Monday, July 25, 2011

A new, daunting beginning

Xolani Mountain, Umthathi facilitator conducting a workshop

For the past four months, we have been preparing for that time when Annie and I would leave the Masakhane community partnership. We had hoped by this time to have instilled the necessary ingredients in this partnership, which would to ensure the radio show which has been the output of this partnership, continues successfully for a long time.

When this community partnership began, I knew the potential challenges the stakeholders would face in this partnership. I did not understand the repercussions of these problems though. Through the progression of the Masakhane community partnership, I have been marvelled by the personal growth I have experienced. The different challenges we have all faced in this partnership, the amount of learning we have gone through, have made all the stakeholders more effective people in their craft. On my account, my leadership and organisational skills have matured even more. The leading role Annie and I took in the partnership, where we facilitated workshops, and prepared both Umthathi and Radio Grahamstown stakeholders for the radio show, have given me more confidence in my leadership skills. The process of planning workshops, show themes and topics, and the continuous efforts of establishing close relationships between Umthathi and Radio Grahamstown have had significantly positive spin-offs for me. I am sure Annie would also agree that our experience of playing a leading role in this partnership has done her good as well. 

I have also noticed dramatic improvement of the Masakhane producer and anchor, Thenjiwe. She has gone from someone who seemed a bit lost in the partnership, with regards to what we wanted to achieve with the radio show; and who seemed a bit unprepared for the shows, to someone who I have full trust to carry the Masakhane show forward. In the past couple of weeks, she has had a full script prepared for the show, and listens to advice that is given to her to improve the show. I have noticed a sharp improvement of the Masakhane show of late, due to her improvement as anchor and producer. 

Xoliswa and the Umthathi facilitators are well aware of their role in the show. Annie and I have continually told them that they play a vital role as sources of information, and of relaying the ideals and aims of Umthathi to Radio Grahamtown's listenership, through the radio show. They have all shown excitement and a commitment to the show, and have grasped what they have learnt in the workshop as well. I am sure that the Masakhane show will never be short of content and topics, as Xoliswa and the facilitators have said that they are never short of stories and advice to share, from their respective encounters with the communities they facilitate. They have also naturally fitted in the live radio show environment, and this bodes very well for the future of Masakhane.

A few weeks ago, we held a debriefing session as a community partnership, at Umthathi's headquarters. Thenjiwe could not make it, as she and station manager, Phumlani Wayi had another very important meeting to attend. Annie and I gave Thenjiwe a questionnaire to fill in, since she was unavailable to attend this session. During this session, the Umthathi facilitators were sad, but comfortable to see Annie and I leave the partnership. They had grown to be comfortable as sources of information for the show, and felt confident that they had learnt enough from the partnership, to sustain the show for as long as possible. This is also something we gleaned from Thenjiwe, who also expressed her commitment to continue with the show for as long as she is still at Radio Grahamstown. 

There were no concerns raised by Thenjiwe and the Umthathi members of the partnership, but I did reaffirm that should Thenjiwe leave Radio Grahamstown (which is something I suspect she wants to do in the not too distant future), Annie and I would make sure someone else from Radio Grahamstown comes on board. The facilitators though expressed that this would not be a huge challenge for them, as they could conduct a show by themselves, as long as there is a producer from Radio Grahamstown.  These developments from the debriefing sessions alerted me to the importance of meeting Phumlani Wayi, getting his reassurance again, that he will make sure Masakhane is sustainable for many years to come, and that there will always be personnel in waiting, should the show's producer and anchor leave. I have also told Thenjiwe, Xoliswa and the facilitators that I will also be around from time to time, to see how the show is developing. Things are looking good so far though, as they have managed to turn Masakhane into a 45 minutes show, and there are more listeners calling into the show each week.

We have achieved the aim of our community partnership, to embark on a service learning exercise, and to create a sustainable radio show. All the stakeholders of this partnership have enjoyed a good working relationship, bar a few reassurances that are still needed from the Radio Grahamstown Station Manager, who has though expressed his support for this Community Partnership. 

For the next fourth year Radio students who join this community partnership, I would suggest they find ways to make the Masakhane show even more interactive with its audience, where the listeners can show whether they are doing what is being advised by the facilitators in the show. I also think that Thenjiwe, Xoliswa and the facilitators will also be ready to be taught recording skills next year. I think having some pre-recorded material in the show would add another dimension to it. I also believe that Masakhane should be an hour long show, should there be improvements made to it. It is already 45 minutes long with just in-studio discussions and listeners call-ins. The structure of the show is there, it just needs to be improved on even more. This is something I believe next year's fourth year Radio class can do, with new and fresh perspectives. I would also suggest that next year's fourth year Radio students who will be part of Masakhane look at ways to provide audio content for Umthathi's website. I have noticed how the senior staff members of Umthathi have been thrilled with the photographs Annie and I take in Umthathi, and have also noted their intent to improve their website. Having some slideshows consisting of the work next year's fourth year students will do in the partnership, will be beneficial to Umthathi. 

It will also be important for next year's fourth year Radio class to understand that they are not entering Masakhane as people who know better than the stakeholders of this partnership. What Annie and I did very well, was insisting that we too are on the same level as the Umthathi and Radio Grahamstown members of this partnership, which we are there to learn and teach, just as they are in this partnership to do; this is a key principle of service-learning. The future fourth years should understand, is that they need to show confidence in what they teach the stakeholders of the partnership, to communicate regularly and show a commitment to this partnership, through how they apply themselves in it. Annie and I invested a lot of time in this partnership, and this is something that was realised by Thenjiwe, Xoliswa and the facilitators. They too also showed great enthusiasm and commitment to the show. The important ingredients to continue the success of this partnership are easy; leading through action, fostering solid relationships with Umthathi and Radio Grahamstown, and continually finding ways to improve on show.

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