By Megan Wainwright, Air Network Co-I

As part of the Air Network project, academic, research and community partners have carried-out four mini-projects over the past 12 months. The aim has been to experiment with and pilot different interdisciplinary methodologies to both study, and develop community-led solutions to air pollution in Mukuru. I was assigned to the mini-project “Raising Awareness” to methodologically support the group in applying both more creative and more conventional research methods to the study of the sources and effects of air pollution and create outputs that could be used to directly raise awareness of the issue in Mukuru. In this blog I’ll introduce the digital story “Air Pollution in Mukuru – Dennis’ Story” and give some background to this online resource for raising awareness.

Watch it here on YouTube

Firstly, let me introduce Dennis Waweru. Dennis is a community representative on the Air Network project and, like me, became a member of the Raising Awareness mini-project at the January 2018 workshop in Nairobi. Dennis is a photographer and was tasked with taking photographs of the sources and effects of air pollution in Mukuru. Dennis also has the accolade of having won the Mr. Mukuru competition in 2018! This is a yearly competition which occurs at the Mukuru festival. Dennis’ role as Mr. Mukuru is to represent youth in all community occasions and be the ambassador of Mukuru.

Dennis Waweru_Mr. Mukuru
Mr. Mukuru Dennis Waweru

In terms of the research, being able to see the issue through the eyes of the photographer who himself is a young and engaged resident of Mukuru, was a way of generating a richer understanding among the research team. We also knew the photographs could be used in different ways, for example as discussion aids in interviews, or as outputs in their own right to be included in publications, awareness raising materials, or exhibitions. They could also be used to create a digital story!

I came to this project with a background and interest in photovoice1,2, photodocumentary1 and more recently digital storytelling, an approach I learned from Selina Mudavanhu while a postdoc at the University of Cape Town. Digital storytelling seemed particularly suited to this project as it gives power to the storyteller to tell their own story, in their own words. In my opinion, a digital story is different in style to classic documentary, because it is based around a script, written as a story by the storyteller. That becomes the guiding narrative, unlike some other media forms where the narrator and the person whose stories are being told, are different people. Dennis was keen to try it and volunteered to create one.

We knew that the challenging part would be supporting Dennis to do the technical editing and produce of the film without face-to-face assistance, but we were determined to try our best. He was new to video editing, and I was new to the specific software we were using! My previous experience in digital storytelling had largely followed the StoryCentre method which had involved supporting participants to create their digital stories start to finish in a 4-5 day workshop face-to-face using a computer lab equipped with all the necessary software and hardware. In this project we did not have the human resources on the ground to provide an in-person intense workshop, so we had to work entirely over the internet. Mike Wilson of the AIR Network recommended the online video-making programme WeVideo, and his colleague Antonia Luguori kindly helped me get a handle on how it worked.

Dennis was introduced to digital storytelling through a presentation I prepared with step-by-step instructions delivered at a training day in Mukuru by Cassilde Muhoza, the local lead on the Raising Awareness Mini-Project. Dennis was given a copy of the slides which offered the rationale and a step-by-step guide, including writing, storyboarding and voice recording the script. He also received training in ethical practice in photography and in how to  use the consent and release forms supported by Air Network and Raising Awareness Mini-Project co-lead Charlotte Waelde. He had to arrange to borrow the digital voice recorder from the interviewers in the team to make his voice recording, and was provided funds to rent a camera for 2 days. Emphasis was put on getting a good quality voice recording. I didn’t edit or approve the script – what he wrote, was what he recorded. Dennis met with other members of the team when they were in Mukuru to transfer his photographs, his script, and the voice recording. His script sent a powerful message, the recording was clear and crisp and the photographs were excellent, so we had all the ingredients for a great story.

But then, the tricky part! After a few failed attempts to coordinate Dennis logging-in to WeVideo while speaking to me over WhatsApp, it was clear the geographical and technical gaps were too big to cross and Dennis asked me to produce his video. The final product is thus a joint effort. While the script, the recording and the photographs are all Dennis’ own, the choice of music, style and photographs to illustrate parts of the story were made by me. He viewed and approved the production over WhatsApp before it was finalized, and it went on YouTube on February 6th 2019. The link was sent to our mini-project WhatsApp group and all were asked to share with their networks to help raise awareness. It was also sent to all Air Network members to distribute to community representatives and colleagues. Within 24 hours it had been viewed around 100 times, and within 20 days 269 times. The digital story, as well as two of Dennis’ still photographs, were exhibited at the Air Network exhibition in York in March. Dennis also submitted to a Wellcome Photography Prize and is waiting expectantly for the results.

As for the future of Dennis’ digital story, we hope it will become a powerful and accessible community resource for raising awareness of the sources and effects of air pollution and look forward to tracking how it is used. This blog has given you some insight into the rationale of digital storytelling and the detailed process we went through to produce it. In it, Dennis highlights the impact of burning trash, industrial dumping and burning, domestic equipment for cooking and lighting, and the polluted river. He highlights the particular effect the smoke and dirty environment has on children, affecting not only their health but their education. In Dennis’ words “Let’s be our brother’s keeper” and raise awareness of air  pollution in Mukuru.

Watch the digital story HERE.

Written by: Megan Wainwright (Air Network Co-I)

1 Wainwright, M., Bingham, S., Sicwebu, N. (2017). Photovoice and photodocumentary for enhancing community-partner engagement and student learning in a public health field school in Cape Town. Journal of Experiential Education, 40(2), 409-424. Doi: 10.1177/1053825917731868

2 Allen, D., Wainwright, M., & Hutchinson, T. (2011). ‘Non-compliance’ as illness management: Hemodialysis patients’ descriptions of adversarial patient-clinician interactions. Social Science & Medicine, 73, 129-134.

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