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My name is Athmani… behind the scenes.
We arrived for our first day’s filming on Mafia Island, Tanzania with the SunnyMoney team and lots of solar lights, which I helped unpack off the 12 seater plane.
After a late lunch, Film Maker, Brad Bell, and I dumped our bags and set off with SunnyMoney Project Officer, Irene Chalya. Irene had agreed to translate Swahili for us – she was awesome.
The three of us strolled into the heat, sounds, and smells of Mafia’s town centre. Brad held his camera: I grasped my water bottle.
Arriving at Mafia airport.
After a short time we came across a restaurant and paused for the first of many bottles of coke. While Brad and I stood on weighted feet a little aimlessly, Irene spoke with the manager. Brilliantly, she agreed to show us the sights and make introductions to some of the island’s fishermen. That night I would look out to see their boats glowing by the burn of kerosene lamps.
Irene Chalya translates. to her left, the restaurant manager.
Making our way to the docks I swung my gaze from character to character and from scene to scene, totally immersed by curiosity. There was so much going on and I knew there must be many tales to be told.
It wasn’t long before the sun began plummeting to the edge of the horizon, soon to sink into the Indian Ocean. Irene told me that we would only have 30 minutes left before the light would fade completely and make filming impossible. We walked a little faster. A wonderful sheen glowed upon our perspiring skin.
We soon came across a village populated by children, women and their fisherman husbands. I wanted to know what the community truly felt about solar power, energy costs and kerosene (actually, I wanted to know much more than this – politics, economics, family - life where I had never lived).
Athmani discussing the cost of batteries.
Irene spoke to the children, who got the grown-ups ,whom in turn called for Athmani - a respected man who would be willing to talk with two guys unable to speak his language other than to say ‘Asanti Sanna’. A phrase I spoke as Athmani shook me by the hand.
There were questions to ask, but in my experience a conversation is much better. I wanted to get to know Athmani and I wanted to hear his opinion.
The sun setting over the fishing docks.
I remember the world and all the people in it looking beautiful. The light was reflecting an early sunset from cheeks - even Brad’s forehead! Irene is a great translator and so relaxed. I would ask questions knowing that she would convey my meaning. It made me feel comfortable and an odd situation of translating somehow intuitive. There were times when Brad would ask me something which I would explain to Irene - she would tell Athmani, who would send the answer back in the same manner! Somehow it worked.
Me - sorry but it’s the only image I have of the sunset!!
Before we knew it the interview was over. Later I discovered why that light was so special. I saw the most amazing sun set I’ve ever laid my eyes upon.
Brad and I love this film because it reflects the reality of the circumstance – we think it’s beautiful, authentic and succinct. We’ve chosen the footage that best reflects our experience. Hope you enjoy it - watch My name is Athmani.
The wonder of websites: Meet the new SolarAid
Late last year I sat at a table with colleagues to discuss how we might expand SolarAid’s online presence. At the time we were growing incredibly quickly on Facebook and Twitter, yet the website was feeling dated. It was going to be my job to manage a brand-new, bells and whistles online home! This was a new challenge - I sat myself upon a metaphorical bean bag and donned my ‘very real’ thinking cap. Perching with paper and pen, I began to write…
[My initial sketches for both Home and Join In pages…]
First off, I knew we didn’t want to spend vast amounts of money. Secondly, that we sought to reflect our perception of ‘SolarAid’ to the people and to celebrate our work (and by ‘our work’ I mean yours, mine, Brave’s in Malawi, a solar company’s in London, or perhaps Farahani’s in Tanzania). We wanted a site to inspire and to help us spread the word. For that to happen we would need lots of great content, so that like-minded folks who want to help (you) can… we hope!
So, we would need great stories. But with great content comes… great nothingness if you have no way to communicate it. Therefore, it was imperative that we create a format which would allow us all to share photos, movies, and blogs with friends.
Over the next few months I found myself in an increasingly self-absorbed visual wonderland, attempting to get my head around SolarAid’s online presence; what it was and what it could be. I imagined social media as a river running through space and time, with platforms such as Twitter or Facebook as islands, expanding and contracting to push and release content on to your mobile device, desktop, laptop or tablet. Then I woke up and thought practically. Our website would need to allow content to flow seamlessly through it – to push stories out to our online friends whilst absorbing stories from those who share our interests. That was my starting point. Next was the how.
[My designs looked a little better when using software rather than ‘handware’.]
It was only in the New Year that I was able to really get going. I chatted with friends first, figuring out who knew who, and then who knew what. I found some great contacts and held one or two consultancy sessions. Two guys in particular seemed inspired by the direction we wanted to take the site. So I listened… a lot. I wanted to create a presence that a designer or developer, or social media guru would be excited by. I didn’t want a site that a traditional charity would promote - because we’re not, well, traditional. Find out why here.
[My popplet map. A great tool for brainstorming too.]
So I got busy with my pad and pen again – I drew wireframes… then I threw them away and tried again (I did this a few times). Next, I approached a designer and showed him what I’d created. He consulted. I went back to the drawing board and refined. The drawing board was Photoshop, then finally a lovely programme called Balsamiq. You should try it.
Meanwhile, I was drawing a site-map using Popplet. But without a tablet I found myself saving dodgy jpeg files and printing six-page maps. It was a pain. I tweeted my annoyance, muttered to myself, and carried on.
Eventually, the site was ready for design. We wanted a designer who would fit our ethos and who was inspired by our need to be cutting-edge and future proof. He or she would also need the flair and skill to take things one step further. We found one, and my scrappy designs began to flourish.
[Epic wireframe shot.]
Fast forward several weeks and with the colour scheme more or less finalised, I took the new look home page to the head honchos who gave the go ahead for the site build. There was a leap of faith here. The page looked okay, but it lacked some personality and had limited copy – it was difficult to know what it could be without seeing what I and the designer could in our over-active imaginations. So, thank you Steve and Richard!
The Development team (builders) we found have been absolutely fantastic as well. Better Brief are a small but growing team who were prepared to work with us, always with patience and with a willing ear. They made our designs a reality and what the site is today.
Many sunrises later and our site is online! www.solar-aid.org will keep its ‘beta status’ until all our features are implemented, but in a way the site will be forever beta, since we designed it to be scalable.
So, we provide content – but we need yours too, because having up-to-date news and features are the key to the site’s success and the biggest challenge we face. Well, aside from eradicating kerosene from the entire continent of Africa by 2020. I hope you are able to share the experience with us and help us along too. So go ahead… share!
Follow me: @ralph_greenland