Gorta-Self Help Africa were winners of the 2017 Dóchas Award for Respect and Equality in Communications, for their campaign Two Villages. We spoke to George Jacob and Clémence Duron of Gorta-Self Help Africa to gather their impressions on winning the Award and to learn more about this fantastic campaign.
How did you feel when you found out you were nominated for a Dóchas Award? And how did it feel when you won?
We were thrilled to be nominated in this particular category of the Dochas Awards. Through our communications with the public, we strive to challenge the stereotypes and show rural sub-Saharan Africa in a different light: while many people see this region of the world as a place of poverty and desolation, we want to highlight the enormous untapped potential of Africa and its people.
The ‘self-help’ model is about empowering people to achieve things for themselves. To receive an acknowledgement from Dochas for ‘Respect and Equality in Communications’ is particularly heartening, as it aligns very closely with the ethos of our organisation, and suggests that we have achieved what we set out to do in the first place!
Our development projects, including our Irish Aid Local development Project in Northern Zambia, which was the focus of this project, aim to empower rural small farmers to lift themselves out of poverty through their own hard work. Using first-person testimonies, photos and videos, we invited 24 people in ‘Two Villages’ in a region to tell us about their lives, about their fears, their hopes…
‘Two Villages’ involved our communications team making a series of visits to the people of Malela and Nsunda, over a five years period. These repeated visits allowed us to present a portrait as accurate and truthful as we could of life in rural Zambia. It allowed us to demonstrate the resilience of those two communities, and the will of the villagers to keep on improving their lives year after year, no matter what difficulties life threw at them.
We were proud to win the Award for Respect and Equality in Communications as it is a strong recognition of our efforts to promote those values through our representation of rural Africa.
What was the most challenging part of delivering the Two Villages campaign, and what was the most rewarding?
From the very start, the Two Villages project was intending to be an educational tool, rather than a marketing tool.
Our aim was not merely to talk about the work that we were doing to assist people, but also to communicate the complexity of the challenges faced by farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, providing good quality seed alone doesn’t necessarily mean that a farmer will produce more in his/her next harvest. It was challenging to demonstrate that many issues – from nutrition to health, climate, knowledge but also social structures – are at play when it comes to levelling the field for farming communities in Africa. The fact that the villagers were very open to sharing their personal stories helped hugely. They told us about their most intimate feelings, about the struggles and setbacks they faced.
We faced further significant challenges around the logistics of capturing the content. The remoteness of the two communities meant land journey times of up to 15 hours from the capital Lusaka, plus a daily journey of three hours each way to get from our local guest house to the villages.
It quickly became evident that to get an accurate picture of local life, we would need to spend more time in the villages. We decided to pack our camping gear and, with auxilliary camera batteries and other back up supplies, lived for several days amidst the people of Malela and Nsunda.
In the post-production phase of the project,‘telling the story’ was complex as we were working with more than 100 hours of footage and thousands of photographs. We were grateful for the cataloguing work undertaken by a series of Summer interns who helped us in this amazing journey.
What’s next? What are you working on at the moment that you’re excited about?
Besides creating a ‘Two Villages’ website (www.twovillages.org), we have produced close to a dozen different videos, have produced a Development Education ‘Storybook’ and work sheets, and have produced a number of impact documents to tell the story of the people of Malela and Nsunda.
As a part of our public engagement remit, we also produced a photograph exhibition and video projections that linked the stories of our ‘Two Villages’ subjects to different Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and took this on the road – to Electric Picnic music festival, to the National Ploughing Championships, and most recently to NUI Maynooth, where it was on display for ten days. We plan to continue to tour this exhibition at events throughout 2017 and 2018.
Next, we would like to talk about the issue of malnutrition and stunting amongst young children; what are the causes and what can be done to prevent or reduce this widespread health threat. We are thinking of using animation technology to illustrate this sensitive issue in a way that would reflect the values of the Dochas Code of Conduct.
Who do you admire in the field? Name a few people who do similar work that you find inspiring, and tell us why?
Farm Africa and One Acre Fund are two organisations that, like us, seek to unlock the potential of Africa’s smallholder farmers and agri-entrepreneurs to drive economic growth and development in sub-Saharan Africa. For their innovative use of web, video and other new technologies the US based organisation Charity Water do much that is to be admired.
For more about the work of Gorta-Self Help Africa, visit their website: selfhelpafrica.org/ie