWE) was launched as a 6 month multimedia exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute and no doubt Dr Hussein was impressed by the global reach of the amplified voices of indigenous peoples on climate change. But I think it was the social change aspect of the work going on at ground level: PV as a catalyst supporting community-led reflection, empowerment and self-affirmation. I think it was the visible strengthening of relationships and networks between indigenous cultures both locally and across continents, and the prevailing cultural themes of their videos (of documentation and affirmation) that won his full admiration.
The cultural origins of most of Kivulini’s staff is from the indigenous north; perhaps this accounts for the refreshing atmosphere that greeted me in their Nairobi office. The quiet dedication, and the clear organizational focus on culture. As their website states, “we draw on the wisdom inherent in our communities’ traditional cultural systems and practices, and believe in their power to shape their own destiny - in order to create sustainable livelihoods and inspire the protection and celebration of their rich cultural and natural heritage.” (www.kivulinitrust.org)
Right at the end of my visit I spent a pleasant day in Nairobi with Jemimah Mashipei Kerenge and her cousin Tom. Followers of Insightshare’s work may remember Jemimah is a young Maasai woman who became involved in the CWE programme in 2009 as a participant in a video project in Kenya, and has stuck with us since, training as a PV facilitator and recently joining our team as an Associate. Jemimah, Tom and I were testing out our new audio dubbing technique which worked pretty well and they will now audio dub a selection of 8 videos chosen by each of the CWE hubs into Maa (the language of the Maasai) and organize local screenings. It was so good to see Jemimah again to reinforce our commitment to her as a local PV facilitator, and to replace much of her dusty, worn equipment. I was able to share with her the enthusiasm of the groups I met in the north when I screened some of the PV films she had facilitated with Maasai and Ilchamus women. If we secure funding for this programme, Jemimah will provide core support on the ground. Our dream, to provide local PV expertise rather than flying in teams from UK, looks like it is gradually becoming a reality.
Above: Turkana traditional dances -filming what is valuable
Back to the core purpose of the trip -it actually felt pretty luxurious going on a scoping visit. I’ve never done that before! And I’m really grateful to The Christensen Fund (TCF) and Kivulini Trust for seeing the value and investing time and resources to make it happen.
Imagine getting the chance to spend quality time with a potential partner, getting to know each other, on their home turf! Imagine getting access to your target groups, being able to really explain what you offer, to ask people face to face if they would like to take part in the programme, to listen to what they want and how it should be done. Imagine doing this BEFORE designing the programme or writing the funding proposal….well hang on, that’s really how it ought to be every time!
If only that were always possible!
Above: Discussions with Aada Jabesa Women Group
I’m celebrating that we can now design the programme as equal partners with the Kivulini team, whilst taking into consideration the groups’ needs and local context, as well as the socio-political and environmental factors.
I’m increasingly recognizing some of those factors, with some trepidation for the indigenous peoples living in the region. Many of these forces are familiar, and the consequences are known. For example the latest oil exploration efforts around Lake Turkana and the massive irrigation schemes in southern Ethiopia (sugar plantations), which will further drain the Oromo river flowing south into the Kenyan rangelands. I have seen recent reports that warn the depth of Lake Turkana may drain by some 20 meters! Affecting thousands of traditional fisher folk and pastoralists dependent on the lake. This week I read an article on the latest water capturing scheme planned by the Kenyan government near Isiolo: another dam project to provide irrigation for growing crops in the desert, and to pump water to the town. No doubt meaning communities will be displaced. The new tarmac roads funded by EU, part of a massive “transport corridor” called LAPPSET, to link Ethiopia with the ports of Kenya, will cut through the rangelands and no doubt bring both joy and sorrow to local communities. Combine these external forces (“development”) with the threat of climate change and tendency for extended droughts in the region, and considering the depleting underground water reserves, the rise in tribal conflicts among pastoralists over depleted resources, and the looming spectre of land-grabs along the transport corridor, I can predict this little known region will start to feature in international news bulletins of the near future!
Above: Charcoal making. Bad for the environment, tough work, necessary income for survival.
As my photos show (see link below), I was able to meet community groups across the region and spend time talking, listening, sharing some of the basic PV exercises, screening community films from other places, and discussing local needs and global themes. Ultimately I was there to explore the value of PV to these groups. Back in the UK I am convinced of the value PV can have as a tool to affirm cultural identity, strengthen resilience and to use for advocacy and exchange. Our challenge is to build capacity and a sustainable legacy in the region.
Above: Mary is a natural facilitator We will be seeking people like her for our training programme.
We covered thousands of kilometres on this mammoth overland trip. We often drove 5 or more hours each day on rough desert tracks to reach the next community. But time in the land cruiser was far from boring! We saw hare, fox, ostrich, gazelle, stork, cobra, baboons and more. The landscapes were epic, gigantic, and ancient. The heat and dust at times were intense. Our driver is a legend. If anyone out there has got connections to the Paris-Dakar race let me know because Kula could be a champion! And through Kula I discovered a desert blues tradition I’d never heard of before: the Kono and Borana tribal blues guitarists from both sides of the border. Names like Somosafar, Bonaya, Dulacha and Jirma: mournful, gritty voices sounding like ground up lumps of lava rock that scatter the desert floor.
For those with a sense for geography, the first group we visited was based just north of Isiolo and the last group was located in North Horr quite near the Ethiopian border. Can you imagine a more fascinating cultural journey? Moving gradually northwards through the traditional rangelands of the Turkana people; passing by the Samburu and Rendile communities; entering the lands of the Borana cattle herders near the forested hills of Marsabit; cutting back up the rift valley through salt flats and desert dunes to meet the Gabbra people who are traditional camel herders. Finally, in North Horr we met the Waata hunter-gatherers. On the way I checked out some amazing rock art. Vivid petroglyphs of hunting scenes, several thousand years old, adorning the rocks of a secret gorge. I swam in a water hole in sight of Zebras and Oryx, learned to dance a Turkana “waltz”, and dropped into a Gabbra wedding for the day. Lake Turkana and her sacred mountain Kulal lay ever in the distance to the West. The magical Hurri Hills to the East –enticing me to return and reminding me there are many unknowns ahead, and the journey has just begun.
I wonder –will the tarmac road be complete by my next visit? How will the communities be affected by the changes to come? Is there another drought on the horizon? The situation is harsh and complex. My intention is that we will form a steering committee of local leaders/elders to guide the way of the programme, ensure it is locally relevant, and to act as mentors for the trainee facilitators.
Above: Cinema under the stars, Shuka and Mike Molu’s hut in Kalacha. I recommend the camel’s milk.
Our next steps will be to define our goals and co-design a programme with our partners at Kivulini Trust to have the most beneficial impact for the communities. We will be seeking funding for what I hope will be an impactful and exciting 2-year capacity building programme. Please send suggestions if you know donors who might be interested! I’ll update you on our progress.
What is already agreed is that trainees will be recruited through the 6 cultural groups we visited. The programme will support them to become PV facilitators. We also plan to include pastoralists from southern Ethiopia and to harness cross-border connections. The trainees will introduce their communities to the PV process, working especially with marginalized groups, such as women and youth, and amplifying their concerns, enabling them to document what they value most. “Culture is number One” I was told several times when I asked about local issues…”“our culture is being eroded by western influences and by the dominant religions”.
Now, allow me to introduce you to the groups I met. There are captions to go with the images. From these photos, I hope you get a feel for the power, enthusiasm, dignity and resilient spirit I encountered everywhere. For them, and for Kivulini Trust, Culture is number one.
Link to photo album: