Life is Sexually Transmitted

 

“We
are all products of sex and we should not feel ashamed talking or reporting
about it”. These were the opening words of Lisa (Not real Name). She was
speaking to Journalists and Communication officers at a training on reporting
health at Voice of America (VOA) offices during the AIDS2012 conference in
Washington DC, which I was privileged to attend. Lisa was HIV positive and she
said that she was not happy about the little attention that’s given to
reproductive health issues by mainstream media. Her argument was that; many
people are not comfortable talking about SEX.
Asked why, she said that’s her mission now, to find out the big
“WHY”.

Read more

A Kiss from a Giraffe

Growing
up, I was privileged to live in a couple of National Parks in Uganda. This was
so, because my dad was a Sr. member of staff at Uganda Wildlife Authority
(UWA). This meant that for every work transfer, we moved along with him as a
family.  We lived in some of the best
National parks in Uganda like the Murchsion falls, Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori
National Park among others. We often went for game drives, Safaris and camping
and learnt a lot about flora and fauna with training to preserve and conserve nature
from a very young age.
I
remember my dad telling my siblings and I endless stories about the park and
how animals are beautiful ‘people’ and that if we didn’t interfere with the
ecosystem, we could live in peace and harmony with all creatures.  We were never allowed to tamper with any
creature by destroying its habitat or killing it for no reason. Over the years,
I have learnt to respect other creatures and appreciate their role and value in
the ecosystem. For me, nature has always been part of my life.
During  a recent  Thomson Reuters  media training on “Sustainable development in a
changing environment” which took place in Nairobi,While discussing the
Sustainable development Goals that are to replace the MDGS, I learnt that for
anything to be sustainable, it ought to meet the needs of the present
generation without compromising those of 
the future generation to meet their own needs. I am afraid that in the
wake of a changing Climate, characterized by deforestation, destruction of
wetlands, human settlement in national parks and poaching, a lot of the future
needs have been compromised.  And
something has to be done.
As I
plan to embark on an afforestation project in Uganda, I have decided to travel
around Kenya visiting parks and reserves to appreciate the fauna. My first
trips were to the David Shedirck Wildlife trust found within the Nairobi
National Park, dedicated to saving baby elephants and taking them back to the
wild once mature and the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi dedicated to Giraffes. In the video below, I was feeding a Giraffe as
I learnt more about its life and value within the ecosystem. What you observe is the famous “Giraffe Kiss” received by lucky and courageous visitors to the
centre.

I
also did visit the Orphaned Elephants and learnt about their sad stories and
how they ended up at the centre. It is mainly as a result of Ivory Poaching. A
human activity endangering African elephants for their tusks.  Read more here 

A baby Elephant being fed at the David Shedrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya.

How
can we move from being addicted to “breaking news” and focus more on
sustainable development issues in a changing climate?  Maybe we could start by being kissed by a giraffe
so that we can appreciate the value of our flora and fauna. Human beings need
to stop being greedy. Just because animals cannot speak they get hurt and when they do, humanity is endangered. This piece was not about being kissed by a Giraffe but rather about the dangers of compromising the needs of the future generations through our selfish acts of destroying flora and fauna. You can do something to change this. What are you going to do today to stop further destruction of our environment? Plant a tree? Report deforestation to save birds? stop reclamation of land for wrong reasons? save those flowers to bring the bees back? what action will you take today? The ball is in your court!

My experience as a trainer in Sudan

Web 2.0 & social media training, an initiative by CTA in ACP countries, provides practical training for practitioners of information and communications for development and other agricultural stakeholders on how to use Web 2.0 technologies in their work and lives. And the learning process is made enjoyable and memorable through the use of practical sessions, a process that allows learners to engage and interact with the different tools.
I have had the privilege of conducting a couple of Web 2.0 and social media trainings on behalf of CTA in Africa, and I must admit that each country that I have been to has come with its own experiences. My most recent training was in the republic of Sudan, at the University of Gezira , Wad Medani, about 200 km from Khartoum, the capital city.
Going to Sudan came with a mixture of feelings, both excitement and uncertainty. I had questions like: Wasn’t it too hot in Sudan? (Considering that I come from Uganda where the weather is just ‘okay’.); Would I be forced to dress like the local women there? How about the language? I had no idea how I was going to communicate in a country where Arabic is the main and predominantly spoken language. As a matter of fact, the only word I knew in Arabic was shukran, meaning ‘thank you’.
The exciting part of it all was the fact that I was going to train men and women from academia. It was also the first time I would be travelling to Sudan to experience a new culture and, most important, to share knowledge.
I arrived in Khartoum on 9 May 2015, together with a team from the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), with whom the training was to be conducted. Straight away, we set off for Wad Medani to prepare for the event. Of course it was very hot and the people were very warm and friendly.
The next day, a Sunday, our training began. I had to adjust to the new ‘Monday’. In Sudan, Sunday is not a holiday like it is in Uganda, and the working week starts on Sunday. During day 1 of the training, we were reminded that we needed to include time for prayers in our agenda for all the training days. This is something I had personally never experienced but the reason was obvious.
Then came the language. Since the participants where mainly from the University of Gezira, an academic institution, they had a fair command of English and that made it possible for the training to be given in English. However, we had to speak a bit slower and very clearly and use lots of gestures. It was amazing how effective the learning process was. The level of enthusiasm and commitment that the trainees showed was overwhelming.
Even though the training generally went well, it came with a couple of challenges beyond our control. For example, Sudan is on a US blacklist concerning Internet access, which means that some websites are not accessible from Sudan. For instance, when registering on Twitter the user has to confirm his/her phone number and ‘Sudan’ is not among the drop-down list of options. Also Picasa, an image organiser and image viewer used for organising and editing digital photos, is blocked in Sudan. However, this did not stop us from going ahead with the training, but it did mean that we had to look for some alternative platforms.
Overall, for me as a trainer it was a totally new learning experience. It made it possible for me to compare experiences with my previous trainings and highlighted the need to always be prepared when conducting training in a new country.
Are you a trainer? What are some of the unique experiences you have encountered that you would like other trainers to learn from? Please share them.

To Read and Learn

Poetry had for so long eluded me,
it never made sense to me, and so had art and Jazz. I just didn’t understand any
of them and didn’t pay so much attention either, until recently when I started
reading books. I had for so long, never appreciated written literature until someone very close to me, whose life revolves around reading encouraged me to
give it a try. He bought me “The Monk who sold his Ferari” to start with and I
read it so fast that I asked for another with a similar style of writing. Then
came “The Concubine” by Elechi Amadi and he dared me to complete the entire
book. That was it for me.

Currently reading this book as one of my
March reads
Daring me was the only way I could
prove that I could read a book and complete it. I later on learnt that the dare
was deliberate to make sure I read the book. My desire for African Literature
grew. I took to Facebook and asked my friends to recommend books by African
writers. I was overwhelmed by the recommendations and I have since December
2014 read a total of 12 books and I am still amazed at how much I had missed
because I didn’t read a lot. I am therefore trying to ‘catch up’ on the lost
time.  It’s never too late

I am privileged because I am
currently enrolled to a University and I do not have to buy all these books, I
make good use of my student privileges to borrow as many books as I can. Because
of school demands, I intend to read atleats 2 books a month. This has helped me
reduce the amount of the time that I spend on social media and saved me lots of
‘small talk’. 

Having grown up in a family of
readers, as a last borne, I always had my siblings narrate stories to me and my
mum read bible stories, which I enjoyed so much. I was more of a listener than
a reader. This didn’t change much when I grew older. I preferred listening and
watching as opposed to reading. I watched video books and listened to audio
books. I just didn’t understand the fun in reading over 400 pages of tiny words,
yet I could listen to someone do that for me. I was wrong, So wrong because nothing
beats the satisfaction that comes with holding a book in your arms and having
your imagination go wild.

I have since purposed to learn as
many new things as I can, read books about issues I never learnt at school,
learn to interpret and understand art in all it’s forms;- music, drama, design,
poetry etc and many more things that were perceived as impossible to
learn or do. Reading has challenged me to explore, to question and appreciate
diversity and respect differences.
This is my very first attempt to
write a poem. And my first is about the power of Silence. Because my moments of solitude are some of my best life moments. Enjoy!!
SILENCE!!
Look for the invisible,
Listen to the Silences,
Touch your imagination.
Tomorrow is beyond here and now
The picture of thy self can’t be any clearer
In the moment of silence
Renewing the spirit
Giving a glimpse of truth
In that moment, you are a new being
So much noise, yet so silent
Opening your eyes to your deeds
Searching through the torrents of despair
Life seems like a futile uphill climb sometimes
In Silence, you Listen
Two ears, one mouth, lead you to new heights
Your will power sustains you in a moment of Silence
 Be SILENT, LISTEN
-Maureen Agena
Beyond this, I would like to open
a public space where people come together to read, write and express themselves
artistically. It could be a Library or simply an open space. I would like to
see authors mentor potential writers such that we learn to tell our own stories
in our own way as well as document our history and present situations. If you
have ideas on how this can be achieved or would like to support this, your
advice is most welcome.
Comment here or send me an email maureenagena@gmail.com

The Fake Facebook Comments

A story is told of a young man. Let’s
call him Otim. Otim was to travel to the US for the very fast time and, out of
excitement, updated his Facebook status. Sure, many of us do the same, only
that our Otim here updated his status two weeks ahead of his trip. The comments
were almost instant, with many congratulating him, some asking what he was
going to do in the US and others asked which state it was that he was going to.
Social media can be a downright silly place to be in so some of the comments
bordered on the indescribable. One stood out: Otim’s old school friend demanded
he checks on him while in the US. “Make sure you call me up when you get here,
looking forward to seeing you again after so many year,” the comment
read. 

Otim’s ‘generous’ friend who put this
outstanding comment gave him his home address in the US and email address in
case he needed any help. (By the way, the home address was one that existed).
He then offered to continue with the chat off Otim’s timeline to the
inbox.  Three days to his trip, as he went by doing some shopping in
downtown Kampala, Otim bumped into his “US friend” trying to run some errands.
Shocked at the sight of the guy who he thought was in the US, Otim tried to
convince himself that this could either be his brother or a look alike. But the
shock on his friend’s face at the sight of Otim gave him in faster than water
soaks cotton. Otim’s hilarious narration of the event inspired this blog post.
I came to work in Nairobi a
year-and-a-half ago from The Netherlands. Like Otim, I updated my Facebook
status about how excited I was (not that I was that excited because I had my
own crazy opinion of Nairobi). My excitement was from the fact that Nairobi is
a couple of hours away from home and that I could easily go to Uganda to see my
people and get back faster and cheaper than while I was in Europe. The reaction
to my update was huge, with many of my Kenyan friends and Ugandan friends
living in Kenya asking me to let them know when I arrived, if I needed any
help, suggesting that we could go ‘do’ coffee or lunch and inquiring about
where my next home in Nairobi would be. In Nairobi, just like Kampala, you are
judged based on where you live. Places like Westelands, Lavington, Upperhill et
cetera harbour a certain class of people, so do places like South C and 
Langata. Same as in Kampala. Kololo, Muyenga, Buziga etc are places for those
who have the money. I was so flattered but little did I know that one and half
years down the road, I would never meet these people. I came to Nairobi, saw
it, enjoyed it and found my way around it but I am yet to meet all those who
commented on my status update that day, and continue to occasionally comment on
many of my updates.

Now, I am not here to rant about my
Kenyan Facebook friends, but to share some of my interesting experiences in
Kenya, particularly Nairobi. My Facebook friends are too busy and I don’t blame
them. I am glad that at least we are friends on Facebook. That’s good enough.
Beautiful Nairobi City. Photo Credit: www.nairobitoday.co.ke
Back in Uganda, I had heard all sorts
of stories about Nairobi. Scary stories. Talk about car jerks in broad day
light, shootings at residential gates as people drove in, jumping onto a
speeding matatu and having to know how to speak “Sheng” (a blend of Swahili and
English) in order to survive.
I don’t remember hearing anything
positive save for the nice building and good roads. Sure, most of these things
are not true. With all these at the back of my mind, I always prayed never to
find myself in Nairobi for a long-term stay, especially employment or
education. It’s ironical because these are the exact reasons I am now in
Kenya—to work and study. But food comes first at any one time.
Let’s whet the appetite.
The Food 
My first shock came with the food. I
love food and I love it in variety. Uganda has all the foods you can imagine.
Fresh and tasty. Kenya being a neighbour, I thought it wouldn’t be a problem
getting the food I loved. Wrong. So freaking cultural shock. On day one at
work, I went out for lunch with a couple of colleagues from my Unit. At the
eatery, they all made their orders on a reflection. “Ugali na Nyama”. I asked
the waiter to give me five minutes to think through the menu. These guys didn’t
have to look at the menu. As the waiter brought their orders, I was shocked to
see ‘Posho’—the very white one every girl in boarding school lived to
curse—with ‘Mchomo’ (roast meat) and collard greens, the very renowned ‘sukuma
wiki’ (apparently, it is aptly named so to mean ‘pushing the week’ as it is a
common dish that helped many peasant families live on back in the days).
At this point, everyone had a plate of
food in front of them except me. I had to place my order. I asked for chicken
and rice with soup. I repeated soup loudly incase he missed it. This amused my
colleague, with one sarcastically joking that, “She is a typical Ugandan; they
love soup! This statement would make lots of sense in the coming months.
To cut my food story short, I got to
learn more about Kenyan foods and fell in love with ‘Mukimo’ and the fish but
not with Ugali. I don’t even intend to. Since I am not a fun of red meat, I am
happy to continue enjoying the fish. I found out the foods grown and eaten in
different regions of Kenya and got rid of the stereotype about the “Ugali na
Nyama” being the only food known to and loved by Kenyans. A thing which many
Kenyans are yet get rid of, a similar stereotype about Matooke (mashed
plantains) being loved and eaten by all Ugandans. My Kenyas friends, not all
Ugandans eat matooke. Many of you travel and stop in Kampala and your opinion
of Uganda is informed by the experiences in Kampala where the predominant tribe
is Baganda. Yes, a muganda’s meal is incomplete without matooke, just like a
Musoga man has no meal without boiled sweet potatoes, and my Northern
connection people wouldn’t go without peanut. Uganda is a huge country. Oh, the
other thing: while yams, sweet potatoes, cassava form part of the main course
meal in Uganda, it is a different story in Kenyan—they are eaten for breakfast.
Yes Breakfast!
The Matatu (s)
Whenever I travel to a new country, I
enjoy trying out their public means of transport because it’s usually
affordable and it helps me have an idea of the realities among the citizens,
especially the common man from the chats, lamentation and jokes shared. It’s
exactly what I did in Nairobi. My command of Swahili is not so good but I can
communicate and engage in a simple discussion.  Well, for a Ugandan, the
thought of using these buses or commuter taxis in Nairobi is enough torture.
Many of my friends who have been to Nairobi and have attempted to use them
complain about the loud music that they play, the speed and the fact that the
conductors collect money as soon as the bus takes off. In Kenya, you’ve got to
pay your fare whether you will reach your destination or not. In Uganda, the
story is different. You stop the ‘taxi’  lazily with an attitude, get in as
slowly as you can and only pay when you are close to your destination.
The clincher with Kampala is that you
have the liberty to stop the taxi at any point on the road and yell at the
conductor and the driver if the vehicle stopped a few inches past where you
wanted to, regardless of whether the driver had a parking spot or no. I was
told that the people from Mombasa are the ones who board matatus like Ugandans.
I am yet to find out why and confirm this.
Now, this might sound ridiculous but I
prefer the Kenyan Matatus, save for the two occasions that I almost broke my
legs and specs while jumping off. The thing is, I thought that the matatu had
stopped, only for it to move as I was putting my first leg on the ground. It
was a gross experience but a learning one too. I am told that it’s necessary to
go through it to learn the hard way and prevent future falls that could be
fatal.
But if you are the time consummate,
speed is everything with Kenyan matatus. They fill up so fast, the fare rarely
changes. In Uganda, a light drizzle will see the fare triple and commuters have
no business complaining. Kenyans also give a receipt when you pay. The best
part of it all is that they do not stop anywhere, anyhow to drop off or pick
passengers except at their designated bus stops. Now I like that kind of order.
I am an ardent fan of Kenya Bus Service (KBS) buses and occasionally those from
Westlands that play the coolest reggae music as they get into town. I do not
mind the Kenyan matatus at all because unlike in my country where you must know
“Luganda” to feel so comfortable in a taxi (Matatu), in Nairobi, you only have
to know the bus number to your destination and make sure you have money. You
don’t have to talk much. In Kenya, a taxi is an equivalent of “Special hire”.
The taxis in Uganda are what are known as Matatu in Kenya or Daladala in
Tanzania.
The learning environment
I am enrolled at one of the
Universities in Nairobi and it’s extremely interesting to be a foreign student
in Kenya. When I mention that I am Ugandan, students smile and some whisper
Museveni. I wonder what I have got to do with Museveni besides him being my
president. But I realized that he has this weird popularity in Kenya. Many
Kenyans laugh at his accent when speaking Swahili, others at his jokes of
having his cows stolen by the pokot while others simply enjoy the jokes that
the media makes of him. The learning is quite interesting because students
identify me as the “Ugandan girl” and some ask if I personally know Anne
Kansime.
This school environment has taught me
how to differentiate Kenyans based on their tribes just by the way they speak.
Not so different from Uganda. For instance, some Luo have challenges with “sh”
and so they could say something like “fis” to means “fish”, some Kikuyu just
like the Baganda of Uganda use  ‘L’ and ‘R’ interchangeable. For instance,
saying “bring’ would instead become “bling” and the Kamba are as lavish with
the letter “M” as a Nigerian would be with their age that they fix it almost
every where ‘mboy’ for “moy”, ‘mbig’  for “big.” The some Luhya
have “ko” which people make fun of and would say “Niambieko” instead of
“Niambie” etc. I am amazed by the diversity and I respect their “normal”. I
appreciate these differences and yearn to learn as much as I can from these
people. School has made me realize the differences in speech among many
Africans and made it easy for me to identify a Kenyan’s way of speech and
connotation regardless of how polished their English may be. No wonder it’s
also easy for Kenyans to tell a Ugandan from the accent.  Of course, I
have also learnt that the word “imagine” can be placed anywhere in a sentence
depending on how sad or interesting a conversation is. It’s used to express
shock, excitement , anger, joy… name it.

The Tribal
Jokes
Many of us only get to hear about Luos and Kikuyus as
if Kenya is only made up of those two tribes. Well, I will not get into the
nitty gritty of this, but will stick to the jokes that are made about them. The
luo take up the bigger chunk of this, because they are said to be a proud lot
of people. There is a funny joke that Luos do not drive Toyota Vitzs and that
if someone driving a vitz hooted while on the road and a luo was driving next
to them, The luo will lower their car window and say that this……. “people driving vitz are not supposed to hoot
because unlike other cars that get log books when purchased, a receipt is given
for a purchase of a vitz. So be patient and wait for the real cars to move, the follow in silence

Another silly joke is summarized in this picture below. About the Kikuyus, the
jokes revolve around money and how they take up any opportunity to make money
and that for one to prove that a Kikuyu is dead, you need to drop a coin on the
floor. And if the corpse doesn’t show any signs of movement, then the person is
indeed dead. Not funny but those are some of the jokes made to emphasise their
love for money. Nothing is taken so seriously among the Kenyans, these are
jokes that have found their was to high platforms manned by comedians like “ThechurchHill Show”.

Received via Whatsupp. If you know the source, please let me know so that I can give the credit.

My Cab guy
I could write about so many things other interesting
things in Nairobi, but I will stop at this one because it’s one of the most
interesting. I met this cab guy a few weeks after I settled into Nairobi. He
was one of those cabs you call out randomly and then take his mobile number and keep
calling him when you need to be dropped to places occasionally. This guy is the
most hilarious man I have met in Nairobi. I do not need to buy news papers to
know what’s going on in Nairobi. He will give me the latest updates with a
sizzling touché to them and even add more details using his own theories. He is
one of the most punctual cab guys I know and he keeps his word. I consult him
when I have to travel somewhere within Kenya and he advices on the safety and
expectations. He has recommended me to visit a couple of places and has taken
me to some of them. Each trip comes with new stories and so much laughter. He
has been in Nairobi for years and driven his taxi for years too, so he knows
the entire city like his palm. His advice is, never bully a Taxi man in Nairobi
or refuse to pay his fare and threaten him because when he takes you to police,
without listening to what transpired, the Taxi man will be favoured and you will be
fined heavily. The police are always on their side.  

Bottom line, this blog is to tell you never to get taken up or overly excited by comments that people make on your Facebook updates. Many write them
just for the sake of writing, very few are honest. If you have to travel, make
your own arrangements so that an invite from a friend is simply a bonus. You do
not want to get a shock of your life in a foreign country. I know all my
friends in Uganda would host me with Open arms :-). No doubt!! I thank you who
would and those with the desire to but wouldn’t for your generosity and
honesty. For now, I have so many Kenyan friends. I guess more than I really need. I am happy that I get to meet and talk to them often. 

The beauty of Fitness. My Journey to a healthier body and mind.

Inspired by Evelyn Namara a friend of mine whose life literally revolves around fitness, I decided
to challenge myself into doing a couple of exercises. I had followed Evelyn’s
posts online, especially her routine running and had wondered if I could dare do
just 10% of what she did and remain focused and dedicated to it like she did.
Well, for me, It was not for any specific reason that I thought of ‘getting
fit’, because I was neither over weight nor obese (Those are some of the
reasons that inspire many to exercise). But I just wanted to cut some little
weight and try to make my muscles firm. For those who have tried this fitness
journey, you will agree with me that it takes lots of dedication and discipline
to follow a routine and stick to it.  Often times, people complain about
being unfit but only few take it upon themselves to exercise and eat healthy. 

During a Yoga Session in the comfort of home/ photo by Jordana Atim
I needed to start with
simple manageable workouts and graduate into more intense ones like those done
by Jilian Michaels. (Please don’t ask me if I ever worked out using her DVDs. I am
still trying). Anyway, I got myself a yoga DVD for body toning and fitness and a
yoga mat. Soon, I was doing sun salutations, half-moon balances, tree balances
and planks. It helped me relax a lot especially after spending a whole day seated at work infront of a computer. 
However, Like many others, I expected
the results almost immediately. I wondered why I wasn’t getting that waistline
and why my biceps remained flabby and soft. But that didn’t bother me so much
because of the good feeling that I got after every yoga session. The stretching, mini- muscle pains, the breath controls and the sweating was so amazing that I
got addicted to it. 
Finally able to lift myself off the ground after several sessions of Yoga/ Photo by Jordana Atim
This good yoga
session that left me feeling refreshed raised my curiosity to research about the other benefits of
fitness besides the general one of keeping ‘Healthy’. Swimming was highly
recommended because it made one engage almost every body muscle. My dilemma
was…. I didn’t know how to swim. What
was I supposed to do? I had to challenge myself to learn. But then who would have
the patience to teach an adult like me, who not only had phobia for water but
asked too many questions. In my quest to find a good swimming teacher, I moved
around Nairobi especially the health clubs and found one “Public Service Club”.
I didn’t know that it would be my swimming home for a couple of months. While
there, I requested to meet the swimming instructor (These are clubs that
require membership and I had non, neither did I have plans of joining because their membership fee is quite high). Thank God that for swimming, it’s a
different arrangement. You had to pay for the service prior to the swim. I opted for that.
Trying out my Yoga at Kalangala Island on Lake Victoria  June 2014
I then had a conversation
with Mr. Robert the instructor and after a lengthy chat on swimming, he
mentioned that he trains young children and has been at it for the last 15
years. I smiled deep down, because I was sure that a person who had the
patience to train little children would have the patience to train me. I was
not wrong. He told me that I would be able to swim after 10 lessons. And
indeed, I managed to, although I needed to still get rid of my occasional deep-end fears. I was so thankful because he had succeeded where many instructors
had failed. He was polite, extremely patient and always answered my questions
with a smile. I cannot emphasize enough how calm and experienced he was,
because not once, did he get into the swimming pool to demonstrate. He simply
sat on a plastic chair at the edge of the pool and told me what to do. I could not believe that I could learn that way but I did. It still shocks me!!
After a successful Hike of Ngong Hills in Dec 2014/ Photo by Edward Echwalu

I later on started doing
morning jogs for about an hour, Zumba, skipping a rope and walking (All in the living room not a gym). These were
complimented by change in my eating habits like having a decent breakfast, eating
all sorts of fruits and vegetables, eating within a period of 8 hours from
the  time I have breakfast, drinking a
minimum of 3 litres of water daily (I litre very early morning before any
meal)  and not having dinner past 7:00pm.
I honestly do not remember when I last fell sick after adopting this way of
living.  My latest addiction is hiking. Towards
the end of 2014, I had been invited by a friend Edward Echwalu to join a team in Kenya that was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. So I trained for this adventure, but because
of un avoidable circumstances, it was cancelled by the organisers as the days
approached. It was sad and I did not want to waste all the time and energies I
had invested into training. So I requested Edward to join me in hiking the
Ngong Hills in Nairobi which he gladly did. I guess because he too was psyched for Mt. Kilimanjaro and still had his energies to try out a less tedious challenge-Ngong Hills.
Down Hill on Ngong Hills/Photo by Edward Echwalu
My next adventure (This year) is to
climb three East African Mountains; Rwenzori, Kenya and Kilimanjaro and
also go hiking anywhere else when the opportunity presents itself. Thanks Evelyn for those
posts of your trainings.They inspired me to take fitness seriously. I am enjoying the journey and learning new things along the way. It’s fun and worth every sweat.
Pointing at how far I had come on Ngong Hill/ Photo by Edward Echwalu

Are you planning for any adventure? Like hiking, Mountain climbing, Bungee Jumping, Sky diving, road trips, game drives, marathons especially around East Africa?  Please inform me. I would like to join in.

Email Etiquette: Some of the basics that you need to know

The technological advancement today has made email part and parcel of many people’s lives as they have almost replaced the traditional letters. We need email addresses to join social networking sites, to either keep in touch with family/friends or to simply go about with our professional work. Therefore, there is no doubt that whoever is subscribed to any of the social media platforms, has an email address. That’s how important email is to us in today’s world.

Often times, we complain and lament about receiving too many emails and having no time to read through them all. Some people have close to 5 email accounts that they have to check on daily basis for fear of missing out on important communication. Being one of the people with multiple email accounts and one who has suffered poor email etiquette but at the same time guilty of poor email etiquette, I thought to myself about the value of emails and decided to share some of the ‪email etiquette on twitter, now summarized in this blog post. The common mistakes that people make and what to avoid when using email. In no particular order or category, the following are my findings based on my knowledge as a user.

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  1. Read email in its entirety: When you receive an email, please read it in its entirety before thinking of replying. If you must, read it more than once. This is extremely important because some people do not put the key points in the initial paragraphs and you could miss important information by reading it partially. Reading the entire message informs your reply.
  2. Acknowledge receipt of Email: When you receive an email that requires a detailed response and you are too busy to reply immediately, acknowledge receipt. It is so rude to receive an email, read it and completely ignore it. A simple message such as “I acknowledge receipt of your email and I will respond to it as soon as possible” is a sign of respect for the sender and appreciation for their time to send you an email. Please make sure you actually reply when you are ready to.
  3. Out of office auto responses: When you leave an out of office auto response, please do not let it exceed your return dates or when you are able to respond to your email. It is very unfortunate to indicate a date only for
    a sender to receive an out of office auto response a week past your return date. Always deactivate it as soon as you are back to work. If you work with a team, It is polite to share the email of an alternative contact person in your absence.
  4. Clear Subject Line: When writing formal emails, make sure the subject line is clear and that your main points are captured in the first paragraphs. Avoid writing what is irrelevant to the subject or purpose of the email. Read more here .
  5. Emotional Emails: When you receive emotional emails or emails that require tough decisions to make, do take sometime before you reply. Give them deep thoughts and reply from a logical point of view and less from an emotional one. This is so because emails can be saved and used many years later for reference. They could be used against you in the event that you over reacted in your response to such emails.
  6. Replying to all: When emails that may require individual feedback are sent to all recipients;- say on a mailing list of dgroup, Try not to REPLY TO ALL especially in workplaces. Some people reply an email to all (even to over 1000 people) with a message like “Thanks for the email”. This not only distracts people from productive work but fills their inboxes too. If you do not have to, do not reply but if you must, you can do it to only the sender unless you are required to reply to all.
  7. Official Email addresses: When you have an official email address, keep the conversations through it strictly official. You can never know who is stalking your email at work. Do not use your official email to discuss your private business or family issues. Because when your leave that workplace, it will be deactivated and remember that your employer may have access to it.
  8. Forwarding emails: Desist from forwarding “Funny” emails to dgroups or mailing lists because it annoys people. Know who to forward what to. Just because something is funny to you does not mean it will be funny to everyone. Also do not forward a whole chain to someone as you might send information that they do not need to know about. Where necessary, Edit messages before forwarding
  9. Email Signature: If you choose to have an email signature, make sure that all the information indicated is correct and up-to-date. Your telephone contacts should have your country code to cater for friends who leave beyond your country boarders, your social media links must also be accurate. Try to include as much details about your alternative communication channels. For example; a link to your blog, alternative email as well as Skype ID
  10. Simple language: When writing an email, keep your language simple. Today, people receive hundreds of emails on daily basis and using jargons in your emails only increases the burden that they have to deal with. You will not impress anyone by using ‘big language’. It will only get your messages deleted. Also avoid using shorthand like many youthful people do when sending SMSes. Not everyone is excited about shorthand especially for formal emails. For example writing “gr8” to mean great, “4get” for forget.
  11. Email Usernames: When choosing a username, Try to use your actual name(s) or initials because this becomes your Identity. Funny addresses raise suspicion and messages from them could be treated as junk. Using your name makes it easy to identify your emails or give them priority.
  12. Delivery Notifications: When you send an email that you consider important, activate your settings to notify you when the recipient opens it. This is very important to track who has received and read or attempted to read your email. It also gives you a clue about those who take long to respond to emails even if they read them as soon as they receive them.
  13. Sending yourself a copy: When sending a job, consultancy, assignment or scholarship related email, it is important to send yourself a copy too. This is good because in the event that they require you to resend it, you can easily locate it, edit it and forward it.
  14. Sharing Friend’s email: Just because you know a friend’s email address does not mean that you should share it with each and everyone especially without their permission. Also for event organizers, it is so rude for you to add one’s email to your organisation’s or company’s mailing list without their permission just because they attended your event and left their details behind including their email addresses. Please seek permission.
  15. Do a spell check: This is a function that is ignored by many email writers. Before sending an email, proof read for consistency and understanding. Once that is done, run a spell check and correct any grammar errors before you click send.

If you are the kind that keeps on forgetting to respond to your emails on time, there is good news for you. There are services that can help remind you. Both free and paid for; ‪http://www.lettermelater.com or ‪http://www.boomeranggmail.com/hp3/index.html

Please add any other tips in the comments section!!

Why consider Women in Agriculture Education?

I was recently in Maputo, Mozambique
attending the 4th Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) biennial conference. RUFORUM is a
consortium of 42 Universities across Africa and a platform for catalyzing
change is African Universities.  I had
gone for a consultancy to train young social reporters and journalism students in Mozambique who had been tasked
to cover the proceedings of the event in real time via social media.  I have in the past conducted similar
trainings but this was a special one given the nature of the trainees. It was a
mixture of English, French and Portuguese speakers. After successfully
completing my trainings, I had an opportunity of attending some of the plenary
sessions as I monitored my ‘students’ do their work.
Conducting a training for social reporters and journalism students.
It was not a surprise that one of those
sessions that I chose to attend, focused on the role of women in Agriculture
and why they should not be ignored in institutions of higher
learning and specifically Agricultural education.
In her opening remarks, Her Excellence Dhlamini Nkosazana Zuma
the chairperson of the African Union commission mentioned that transforming
Agriculture in Africa required innovative scientific research, educational and
training approaches.  She added that
transformation demands a bold vision backed by bold actions.  Ms. Dhlamini said that Africans from all walks
of life must contribute to a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth, so
that Africa can take its rightful place in the world. By 2025, all young
persons under 25 in the world will be African. They must therefore be
intellectually empowered with relevant skills especially in science and technology.
she added. On the role of women in Africa’s
development, Ms. Dhlamini had this to say 

“Women not only make up half of Africa’s population but also produce the other half, they form 70% of African workforce.
We must empower them. We must have deliberate strategies to ensure girls’ access
to higher education and more women in the academia”

She challenged participants when she
mentioned that no country has ever developed on primary education alone and
emphasized the value and need to focus on Higher education. In her opinion,
Africa needs to have its own agenda and pursue it. “We do not need the UN to tell us to take our children to school”
she said.
H.E Dhlamini Zuma Chairperson AU commission
More often than not, we do what people
give us money for and not what we are supposed to do as Africans. No country
has ever developed only on donor money,we must put in a lot of our resources. 
We must look at new Technologies like
elearning to give us more access to education. Universities must be innovative
enough to adopt to new technologies and they must have both physical and
virtual learning spaces to give skills to more students. We should not miss the
opportunity that technology offers. Innovators must innovate to replace the
hand held hoe for Women.  She concluded.
Women remain invisible, in spite of their presence.

Graca Machel the keynote speaker of this
conference started her address with a reminder that every one of us had to have a responsibility of how we change Africa.  It
should no longer be about “Reducing the percentage of people dying of hunger”
but rather totally eradicating it from Africa. Graca firmly asserted.
We get comfortable talking about numbers
but what impact do we have on the lives of the people we represent? 43% of
African Children are stunted, that means that they can never attain their intellectual
capacity. To Ms. Graca, poverty for African is no longer the issue of hunger
but rather the intellectual nourishment.
As a way of walking the talk, Ms. Graca,
with the support of African Development bank has established an African women
Network focusing on Women in Finance with a plan to establish networks of Women in Agriculture especially woman in Business. She was concerned that women are not well
represented in Agricultural services yet it is important to improve women’s representation
in policy decision making processes. There is very little attention given to
the roles women play in agriculture and their specific needs and priorities. To
realize the potential of Agriculture as a source of livelihood for many
Africans, We must recognize the roles women can play in Agriculture.
Why
Women?
The AfricanDevelopment Bank estimates that 90 per
cent of Africa’s food is produced by women in spite of the fact that few women
hold titles to the land they work. Because of this, rural women’s contribution
to Africa’s agriculture is important for the persistence and success of their
families, communities and local and national economies, and to poverty
reduction and sustainable development.

Ms. Graca Machel gave a keynote address & focused on
the role of women in Africa

According to a research conducted by
RUFORUM in 2010, Women play a vital role in Agriculture yet are poorly
represented in higher education with 28% of student in universities Agriculture
programs, less than a quarter in agriculture faculties and 20% women
researchers.
An MOU between RUFORUM and AWARD was signed to encourage Women’s
Participation in Agricultural Research and Higher Education

The big question remains, what must be done to
address the gender gaps and concerns in Agriculture and science in Africa?

For more details about this conference, please visit:

Flickr to see some of the pictures 
Blogs: Over 43 were written by the social reporters

Barriers to mHealth adoption in Sub-Saharan Africa

In Uganda, and Africa at large, the
populace face many challenges with regard to health including but not limited
to; poor facilities, poor social infrastructure, energy shortage especially
electricity and limited access to education. Despite Government’s effort to improve
on the health system, very few individuals, companies and organizations are
tapping into the potential of mobile Technologies for health, even when the
benefits are obvious to populations whose most accessible tool for communication
is a phone. Below are some of the reasons that I personally think contribute to
the little uptake of mhealth.
 
Photo Credit: Edward Echwalu
1.     
Content
The absence of
readily available mobile health related content on specific thematic areas is a
big barrier. Most organizations that implement mhealth projects have to develop
their own content based on the area of focus. eg HIV, Malaria, maternal health
etc. There is also no central database where this content is put for future
reference or to avoid duplication of already implemented mhealth issues. This
leaves room for data redundancy and duplication to target groups.
 
2.     Skills
Because of the
tremendous growth in phone penetration especially in sub-Saharan Africa, there
is a great demand for training in mhealth education. One cannot simply rely on
the assumption that because every at least many people own phones, they can
ably use them for mhealth campaigns. They need to be trained on how to operate
the phones, say for health related surveys or how to respond to health quizzes.
This is still lacking. Unless the mhealth campaigns are inform of interactive
Voice Responses (IVRs), the adoption will still remain slow with the use of
interactive SMS messages especially among the elderly populations.

3.     Gender
Although this
is an issue that is often under looked, it plays a key role in either the
success or failure of mhelath project. It’s obvious that the biggest percentage of those who bear
the burden caused by conflict ,disaster are women and children and they are the
key stakeholders in promoting good health and building stable, self-reliant
communities. Also most mhealth related campaigns target mainly women on issues
like maternal health, child mortality, HIV/AIDs, abortions etc. but ownership
of phones is predominantly male who control what kind of information comes
through the phone, whose mobility is not restricted and who are better economically
empowered to afford maintaining the phones especially in rural areas. Therefore,
Making these projects gender sensitive and involving men right from the onset
of the projects will reduce the barriers.
 
4.     Access/Affordability
This could be viewed in terms of
access to the actual handset especially for the rural folks in rural Africa and
affordability in terms of maintenance such as paying to have the phone charged.
Many people cannot afford a 30USD handset yet most mhealth implementing organizations/companies
only want to work with folks that already own phones. It’s a barrier because
you reach fewer people.

5.     Infrastructure
A lot of mhelath projects in Africa
depend so much on Telecom companies which are responsible for the general
telephony infrastructure eg masts for access to network, distribution of short codes
for those that intend to use SMS etc. In the event that an area does not have
access to a mast, then it is obvious that even if there is a genuine health
need to be addressed through the use of mobile phones, it does not get
attention simply because there are issues of network connectivity. This is one
of the biggest barriers for rural Africa. Also the issuing of short codes by
the Telecoms through communications regulators is bureaucratic.

6.     Attitude
Traditionally
especially in Africa, mobile phones are known for verbal communication. But
with mhealth projects comes a new paradigm shift to the use and application of
phones for accessing health information through SMS. Accepting this change and
adjusting accordingly can be a barrier to SMS based mhealth project. IVR
related mhealth campaigns could be more successful than SMS because voice
messages cut across literacy levels.

7.      Language
This is a barrier because of the fact that the commonly used
language for SMS is English yet sub-Saharan Africa is so diverse. However, this
barrier can be solved through voice messages and using community radios along side the mobile phones.

8.     Political
Will
The success of any project depends on the
positive political will and government support. Often times, mhealth initiatives
by NGOs are meant to compliment already existing government health services and
therefore they must work closely with Government. However, many initiatives
have been destroyed because the Government has not played its role. A case in
point is the moratorium that was issued in Uganda from the Ministry of Health
halting the implementation of all electronic and Mobile Health projects that
were not approved by the Director General. While this was a great initiative to
reduce on duplication of projects and to encourage wider coverage and eliminate
unnecessary pilots, the Ministry did not make the vetting process smooth. It
would take months to have the technical working group at the ministry meet and
approve the projects. This is a source of frustration for projects that have
defined timelines.

Citizen Journalism: A paradigm shift in reporting on Agriculture

“Reporting on Agriculture is not sexy” has become a new cliché these days.

Many young journalists have been made to believe that the area of agriculture lacks the right stories that can draw attention and increase readership, viewership or listenership to their journalistic work. Unless, of course, these are stories about agricultural related disasters like floods, famine, hunger and or the negative effects of climate change.
A lot of print media (New papers, magazines etc) and broadcast media (TV, radios etc) are braced with headlines and feature stories on Celebrities, political scandals, riots, finances and many more but very few look at all these from an Agricultural point of view, simply because they think it is not catchy and therefore will not attract the attention of many.

While we are all aware about the role of journalism in reporting agriculture, we know that many times, these journalists have downplayed crucial stories on agriculture and consistently use excuses such as, “Agricultural Lingo is too technical for their audience”. Other have blamed it on their editors who never approve agricultural related work pieces.

Taking the bull by the horn

These excuses have always existed and the blame game in the newsrooms is not about to end, however something can be done by another kind of journalists, Citizen Journalists.
Gone are the days when publishing news globally was an act that had been the exclusive domain of established journalists and media companies.  Today, people like you and I without professional journalism training can use the tools of modern technology and the global distribution of the Internet to create, augment or fact-check media.
This means that anyone with access to the Internet or even a cell phone can report, start a blog, chat and or tweet. As a result, it is becoming cheaper and easier for individuals and organizations with the right skills to publish their own newsletters, produce both audio and video materials in addition to hosting public chats. However, it is vital to not that while the media scene is changing globally, mainstream media still carries weight and has influence in setting the public agenda.

Great initiatives in using technology for agricultural reporting

According to the Farm Radio International 2011 report , radio is the most widely used medium for disseminating information to rural audiences across Africa.
Radio can reach communities at the end of the development road – people who live in areas without phones or electricity. Radio reaches people who cannot read or write. Even in very poor communities, radio penetration is vast. It is estimated there are over 800 million radios in sub-Saharan Africa.
Just like many other ICTs, radio has one major limitation. It has been a one-way medium that reaches farmers in their homes and or fields and on its own, radio has had limited means of interacting with listeners because of the one way flow of information.  And even if it’s true that radio is the most widely used medium, its ownership, control and greatest percentage of listenership is limited to mainly the men despite the fact that majority of those involved in agricultural production are women.

It’s because of such limitations that we see the rise in the use of mobile technology for agriculture by organizations like Grameen Foundation through APPlab that thrives to avail farmers with relevant and timely information regarding their products. We also continue to see mobile innovation such as M-Farm an integrated and customizable ICT platform designed to help stakeholder in agricultural value chain communicate with each other efficiently, establish and maintain business relationships and manage the flow of goods and services among them.
Because of the power of these simple initiatives, many organizations have begun motivating youth to develop applications that support Agriculture. A case in point is CTA which is organizing a hackathon in partnership with East African ICT hubs and labs with an aim is to highlight the potential of ICT applications in agriculture and to support the development of ICT innovation and entrepreneurship in agriculture especially by young people.
Such practical initiatives and many more are what will change the paradigm of how agriculture is reported about.

As we continue to advocate for more coverage of agricultural stories especially among the youth, we must note that this advocacy must be holistic and look at all categories of youth from farmers, activists, techpreneurs, business, students, young professionals and most important young journalists because they are the ones who will tell the story.