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What I Learned About Blogging from the Tanzanian Blog Project

DSC_0183.jpgIt seems like a long time ago that I invited readers of ProBlogger to come to Tanzania with me to experiment with seeing what social good we could do with social media and blogging.

You can see the results of the week (in terms of the content created) at the CBM Australia Blog.

Today I want to give some of the back story about how we approached the trip logistically (in terms of the blogging workflow). But before I do, be warned: I’m still jet-lagged so this could come out a little muddled!

The plan

The idea, in terms of blogging while away, was simple: we wanted to produce at least one story on the blog per day (although we were secretly aiming for two per day). To do this we wanted to spend most of the day at the project (a disability hospital) collecting the story or stories and then get back to our hotel to put the content together.

The thought was that we could create a daily video and perhaps an additional blog post.

We had a general idea of what we’d see and the types of stories we might focus upon, but we also knew that the trip would undoubtedly throw us all kinds of opportunities and challenges, so we were open to changing things as we went along.

Technologically challenged

IMG_0746.jpgIt became pretty obvious within the first 24 hours on the ground in Tanzania that our main challenge would be connectivity. We were booked into a hotel that told us that their Internet connection was good, but the reality was that uploading video via their wi-fi system would take many hours (if we managed to stay connected for that long).

We worked hard to make it work by decreasing the resolution of videos and the image quality of photos we used on the blog, but it wasn’t a workable solution.

As a result, we began the search for a new hotel that could meet our needs with a faster and more reliable web connection. The one we ended up at still was slow at times (there was one night that I was up until 1am trying to get posts up) but other than that we had pretty much everything we needed on the connectivity end of things.

If I were leaving for the trip again, there would be a couple of other things I’d probably change from a technology perspective:

  1. USB-to-ethernet adaptor: I’d have packed a USB-to-ethernet adapter for my Macbook Air (relying upon WiFi alone wasn’t a great thing). Luckily others in the team had Macbook Pros that had ethernet ports for uploading video to YouTube.
  2. Servers: We should have beefed up the blog’s servers before going but none of us considered the possibility that the project would get so much interest! On Thursday (when I posted an update here on ProBlogger and emailed my list with an update), the server just couldn’t keep up. This resulted in a server upgrade mid-trip which meant 24 hours in which many readers weren’t able to access the site.
  3. Camera Lenses: This is probably of more interest to my photography blog readers, but I packed a 24-70mm lens and a 50mm lens. I wish I’d left the 50mm at home and packed my 70-200mm, as there were numerous times where the extra focus length would have been particularly useful.
  4. Mobile Coverage: Next time, I think I’d probably have bought myself a mobile broadband dongle and/or SIM card for my phone on arriving in the country. While I don’t think speeds using the dongle would have necessarily been good enough for fast uploading, it would have given us opportunity to do quick updates on the road. I’m particularly thinking of tweets and short blog post updates during the days. We managed without it by scheduling posts and tweets, but it would have been useful to be able to do more live updates during the days.

Overall, the trip went very well on a technology front—surprisingly well considering the challenges of live blogging from a developing country.

The reality

amina.jpg
I originally expected that we’d update the blog one or two times per day. The reality is that we were able to collect a lot more stories each day than that—particularly once we got into the groove.

We were situated in a fairly sizeable disability hospital that saw hundreds of new patients every single day. The stories we were presented with were many and varied. Each day in the hospital we saw five or 10 patients and had the opportunity to interview staff. We quickly found that we were collecting more stories than we could use on a daily basis.

As a result we’ve collected another five or so stories that we’ve not yet published on the blog—they’ll be used in the coming weeks. We also have some quite long interviews with staff that we’ll probably release as well.

We also increased the number of posts per day to three or four.

One of the posts that I added into the daily schedule were daily “image updates”. I didn’t think about doing these until the end of Day 1, when I realized that we’d taken hundreds of images in the day, but were only going to use three or four that related to the stories of the day. The daily image summaries were an attempt to show the breadth of what we’d done—they turned out to be the most popular posts of the trip (particularly with my photography blog readers).

See these image posts at:

The other aspect of the trip in terms of workflow was that I was traveling with a team, and that opened up opportunities and challenges. On the team from Australia we had two people from CBM’s communications team, a videographer/photographer, and myself (plus a few other staff and translators from Tanzania).

By mid trip we used our numbers to our advantage and developed a little system where, instead of going to every story together, we sent out a couple of the team as an “advance party” to scout out potential stories while Greg (the videographer) and I went to do actual story recording. In this way, we were able to identify stories that were most suited to what we were doing, and the advance party team were able to research the stories more thoroughly so that we could be more effective when actually recording them.

The challenge with our team and approach was that, because a lot of what we were doing was reliant upon video, the end of each day was a mad rush for Greg, who on some days had to edit three videos! He did a great job, but if I were to do it again, I think we’d need to either take an extra person to help with editing, or change the mix of types of posts to make some less reliant upon videos.

Content

IMG_0648.jpgOne of my biggest concerns going into the trip was covering stories of people with disabilities in a way that was going to honor them as people and treat them with dignity, while also show the need for assistance in Tanzania. Not being trained either as a journalist or disability worker, I was feeling a little out of my depth as I approached the trip and wondered how I would go.

As it turns out, I’m glad I was feeling worried about this, because having it at the front of my mind as I went out each day really shaped the stories I wrote.

My aim was to show the reality of living with a disability (its challenges, problems, and so on), but also to show those I met as the people of beauty, strength, and determination that they were. People living with disabilities should not be defined by those disabilities, so while I was there to report on that aspect of their lives, I worked hard to try to tell stories with balance and respect.

I also tried to take this into my own photography for the week—while I guess that showing a person’s disability in the images would perhaps have made sense, I also tried to mix into the images straight portraits that showed the person as a person without any inclusion of an obvious disability.

By no means do I think I did a perfect job on this front, but I learned a lot in attempting it.

In terms of the types of posts that seemed to connect with people most, it was almost always the “story” posts, where we featured individuals and told their stories of living with disability, that did best.

Some of these story posts include:

The “Results”

DSC_0052.jpgIt’s hard to measure the “results” of a trip like this. Our goal was not to raise money, but to raise awareness (although CBM won’t say no to donations). We didn’t have set goals in terms of traffic or page views; rather, we wanted to tell stories, put the issues out there, and see what happened.

The responses that we’ve had (in terms of comments on the blog, tweets, emails, and other in-person feedback) have been incredibly positive. We saw 20,000 or so visitors to the blog on the biggest day, which was beyond what we’d expected. But the highlight for me was hearing back from people that the stories and images we produced were eye-opening and made them think or feel differently about what they were reading about.

Ultimately, the biggest result for me was a life-changing experience of my own. As I mention in my final reflections video, my own eyes were opened as much as (or more than) anyone else’s. I’ve done similar trips in the past to developing countries to visit development work, so I knew that this would happen, but as always, I found that stepping outside of my comfort zone in this way was a very, very worthwhile experience.

It’s also something I’d love to do again (and I’d like to find a way to take others with me)—and that’s something I might have some more news for you on in coming weeks.

Lastly, thanks to the many ProBlogger readers who, in a virtual way, came on the trip to Tanzania. I valued your support and feedback and hope you found the experience meaningful too (without the jet lag!).

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Shajib says:

    Bless you darren for this noble work. We should think about people aswell, not only about us.

  2. Two of my kids spent a summer in Tanzania. They climbed Mt. kilmanjarol and then spent time in a remote village building a school. The villagers had had very limited access with outsiders and the experience was both eye opening (for both parties) and enriching. I’m glad you brought that type of awareness to the world.

    You’re a good man.

  3. James says:

    Hi Darren,

    It is always a great feeling when business owners can give back to charity. It’s something that everyone should do.

    You’ll also be how surprised how we all take technology for granted. When we experience a power failure or based in a remote area and the Internet is not available then we realised how much we take it granted.

    Also visiting a country and being away from your natural environment does provide some serious opportunities to create new content. I am sure you can agree that a change of scenery can seriously get your creative flair moving.

    There’s some great photos here. That do tell a story.

    It’s excellent news to hear that you’re helping others.

  4. It is in giving that we receive, May God Bless You Darren for giving the voiceless a voice and you are welcome anytime in East Africa (Kenya)

  5. Himanshu says:

    thanks for sharing man. i really liked the whole narration. enjoyed reading it. ground zero for blogging.

  6. Emily says:

    Totally awesome. I think you’ve stumbled into something quite important. That blogging can tell a story of people who live in a completely different world than we do.

    I’m a dentist in the US. I have frequent flyer miles. Put me on your list. I will figure out a way to come. And I don’t mind jet lag :)

    Thank you for helping us remember the human being who are sometimes forgotten by the rest of the world.

  7. Seems like you guys had a lot of troubles doing the simple everyday like things here versue being over there..but I see you guys still did a good job..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  8. Manuel says:

    You’ve done something really commendable…

  9. You’ve done some amazing things!

  10. That’s Awesome Darren. I will remember those things you put up in the forgot list, if I’m involved in such a team for a cause.

  11. Great work Darren. I’m studying Certificate III in Disability in Canberra, Australia and have become more aware of people in our communities who have a disability. The term Advocacy is a strong one, speaking on behalf of someone who has a disability. Such as difficulty in communicating with others. Giving them a voice in consideration of their needs. This was a courageous trip. It was also an enlightening trip for those who are not in a position to visit Tanzania.

    You experiments, testing and assessment of improvements in technology were very interesting and educational for those who want to learn and improve their blogging, photography and video production.

    Thank you for the wonderful post and speaking for people who are hidden in the shadow of despair.

  12. Louisa says:

    It’s really inspiring to see these social media tools being used like this. Your willingness to use your profile and expertise is, well, inspiring!

  13. Papa Awori says:

    Thanks for portraying the patients in a dignified manner; without the startling and shocking images we are used to seeing that are used to elicit sympathy in the developed countries.

    Great pictures, almost makes me feel as I am there.

    Sorry to hear of your travails with connectivity. As the submarine cables are utilized more efficiently and infrastructure improved; it will get better each time you return.

  14. Dinesh says:

    No words to say. Great Job. Wondering that this can be also done by a famous blogger.
    Thanks for the share.

  15. My wife has a disability, so my first thought was: that you didn’t need to go to Tanzania to blog about disability, as there’s sufferers all around us. But there again, disability doesn’t actually get many column inches, so a novel approach to a subject, gets peoples interested. And I applaud that.

  16. You are doing the right thing Darren it is very important that we share our blessings given to us by God with those who have been denied of that.

    God Bless… Everyone!

  17. john says:

    Well done and keep the good job

  18. May God bless your handwork Darren! This is a good example for all of us too

  19. David Risley says:

    That’s awesome. Love it. You know, speaking as one of the guys who talks about making money with blogging and all that…. honestly, none of that matters compared to the power to HELP people with the platform you build. It is a true, powerful communication medium to people globally…. and all of us, as bloggers, should take to heart the power – and responsibility – that we have.

    Kudos to you, Darren.

  20. Yrbkmomma says:

    You had an amazing trip! Thanks so much for sharing it with us. I was blessed!

  21. Liaqat says:

    great to see you people working for a humanitarian cause
    i feel so proud to be called a blogger where great people like you exist