Sunday, October 7, 2012

Let's call for a revolution

Newsletter, October 7th 2012

Education Tour program – not an ordinary school day
Whenever Bongodox hits a school, girls and boys are initially divided into separate groups, with each group having a designated location to privately discuss matters specifically relevant for the individual group. While sheltered from the self-consciousness and shyness usually generated by the presence of the opposite gender, the groups is given 25 minutes to discuss matters related to sexual intercourse and HIV/AIDS. Hereafter, the groups are assembled to view a Bongodox produced HIV/AIDS documentary in which, they are able to hear co-students express their views on different challenges students face in their school environment that, inevitably lead some to engage in non-safe sexual relationships, thereby exposing themselves to HIV/AIDS. After the viewing, a Bongodox representative gives advice on the correct use of condoms and initiates a final discussion in plenum during which the students are free to ask questions. Whenever there is time, Kisamakibo ends the arrangement with one of their songs to the students’ great amusement.  

The limitations of a ´Do, but don’t tell sex policy’ at Tanzanian secondary schools
Approximately two years ago, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)) succeeded in convincing the government of Tanzania to revise its law and allow young mothers to continue education at their former schools. With pregnancy being the main reason for girls dropping out of schools, it obviously isn’t a secret that pupils are sexually active. Experience gained by Bongodox can confirm this.

While the situation is not unknown, it is highly neglected by schools policies, making it difficult for students to be open about their sexual activities, consequently making them unable to seek advice at school on how to engage wisely in a sexual relationship when parents refuse to lend their ears to such issues – which is often the case.
It is therefore not surprising that Bongodox is welcomed by the students, as a breath of fresh air, asking questions that illustrate their thirst for a holistic and unrestricted discussion. While some of the questions expose the limitations of the society in which they live, others are questions familiar to any adolescent irrespective of country of residence. Judging from the topics dealt with in the discussions, these boys and girls are in serious need of advice on sexual matters, and while the school is obligated to teach about HIV/AIDS during the school year, it is apparent that the teaching provided is neither adequate nor holistically structured so as to embrace questions and answers that aren’t strict biological facts. 

Film event at Kipoke Secondary School

HIV virus in condoms and risk of getting cancer?
It seems to be a myth among students that the HIV virus is found in condoms, and therefore students are sceptical towards the use of condoms. Also, rumour goes that the use of condoms increases the risk of cancer. While the first question is easy to deflate, because the HIV cannot survive outside of the body for any substantial length of time, the latter questions is trickier – “last I heard, one can get cancer from almost anything nowadays” – obviously not the right answer to give students whose trust in the safety of condoms is marginal.

A German study for the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Institute in Stuttgart did show that 29 out of 32 brands of condoms contain a cancer causing chemical, findings that have been dismissed by condom manufactures, with Durex manufacturer responding that the findings are“(..) completely unsupported by medical and scientific evidence and no regulatory body has ever called for limits to be set on levels of nitrosamines in condoms (…) moreover that “The European standards authority has quite consciously omitted setting limits for nitrosamines or nitrosable substances [in condoms], because it considers there to be no question of risk” (Chemistry world, issue July 2004).
Other studies have indicated that the transferrable amount of cancer-causing chemicals by the use of condoms are significantly lower than the average daily dosis attributed to normal eating and drinking. Perhaps more research is due on this field – nonetheless, how does one explain that truth is sometimes relative to the objective easily without getting into university level slang such as discourse analysis and so forth? Still thinking…

Philosophy and ARV medicine
Another question was of a moral philosophical nature. One boy asked; whether it isn’t wrong to give ARV medicine to HIV infected people, as they thereby will be given a longer period to infect more people with the disease. In a country where the infection rate is alarmingly high, and people are just starting to grasp the nature of the problem, this is not a strange question to ask - many wrong things in history have been done in the name of the collective good, shouldn’t this be one of them? Luckily, the boy seemed to understand the dilemma of the question asked when asked to reflect on, whether he would come to the same conclusion if his mother was infected.

Film event at Lufingo Secondary School - lack of space in the classroom 

An open window – teacher’s compromises and legal jargon
While the above examples show that a holistic HIV/AIDS debate is needed in secondary schools in Tanzania, one needs to understand that the problem lies on a higher structural level than that of the individual school. Bongodox is only able to make the Education Tour due to the compromise of the school leaders, as they very well could have declined the Bongodox offer to come and teach. It appears that the teachers are sympathetic to the cause and often welcome Bongodox to come and teach again. They too know, maybe more than others, the facts of life in secondary schools despite school policies.

Yet, one teacher did inform that she recently experienced an expulsion of two girls (4th graders – approx. 16-17 years) due the unaccepted case scenario – pregnancy. The girls weren’t allowed to take their final exams. She seemed to recall the newly implemented law, allowing girls to return to their school after childbirth, but it was obvious that she didn’t have the final word. Another evidence of the discrepancy between legal jargon and real life experiences – yet another obstacle needed to be addressed in Tanzania.

As for now the Bongodox Education Tour is approaching its end. At the end of this month 12 villages and 11 schools will have been visited by Bongodox, and hopefully some of the many discussions will be remembered by some. Bongodox can try to make a difference, not force it upon others. For that to happen, let’s call for a revolution. One that carries the essence of the famous catch phrase heard repeatedly in Tanzania - TUKO PAMOJA – literally WE’RE TOGETHER, but perhaps better translated in the words of Bob Marley – ONE LOVE.

/Mathias & Catherine


Photos from seminar at Bongo Camping

Half way through the Education Tour Bongodox arranged a seminar for a group of students from the local Secondary Schools. This was done in order to get inputs and prepare the upcoming film events at Secondary Schools.

The participants of the Education Tour Seminar at Bongo Camping

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Remarks from first part of Bongodox Education Tour: In the spirit of Edutainment

Newsletter, September 2012

The first part of the Education Tour finished with the last viewing in Kibisi on August 31st. Since then Bongodox has been preparing itself for the second part of the Education Tour, which is to take place at 12 secondary schools in the Mbeya Region. With that said, final remarks on Bongodox’s visits to the villages are deemed necessary before shifting attention to the second part of the Education Tour. The remarks read as following:

Is it possible to measure happiness?
From our experience Tanzanians generally do not complain much about life compared to how much they ought to complain, seen from our privileged point of view - the Danish perspective. In Tanzania, there are different kinds of greetings depending on one’s age and status. The more common greetings are: Hujambo?  (Hello! How are you?) or Habari gani? (How are you doing?). Being a significant social conduct that, if used correct, will influence your interaction with other people, posing the right question is considered more important that the substance of the answer itself. The right answers to the above greetings are always: Sijambo (I’m fine) or Nzuri (Good/Fine). If you happen to encounter a Tanzanian who is careless enough to confess that he or she  is having a bad day, you most often will be provided a good explanation, such as for example sickness or even death of a relative or close friend. Without a deeper analysis of the cultural context, and a disregard to the question - if and whether it is at all possible to measure happiness? One would presume that Tanzanians are the happiest people in the world, and not the Danes as suggested by a recent international survey. However, the truth is, that unless one comes from a wealthy family, everybody else is also struggling to make a living, so it is customary that even the most underprivileged Tanzanian - and there are many -  will reply “I am fine” (nzuri).

Villagers express concerns about HIV/AIDS 
It is in this framework that Bongodox has taken the task to provide villagers with a forum in which they can express concerns about the spreading of HIV/AIDS in their respective village. Even though many did not feel free to speak openly about their problems, the few who did, gave an insight into the problems villagers are dealing with on a daily basis. For example, an elder woman’s remark remains clear to us several days after. As she embraced the chance to speak to fellow villagers, she begged for used condoms to be thrown far away from the streets, so that children wouldn’t find them and mistake them for balloons. Another woman, whose problem seemed to be shared by many, informed that she had not been tested for HIV/AIDS due to lack of finance. For some reason, even though we are told that the test for HIV is provided without charge, it seems that some still face financial difficulties depending on where they live and the distance they have to the nearest hospital/clinic. Moreover, several questioned why people with HIV/AIDS hide their condition by avoiding purchasing the HIV medicine at the nearest hospitals/clinics, and instead depend on their ability to buy the medicine safely shielded by the anonymity granted by bigger cities. How does one explain that these people fear stigmatisation from their very own neighbours and friends? - The very same people speaking on their behalf. It was not easy an easy task.

In the spirit of Edutainment 
To sum up, the viewings were successful in that many villagers showed up at the different events and dealt with questions not often spoken about in the public sphere. At the same time, they enjoyed seeing the documentaries and felt that they were being listened to. However, the fact remains that Bongodox is not able to solve all the problems related to HIV/AIDS, but only educate in the spirit of Edutainment (educational entertainment) on how to minimise the chances of getting HIV/AIDS as well as provide a forum for a discussion of HIV/AIDS related issues by using local voices. The problem with HIV/AIDS still remains far from being solved. In Mbeya, it happens that a person dies due an unspecified category of “he or she was hurting” from an unspecified disease. In two of the villages we visited two people had this uncategorised disease to blame for their death. One can only wonder whether it was due to HIV, cancer or other diseases.

Sexually active teens are neglected
As for the second part of the Education Tour, according to the law of Tanzania the legal age of consent for sexual activities is 18 years. Scholars are forbidden to be active sexually during their enrolment - at school or at home. According to the ones we spoke with, the well-known fact among scholars that some are sexually active already in their early teens is simply neglected by the institutions. According to the schools guidelines – this is a non-existent problem, and therefore matters related to HIV/AIDS are taught accordingly. HIV/AIDS is dealt with as part of the biology course in an old-fashioned manner inefficient in addressing the important issue on how to prevent getting infected if one is sexually active. As one of the scholars admitted today “we learn more from our friends than at school”. Another scholar pointed to the fact that the school’s curriculum is strict and does not leave much space for organisations such as Bongodox to fill the gap.

The balance between reality and an imagined community of untouched scholars
Though Bongodox has managed to pass through the barriers of an ancient and uncompromising institution, the group will have to plan well in order not to offend the institutions as well as the parents. A successful co-operation is best conducted in in terms of mutual respect. One of the challenges Bongodox will have to overcome during the education tour is: How to speak about HIV/AIDS to students who most probably, considering their age, have encountered and recognised sexual behaviours, but who publicly have to maintain their sexual innocence in order not to be expelled from school. Luckily, if you can say so, there are other ways of getting transmitted with HIV, but let us be real; sexual activity is the main cause of transmission, and therefore this aspect must not be neglected. Therefore, Bongodox will have to balance between reality and an imagined community of untouched scholars.

/Mathias & Catherine

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Photos from Education Tour in the villages

Ready to head the villages

Preparing the canvas screen for the projector

The film screening in Ibililo Village

Kisamakibo performing 

Kisamakibo performing with Bongodox

These days the local band Kisamakibo is performing together Bongodox at the Education Tour. This video is from Kibisi Village, close to Bongo Camping.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bongodox on Education Tour

Newsletter Week 31, August 2012.

Bongo Dox and the BDT and Kumbe partnership
Catherine Gathoni and Mathias Haase from Denmark arrived safely in Tukuyu, Mbeya in August. They will be assisting Kumbe throughout the education tour, which started 6 August 2012 and planned to end in October 2012. While Catherine is contributing with her experience from the Danish organisation Salaam Film & Dialog, Mathias is contributing with his knowledge with acoustic engineering and other practical matters.

Catherine and Mathias report that the co-operation between BDT and Kumbe is living to the spirit of a genuine partnership. Matters are discussed in an open forum between the members, and final decisions on how to put different solutions into practice are made by the board members of Kumbe.

Bongo Dox - education tour:
At the end of August, Kumbe will have visited 12 villages. The first three visits took place last week. Kumbe has shown their documentaries and discussed matters related to HIV and environmental issues in Mbambo, Masoko and Katembo villages. The music and dancing by the group Kisamakibo is used as an attraction tool, and once darkness has arrived, the documentaries are shown. Bongo Dox is yet to visit following villages, Mbeye one, Kopologwe, Ibililo, Mboyo, Simike, Ikama and Kibisi. In September, when the secondary school students are back from summer holidays, Kumbe will start the second part of the education tour.

The villagers are generally happy to see Bongo Dox. First and foremost, they are happy that an enjoyable event is taking place in their village - having them at the centre of attention. Secondly, they are happy to be given a chance to be heard about local problems and concerns. In fact some, when interviewed, use the opportunity to speak to the mass about proper behaviour related to environment and HIV/AIDS.

The chairman of each village is responsible for organising the gathering of the people, and each has received a letter informing on the date and timing of the event. However, the number and variety of people at the different events depends on location. With most youth, children and men participating at the events, it seems that many women are busy with housework. However in Masoko more women participated in the event than in Mbambo. The proportion of women participating will be observed throughout the education tour.

Bongo Dox encountered some infantile challenges related to technicalities and layout of the scenery at the first viewing in Mbambo. However, as Kumbe is dedicated to progress. Evaluations are held after each viewing and solutions implemented accordingly in a professional manner. Solutions to the challenges in Mbambo were discussed the following day at a group meeting and successfully implemented at the second viewing in Masoko. Now that the technique is in place, the focus has shifted to improving presentation skills, questioning technique and project evaluation methods.

As the tour progress - there are more newsletters to come. For now, get a taste of The Education Tour by viewing the pictures taken in Mbambo and Masoko.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Donate your tent

Dear Bongoes!

Great news regarding the BongoDox 2 project: The time schedule and the budget is kept and the 4th and last  movie is almost finished! Everything goes as planned!

Next is the Bongo Educational Tour where some of the work will be presented in local schools and villages in order to discuss and inform about the challenge of HIV/AIDS. In this final part of the project a danish supervisor (Catherine) will join the team and help out for the last 3 months. She will be blogging here from the beginning of next month.

The campsite is still having an increasing number of guests for every year and now the need of tents have arisen. If any Bongofellow out there has a good tent she/he wants to donate 
(preferably 4-6 person and not too heavy) it would be a big help. Cath will me able to bring it along before 1st of August. (contact bdtbestyrelse(at)

Stay tuned for news about the Bongo Educational Tour

Best regards