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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.

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