So what are you doing in Africa, again?

I don’t think everyone actually knows why I came to southern Africa, so here’s the general idea:The Canadian government has an international exchange program called Young Professionals International (google “YPI” and you’ll find it). The feds hand out grants to Canadian-based do-gooder orgs like the Canadian branch of the UN and loads of legal orgs to send us abroad. If you are under 30 and have a degree or a diploma you can apply. Most of the successful candidates seem to have a Master’s and speak 27 languages as far as I can tell. I lucked out and found a placement that specifically needed someone with HIV/AIDS experience who knows how to shoot and edit TV. So while loads of Journalism students applied, I had that magic combination. Hooray! It was the technical knowledge that set me apart, which is such a relief as I was wondering if I ought to have gone the Master’s route.

So the org that is sponsoring me is the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). It’s the only Commonwealth org not based in England, and it’s based in downtown Vancouver, which is nice for me. They specialize in ODL – Open and Distance Learning. The idea is you can reach far more people using technology than real teachers and schools. Some interns, for example, have been sent to Ghana and Kenya to set up web-based information sharing for local farmers – or something along those lines :).

So COL hooks up the interns with the local NGOs: I lucked out and got a double placement. My NGO in Jo’burg is called OLSET (the Open Learning Systems Education Trust). It produces English in Action, a radio learning show for primary students that airs daily on SABC (South African Broadcasting Corp.). So kids in grades 1 through 3 tune in every day to hear stories and sing songs and do activities with their teachers that help them learn each other’s language while becoming comfortable with English. Most of these kids come from townships and squatter camps and they potentially speak half a dozen languages in one class – none of which is English. SA has 11 official languages, and they’re all used.

I’m here training some of their staff to shoot and edit videos. My current project is more a print project: I’m editing and writing most of the next newsletter. I’ll send a copy when it’s done. After that we’re producing a promotional video for the NGO, then a teacher training video (more pedagogy than praise), and lastly a video highlighting the impact of HIV on primary education in this country.

In January I’m off to Swaziland to work with an NGO called TASC: the HIV and Aids Counseling and Testing Service Centre…. or something along those lines. This assignment is amazing. I’ll be producing docs on HIV/AIDS that we’ll truck up to the villages and show on a portable screen when the sun sets. I am also establishing a partnership of sorts with another NGO here that broadcasts into classrooms and hospitals; they can provide me with graphics, information and even some people power. So my work might be broadcast throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The Canadian feds paid for my airfare and are giving me a modest but appreciated stipend. Luckily I got a car loan from the bank of mom and dad, and my NGOs are helping with living expenses. So that, in a nutshell, is why I am here.

I am also travelling almost every weekend and meeting heaps of fantastic people and immersing myself in a very divided but generous and interesting culture. I’m eating and drinking too much and loving every minute of it.

On the side, I’ve started working on a radio doc about a summer camp for kids infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS: Camp Moomba but with a much much smaller budget and a much much greater demand.

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