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November 2010

Wales for Africa

Posted by Mari Gordon on 16 November 2010

By some miracle we have half-decent internet connection at the office. Actually it’s not a miracle, as I happen to know that the server providers were working on the problem over the weekend. I guess I just didn’t believe it would make any difference, any more than I believed that the designers I was supposed to be seeing on Friday would turn up, or that my ‘office’ would really only take a day to ‘decorate’ (the day in question being last Monday) or that my mail will ever turn up.

Ooh, all sounds a bit harsh I know. But I’ve just had my third frustrating visit to immigration, thinking I finally had everything I need to renew my permit, only to be told I have to return on Thursday, after ‘the boss’ has had time to check my file (so what have they been doing?!). Was also sheepishly informed by my colleague that he won’t be here most of this week as he’s on and M&E training course; this is my last week of working with the organization, and I should be crossing every t and dotting every single I with him.

But what really set a bad tone for me this week – while also putting my whinging right into perspective – was finding out on Sunday evening that my host had been in a car crash. She, some colleagues – and her baby – were travelling to Livingstone. Seeing as she was being made to make the 8-hour journey, on a Sunday, she’d decided to treat the time there as a couple of much-needed stress-free days out of the office. Instead, they drove through a downpour for about half the journey until the car slipped off the side of the road and flipped over. I don’t know who I felt more sorry for, her in Livingstone with the baby, suffering from shock and fright, or her poor husband at home waiting and worrying until the next morning when he could travel down to join them. They’ve all been discharged from hospital with, apart from the shock, nothing more serious than cuts and bruises. The fatality rate for road accidents in Zambia is notorious, partly due to the driving in the cities and partly due to the terrible condition of the roads outside the cities, especially now that the rains are here. The fact that they escaped with nothing broken – or worse – really is a miracle.

Wales for Africa - flagging not blogging

Posted by Mari Gordon on 5 November 2010

Blog’s been a bit neglected recently, partly due to my travelling and partly because of incredibly bad internet connection in the office. Also no pics, due to more technical break down – my laptop has stopped talking to any external devices so I’ve no way of getting my photos off my camera. Disaster. All this, on top of the relentless struggle of getting from A to B whether through the gridlock that is Lusaka or over the bone-crunching out-of-town roads, is becoming wearing, if I’m honest.

Luckily the temperature has improved, as the rains finally arrived on Sunday night – and what rains! It was as if Lusaka had relocated to underneath the Victoria Falls, complete with thunder, lightning – and power cuts. Then, next day, back to intense sunshine and clear blue sky. It’s spectacular, but apparently we haven’t seen anything yet.

October 2010

Wales for Africa: crisis

Posted by Mari Gordon on 25 October 2010

We've convened a crisis meeting of the Forum's members in order to draw up a planned response to the Government's National Development Plan - the Plan with no chapter on housing. Members also looked at the Position Statement I'd drafted the week before, which we're placing in the Times of Zambia - a government paper, so we altered the tone a little bit!

I spent the rest of the week visiting members to carry out the baseline survey. The week was sort of topped and tailed by highlights. At the beginning we visited two women's co-operatives in rural areas, teaching women skills like brick-making and land rights issues. The week ended, however, with a visit I'll never forget. If I said I enjoyed it that would be inappropriate - nobody could enjoy seeing the appalling circumstances some people live in. We visited two compounds, one in Lusaka and one 200 miles north in Kitwe, to conduct focus groups with the residents' committees. In Lusaka, about 2,000 people live in the compound in homes that range from breezeblock constructions to shacks that are collapsing around them. They draw water from shared taps located around the compound. Everywhere is dirt and dust. Some people, usually women, set up their own business, ranging from a single table with a few vegetables to brick-built grocery shops - and loads of hairdressers. I was taken to see the school, which was spotless and being repainted as I was there. A gang of schoolchildren, in their navy blue uniforms, were chatting and giggling on their way from school, just like a crowd of Cardiff schoolkids. Everywhere I went I was followed by a growing crowd of small children. At first they mutter 'muzungu' (white person) but when I wave at them I get dazzling smiles and waves back. And then when I attempt to greet them - 'muli shani' - they burst into laughter.

The residents' committees in both Lusaka and Kitwe are simply inspirational. They're politicised, aware, committed; they spoke in dialect but I continuously heard the words 'advocacy', 'sensitised' and 'empower'. They have the will, the intelligence and the inner resources to achieve what's needed to lift these communities out of abject poverty, if only the infrastructure we take for granted was put in place for them.

Some good news, after our crisis meeting my colleague secured a meeting at the Ministry of Finance the next morning, and a committment to revisit the Housing Chapter to try, with the NGO's help, to make fit for reinstatement in the National Plan. It's a start.

Wales for Africa - on the road again

Posted by Mari Gordon on 16 October 2010

Just found out that next week I'm going to be part of the team (is 3 people a team?) carrying out a baseline survey on all ten of the Civic Forum's members as requested by the Forum's funder. I'd been told to earmark 2 days to help out with this; have just come from a meeting outlining 5 days, including Saturday, travelling all around Lusaka and outlying towns and villages. Bit of a surprise to me frankly but fantastic opportunity to meet more people - especially people who don't work for NGO's!

Wales for Africa, now we're communicating

Posted by Mari Gordon on 14 October 2010

Just met a journalist, who wants to do something with our story about the Government leaving housing out of the National Development Plan (which I still think must be an oversight?!).

He's taken our press release and he loved the open letter, and he's coming back on Saturday to do interviews. Result.

Wales for Africa

Posted by Mari Gordon on 14 October 2010

Finally, finally feel like I've started work. I've spent hours in the back of a very hot car driving around a gridlocked Lusaka, a crash course (nearly literally) in NGO culture. But met some amazing people along the way though.

I wrote a press release and was very excited when the comms person from the organization we share offices with told me he'd take it to the journalist he was meeting that evening. Unfortunately, i hadn't counted for the dire network connection in our offices and lack of networked printer, so I couldn't get the press release to him, by hard copy or email. Not so exciting.

Then wrote a letter to the Minister for Finance and National Planning, an open letter we're placing in The Post and a letter to housing stakeholders inlcuding the World Bank. All part of our preparation for a crisis meeting. The Zambian government has published their Sixth National Development Plan, but left out the chapter on housing - madness if they want to deliver on their other priorities like health and education.

The Post is the paper with highest circulation figures, and very much holds the government to account. Unlike UK high-circulatin 'newspapers', The Post is crammed with political items, including a substantial international section. Not a celebrity in sight. How refreshing.

I think I'll be doing a lot of responsive stuff like this, as well as working on the longer-term strategy, but it's all useful as we talk a lot about voice, audience and tools.        

Wales for Africa - to work

Posted by Mari Gordon on 13 October 2010

Spent a packed day meeting, greeting, listening to some pretty amazing people. I’ve already got a much better picture of who does what, who funds what and why. The NGO sector is huge in Africa, and for the most part it deals directly with civic and community organizations, but at some points, for example the Civic Forum on Housing & Habitat, where I am, it has to deal with the government in a lobbying and advocacy role. Interesting, as the Forum is funded by the Swedish Cooperative Centre, which is itself funded by the Swedish Government.

Some things are surprisingly familiar - there are issues that the Zambian Government wants organizations to mainstream: sustainability is a familiar one; gender, perhaps; but HIV/Aids is a well established agenda here, and anti-fraud and corruption is actively being promoted now (I should know, I had to sit through the meeting!)

Wales for Africa - touchdown

Posted by Mari Gordon on 13 October 2010

First impressions:

Zambia is very flat, so the horizon all around is low. Even at 6am it’s about 17°C and we’re warm and sticky. Driving from the airport towards Lusaka, it could pass for a southern European hot dry country - blue sky, yellow earth, palm trees. Except there's a burnt, nutty smell hanging on the air, making my nose tickle. The roads are pretty good, straight and smooth. It’s early and there’s not so much traffic, but we pass loads of cyclists, making a laboured journey towards town with their bikes laden with parcels wrapped in various materials, mostly straw, built up in a well-balanced if precarious heap up the back of the bike.

When I got in the back of the car I automatically went to put on my seatbelt and, struggling a bit, asked where the buckle was only to be told with a smile that it was ok. I wondered what was ok, then realised that he was telling me it was ok not to wear a seat belt. Then I noticed that both men in the front weren’t wearing seatbelts either.

I later learnt that the smoky smell is charcoal burning, and many of those brave cyclists we passed were carrying bundles of it to sell by the roadsides in Lusaka.

September 2010

Wales for Africa - I should be so Lusaka

Posted by Mari Gordon on 28 September 2010

I've just come back from talking to people who are in the process of applying to go to Africa with ILO next year - Cohort 2, as they're called (I'm part of Cohort 1). It was really enjoyable, there was such a positive buzz of anticipation I felt quite uplifted afterwards. It was also a useful process, as I had to reflect on the whole application and preparation process and all it entails - which is a lot, as it happens. From sending off my application form to sending off for my visa, it's already been a journey, before I even get on the plane.

I've had to think about things like the NGO culture and the housing support sector in Zambia, cram up on branding issues for not-for-profits - so often seen as a low priority - set personal objectives, make contacts ... will I even remember to pack?

Luckily for me John was there, who's only just returned from Zambia, bless him. He talked about the practical things that I guess will make such a difference when I'm there, like getting around, Zambian tv (he says to take a radio), that shops in Lusaka ignore sell by dates, the fact that it's dark at 6pm and, apparently, going to start raining on 24 October.

I was already feeling pretty lucky - about my assignment, the location, the accommodation - and now I get to benefit from John's experience too. We're meeting up soon for lunch, so that he can pass on his wisdom; and some left-over mosquito repellent, some currency, and a sim card.

Lucky, lucky me.

Read about John's experiences at www.johngrimes93.blogspot.com

Find out about the ILO programme at www.wales.gov.uk/psmw

Wales for Africa

Posted by Mari Gordon on 6 September 2010

I've just found out the dates I'll be working in Zambia - I'm off on 2 October, and all of a sudden it feels very, very real!

I've got more jabs I need, I've got to sort my visa out, not to mention all the jobs I've been muttering to myself that 'I must do before I go...'. There are some things I really must do, like taking the cat to the vet and the car for its MOT (musn't get them mixed up). But I think painting the kitchen's off the list.

I've also got to publish our financial report, a 56-page discussion document and two books. All in two editions, Welsh and English. And carry on production of the 176-page book on our archaeology collections, and development of the brand new companion guide to the art collections. And recruit a new translator. And a few other things...

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