Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales


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.        

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.

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.

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!)

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

Find out about the ILO programme at