Voices from the Field – WaterAid

madagascar2Whilst travelling to Madagascar to observe WaterAid’s Voices from the Field (VftF) project, I was reading an excellent book about photojournalism.

One of the chapters focuses on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and how many organisations have commissioned photojournalists in recent years, with reference to well-known campaigns.

The chapter critiques issues such as informed consent, representation, branding guidelines, negative vs positive imagery, authenticity, compassion fatigue and editing. It was ideal fodder for thinking about the week ahead.

Why do I feel uncomfortable about some of the debates? I think the main reason is because the majority of the photographers referenced in this particular chapter are of Western descent – but there are some highly talented photographers in the global south documenting the work of humanitarian organisations. Why are so few of them featured?

Maybe this is one of the reasons I was so intrigued by the VftF project when I first heard about it. I instantly wanted to learn more, hence my trip to Madagascar to spend three days in the field with Ernest Randriarimalala, WaterAid’s VftF officer there.

Making a film about Madagascar

During my time observing Ernest he was filming a video about Madagascar from his perspective. After a few general shots of the capital, Tana, we set off towards Antsirabe, Madagascar’s second largest city.

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On the way we made a few stops to take some background shots and the first thing I noticed about Ernest was his natural communication skills. Whenever we asked to film, no one challenged us. Ernest explained that he was making a film about his country and not one single person objected.

Having worked myself in marketing and communications for over 20 years, I often encounter people who do not want to be filmed.

Perhaps the Malagasy people are just too polite to say no, maybe they like being photographed more than some other cultures, or most probably they are charmed by Ernest and his enchanting smile.

Building long-term relationships

In my opinion communication skills are absolutely fundamental for the VftF role. Ernest speaks Malagasy, French and English fluently which means he can genuinely inform people of his work.

He is also able to relate to the communities he visits, as he grew up in a village with no water or sanitation and was often sick as a result.

I visited both pre- and post- intervention sites during my trip and I was heart-warmingly touched by the difference between the two.

The VftF project is about building long-term relationships with communities, documenting progress and creating stories to inform donors that their fundraising efforts are making a big difference to people’s lives.

Helping people thousands of miles away

For three weeks in June, Ernest visited the UK for training and advocacy work.

During this time he spent five days in Northumbria visiting a number of WaterAid supporters, which included speaking at a fundraising ball organised by Northumbrian Water.

To me, the VftF programme has so many obvious benefits, such as language, relationship building, informed consent and effective use of funds, but what I hadn’t thought about was the two-way communication and advocacy work that Ernest carries out each year.

At the ball he showed images of the toilets and access to clean water that have been installed, and more importantly the people who benefit, as a result of their fundraising efforts.

When he returns to the field, he is also able to tell beneficiaries about meeting the many people who have organised balls, raffles, cake sales, sponsored runs, all to help communities they are unlikely to ever visit nearly 10,000 km away.

As Ernest said, “It was great meeting these people in a city in the north of England, who are doing all these fundraising activities to help people thousands of miles away. It is so amazing that they organise so many events to help the Malagasy people.”

A watchdog for WaterAid

The other thing I’d never really considered was the accountability side of this role. Ernest is truly passionate about his work and in many ways acts as a watchdog for WaterAid and its supporters as he documents the installation of new facilities.

As he puts it: “I really enjoy my job. I get to meet all these people whose lives have changed as a result of our work. I’m really glad that I get to see both the fundraising side in the UK as well as the end result.

“If I ever thought that money was not being spent well, then I’d quit my job. Simple as that. I’m lucky that I don’t feel that way at all. I absolutely love it.”

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Live video streaming and the potential for citizen journalism

There has been a lot of recent media coverage about the launch of two mobile live streaming apps, Meerkat and Periscope.

Periscope is Twitter’s live streaming app which will allow both public and private broadcasts and enables you to link your stream to Twitter and have it show up on the Periscope home screen. Alternatively live feeds can be private and only available to watch by people who have been invited. Periscope say on their website

“Just over a year ago, we became fascinated by the idea of discovering the world through someone else’s eyes. What if you could see through the eyes of a protester in Ukraine? Or watch the sunrise from a hot air balloon in Cappadocia? It may sound crazy, but we wanted to build the closest thing to teleportation.”

There is not a lot of difference between Meerkat and Periscope, except that Meerkat lets you schedule broadcasts for a later date. Meerkat also automatically tweets a link to your broadcast. The other major difference is that Periscope allows viewers access to your stream for 24 hours after they have been broadcast. It does allow you to delete them if you don’t want to. For more on the differences between Meerkat and Periscope read this excellent summary.

So are there any benefits for social change and international development?

As Periscope say in their marketing collateral “What if you could see through the eyes of a protester in Ukraine?” One of the major benefits I see is that anyone anywhere has the potential to live broadcast. High resolution video footage is now available on a wide range of camera phones. Many people around the world have ubiquitous internet connection and access in the developing world is increasing at a dramatic rate. The power of live streaming was recently demonstrated when Periscope was used to capture an explosion in New York’s East Village.

As with most technology there will be negatives as well as positives. Pornography and piracy are the two obvious examples. Let’s hope that there are more positive uses than negative.

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NGO documentary film highlights sanitation issues in Indian slum

I recently organised for Steve Melia, Head of Film at WaterAid UK to speak to students on the MA Media and International Development course that I teach on. The seminar was a huge success and many students (and myself) were engrossed by a film ‘Across the Tracks’ that WaterAid produced this year. I caught up with Catherine Feltham, the producer/director to find out more about the production.

Trailer for Across the tracks by WaterAid.

Why did WaterAid produce this film? 

We were commissioned to tell an in-depth, character-led story that people would be able to connect emotionally with, while also demonstrating the impact of WaterAid’s work in India through the HSBC Water Programme. ​

After meeting HSBC NOW TV, a web-based TV programme broadcasting weekly to HSBC’s 265,000+ employees and wider community around the world via the organisation’s intranet and external YouTube channel – we set about identifying the right story to give an insight into WaterAid’s work in India. We were struck by one particularly challenging urban slum, where lack of sanitation was a major issue. We quickly identified that violence against women and girls was prevalent in the slum, and that the lack of toilets only added to this risk.  This also felt the right time for WaterAid to make its own in-depth documentary film, which could be pitched to different audiences such as film festivals and media outlets.

We planned for a shoot that would enable us to gather the depth of content for HSBC NOW and also to enable production of a 20-minute film to be pitched at broadcasters, and a 10-minute film to be pitched at short film competitions, festivals and other online sites.

What are the objectives? 

At the front of our minds was that this story should meaningfully contribute towards the national and international conversation around Clean India​, a campaign launched by the Indian Government in October, which aims to see a toilet in every household by 2019. As well as attracting global attention to sanitation issues, we were keen to show that not having access to somewhere safe and clean to go to the toilet doesn’t just impact on health, but also dignity and livelihoods.

One of the key messages we wanted to emphasise was that everyone, everywhere should have access to basic necessities such as a toilet, regardless of where they live.

Who is the main audience?

We wanted to reach a wide audience, from HSBC employees and WaterAid supporters, to policy makers and people working in development. We also wanted to tap into an audience of film enthusiasts and the culturally engaged.

How long did it take to produce? How many people were involved?

We undertook a recce in April 2014 to identify potential characters for the film.  This took place in as part of an existing WaterAid supporter visit to Kanpur, India. This was really crucial for the planning of this film as it enabled us to gather interviews with several people living in the slum, get a sense of people’s personalities and how they might be on camera, and to start to work out who the key individuals were who were engaged with the WaterAid project there.

After the recce we started regular communications with WaterAid India and the project partner, a charity called Shramik Bharti, which delivers the project in Rakhi Mandi and therefore knows the community closely.   We discussed the full implications of filming with them, impacts on the project, people’s time and the logistics around filming the construction of Radha’s toilet from start to finish. We wanted to film ‘in the action’ and actuality style footage, rather than after the event, so we needed to ensure this was possible. We didn’t want to turn up to a toilet already half way through construction!

As the shoot only had one content-gathering objective, we had time to consider how to create a product with high production values.  So we researched film techniques and styles and this is when we decided to gather aerial footage.  We booked an Indian drone operator called Nikhil Thakkar, from Wonderwork Productions, and worked with him to gather general shots to show the scale of the slum, the location of the slum, the area the community used for the toilet, and also to gather shots of each character from above.  We felt this footage would be integral to telling the story by showing the challenges of the urban slum environment.

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The shoot took place in October 2014 over ten days, with the first two days used to complete the recce and plans with no cameras out.  The core team on the shoot was made up of myself (producer/director), the DOP, a second camera operator/photographer, and two translators.  In addition we had fantastic support from Shramik Bharti day-to-day, and WaterAid’s Partnership Communications Manager joined for half of the trip to help with logistics, and wider fact and story gathering to build the context. We also had the local drone operator join for two days of the shoot. Having the support of the WaterAid India local team was also integral to making the shoot a success.

In December we began the edit and completed the 20 minute and the 10 minute film the day before the deadline (25 January) for the first competition we wanted to enter!  We were shortlisted in the final 10 films (of over 100 entries) in the Rankin and DocHeads short film competition 2015. Our 10 minute film is now live on the Rankin site as a result of this exposure. We hope that this is the first of many distribution opportunities for the film and Radha’s story.

The film also aired HSBC NOW on 6 February and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from employees including converting an editor from HSBC’s production company into a new WaterAid monthly donor! The intranet version of their film has reached nearly 16,000 people so far. As you can probably gauge, a lot of people were involved in the project overall, from internal WaterAid stakeholders, to the partner organisation, the corporate partner and production staff.

How did you choose the main character?

The main character is Radha Verma.   Radha immediately stood out as she had engaged  with the WaterAid project work very early on in an environment where it was very difficult for our partners (Shramik Bharti) to gain the trust and ears of the community.

Rakhi Mandi slum is situated next to the Delhi-Kolkata railway line in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Northern India. Rakhi Mandi is one of the oldest slums in Kanpur, thought to be around 65-years-old. There are at least 3,500 people living here.  The biggest challenge with the project work was to change people’s mindsets. Living on unofficial land with no support from local government, people thought nothing could be done and that they were born to live like this and that going to the toilet in the open was just the ‘norm’.

Before the project could get underway, Shramik Bharti had to bring a largely disparate community together. Community facilitators described families in Rakhi Mandi that were not close, with high levels of domestic violence, alcoholism and drug abuse. It took a long time to identify potential leaders and build people’s trust. In the first five months they visited Rakhi Mandi every day, focusing on cleanliness, and started to encourage families to build soak pits to dispose of household waste water, which would bring a visible change to people’s homes and surrounding areas, and go some way towards tackling serious drainage issues in the slum. Shramik Bharti first talked to people about their personal problems, their health, their kids, and built up a bond, before identifying leaders, forming a water user committee and training them on how to access services from local government officials.

Radha shone as an example of someone who wanted to change her situation and understood the benefits to her and her family. She had been one of the first in the community to build a soak pit and was also really determined to get a toilet for their home as her daughter Nisha has narrowly escaped an attack when going for open defecation.  This incident also demonstrated the very real dangers women and young girls face, as a result of having no safe place to go to the toilet, without sharing the detail of some of the more violent stories we were aware of such as rape in the community.

The secondary characters we selected – Kalavati (who features in both the 10 and 20 minute film, and HSBC’s film) and Laddan (who features in the 20 minute film) also both stood out as key individuals in the change taking place in Rakhi Mandi. They represented the hope and life that the project has.

Do you think it will share very well on social media?

We believe that social media will be a powerful tool for promoting the film and the wider story the film tells. Already the trailer for the film has received nearly 1,500 views on Vimeo without any real push to it yet.  It was liked by well-known filmmaker Philip Bloom who tweeted it out in the first few days and we saw a huge boost to views after this.

We have not started social media activities around the film with full force yet as we are still pitching and entering the films into competitions and to media outlets. However, the small social activity we have done so far has proven to engage with audiences. For example, we edited a 15-second ‘Instavid’ version of the trailer of the film for Instagram and published it the day that the Rankin/DocHeads film competition winner was announced.   The film gained 277 views, and nearly 10% of those people used the URL link we provided to visit the website to view the film.  Our average views on an Instavid on our channel range between 200 and 300 and we don’t usually provide URL links as these are not direct links within Instagram, so we were pleased with the rate of people who used the link to visit the page.

We have more Instavid’s edited and ready to use as we begin to push the film out further and we will also be using Twitter and Facebook to promote the film.  The social media pick-up will of course be more successful if we can link the film to a film festival or screening as we will be able to tap into wider networks outside of WaterAid.

Are you going to enter it into any film festivals?

Yes, absolutely. We have already begun the process and will be continuing to submit the film throughout the year. Before we went on the shoot we put together a draft distribution plan which included film festivals, competitions, online sites, media outlets and screenings.  Our colleagues in India are also researching festivals in India that we can submit the film to.

 Website link: http://www.wateraid.org/acrossthetracks​

Image Credits:  WaterAid/Nikhil Thakkar and WaterAid/Isabelle Neill

 

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Raising awareness of humanitarian issues through music videos – UNICEF

UNICEF’s recent music video series designed to raise awareness of children’s rights has undoubtedly reached an audience who were possibly oblivious to some of the suffering  portrayed in these powerful films. To date the videos have been viewed by over 300,000 people and earlier this week the final video in the series was released featuring SOJA.

The production of this series over the last two years has taken an immense amount of planning. I contacted Nicholas Ledner, Digital Knowledge Coordinator at UNICEF to find out more about the creative process behind the videos.

This series of music videos must have taken a lot of planning. What were the most important factors in its success?

The most important aspect of this work is selecting the specific child rights issue – whether its access to education, ending violence or improving water and sanitation– to highlight in the music video. We do this by working closely with our colleagues in the country office to identify an issue UNICEF is advocating for locally.  For example, in the Chad RL Grime video we focused on child marriage because Chad has the third highest child marriage rate in the world, while the Ethiopia video focused on education as many children in rural Ethiopia are out of school.

You also need to ensure you identify an artist that has a significant fan base, that’s critically praised, that is smart, intelligent, passionate and understands your work. This is essential for success and for a mutually beneficial relationship.  The team the artist works with is also very important.  You need to know they’re willing to help you seed the content with different outlets.

I know that seeding is vital in these campaigns. Can you tell me a bit more about the process of seeding.

It is amazing to watch how some videos achieve traction or the snowball effect.  We always try to ensure that our media team is in sync with the artists’ publicity team and normally the publicity team is excellent at getting the core message of the video to external audiences – at least to relevant music media.  A press release at their end also helps.

Take the ODESZA video as an example. Their team posted something on their website and across social media, which resulted in an excellent article on thissongissick- (large music blog), whose Facebook Page has more than a quarter of million fans, all enthusiastic about music and great new collaborations.

On top of all this, we’re promoting videos strongly now on Facebook and YouTube, which means the number of views is split between the two platforms.  For some of our most successful videos, a lot of the views stem from the fact they are being hosted on external media outlet websites (earned media) such as Huffington Post, UpworthyAPlus , etc. which all link back to the Youtube version of the video on our UNICEF channel (and not the Facebook Page).

For instance, the average view time for the Chad Child Marriage video which featured a track by RL Grime is 2:56 seconds (76% of the video), which is tremendous and can perhaps be linked back to the fact that engaged audiences are viewing this video from a player on a website they trust, rather than stumbling upon the video from a link they clicked.

How important was the relationship with the country offices to the production?

Working closely with colleagues in our various country offices is essential to the success of these videos. It’s the country offices who have the most knowledge and understanding on the issues affecting children in their countries. They also can localize the videos so they are relevant for their audiences.

For instance, when we worked with the UNICEF office in Tanzania to create the Four Tet video on child protection issues, our colleagues in Tanzania included their local goodwill ambassador into the video as the mother character.  They also included a prominent musician from the region as the father.  Colleagues in our country offices are also very good at utilizing the video for important advocacy purposes.  For instance, after the video with Moderat in Paraguay was created, the government officially recognized UNICEF’s #ENDviolence campaign. Another example is that the First Lady of Chad showed the RL Grime child marriage video to Heads of State and their spouses at the recent AU Summit in Addis Ababa this past January to support the AU’s #ENDChildMarriage campaign.

How are production teams selected?

Aside from the Chad and Namibia videos, all other videos were shot by local production companies.  Rooftop Productions is amazing and created the RL Grime, BANKS, and ODESZA videos.

We normally go through every possible production company before deciding. It’s a balance between quality of work and who will give us the best deal. All of the artists provided free licences to use their music.

Who has the responsibility for the storyboarding?

We have a storyboard for every video created. We tend to start the process as a team and then we have a few rounds of revisions based on feedback from both communications colleagues and the different program teams that are involved. There are so many talented colleagues in UNICEF who contribute to the creative process.

How long did it take to make each of these films?

It takes approximately 3 months to create one of these videos.  Ensuring you identify the best time to launch the video is also important in reaching the most people with these important messages about children’s rights.

For instance we starting shooting the ODESZA video in late October because we wanted to launch it on World AIDS Day, December 1st.

Why did UNICEF decide to focus on making music related videos?

Music resonates globally and has helped us provoke conversations around key issues UNICEF advocates for. Music can often touch people in ways other media cannot. It makes them think about their own lives and helps them relate to others because they feel something in the music which is sometimes harder to convey to a general audience.

When you can see your product being talked about on the largest social media networks in the world, then you know something went right and you can celebrate the idea that at first was only a glimmer in an eye. It’s a complicated but enjoyable process which I love supporting and bringing to life because I myself love the videos, grew up loving music (and still do) and I’m able to bring my passion and expertise together with these sorts of campaigns.

I’ve also heard from up and coming artists that they love these kinds of collaborations as it gives them a chance to give back and be a part of something both cool and educational.  It’s a special process, for sure, and something that lights up my work.  I’m sure these videos will be watched and shared for many years to come.

 

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UNICEF collaborate with RL Grime to raise awareness of children’s rights

UNICEF has partnered with trap and bass DJ/producer, RL Grime to produce a harrowing video about child marriage in Chad. The music style video, called #ENDChildMarriageNow, features RL Grime’s song “Always” from his first full-length album Void.

The film starts with a girl dying from child birth and is then shot in reverse until later in the video where it starts to play forward but with a different scenario where the girl gets an education her life changes positively. I actually found the sequence of the story quite difficult to decipher on first viewing. Maybe this is a deliberate strategy? I certainly wanted to watch it again to fully understand the narrative . I have not seen an NGO attempt a music video style like this before, especially using a popular dance artist.

Melanie Sharpe from UNICEF commented “This collaboration is part of a two year long UNICEF series that uses music to tell the stories of important issues affecting children around the world – issues like child marriage, HIV/AIDS and ending violence against children.  As a very influential figure in electronic music today UNICEF approached RL Grime to collaborate on this video and amplify the message that child marriage must end.”

UNICEF has also collaborated on music videos with BANKS, Moderat, Four Tet, Hauschka, Nils Frahm, IAMNOBODI, and ODESZA. By teaming up with RL Grime and these other artists UNICEF’s aim was to raise awareness and provoke conversations about children’s rights issues among young, socially engaged online audiences around the world. These videos have resulted in almost a quarter of a million views via the UNICEF YouTube channel.

Ms Sharpe commented “The RL Grime video was created to show the painful realities behind child marriage – violence, abuse, social isolation and limited education – but also to create a sense of hope that child marriage is not inevitable, ending the harmful practise can be done.

The video was filmed in Moundou, southern Chad, which is located about 400 kilometres south of the capital city, N´Djamena. The people in the video are actors from the Altonodji theater club in Moundou. Chad was chosen to highlight this issue because it has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world. Chad ranks third in child marriage rates, with 68% of girls married as children – and, unlike many other countries, the practice is prevalent in both wealthy and less wealthy households.”

In addition to the video being used to raise awareness, it was also used to support the African Union’s #ENDChildMarriageNOW campaign. The First Lady of Chad herself presented the video to African heads of state and their spouses at a side event on child marriage during the 24th Summit of the African Union on 30th January in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

I really like the video, and it’s quite unique for an NGO. I’ve seen music spoofs, lipdubs and the use of powerful soundtracks used by NGOs, but NOT a music video style film. I’d love to know why did the filmmaker chose to tell the story in reverse. It reminds me of Sliding Doors, but also of the horrific but acclaimed film Irreversible which is totally shot in reverse and features a brutal rape scene which is unbearable to watch.

In my next blog I will interview Nicholas Ledner, Digital Knowledge Coordinator from UNICEF’s headquarters in New York to discuss some the creative process in this beautiful but disturbing series of videos.

 

 

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