Following up on Tanzania, EIA shares its skills

When I joined EIA back in the mists of time (well, 1997 actually) I was quickly dispatched to a remote part of Wales to undergo camera training. I especially remember the joys of performing a manual white balance with a bulky Hi-8 format camera on a bleak hilltop buffeted by strong winds.

Fast forward to February 2011 and I find myself in the more congenial environment of Arusha, northern Tanzania, helping train Tanzanian NGOs in the use of cameras and a lot of other skills that we at EIA use in our campaigning.

This is the final documentation workshop of EIA’s three-year initiative to support Tanzanian NGOs through training in stills and video cameras, and other vital campaigning skills such as writing press releases and effective lobbying. The 25 participants have come from across Tanzania; Kilwa in south Tanzania, the island of Zanzibar, Kigoma in the west, Morogoro in the centre and Bagamoyo in the north.

The participants work on a range of issues, from environmental problems like forest loss and wildlife protection, to social challenges such as women’s rights, drug use and support for pastoralist communities. At the outset I ask them if they have ever used cameras in their work before and only a couple of hands raised. After a few days of intensive training, they are asked to spend the weekend documenting a local issue using cameras.

When we get back together on Monday, the results are truly impressive. Everyone has obeyed the basic rules; focus, exposure, framing, each video shot at least ten seconds long, and not too much wild zooming and panning. Their enthusiasm for the potential of visuals is palpable.

It strikes me how liberating technology has become. Back in 1997 when I did my basic training the video cameras were bulky and expensive, with short battery life and limited tape length. We also had to beg cut-price access to professional edit suites to make our campaign films, which often meant grafting through the night. Now all that has changed. The video cameras the Tanzanian NGOs are using are relatively cheap; provide high definition images via memory card and batteries last for many hours. Coupled with a laptop, the groups have all they need to produce broadcast quality films.

The people we have already trained in past workshops are already putting these skills to good use. In Arusha it is great to catch up with Steve and Elisha, who I met at the first training we provided back in 2009. They are now mentoring some of their NGO colleagues and producing excellent and effective films. It is also good to work again with Julius, from our partner the Journalist’s Environmental Association of Tanzania, who has become an excellent trainer and now has the nickname “fundi picha”, meaning picture technician.

On the last night of the workshop the hotel where we have been doing the training throws a surprise party. As the dusk gathers and the imposing vision of nearby Mount Meru fades into the darkness, satisfaction at a successful gathering is tinged with regret that our current project in Tanzania is nearing its end. Yet it is clear to me that this work will leave a strong legacy; a community of NGO activists putting their documentation skills and camera equipment to good use to push for environmental and social justice in their country. As for EIA, we will continue to work together with our many friends in Tanzania after the training project ends in June.