Posts Tagged field work

Never say you’ll never end up in Mwanza rock city

It’s not as though at the time, sitting in my 4th year Business Policy class at Wilfrid Laurier University, I actually had the exact thought cross my mind, but I certainly didn’t think the opposite either.

I don’t imagine I will ever end up there…

We are watching a clip from the Oscar nominated documentary, Darwin’s Nightmare, and the clip is being shown in this particular class as we have been discussing some of the issues and problems that result from international trade and globalization. Hell, we all know our business schools could use a little more of this well rounded perspective so kudos to the prof on that point. On the screen, although I don’t know much about it at the time, is the city of Mwanza on the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania.

The symbol of Mwanza...the rock city

The movie isn’t exactly showing a flattering portrait of Mwanza or Tanzania (in fact, the documentary caused quite a bit of outrage here in Tanzania and even caused personal rebuttals from the president of Tanzania). It’s an examination of the introduction of the Nile Perch species to Lake Victoria and theorizes that the local population has benefited little from the globalization and has largely experienced only some negative affects such as imported of conflict arms and the continued spread of HIV while the expensive fish fillets are flown off to Europe. I think in the end both sides of the controversy are a bit correct – the Lake Region is a beautiful area and in the end the film did not do justice to the people, the natural beauty and likely hurt it even more through lower fish sales and tourism. That said, I have no doubt that many of the points the Director makes about how the effects of the global fish and arms trade have also negatively affected the local population. All this said, I only watched a piece of the documentary that year and still haven’t seen the whole thing so I will leave it up to you dear reader to watch the documentary and make your own judgement.

Caught the culprit in question

Just about 4 years after this I found myself arriving in Mwanza. It was this past Janaury and I was coming to the rural areas just outside of Mwanza urban to run a pilot of MEDA Tanzania’s new program the Universal Coverage Campaign (UCC). Sometime this spring, the Government of Tanzania’s Ministry of Health will launch this Global Fund to Fight Malaria, AIDS, and Tuberculosis funded campaign which will aim to provide a free Long Lasting Insecticide Treated bed net to cover every sleeping space across Tanzania. It’s a daunting task, to accurately coordinate the logistics of registering every household in the country and then procuring and distributing the bed nets in every single one of Tanzania’s estimated 12,500+ villages. Something like running an entire national census combined with organizing a distribution network in every village, hamlet and metropolis back home. Phew.

A UCC village healthworker registers sleeping spaces during the Mwanza pilot

Anyways, I am getting off track. Zach, Jer, and I were tasked with planning, organizing, and executing a small scale  launch of this UCC program to test out a number of our proposed policies, procedures, materials, and technologies. Very cool stuff and so after a month or so of planning we find ourselves arriving in Mwanza to go live with the pilot.

Mock volunteer training exercise tests the variables

I won’t bore you with too many of the details, but I think everyone felt it was a success all around and we learned lots of things which are now going to be implemented when the full program launches in the months ahead. It may be stating the obvious but…don’t try and launch a project of this magnitude without taking all of your ideas (which seemed to make complete sense sitting in the office) and trying them out in practice in the real world.

Not sure why this is here....just liked the photo I guess

In the end, it was a work trip and although we got to see some of Mwanza, take a little dip in Lake Victoria, and even eat some of those controversially delicious Nile Perch – I didn’t really get the opportunity to see if the side of Mwanza portrayed in Darwin’s Nightmare is out there as well.  Another time perhaps…

Colourful boats tied up but waiting to go on the Lake Victoria shoreline

I guess it’s not really that outrageous of a connection finding myself on the same shores that film depicted 4 years later.  But all I am trying to say is…. never say you’ll never end up in Mwanza rock city because one day, if you’re lucky, you might just find yourself there.

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The story of my first ‘professional’ photo shoot (warning: hot models involved)

your photographerThat’s right, I had a pretty cool day earlier this week and made my debut as an official photographer! It wasn’t the call from Maxim or Sports Illustrated that I might have been hoping to receive – but it was still pretty cool stuff so I thought I would share. One of the coolest parts of my job here at MEDA is the Communications area. MEDA Tanzania is a great organization with a lot of really amazing successes behind and in front of it –  the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme which MEDA TZ has built since 2004 is often used as a model for other nations to build their malaria prevention and sustainable mosquito net distribution programs. Part of the role of the Communications area ( I was going to say ‘team’ but I am the only one officially on it and since there is no I in team….) is to tell these success stories to donor agencies and the rest of the world. As such, I’ve been tasked with helping get this success story out through pictures, articles, promotional materials, this blog, etc.

A note on the whole ‘professional’ tag – I believe that definition of a professional consists of the fact that they are being paid for their services – does this now mean I can call myself a professional photographer? Nah, I think I would rather just keep the expectations low and occassionaly surprise when things turn out well.

So how did my first photography assignment come about? This past week was apparently the first time that MEDA had a good portion of all of it’s field trucks back at HQ and it would only last for another day or two. As such, our Country Manager came up with the creative idea to see if I might want to sieze the opportunity and get them all together for some photos since it might never happen again. After scouting some locations, I found a hotel parking lot overlooking the Indian ocean that would work well and organized the 14 or so trucks parked at HQ to head there that morning.

all the pretty trucks...all in a row

It was a pretty cool experience thinking of set-ups, directing the trucks, standing on the roof  to get different angles and trying my best to get some good shots that we might be able to use in some future promotional materials. After the group pictures we even did some one on one portraits with each driver and their truck which was a lot of fun and something to pass along to all of the drivers for them to take home.

bada$ MEDA flame decals

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