Welcome to my elective blog. Based on my work done over six month in 2011 I elected to work on a project with children. I was commissioned by The Children's Radio Foundation to put together a few packages for two of their show. I then went about producing four packages over a number of weeks. Two packages were aired on a show about literacy and another two on a show about heritage.

My work can be found on Children's Radio Foundation blog site.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Learning to learn

For the past two weeks I’ve been working on two packages for the Heritage day show for the Children’s Radio Foundation. It seems like things always go a little pear shaped when it comes to getting my stories but I had such fun getting to know the two young ladies I worked with that the trouble was all worth it.

Lihle Skeyi stands outside the Albany Museum after her tour inside the building.

I think heritage day is such an important day. Most South Africans take this day to celebrate their cultures and those of others. I have often been to conferences where we wear any traditional attire and different cultural foods are prepared. The problem is that at all these conferences everyone is focused on celebrating culture but not really getting in to what the different cultures are or what about them we should celebrate. I don’t think I really know or understand other people’s cultures, although I’ve worn different cultural clothing. With this in mind and knowing that the Children’s Radio Foundation was looking at producing something for Heritage Day, I decided it would be interesting to get to know a culture from a teenager’s perspective. I spoke to Aviwe Diko, a 15 year old from Ntaba Maria High School. Of the many students I tried to connect with, she was one of the few who actually knew about her culture and participated in “traditional” cultural activities at home. Some of the other children I spoke to said they don’t really know much about their culture or their families. I think that this is perhaps due to families like my own becoming modern and nothing is explicitly made known as a “cultural”.

While working with Lihle, I was also scheduled to interview Aviwe. I had some difficulty meeting with her. She’s a very busy young lady and other commitments kept coming up when on some occasions where we supposed to meet. I ended up with half an hour with Aviwe and the closest place we could do the interview was inside a room in the Alumni Building at Rhodes University. This was not the most ideal environment because the room had a slight fuzzy sound even with the lights off. This unfortunately made editing very difficult. It also made her talk on the experience of her culture a great deal more personal.  

The interview itself was great. Aviwe came prepared with what she wanted to talk. The only disadvantage to this was that she wanted to read what she prepared and it’s so easy to tell that she’s reading. To combat this, I asked her if it was OK for me to ask her questions about the things she brought up. This way she would be elaborating on the things she mentioned from her script. I was also able to ask her to tell me stories to illustrate. I watched her become more relaxed as she moved from being note bound to answering my question to her about a ceremony she had to perform in with about 50 other girls. This ceremony was done in an effort to call upon their ancestors to heal her grandmother who was sick at the time. The girls were required to go topless and dance with people from the neighbourhood in attendance. She spoke about her own internal conflict. As a modern girl she didn’t feel entirely comfortable bearing her breasts in public. Aviwe became very reflective about the whole day and spoke to me about the range of emotions she felt that day. This worked really nicely in the end because the story had an element of a personal experience of culture. Aviwe spoke to me about the final bit of the ceremony where the best dancers had money thrown at them by the older men in the community if they were dancing the best. While editing, I had a hard time deciding whether or not to include this in the final edit. I was conscious of the fact that this package goes out to different audiences, children mainly, but it’s open to a wide variety of people of different ages and cultures. This explanation of the ceremony could sound like the men were paying them to dance. I created a paper edit in which this portion of the interview was included and I had a few people of different backgrounds listen to it with my narration. They all agreed that even if they can try to understand the context, it could still be misconstrued. I decided that I wouldn’t include it because I don’t want to take away from the appreciation of the Xhosa culture by adding something that might raise a few eye brows. I also felt that the concept of the ceremony as it is in the final package still contains the message she was trying to relate with her story. 

Aviwe Diko smiles proudly. She's  a modern girl who is proud of her heritage.
While understanding cultures is important to the celebration of Heritage Day, I think that a part of our heritage has to do with our history and where we come from. Grahamstown was a frontier area and the story of this town is part of the heritage of South Africa. I decided that it might be interesting to follow a high school child around Grahamstown as she gets to know the history of the settlers and how this town came to be. I handpicked Lihle Skeyi for this task because she is curious by nature and she also knows how to express herself well. She also is very confident. These characteristics, I thought, would be essential to the success of the package. The initial plan was to do a tour of some of the museums in Grahamstown. In the end, however, we only ended up doing a tour of the Albany Museum. One reason for this was that Zana ended up with commitments that week that she only told me about on the day of our first tour. We also underestimated how long it would take to go around the Albany Museum. The day before our first museum tour I went around speaking to the various historians and curators and setting up a time for them to take Lihle around over the week. They were very willing. As soon as I walked into the Albany Museum, I learned how much bigger the building is than I had initially thought. It is also housed in two buildings so we did have to be selective about how much of the history we wanted to know about. We didn’t really get this right because it is hard to gauge the relevance of anything until you have heard about it. I also had to remind myself that in as much as I was producing the package, this was about Lihle’s journey of learning about Grahamstown and so I would have to give her space to go on a discovery and ask the questions she wanted to ask. I found myself having to step back a lot even when I felt like her questions were not relevant to the concept I had in mind. When we sat down together with the transcription, I found that her questions and the answers actually worked quite well. Her reflections on the various things she was hearing and learning about were also very insightful.

From working with Lihle and spending hours walking through a museum and stepping back, I learned about asking simple questions. I often assume that I can’t ask certain questions because my sometimes textbook mindedness tell’s me I ought to know that or I ought to have done that research. Lihle asked very basic questions such as “what does that mean” and “what was the significance of that?” What came from those questions and answers was material that everyone can learn from even though they have never physically walked through the Albany Museum. I think I definitely had a week in which I was learning that simple questions can be powerful too.

I think I’ve learned about how children think and about the things that concern them. Of the two packages I would say I really enjoyed most being an executive producer for Lihle’s package and basically learning from her and allowing her the freedom to learn while on the assignment. I think the key word here is “learning”. As a journalist I get so stuck into the work side of each package I produce that I forget to actually learn from the people I interview . Thanks to Lihle and the opportunity I have had to produce content for The Children’s Radio Foundation I can safely say I see a future in producing work with children and continuing to learn how to learn from others when I am on the job . 


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