Monday, 17 November 2008

File, Print

In the last 10 years of my working life I have seldom been more than 5 metres away from a good quality colour laser printer. If you needed something printed out - you select 'File, Print' and seconds later, a good quality print appears from a nearby printer, usually on high quality paper.

In the whole of Fantsuam Foundation there are three printers: one old Oki printer that only works when NEPA is on, and which is currently flashing 'Call Service Engineer' when you try and print something. The second is an old ink jet printer that prints a page of black text out in about five shades, including two shades of green. We're not quite sure where the third is...

And as for paper - it is as precious a commodity to office staff as left-over sandwiches from the monthly board meeting back home... Notes are passed on small torn scraps of paper and each sheet is used until any white space is used up.

As we are new visitors to the country, we are often taking photos or 'snapping' as the Nigerians say. The production of a camera usually illicits the request - "Snap me, snap me!" usually followed by - 'You bring picture?'. As this is not usually a difficult request to fulfil in our home countries, we were inclined to say "Yes, no problem", however I have become more reticent after my initial attempts.

This happened on my first visit to a 'disbursement'; when Fantsuam Foundation disburses loans to its clients. Our microfinance model is based upon that started by Nobel Prize winner Mohammed Younis who encouraged loans to groups in order to both collectively guarantee the loans (in the absence of any collateral whatsoever) and to encourage self-help amongst group members. Here at Fantsuam, disbursements are only made when the whole group is present. In addition each individual client must be recommended by the District Chief who is also present at the disbursement, and who will usually remind the group of their obligations under the loan during a speech given just before closing the closing prayer (Christian or Muslim, depending on denomination but all present will participate).

Any such group events will usually take place in the Chief's audience room which will usually be adorned by a series of photo portraits of eminent local dignitaries: the State Governor, regional Chief, national President etc. usually enlarged to beyond a recommended resolution, and rapidly fading within an overly ornate frame. There is invariably one of the chief himself, reclining somewhat moodily in a large chair.

My first disbursement was to the group Ungwan Gaiya 2 under the very affable yet stately Chief James Ayok. I 'snapped' liberally and returned to the Foundation to put together a collage as a reminder of the event. I also snapped the Chief, who after the standard enquiry in excellent English as to my marital status, asked if I could let him have a print of the picture - to which I happily agreed.

However, when I returned to the Foundation to ask about printing the collage and a picture of the Chief in thanks for his hospitality, I was recommended to see if there was anyone in London who could do the printing. I have already outlined the printing situation at Fantsuam, and, although there are a number of small office bureaux in Kafanchan (I use the term loosely - shacks advertising all manner of office services) the quality of print is reportedly extremely poor. So now, (UK and Nigerian postal services willing) winging its way from London to Kafanchan is a robust envelope containing four A3 copies of the collage, very kindly printed out by Jared, possibly on a printer placed a matter of feet from his desk. The quality is likely to be significantly better than any available in Fantsuam, Kafanchan or indeed, possibly Abuja. The quality of paper, undoubtedly superior.

My second visit was to a Business Development Services training session, facilitated by Fantsuam's engaging Field Officer Grace, to a group of Hausa Muslim women who were on their fifth loan cycle (having successfully completed previous cycles). All the women are involved in some type of food preparation - rice and beans, cassava donuts, spaghetti with sauce (yup - you heard correct), soya milk etc. All were illiterate although this did not stop them participating enthusiastically in the session. The attendance register was more of a struggle, but was necessary as this was an externally funded programme. Whilst a handful slowly and carefully wrote their names, the vast majority gave a thumb print, possible from a ink pad produced by the Chief from an extremely rickety desk in one corner.

Again, with my camera busy, I finished the afternoon by snapping the Chief and his horse: as a Hausa chief, he has a horse. Horses are very rare in the area - I believe due to their susceptibility to the tsetse fly. I think you will agree it is a fine picture and would be a lovely complement to the dour portraits that currently adorn the picture rail in his meeting room. I am keeping my fingers crossed that Jared, or someone else with direct access to a printer, may be able to oblige once again.

And it's not just printers that are in desperately short supply: today our VSO friends at the Kaduna State College of Education in Gidan Waya, returned our hospitality of last weekend and invited us for dinner (and sleep-over) at their place.

Dinner was glorious: NEPA is more reliable in Gidan Waya and we were treated to COLD Star Beer and a wonderful electric-light illuminated dinner including yams, tomatoes in ginger, fresh green beans and steak, cooked over the fire in the back yard of their nicely appointed staff quarters.

The next day we visited their project - the internet cafe at the College. The Kaduna State (“Centre of Learning” - as all in-state car number plates proudly proclaim) College of Education has approximately 9,000 students enrolled. Not one of which (to the knowledge of our colleague who is managing ICT there) has a computer. Thanks to Computer Aid, the college now (as of two days ago) has wireless internet connection and 40 desktop computers. Unfortunately only about 10 are operational due to a lack extension leads, and stabilisers with suitable sockets (to protect sensitive electronic equipment from the huge variation in intermittent electrical current).

However the room does look great, and there is no shortage of mouse mats thanks to a donation from a visiting representative of UK parliament so that over half the desks are now adorned with strident red 'House of Lords' mouse mats complete with portcullis. An inventive hand-made sliding sign for the door of the internet cafe has four options: 'Open', 'Sorry - closed', 'Returning in 10 minutes' and 'Sorry - no electricity. Wireless registration in ICT office'. I would hazard a guess that this last could be the most heavily used message.

Our colleagues are working tirelessly against all the odds to bring the internet to the College of Education but their efforts are frustrated at many turns due to bureaucracy, to lack of funds and often, lack of appropriate action. But as you can see, in only three months since they have been there, definite strides are being taken. At Fantsuam, they've clearly been round the loop of getting a decent print before which is why, the immediate suggestion was to go to London.

It took Jared less than an hour or two, to make the prints, envelope them and send them off in the post to Kafanchan. Although I suspect that his estimation of 'they're in the post so you should get them early next week' may be a tad over-optimistic, I have little doubt that we will get them more quickly, and certainly in better quality than if we had struggled with technology here.

Those small gestures and offers of help mean bucket-loads over here. What is a simple task, or a relatively small expense, is beyond the salaries of VSOs and the budgets of most of the organisations that they work for, yet brings real joy and pride to recipients.

So next time you sit at your desk - pressing 'File, Print' to get a four copies of that presentation for your meeting (and why not print a couple of extras whilst you're about it - just in case) - remember that across the developing world there are few computers, even less printers and scarce paper, to record events, to use as visual aids at training sessions, or merely to communicate in writing.

When you press 'File, Print' and something comes out, less than 3,000 miles away from you and in the colour you expected it, thank your lucky stars!


Anonymous said...

Hey Cicely,
Great blog today! I really enjoyed reading it.
If you want any more photos done before I go to Aus drop me an email and I'll try and get them off. Our new printer is even better than the last so the quality should be wicked!
Jared xx

Scott said...

Nice Blog C ;)

Keep em' comin, very thought provoking! Looks like you are enjoying yourself so far.. Your mission is to get the railway running!


Mercy Isaac. said...

Hi Cicely,
I'm suprise, you are less than a month in Nigeria and your blog is so rich. Congtulations.

Mercy Isaac.
Dadamac Self Directed Learner/School Administrator,
Fantsuam Foundation.