Ede and Ravenscroft Prize 2006

 

Report by Sam Whelan

 

I first visited Uganda in 2004 during my gap year and volunteered with Soft Power Education. Soft Power Education is a British registered, non-religious charity, working closely within the local community of Jinja, Uganda with an aim of developing and improving educational facilities for children largely in the primary sector. The charity operates entirely on donations with only a handful of paid staff in Uganda (which get paid minimum wage) and for this reason I embarked on reaching a fundraising target of 1000 before my trip in the June, which through various means I achieved. In 2004 a team of 10 or so and I renovated 6 classrooms of a school called Mpumwire Primary, also building a guttering water system which included a water tank to save the children a long daily walk to the nearest water pump. This was my first hands on experience of volunteering with a charity, and I found it amazing how Soft Power was so transparent in respect of finances, as you could see exactly where the money raised was going; into the paints, bricks, and paying $1 a day to local builders. The money raised also aided the builders in terms of development, as 5 or so were training under the supervision of a Ugandan master builder; Stephen, whom on completion of Mpumwire Primary would issue them with a certificate detailing their skills, which would clearly help them in their future employment.

 

 

 

In January 2006 I began fundraising for Soft Power again; hosting cheese and wine parties, contacting local authorities, doing car boot sales and everything in-between in an effort to not only raise donations, but also to raise awareness of this charity, as their exposure is invariably minimal due to their size. I knew I wanted to get involved in Soft Power again, and on considering a return trip as an option, and at the same time being asked to submit a draft question for my dissertation, I decided to combine the two. During my first trip to Uganda I found it fascinating how much the majority of people, especially those in the rural villages, were dependant upon a radio as a source of news, education, entertainment, and time keeping. As I am reading Communication and Media Studies and an active member of the student radio, I decided it would be fantastic to carry out my dissertation research in a country where the medium of radio has such a different and more important role than that of western countries.

 

 

For the first few weeks of my trip in August I mostly immersed myself in working with Soft Power on a number of projects, largely Omugezi Education Centre which was being built in Kybira village where I was living, and a primary school in the same district called Wakitaka. Working with Soft Power in the villages in this way meant I had an excellent opportunity to meet local people, especially local builders working on the sites. This was partly due to my desire to be totally submerged in the villages and work I was doing, but also as some preparation for my up and coming dissertation research. After using the first few weeks to make contacts in the local community, I spent the last month of my trip working part-time for Soft Power, usually taking the afternoon off to do some research in Jinja. During this time away from Soft Power I also frequented the capital Kampala, and found opportunities to visit some commercial radio stations.

 

On visiting these stations I made some fantastic contacts, which will aid me immensely in my dissertation work, not least because they have given me their contact details to be used on my return to England. Having the flexibility to stay in Kampala overnight if necessary to meet someone the next day for an interview made a huge difference to the work I carried out at the stations, often leading to meeting various presenters, Station Managers, and Programme Controllers (in charge of a stations output). These interviews in turn aided my discussions with people living in the villages, as I had a greater insight into various stations’ style and output, giving me better background knowledge. This allowed me to put responses from local people in interviews into context a lot better, further aiding the depth of my research.

 

 

I am extremely grateful to the prizes committee for choosing me for the Ede and Ravenscroft award, as it allowed me to give a large monetary donation to Soft Power Education, as well as my time as a volunteer. The refurbishment of the primary schools in the Budondo district as well as the Education Centre has a profound effect on the local communities. Receiving the grant also made a massive difference to my dissertation, having hands on experience and being able to apply research techniques I learnt in my first 2 years here at Loughborough was incredible.

 

Sam Whelan

 

Kybira village, Budondo, Jinja, Uganda.