Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Siyayinqoba BEAT IT!

Ah. Community Media Trust. Where do I start?

Mmmm. Coffee
Let’s start with the walk to work that Audrey and I enjoy every day. Our daily trudge at breakneck speeds, in rain or snow, past Kauai (smoothies!) and Pick and Pay (our life support), and over the great concrete bridge of quad-workouts has become something of a ritual. We arrive at precisely 9 every day thanks to Audrey, and settle down immediately to work after the crucial tasks of getting coffee and checking email.

Our work is varied and free form. We started off with writing summaries for the Siyayinqoba Beat It! DVD series, and then slowly graduated to consultant-level tasks like interviewing the director, staff and beneficiaries, as well as compiling probably the longest report I’ve ever written as documentation for our JHHESA funders. In the process, we’ve learned a ton about public health in South Africa through the lens of an NGO, as well as how an NGO works from the inside out.

A little introduction to Community Media Trust is necessary before I proceed. The media production organization was started by Jack Lewis in 1998 in the era of emerging AIDS denialism and severe lack of health literacy in the country. Originally started to support the Siyayinqoba TV show, which airs on SABC every Thursday, addressing the national audience, the company has since then expanded into a multi-purpose organization providing crucial training to community health workers and health communication channels via social mobilization projects at the local and regional levels. All of which designed to spread and promote scientific health literacy in the country to promote service uptake and HIV testing. 

One of Siyayinqoba's skillfully done adverts for their national television programme. 
What we did, essentially, was find all of this out. We first talked to Debbie, our supervisor, who gave us the most detailed and brutally complete run-down of how their Monitoring and Evaluation system works. Running an NGO is an inherently complicated business, and when funders ask you for statistics measuring your impact, it gets even harder. I’ve grown a healthy appreciation for accurate and organized record keeping, because of it’s role in wowing funders and ensuring a steady supply of finances—which, as any NGO will tell you in this era of funding cuts and budget downsizes—is life and death.

We talked to Jack Lewis, the founder, who’s quite possibly one of the most amazing and inspirational people we’ve met. He’s the visionary of the company, and his main role in the office is to sit on his sofa while everyone else runs the company and talk to people—and he’s incredibly good at it. He has the wisdom of a man who’s fought in the HIV war long enough to know every nook and cranny of it, the charisma of a master raconteur, and the connections of….I don’t know. He has a lot of connections. He knows everyone. 

Needless to say, we gained an incredible amount of information about not only the general situation of HIV in South Africa but the NGOs that are working hard against it, including the obstacles and problems that most face. Some of the political insight he imparted to us has, admittedly, given us quite an unfair lead for our reflection papers for Anna.

We also interviewed some of the beneficiary organizations and stakeholders, telephonically, from around South Africa. Most of the beneficiaries gave the most glowing reviews of CMT, which made us all the more proud, if not a little smug, about the wonderful organization we worked for.

Then we spent about a week pounding out the actual report, which I’ve linked to here. Just in case you’re up for some light bedside reading—it’s twenty some pages and contains just about earthly thing you’d want to know about CMT.

Twenty some pages of this. High level stuff.
Interspersed between our massive documentation project, we got to do a little journalistic work, too. Community Media Trust has recently begun a GroundUp newspaper project, which aims to include “ground-level” articles on health, poverty and other social issues within local communities. The operation is headed by Nathan Geffen, who, coincidentally, is also the author of our textbook for Anna Grimsrud.

Our textbook, written by the one and only Nathan Geffen.
We managed to write two articles on our journalistic excursions—the first to investigate public transportation in the city from a tourist’s perspective, and the second to investigate homeless conditions in the shelter. For the first, we got up at 5 on a rainy morning to go ride the MyCiti Bus to Tableview. We saw quite a bit—how many of the buses were severely underused, specifically. Our excursions to the homeless shelters gave us quite a view on the winter conditions that the homeless have to suffer through, and we got to understand a little more about the nature of homelessness in Cape Town--many are skilled laborers that simply cannot find jobs. If you want to read the articles (of course you want to read them), check out the GroundUp website. It's up and coming, so it really needs a lot of views: http://www.groundup.org.za/

It’s hard to summarize six week’s worth of work in this, but I think that’s really about it. In conclusion, Community Media Trust was a blast. We are now officially qualified experts on HIV, as well as genuinely knowledgeable people to talk to about NGOs, politics and HIV life. We've honed our documentation writing and interview skills. Most importantly, though, we've seen firsthand what working in an NGO looks like, including the romantic parts and the more dull parts. It's been real!

Here’s an artistic picture. Just for fun. Photo credit: Audrey.

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