Pallavi Shah reports from Mbeya in Tanzania on EIA's capacity building projects

A few days ago I watched with intrigue as ‘Dada’ (sister in Swahilii) Mwakalukwa handled the digital camera with uncertainty and curiosity and such tenderness as if it may just break in her hands. With deliberate care, slowly she snapped a photo and her face beamed with pride.

Pallavi Shah shows Dada Mwakalukwa how to handle a digital camera for the first time in EIA's capacity building project in Tanzania

Dada Mwakalukwa, like most of her fellow participants, had never used a digital camera before this day. Yet, here in Mbeya, a small town in the Southern highlands of Tanzania and a 13-hour bus journey from Dar es Salaam, we had the challenging task of training Dada Mwakalukwa and 19 other representatives of local NGOs to use stills cameras, video cameras and GPS systems.

The training is part of an innovative three year project by EIA to empower NGOs and communities across Tanzania with skills and equipment to enable them to visually document the issues that affect them; to capture visual evidence of the violation of their rights and the destruction of their environment; to use the power of visual media to advocate for change by taking to the decision maker compelling testimony of the reality of their situation on the ground. The same techniques used by EIA.

Over the last two years, the journey has taken EIA and its three Tanzanian partners (Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, Journalists Environmental Association Tanzania and the Lawyers Environmental Action Team) from the Southern most wilderness of Tanzania to its central mountains to the shores of Lake Victoria.

The five training workshops we have held have given new skills and equipment to 83 local activists, working on a range of issues including natural resources, HIV, gender and community rights. Eighteen camera kits have been distributed across the country, creating, for the first time ever a national network of cross-sector organisations sharing equipment and collaborating together to achieve similar goals.

Despite its many challenges, this year the project has begun to bear fruit and we have witnessed the first outputs and successes.

In a country so vast, so varied from region to region, every training offers a unique experience. The training is intense for both participants and the partners. Over ten days participants are taught to undertake research, use cameras and GPSs to collect information, to write press releases and access media and develop strong advocacy strategies. The days are long. Living conditions are often very basic with only a bucket of cold water to bathe.

In Mbeya, as the temperatures drop to 4°C, the evenings are spent huddled under starry skies at a roadside joint blaring local ‘Bongo Flava’ tunes; the local gin brings some warmth.  Kerosene lamps cast a dim glow as the team tucks into ‘nyama choma’ (barbequed meat) and chips – a staple diet in rural Tanzania. Being vegetarian, as usual, I settle for roast bananas and a little treat from my Tiffin box.

After a gruelling ten days, Dada Mwakalukwa presents the footage, photos and a campaign strategy of a local issue she focused on during the course of the training. The visuals are outstanding. From not having used any of the technology before, the transformation is remarkable. I feel so proud. She speaks with a newfound confidence, she speaks with determination; she speaks with the voice of change.

Pallavi Shah, Project Coordinator, Reporting from Mbeya

Find out more on EIA’s capacity building projects