Sudan’s looming referendum – not all doom and gloom

Africa: it’s big, it’s complicated and it’s very far away.

When we call a situation ‘complex’ we are essentially washing our hands of the issue and putting it in the too hard basket. Turning our back on Sudan over the next couple of months has potentially catastrophic consequences.

On the 9th January 2011, a referendum is scheduled in Sudan, the largest country on the African continent. The people of southern Sudan have the opportunity to decide whether to remain united with the larger Sudan or declare their independence.

Sudan has endured unrelenting instability due to a range of political rivalries, clashes between tribal groups, natural disasters and conflict fuelled by scarce resources, drought and oil revenues. Over the past 55 years, 40 of those years has been marred by bloody civil war causing Sudan to have the highest number of Internally Displaced People in the world; an estimated 4.9 million

Sounds complex.

Which it is, but that doesn’t mean we should switch off. One of the myriad of issues that result from this complexity: only 56% of the population have access to clean drinking water .

The quote “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is for good men to do nothing” springs to mind in a lot of conflict situations, but in this case it seems particularly pertinent. The origin of the quote was Edmund Burke, an 18th century Irish statesman, philosopher and all round great talker. On one hand he was a champion for liberty but also a firm believer in authority.

In 2009, a dramatic increase in inter-ethnic violence in Southern Sudan caused a significant deterioration in security. For the Sudanese to enjoy a safe and prosperous future there needs to be a carefully measured balance of democracy and power. The international community and the UN have to be prepared logistically and financially to deal with the humanitarian consequences of the months ahead.

Australia increasingly plays a hand in Sudan, and we are certainly ramping up our aid spending in Africa with $140 million in extra assistance towards maternal and child health programs in Ethiopia, Tanzania and southern Sudan announced in September. According to Transparency International, Sudan is viewed as the fourth most corrupt country in the world. Needless to say there has been some noise in the aid and development sector about aid reaching its intended targets.

But it’s not all doom and gloom – Australia has also deployed 27 Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police peacekeepers to the United Nations Mission in Sudan. KRudd said Australia would continue to work with the UN, African Union and the international community to tackle security and development challenges in Sudan, in the lead-up to and beyond the January referendum. Australia’s assistance will comprise of:
• $3 million to the UNDP Referendum Basket Fund, to support the referendum, including voter registration and training for domestic observers;
• $1 million to the International Organisation for Migration to conduct out of country voting, including registration and polling of southern Sudanese in Australia;
• $5 million to UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund to provide health, education and other essential services to women and children in southern Sudan.

We as global citizens need to keep watch to make sure Sudan doesn’t plunge even further into violence and human rights abuses. For more info go to Human Rights Watch – Sudan  and listen to the podcast.

Hanging out in Melbourneo with other word nerds

Attending the 3rd Australian Aid Communicators Conference in Melbourne was a delight. When I say ‘other word nerds’ that roughly means a room full of inspiring, passionate, informed and switched-on aid and development communicators from across this sunburnt land in a slightly wet but beautiful town.*

Over our fair trade coffees and delicious multicultural vegetarian snacks we bemoaned the public’s apathy and sluggish response to Pakistan, found out who was working where these days and shared common tales of staff shortages.  There was also some good news for the sector, the old campaign strategies still ring true: be honest, stay on message and be persistent.  The (not so) ‘new’ media tools are pretty much all free and user-friendly. Have a play and see what you can do, there are no rules. Creating a social media campaign is like any other campaign. You need clear strategy and framework, something along the lines of –

People – Assess your audience social activities
Objectives – Decide on what you want to accomplish
Strategy – How will you satisfy your objectives
Tactics/Technology – Decide which social technologies to use (note how technology is last)

It’s not the first time that the Social Media POST Framework and I have shared the same space, I too have stood in front of a room of eager communicators with the trusty POST on my PowerPoint slide (I didn’t use the rather sexy, that’s quite the discovery). 

And we have our work cut out for us. The development sector doesn’t have the best public image. From cries of “you spend too much on advertising,” “it never reaches the people,” “what about our own problems in Australia,” “our money will end up in Taliban hands,” the list goes on … it is up to us to do a better job at explaining how aid works. And aid does work.

Want more development rants comin at ya? Follow the UNDPI Global Health Conference on twitter #AchieveMDGs – @sarfos is doing some darn fine tweetin’ from the Conference.

*If I could make babies with a city, it would be Melbourne.

Marketing in the 3rd World: Losing the battle against clipart

It goes without saying that marketing and communications in one of the poorest islands of the developing world is very different to pitching in the air-conditioned comfort of Sydney.

For starters I’m wearing flip-flops and shorts and can feel the beads of sweat form on my shoulder blades race down my back. And occasionally my pitch is interrupted by the blood curdling death squeals of a pig, toddlers wandering in and receiving ‘blessings’ from the staff or the power disappearing for no apparent reason.

I’m a flexible individual and take these factors on board, but it’s the Filipino aesthetic that can be the real issue in my work.

sppi-lowresOur logo that the wonderfully talented Tim Neve assisted me with is clean and simple. For starters the name of my organisation is a challenge, its in Waray, the local language, not Tagalog, the national language and after 5 months of being here I still can’t say it without it being written in front of me – Sentro ha Pagpauswag ha Panginabuhi, Inc. Our acronym when googled comes up with Spectrum Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (SPPI) among other companies that are not us.

When I was presenting to the Board of Trustees they were highly concerned that the logo had no picture, “there should be hands holding fish and crabs,” “and root crops”, “and seaweed…” Explaining that would be visually confusing and distracting from the message of local economy development and in our campaigns we would have supporting photos took a lot of explaining, but I stood my ground that day.

With my counterpart I am organising the Mud Crab (Kinis) Festival with our local mud crab farmers of the Mangrove Crab Producer Association of Rosario (MCPAR). He has a natural business mind and over the 5 months I have seen his confidence grow and very critically for marketing, he is a natural networker with an ability to relate to farmers and managers alike.

I will use one word to describe the festival logo – clipart. Now one can assume my opinion so it need not be said, but our co-workers, who essentially represent our target market, love it. It’s colourful, it’s fun; it’s what it is. Am I consumer focused or am I imposing an ideal like a neo-colonialist font-Nazi (Well we could use Comic Sans, what about Calibri?)

But it’s not just our NGO on an impoverished island, all of Philippines marketing appears to be trapped in an early 90’s time capsule. You just need to see the national tourism website to see that.

All marketers and creatives have to pick their battles and use the gentle art of persuasion, that’s part of the job. I think my greatest achievement here has not been a logo, a brochure, the blog  or marketing workshops. It’s planting the seed of how critical networking is at a grass-roots level for any organisation to be viable and sustainable.

Pocket road of rage

This blog has very humble beginnings with pen, paper and deep-seeded rage. The type of anger that sits down in your belly; cancerous, festering, raw.

I’m in our Eastern Samar office in Guiuan, visiting various barangays meeting smiling farmers who proudly display their simple yet incredibly effective organic farming methods. From San Jose farm in Mercedes we walk to Cabunga-an along a ‘pocket road’, a potholed dirt track registered as a completed bitumen road by corrupt officials. Since the funds have been ‘pocketed’, this road will only ever exist on paper and will never be seen by the community of Cabunga-an.

I am shown the house of a poorest of the poor (POP) that cannot repay their credit scheme with us. A dilapidated bamboo hut with no appliances and Lord only knows how many children. The community development workers (CDWs) can’t say no to this family in desperate poverty and extend their loan.

However, how can we justify that some families who can’t pay the loan are cut from the program while others can stay on?

Our NGO is based on compassion and committed to alleviating poverty but we must be sustainable too. It’s all very well for me to recommend cutting off all barangays that do not meet our 50% + 1 repayment benchmark, but what happens to those we leave behind? Certainly no level of government is willing and/or able to help them.

Development work is similar to the medical profession in a way, compassion draws you to this line of work, but cool rationalism maintains your sanity. You have to focus on the task at hand so you are not overwhelmed by anger, sadness and impotence. I try to listen to the little activist revolutionary inside me (a hybrid of Che Guevara and Anita Roddick), alas today she is drowned out by the enormity of the problem.

The hunger aches, the directionless existence that the people of the bamboo shack must endure would make life a constant misery. I can’t get the listless look in their eyes out of my mind.

I have to listen closer for my little optimistic activist because her voice is lost in an ocean of despair, and I’m going down with her.

 (written 19th May)

The learning and unlearning begins

Life here in Catarman is unfathomably different to Australia. Poverty is incomprehensible until you are submerged in it. Even then I will always be an outsider observing from a safe distance. 

I truly believe the average Australian has no idea how wealthy we are. Who I would consider poor in Australia can still drink water from the tap and often will own a fridge, television, a car or maybe all three.* Here you are considered wealthy if you own any of those items; my manager does not own a fridge or a car for example (but she has a TV, and people seem quite concerned that I do not want to own one).

This is forcing me to rethink and redefine poverty and what it is to be considered poor; not only the immediate physical implications of poverty (health, shelter, education) but the mental limitations, lack of self worth and the social stigma. Northern Samar has a large population of rural poor who earn P3000 per month for a family of five (just under AU$100) and only 48% of children finish Elementary School.

I am facing my own social boundaries with the colour of my skin (and my height boundaries getting in and out of tricycles and pedicabs). I met an academic yesterday who said I was the nicest white person he has ever talked to. “White people are arrogant, they think that they own us,” said Freddy who lectures in social studies at UEP. After the initial language barriers, I am also up against centuries of Western oppression and a bloody history of enslavement. In short, white people are pricks.  

 *I’m not including Indigenous Australians in this assertion. Poverty in Australia is as harsh and real as it is in developing countries. Whilst only 20% of Caucasian Australians die before 65, 70% of Indigenous people do.

Hello web-world!

Perhaps it is the residual ‘Gen X’ sensibilities I have, but the concept of blogging seems both strange and self indulgent. In saying that, this is awesome and I’m excited already.

What prompted to share my life with the web-world* is my rapidly approaching departure to the Philippines to be an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development. The job I will be doing in theory is similar to my career in Australia in online marketing and communication. However working in web development on an island that often has no electricity will be the polar opposite of my working conditions in air conditioned offices in Sydney.

So sit back and enjoy the future rants of a very urban and somewhat prissy girl in the jungles and fishing villages of Samar Island. 

*Only a fifth of the world”s population currently has access to the internet. See The next several billion