Wednesday 27 March 2019

Outputs from the AIR project:

- Mukuru Kings' music video Mazingira: (Featuring footage from Hood2Hood)

- Dennis Waweru's Digital Story:

- Jared's digitial story:

- Ngugi's Digital story:

- Blog posts on our website:

- The Exhibition of the project at York University (which included interview data, music videos and songs, and images and descriptions from legislative theatre, and the Hood2Hood festivities.

Saturday 16 March 2019

Using arts as a force for change

Could combining medical research with the arts help develop effective health interventions? Dr Cressida Bowyer, Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth, is figuring out how to combat harmful air pollution in a community in Sub-Saharan Africa using wonderfully creative means.  
The AIR Network is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Medical Research Council Global Challenges Research Fund Global Public Health: Partnership Awards (grant number AH/R006059/1).
Cressida Bowyer and Rafat Chizi on behalf of the AIR Network:  William Apondo, Cressida Bowyer, Patrick Büker, Cindy Gray, Matthew Hahn, Fiona Lambe, Miranda Loh, Alexander Medcalf, Cassilde Muhoza, Kanyiva Muindi, Timothy Njoora, Heather Price, Charlotte Waelde, Megan Wainwright, Anna Walnycki, Jana Wendler, Sarah West, Mike Wilson and residents of Mukuru informal settlement

Mukuru river, Nairobi (Image copyright: Air Network).
Mukuru river, Nairobi (Image copyright: Air Network).
Air pollution is a global issue, contributing to the ill health and premature death of millions of people. Health impacts are vast, including chronic lung disease in adults and pneumonia in children. Those living in poor urban environments are especially likely to be exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution, with nine out of 10 related deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries.

Challenges in Mukuru

Mukuru, an informal settlement, or slum, in Nairobi, Kenya, is a community of over 300,000 residents. Living quarters are small metal shacks, tightly packed together, surrounded by busy main roads and industry. Access to even the most basic of resources – including water, power and toilet facilities – is minimal. Common health challenges include respiratory diseases, miscarriages and neonatal mortality.
Cooking and heating are major sources of indoor air pollution due to a lack of access to clean energy, resulting in people burning fuels like coal and kerosene inside their homes. The burning of waste and industrial emissions are responsible for most of the local outdoor air pollution.
Mukuru street (Image copyright: Dennis Weche)
Mukuru street (Image copyright: Dennis Weche)
Ngugi, a resident of Mukuru, explained: “Mukuru sits on a hillside below the factories that make up the industrial area of Nairobi that emit heavily to the surrounding community. Heavy rains carry toxic pollutants through the community, pouring into Ngong River. Once fresh and clean, the river now runs opaque; sewage and garbage clutter its banks.”

Breaking down barriers

The AIR Network (Action for Interdisciplinary Air Pollution Research) is a multidisciplinary partnership of African and European researchers, led by the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, together with community members from Mukuru. The network was established to engage with the people of Mukuru, to build relationships and trust, and to explore how best to involve local people in making effective community-driven solutions to the issue of air pollution. A new approach is desperately needed as urban air pollution continues to increase, despite efforts to reduce levels in Sub-Saharan Africa.
We knew that it was crucial to the success of the project to identify methods of communication and dissemination which would work well in this community. We wanted to break down the barriers between the academics and the community partners. To go beyond previous top-down initiatives and tackle exposure to air pollution differently. It was important to get the community involved in the research process from the start so that any future proposals or solutions would be culturally acceptable, relevant and realistic. Exposure to high levels of air pollution is experienced daily but options to reduce exposure are limited.

Communication through music

Early on, Mukuru residents identified music as a powerful tool for communication and engagement. There’s a long history of protest songs, civil rights movement and anti-racism anthems, charity records and benefit concerts which have had a significant and long-lasting impact.
Hood2Hood artists (Image copyright: AIR Network)
Hood2Hood artists (Image copyright: AIR Network)
So, we asked musicians, MCs, DJs and filmmakers from the community to compose and record songs and videos to spark interest and debate around the issue of air pollution. We used other creative methods too – including film, photography, murals and storytelling. We also held a community arts festival called Hood2Hood to promote the work of the AIR Network, which was a huge success and was attended by around 1,500 local people.
One of the songs written and recorded for the AIR Network is Mazingira (Swahili for the environment) by Mukuru Kings (#Rafatchizi and Evadredi). Mazingira is being played on Citizen Radio and Radio Maisha, two of the biggest radio networks in Kenya, and the Mukuru community radio station Ruben FM. Using music as a communication tool has opened up new routes for public engagement and targeted social groups that may otherwise be hard to reach.
Rapper, activist and founder member of Mukuru Kings Rafat Chizi, explains the message of the song and video: “Mazingira is a letter to the president and the people involved in making a change to society, telling them to take a walk in the slums and see what people face daily. From the poor sanitation in the ghetto to no ventilation in the poor man’s house. From no education to no nutrition on the poor man’s table. How we have polluted the air beyond repair – it’s an alarm!”
Mukuru mural "our environment our responsibility" (Image copyright: AIR Network)
Mukuru mural (Image copyright: AIR Network)
The Mukuru community is marginalised, residents have few rights or regulations in place to protect them. Air pollution is part of a much bigger picture related to social and economic inequalities. We came into the community with preconceptions about the leading causes of air pollution. But by using creative methods and giving the community space to contribute, we uncovered other perspectives.
We were often not talking specifically about air pollution itself, but instead about dangerous and unregulated working conditions, failing urban design and bad smells. Lack of infrastructure for sanitation, waste disposal and fighting domestic fires were identified as significant factors. Through working with community members in the AIR network, we learned that environmental health issues cannot be considered in isolation and that the context is key.

Wednesday 6 March 2019

AIR Network Article: Using art to tackle air pollution: a story from a Nairobi slum [The Conversation - Academic rigour, journalistic flair]

by Cressida Bowyer and Heather Price on behalf of the AIR Network (  William Apondo, Cressida Bowyer, Patrick Büker, Cindy Gray, Matthew Hahn, Fiona Lambe, Miranda Loh, Alexander Medcalf, Cassilde Muhoza, Kanyiva Muindi, Timothy Njoora, Heather Price, Charlotte Waelde, Megan Wainwright, Anna Walnycki, Jana Wendler, Sarah West, Mike Wilson and residents of Mukuru informal settlement

Air pollution is recognised as a major threat to human health worldwide. Nine out of ten people breathe polluted air, resulting in 7m premature deaths a year.
While air pollution respects no boundaries, and affects almost all of us, it impacts some populations more than others. Deaths attributed to air pollution are ten times more likely in low and middle income countries compared to high income countries. Sources of outdoor air pollution include industry, traffic and agriculture. Sources of indoor air pollution are mostly cooking and heating using solid fuels (including wood and charcoal).
Many people living in urban informal settlements (or slums) are exposed to high levels of indoor and outdoor air pollution. Despite efforts to tackle exposure levels, reductions in air pollution have not been observed. Life in an informal settlement is not easy and there are many daily challenges, of which air pollution is just one. If the choice is between using dirty fuel or not feeding your kids, then is there a choice?

Women cooking in Mukuru. © Dennis WecheAuthor provided

Current approaches to reducing exposure to air pollution in informal settlements include awareness raising and campaigns on how to reduce exposure. But these methods have very little input from the people they target. As a result, they may have a low rate of acceptance. Campaigns also generally focus on one source of air pollution, but effective solutions and improvements to health need to take into account all sources of exposure.
And so community-centred approaches are needed to ensure an understanding of the local context and to explore concerns and challenges faced by residents. This will ensure that solutions are culturally relevant, inclusive and therefore more likely to be effective.

Mukuru, Nairobi

This is what we have been doing in Mukuru, which is an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. More than 100,000 families live in crowded conditions with limited access to basic services. Exposure to air pollution can lead to respiratory infection, chronic lung disease, heart disease stroke and lung cancer. In Mukuru, exposure is continuous due to burning of rubbish and industrial emissions. The immediate effects reported by residents include burning eyes, sore nasal passages, coughing and asthma attacks.
Along with a series of interdisciplinary colleagues, we set up the AIR Network so that residents of Mukuru could work together with African and European researchers to explore how best to raise awareness and begin to develop solutions to tackle local air pollution issues. Our creative methods and the involvement of the community allowed us to recognise a series of sources of pollution that we might not have otherwise.

To minimise “Western” and “academic” preconceptions, which can result in a blinkered view, and to maximise engagement, trust and participation, our network used a variety of creative methods. These included theatre, storytelling, photography and drawing. We were determined from the start to create a democratic and participatory research project so that we could begin to understand the challenges that informal settlement dwellers encounter day to day, with the community deeply involved from the start.
We began with a week-long workshop in Mukuru. For many of us, the creative approaches used were novel and we became a collective, learning together – as well as laughing, eating, sharing and building trust. Barriers were broken down not just between community and researcher, but also between researchers from different disciplines.

Creating new tools

This is a community that is marginalised, with very few rights or regulations in place to protect them and limited access to basic resources. It is also a youthful community that is hugely self-motivated, bursting with talent, energy and activism. It is key that the voices of communities such as this are heard. The community educated us on which of the creative methods would work well in Mukuru, and for the next six months, we worked on putting our plans into action.
Our team included talented film makers, and we used digital storytelling to document personal experiences of air pollution. Here, for example, Dennis Waweru talks about the impact of air pollution on the health of his community.

Artists from the Mukuru-based Wajuuku Arts Centre painted maps on canvas and took these out into the community so that local residents could use them to identify pollution hotspots and pollution sources. Music was also highlighted as an effective and important communication tool. Local musicians and rappers composed songs to raise awareness about air pollution and the AIR Network itself.
We also used forum theatre (also known as theatre of the oppressed) to develop short plays about key air pollution problems in Mukuru, and then invite local people to become actors and explore potential solutions to the problems presented on stage.
These forum theatre plays were subsequently developed into legislative theatre pieces, which were performed to people in positions of influence or power. Audience members were then also invited to take part in playing out solutions to key air pollution issues, allowing a dialogue to develop between the “ordinary person” and the policy maker, shifting the usual direction of flow and breaking down existing hierarchies.

Forum theatre in Mukuru. © AIR NetworkAuthor provided

The real issues

Industry, burning of waste and bad drainage were identified as key sources of air pollution in Mukuru. It turns out that dangerous unregulated working conditions and lack of protective clothing are a major cause of exposure. As is a lack of infrastructure for firefighting, waste disposal (the smoke and smell of burning plastic is constant) and sanitation (sewage was identified by residents as a major source of air pollution).
If we had gone into the community with aims and ambitions that had already been decided according to the commonly acknowledged causes of air pollution (traffic, industry, cooking methods) we may not have had space to reveal or acknowledge these other sources. Instead, we identified issues that the community recognises as indirect causes of air pollution, such as workers rights, alleyways between dwellings that are too narrow for fire-fighting equipment, and poor waste management.

What are the main sources of air pollution? © AIR NetworkAuthor provided

In September 2018, these activities culminated in an arts festival, Hood2Hood, at the local football ground. A stage and a sound system appeared out of nowhere. Forum theatre and storytelling pieces were performed. Rappers, MCs and dance groups played live. A mural was created. Visual and interactive games were used to collect data. Around 1,500 local people attended the festival during the course of the day, to find out what we had been doing and to make their own contributions to discussions around air pollution.
Wickedly complex global problems such as air pollution, climate change and antimicrobial resistance can only be properly addressed by using multidisciplinary approaches, real world actionable strategies and buy in from the public. Using creativity is key: it allows non-experts to participate more fully in this process so that initiatives and interventions will be culturally relevant and more effective.