All entries for Sunday 19 August 2007

August 19, 2007

The power of advertising

As I cycled back from work today I saw a huge crowd in the distance. Usually crowds gather in Uganda for a number of reasons; preachers, gamblers or advertisers. This time it was the latter. A ‘Yo Jus’ campaign has drawn a few hundred people and had children scrabbling for free samples, you don’t exactly see the same furore outside a UK Tesco when Pot Noodle pays a visit. Getting ‘something for nothing’ means more here, people don’t really care about what the brand is, just that they are putting on a good show. You’ll often have trucks with massive speakers in the back and the occasional dancing girl to promote anything from a music event to micro finance.

Advertising is everywhere here. Most primary schools are sponsored by Coke and MTN (a mobile phone network) sponsors a large part of the Makarere University Campus. You don’t see the flash billboards here as instead there are the rather more impressive painted adverts. ‘Live on the Coke side of life’ adverts lovingly painted onto the side of buildings with meticulous detail. I would love to know how Coke manages to get all the shops to paint exactly the same advert. Do they send out stencils? Do they have a special Coke painter? How on earth do they manage to all have the same colours? I have obviously spent far too long dwelling on these miraculous painted commercial displays.

I don’t have a camera so I’ll have to describe the government advert which is in the city centre to promote family planning. It is what can only be described as a stroke of genius. It encourages to “plan your family so that all of you can fit in a taxi”. Now this would seem a sensible suggestion, however, a Ugandan taxi holds 15 people. I’m not convinced that this is the correct message to be sending out to the ever expanding Ugandan population.

The Kampalan Reality

I have started some more ‘field work’ which sounds rather dramatic and suggests that I may been off to war torn Gulu to help in some under resourced hospital, but no. I have actually been into the Nsyamba community taking pictures for Help the Needy. I have been helping them with their child sponsorship program for school fees and scholastic aid. At the moment we are taking pictures for the website to show the children who need sponsorship and we are creating small profiles for them so people can see why they in particular are in need of sponsorship. The people I have been working with and have completely changed my mind about Ugandans and their work ethic. Each time we meet we set project goals and each time I arrive at work they have done exactly what we had set out to do. They are organised and seem to be really in touch with the needs of their community. This is the kind of organisation that Kampala needs as it is community based and was born out of a genuine need to have a community focused organisation. They never ask me for money and are interested in my opinion but not dependent on it. They are also not a charity which I like. They charge the members to attend the vocational training courses and ask the parents to commit a small monetary value when they provide school aid. This means that both the organisation and the person being helped are committed to the same goal.

I have mentioned before about my shock at the facilities this organisation has and its low operating budget. I was completely bowled over today when we went out in to the community. I have had it so easy here since I arrived and although I have been working at Hospice and Mulago I think that I’ve forgotten about the conditions that people live in. Today I went into Nsyamba West and it was both fantastic and horrendous. The banks and the paths were 80% plastic bags, 10% mud and 10% undisclosed waste. It had been raining so there were green pools lining the paths which were nicely set up for the anopheles mosquitoes. The paths were narrow with washing hanging between and corrugated iron panels sneaking out to get you if you weren’t paying attention. There were children everywhere; happy, smiling, poor, tatty looking children. And I have never felt some welcome. Everyone had a smile on their faces. Each corner that I turned I glimpsed a new section of the community living happily. At the minute I am on the tourist tour; ‘oh they are poor, but aren’t they happy!’ but I’m sure that the longer that you spend in the areas the more that the daily hardships become exposed. Everyone in the yards has a smile, but it’s the people who stay indoors who have the biggest problems.

I have to admit that I lied a little earlier. I said that everyone had a smile on their face. Everyone did, expect for the crazy local man. I am sure that I am breaking every pc rule by calling him crazy, but he was and for the sake of political correctness there is little point in beating about the bush. When I first saw local crazy man I thought that he was part of some local tradition. He looked very much like Sasha Baron Cohen’s characterisation of a Jew (for those of you who have seen the film). He had painted his face green with what looked like industrial paint, he had woollen chunks in his hair and he was wearing an eclectic mix of fluorescent clothing, he also had about 60 children all running and screaming behind him. It wasn’t until he diverted his attention to me that I realised that this wasn’t some kind of fun Ugandan fairy tale character as he became quite aggressive and demanded that I give him money. There was no danger of me doing that as I didn’t have any. I was however, a little worried about either being violently attacked or getting paint on my clothes, it is rather worrying that I was a tad more concerned about the latter. More to the point the children weren’t scared and instead local scary crazy man seemed to be the best form of entertainment that they had seen for months!

August 2007

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