Tag Archives: UNICEF

Syrian Stories: Filming Adventures In Jordan

Za'atari camp, Mafraq, Jordan

Za’atari camp, Mafraq, Jordan

I’m just back from my latest trip, filming a UNICEF/BBC documentary in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, near the border with Syria. Working with a small but perfectly-formed team, we spent time with a number of Syrian children and their families, getting their perspective on life in the camp and finding out first-hand what has made so many families like them flee their homes and homeland. As you might imagine, their stories were as heartbreaking as they were uplifting and I was continually touched at how warmly they welcomed us into their new abodes in the camp – containers with minimal furnishings, or basic rooms with tarpaulin roofs – and shared with us what little they had with huge smiles and unconditional generosity.

Filming during the sandstorm!

Filming during the sandstorm!

The trip itself was something of an adventure its own right. A couple of days into filming, the camp was hit by a sudden enormous sandstorm that descended on us like a tsunami. The sky went from yellow to black to blood-red in a matter of minutes, blocking out the sun, and we all had to run for cover as thick sand threatened to choke us as it engulfed the streets. Just a day later, there was a torrential rainstorm which resulted in water sluicing down the muddy streets and many of the refugee homes’ flimsy roofs caving in with the weight of rainwater. And then, just to keep things interesting, we ran into thick fog on the third day, which descended on the camp and its surrounds, enveloping everything in a chilly, eery grey cloak. For us, these were challenging conditions to film in – but it was a sobre reminder, too, that this is what over 80,000 people in Za’atari camp are having to deal with every single day. 

Meeting kids in one of UNICEF's Child-Friendly Spaces.

Meeting kids in one of UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Spaces.

Thankfully, UNICEF and other aid agencies are working tirelessly here to try and make things easier for the residents of Za’atari – families who have no idea how long they will have to be here and when they might be able to go home. I’m always humbled when I see first-hand the work that UNICEF does in the field and this trip was no exception – the schools, the Child-Friendly Spaces, and the recreational areas where kids can just be kids are all crucial in ensuring that these displaced children have a kind of “normality” in this strange place until – some day – they are able to go back home. 

The footage we filmed is now being edited and I hope to share news with you soon of when the documentary will air. I can’t say too much about it for now as it’s all under wraps (!) but watch this space… :)

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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Adventure Travel


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Stories That Must Be Told


Preparing for a UNICEF field trip

After a busy first few months at UNICEF UK as their Television Manager, I’m happy to say that there are now some exciting TV projects in the pipeline. Right now, I’m gearing up for an imminent overseas trip with a small BBC crew to film an ambitious documentary with Syrian refugee children. It will be an opportunity to hear first-hand the stories of some of the real people involved in the so-called “migrant crisis”, and to show their extraordinary resilience and humanity in the face of circumstances many of us would, I’m sure, find completely unbearable.

Since starting my UNICEF job back in May, I’ve frequently been called to mind of one of my favourite ever movie scenes. In The Constant Gardener, Rachel Weisz’s character Tessa, a human rights campaigner, is trying to persuade her conservative diplomat husband Justin (played by Ralph Fiennes) to pull over their 4×4 as they drive through a poor African village, to give a lift to a mother and her young sons who are walking miles along the dusty road to fetch water. Justin: “We can’t involve ourselves in their lives, Tessa.” Tessa: “Why?” Justin: “Be reasonable. There are millions of people, they all need help…” Tessa: “Yeah, but these are three people WE can help.”

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Working at UNICEF has opened my eyes to the sheer numbers of people in the world – millions – who need assistance, whether because of disease, natural disasters, or as victims of conflict. While UNICEF and many organisations like it are doing some incredible work, I’ve more than once questioned whether it’s possible to really “make a difference” – especially when thinking about my own tiny contribution as someone helping to get international development stories out there to the general public.

Where I’ve got to is Tessa’s approach: to think in “micro” rather than “macro” terms, to humanise the issue, if you will. It’s not about helping the masses, the millions, but simply doing what you can in your own life – whether it’s putting a coin in a collecting tin, working or volunteering for a charity, or simply keeping an eye out for your neighbour, it all counts in the “humanity stakes”. For me, storytelling has always been at the heart of what I do – this is my way of showing I give a damn about what’s happening in the world around me, a small but meaningful way that I can help.

So, as I get ready for my next field trip with UNICEF and the documentary crew, my focus is very much on the people I will be meeting on the ground and how we might tell their stories with integrity and sensitivity. We’ll be filming in some challenging environments and will undoubtedly see some confronting scenes. It’s going to be an adventure of a very different kind for me, and I’m both excited and trepidatious. I hope to share the fruits of it with you all later in the year. :)

Meantime, here are some of our UNICEF Ambassadors including Ewan McGregor, Michael Sheen and Tom Hiddleston making a powerful plea on behalf of Syrian children:

There’s No Place Like Home. 

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Posted by on October 11, 2015 in Adventure Travel


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An Exciting New Chapter

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Well, after seeing in the New Year in Bali and then travelling variously to Perth, Sydney and then Zambia, I’m excited to announce a new chapter in my life, which starts in just a few days! UNICEF UK have just appointed me their new Television Manager, a full-time role in which I’ll be looking after their broadcast TV output, working with their celebrity Ambassadors and supporters and international projects to generate documentaries, formats, telethons and other fundraising programmes that will air on TV. I’ll be building on their stable of very successful programmes, including Soccer Aid and Ewan McGregor’s Cold Chain. I’ll be based in the London office but will undoubtedly travel as required to UNICEF projects.

At the finish of the 2010 Sahara Trek with Russ Malkin and the UNICEF team

At the finish of the 2010 Sahara Trek with Russ Malkin and the UNICEF team

As you can imagine, I’m more than a little excited about this job. I’ve been a supporter of UNICEF since 2010 when I did a fundraising trek with Goodwill Ambassador and fellow TV producer Russ Malkin. Having seen with my own eyes where some of the money donated goes to help kids and their families around the world, I’m thrilled at the opportunity to be a meaningful part of the UNICEF UK team and bring my TV experience and expertise to an organisation whose aims and activities I wholeheartedly believe in.

It also means that after two years of a fairly nomadic existence, I will be “of fixed abode” again, living in London for the first time in over 10 years. Happily, I’ve just found a lovely little place in Wandsworth Common – my old haunt and a beautiful part of the city, with lots of trees and green open spaces – and it will be good to get settled again, after living life out of a suitcase!

I can’t wait to get started with my new colleagues at UNICEF and will do my best to share my new adventures there with you whenever I can. Meantime, as you’ll all be aware, there are many aid agencies working in Nepal right now to bring help to the millions of people who’ve been affected by the devastating earthquake. UNICEF are particularly well-placed to deliver help as they are already permanently based there. I’ll leave it to Ewan McGregor to tell you more about what they’re doing – and if it inspires you to donate a little something to help, that would be wonderful!

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Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Adventure Travel


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News: Presenting at Overland Expo 2014

Commandeering a boda boda in Uganda

Commandeering a boda boda in Southwest Uganda

I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be a Presenter at this year’s Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona, 16th-18th May 2014.

As many of you know, I was there last year manning the Charley Boorman stand with my friend Billy Ward. I had a great time meeting lots of fellow overlanders, adventure motorcyclists and 4×4 enthusiasts, and really loved the adventurous spirit and camaraderie that filled the air over those three days at Mormon Lake, about 2 hours’ ride from Phoenix.

This time round, I’ll be doing a one-hour session about my recent three-month African Film Adventure in southwest Uganda, down by the border with the Congo and Rwanda. I’ll be showing some clips and photos from the trip, talking about some of the challenges of travelling and filming in this remote part of Africa, and fielding questions about how to combine overlanding adventures with volunteering. 

I’m a big advocate of doing good while travelling and have done a number of trips now which have combined adventure with “giving something back”, including my big Sahara trek with UNICEF Ambassador Russ Malkin in 2010. This year I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Africa (most recently Ghana) as a Journalist with Comic Relief to film and report on the many charity projects that are being funded by them there.

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

I’m really looking forward to sharing my experiences with the OX14 audience, not to mention hearing about everyone else’s adventures. It will be great to be back at the Expo, which is now one of the biggest overlanding/adventure events of the year. I can’t wait to be back in Arizona – last time, I borrowed a motorbike and toured Route 66 and the Grand Canyon; this time, well, let’s just say I’m going to be having another good look around!

Details about session times and venue for my talk at OX14 are still being firmed up by the organisers, but keep an eye on the Overland Expo website: Hope to see you there!


Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Adventure Travel


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Adventures With Comic Relief

Capturing a story in Africa

Capturing a story in Africa

After coming back to the UK for a couple of weeks to consider my next move, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse: six weeks working as a Freelance Journalist for Comic Relief. This high-profile charity supports projects in the UK and overseas, mainly in Africa, and my job in the coming weeks is to gather stories from some of those projects to show how fundraisers’ money is being spent.

With Comic Relief’s Sport Relief 2014 campaign coming up (21st-23rd March), it’s a great opportunity to get some “good news stories” out there and I’m excited at the chance to be part of it.

My Comic Relief coffee mug :)

My regulation Comic Relief coffee mug :)

My first week has already been fantastically busy. I’ve interviewed a Ghanaian woman from a remote African village who pulled herself out of poverty to become President of one of the most successful Fairtrade cocoa farming co-operatives in Africa. I’ve covered a story about women being saved from the Nairobi slums by a project that promotes boxing as a way to combat social problems. And I’ve talked to a doctor in Ghana who’s at the forefront of delivering life-saving vaccines to remote village communities via the “cold chain” process. (Remember Ewan McGregor’s recent UNICEF Cold Chain Mission documentary on the BBC? It’s the same kind of thing.) Diverse work indeed – and I’m loving it!

After my 4 months in Uganda setting up Film Africa, a community film project for local people to share their stories using video, it’s fascinating seeing charity work from a different perspective and realising what’s involved, not just in the projects themselves, but in promoting awareness of their work. And as someone with a passion for Africa, I’m pleased to see so many people there benefitting from Comic Relief-funded programs.

So I’m throwing myself into the next few weeks. Apart from anything else, it’s a good opportunity to put some money in my pocket to help fund my next adventures. Because yes, as ever I’m cooking up some more overlanding exploits for 2014: more on that to come very soon… :-)

To find out more about what Comic Relief does and see how you can get involved in this year’s Sport Relief campaign:

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Posted by on February 16, 2014 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling


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African Film Adventure 2013

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

The magical landscape of Uganda

Well after a few weeks back in the UK, I’m now excited to reveal the details of my next adventure! It will star Africa, volcanoes and great lakes, rare mountain gorillas, a rural village tribe called the Batwa, and yes…motorbikes!

On August 15th – yes, in just over a week’s time – I’m flying into Kigali, Rwanda, then heading overland into the southwest corner of Uganda. I’m joining a small international team there to help get a new filming initiative off the ground that will tackle conservation, health, education and cultural issues.

For three months, I’ll be immersing myself in a tiny village in the Great Rift Valley near the border with the Congo and Rwanda, filming local stories and development issues, the rare mountain gorillas in the nearby Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and training the locals to get behind the camera themselves and make their own films. I’ll also be part of a pioneering project to bring mobile cinema (via “pedal power”!) to the region.

Filming in Africa

Filming in Africa

Living conditions will be basic – no electricity or running water, everything runs on solar power – and the location couldn’t be more remote, on the edge of dense jungle in the very heart of rural East Africa. But I can’t wait to be on the ground, bonding with my new team, getting to know the locals, and tackling the challenges of setting up a filming initiative in a far-flung but fascinating part of the world.

Those who’ve followed my UNICEF adventures will know how much I enjoy projects that combine adventure, amazing locations, and the chance to give something back. This expedition, spearheaded by a fantastic grassroots organisation called Big Beyond, really caught my eye as an experience that would supply all three!

As well as bringing my TV/media skills to the project (on a completely voluntary basis), I’ll also be mucking in with many other daily tasks in the village. And I’ll be doing my best to learn the local language, Rukiga, a form of Bantu – I’ve already got my first word: Agandi! Hello! Motorbikes (or boda boda, as they locals call them – my second useful word!) are the key form of transport here and I hope to use them not just for work but also for exploring the terrain in any free time I have. By all accounts, it’s an absolutely beautiful region, so I can’t wait to get on two wheels and explore further afield as soon as I can.

It’s a daunting challenge, but one I’m definitely ready for. With barely a week to prepare, I’m now in a whirlwind of packing and planning. Once again, I’m excited to say: Africa awaits…

For more details and to show your support for the African Film Adventure 2013 expedition:


Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling


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Long Way Across India: Our Route

Route-planning for our Classic India Adventure

This week, in addition to wrangling filming kit for our India trip, I’ve been sizing up the route we’ll be taking across this vast country. There’s nothing quite like poring over maps to get the adventurous juices flowing!

Our journey will take us through more than 1,000km of South India, across three of the country’s most spectacular regions – Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. We’ll be skirting inland lagoons and lakes, traversing reserves teeming with tigers, and tackling the steep jungle ascents of the Western Ghat mountain range. Descriptions of our route conjure up magical images – elephants, monkeys and bears, beautiful wetlands and backwaters, ancient monuments and temples, gorgeous sweeping mountain vistas, and hot, dusty plains. Even the place names have a mystique about them – Bandipur, Mudumallai, Kodaikanal, Masinagudi, Ooty…

South India - UNICEF route

Our intended route through South India

South India’s going to be a really exciting and unpredictable place to travel through, especially in the way we have chosen – using classic motorbikes and cars synonymous with travel in India. We’ve already been warned about the changeable weather, unforeseen roadblocks and numerous other obstacles that may force us to veer off our intended route. Throw in erratic road rules and towns and villages teeming with chaotic activity – people and animals everywhere! – and it’s certainly going to be an expedition that will require all our stamina and sense of humour.

Thinking about filming, I’m excited at the prospect of shooting in such a diverse and colourful country. It looks like there’ll be no shortage of extraordinary places to capture on film – not to mention the exploits of our intrepid team as we encounter daily adventures. I’m also looking forward to visiting the UNICEF project in Mysore – a chance to see how the money we’ve fundraised is being used to help kids in need.

As Charley says: “There’ll be long days on the road and we’ll be pushed to our limits on some sections. But we’ll have lots of time to take in the fantastic journey and experience all India has to offer.”

Yup Charley, I can’t wait to be on the road tackling everything India has to throw at us – bring it on!


Posted by on July 6, 2012 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling


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