SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
that aid projects can flounder so badly that they fail to have any impact .
“ What has been missing are the bottom-up conversations and engagements that are framed around local social and cultural values ,” says Dr Bowyer .
“ You can ’ t readily achieve solutions without involving communities in the research process and tapping into their knowledge and expertise .”
What Dr Bowyer sees at the local level in places such as Mukuru is similarly played out in the global community and goes part way to explaining why climate scientists have struggled to have their messaging acted on . She says change-makers need to engage in two-way conversations and that ultimately means change , too , must flow both ways . In other words , the change-maker also needs to experience their own ‘ transformative realisation ’ typically arising from participating in – not just directing – the learning processes .
“ You need to go deep and engage with people ’ s lived experience .”
This is hard to achieve if empirical data and scientific evidence are your only script . Instead , Dr Bowyer has found artistic endeavours are often better suited to raising awareness of the issues and stimulating involvement .
Through the use of song , murals , comic books , video , puppetry and theatre , there is an attuning of communications in ways that are more valid and relevant to people . In the process , scientists gain a deeper appreciation of the interconnected ( and , therefore , interdisciplinary ) nature of real-world problems and their consequences .
Dr Bowyer has a track record of successful engagements and some of the artistic outputs that result from her work will be showcased by the University of Portsmouth ’ s participation leading up to and during COP26 . Exhibitions will include a digital interface that will give people around the world opportunities to experience the art associated with this creative approach to science-backed change .
PHOTO : JULIUS WAINAINA
STEPP Community Champions , artists and Mukuru Youth Initiative staff . From far left Sadat and Fralee Bolo , Dennis Weche , Kelvin Mboya , Igwe Kenya , Bridgit Atieno , Dr Melaneia Warwick , Peris Saleh , Daisy Abwao , Wandia , Hadale Wario , and ( squatting ) Nelmo Munyiri ( CEO MuYI ).
Lung health and the AIR Network
The AIR ( Air Pollution Interdisciplinary Research ) Network in Sub-Saharan Africa uses creative communication methods to discuss , explore and engage with the health and wellbeing issues related to air pollution . Outputs include theatre productions , visual arts , games , storytelling and music . It was first established in the informal settlement of Mukuru in Kenya . AIR projects are funded by the UK Arts and Humanities ( AHRC ) and Medical ( MRC ) Research Councils as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund ( GCRF ).
COVID-19 and the ACT project
The ACT ( Action Against COVID Transmission ) Nairobi project tapped the trust created in prior engagements in Kenya to assist in responding to the COVID- 19 pandemic . Communities and their many talented artists were supported to produce sensitisation materials about infectious disease control . Artistic endeavours also helped to reduce stigma associated with COVID-19 illness and provided a voice for public concerns missed by health authorities , such as police brutality in the enforcement of curfews . It also highlighted benefits associated with enhanced access to free water , which was provided to assist with hand cleaning as a COVID-19 prevention measure . Songs produced by ACT Nairobi to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 have been uploaded to YouTube .
Ending plastic pollution
The STEPP ( Sustainable Transitions to End Plastic Pollution ) project is a global R & D initiative to help address the more than 300 million tonnes of plastic waste generated annually . It incorporates creative research methods , including participatory mapping , digital storytelling and community consultations , with two poor urban communities : Nairobi , Kenya , and Sylhet , Bangladesh . This project is helping to identify interventions to counteract impacts from plastic pollution within poorer communities . Included are issues related to air pollution from burning plastic ; the loss of farming land from plastic build-up ; and the blockage of sanitation channels by plastics , which in turn promotes outbreaks of flooding , cholera and mosquito-borne diseases . Solutions include supporting small-scale enterprises to operate plastic recycling facilities and working with local artists and musicians to create a range of materials to sensitise the community on how they can reduce , recycle or reuse plastic waste . A powerful example is the MuYI Hub Niwajibu music video at :
• www . youtube . com / watch ? v = 7DDcIW6l5qE
Exploring the art of action learning
The Tupumue ( Kiswahili : let us breathe ) study aims to find out how many children in two communities in Nairobi , Kenya , have lung problems and to explore children ’ s experiences of lung problems and air pollution . “ Research has shown that many adults in Africa have reduced lung function but no one has yet investigated whether this starts in childhood ,” Dr Bowyer says . Action learning methods involve children in art production , and videos relating to their work have been uploaded to YouTube .
This type of research is impossible without the establishment of strong , equitable and effective collaborations with in-country partners . We are privileged to work with the following organisations :
Aid projects that draw on action research methods and bottom-up community participation can be supported by the public by sharing information , volunteering and by donations to the participating organisations .
ISSUE 03 / 2021