Tag Archives: UNICEF

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: http://www.comicrelief.com.

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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:

http://www.gofundme.com/3tev04

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!

Ambassadors & Royal Enfields

With preps and fundraising for our UNICEF India Adventure well underway, this weekend I’ve been reading up about the cars and bikes we’ll be using on our epic 1,000-km roadtrip. As both a car and bike enthusiast, one of the key drawcards of this particular adventure was the chance to be part of a rally of classic motorbikes and motor cars – and by all accounts, the Enfields and Ambassadors are as classic as they come.

Cruising India astride a Royal Enfield Bullet

Some of the team, including Charley and Marc, will be riding 350cc Royal Enfield Bullets. Originally launched in the UK in 1949, the Bullet came to be used by the Indian government from 1955 as a bike for its police and army to patrol its country’s rugged border areas. Now based in Chennai, Royal Enfield is the oldest motorbike brand in the world still in production. The Bullet’s excellent pedigree bodes well for some of the more challenging parts of our route across Southern India – and for Charley, it will certainly be a very different kind of ride from his more customary 1200 Beemer GS!

The trusty Ambassador on the road in India

The rest of the team will be driving 1950s-style Hindustan Ambassadors. Originally based on the British Morris Oxford III model (1948), the “Ambi” (as it’s fondly known) is now considered a quintessentially Indian car, dubbed “the king of Indian roads”. Although they look quite sturdy, their engines are only apparently capable of 37 horsepower and their handling is generally thought to be “temperamental” at best – so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare in some of the mountainous and unpredictable terrain we’ll encounter in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
                                                                                                          Reading up about these brilliant cars and bikes, I can’t wait to be on the road in India to see how these classic vehicles – not to mention their riders/drivers – hold up! It seems pretty inevitable that we’re going to have some challenges along the way, given the ever-changing terrain and the unique handling styles needed for these cars and bikes – but hey, that’s all part of the adventure!
                                                                                                                             

Gearing Up For India

Filming the UNICEF Sahara Trek in 2010

As you’ll know from my last post, I had a great time in London and I’ve returned to Melbourne with lots of excitement about our India Adventure. This has been tempered by the inevitable anecdotes from people about how crazy the roads are in India – not to mention tales of near-misses or crashes in cars and on bikes that seem to be par for the course in that part of the world. So I’m approaching our roadtrip with a healthy mix of anticipation and trepidation – well it is an adventure, after all!

After get-togethers with Charley and UNICEF in the UK, I’ve realised there’s actually quite a lot of prep – not to mention fundraising! – to do in the next few months. So I’m making the most of a long weekend here in Oz to start hatching plans for wrangling gear for the trip and getting support from companies who may be able to help me out with the things that we need.

Right now I’m compiling a kit list – potential equipment, including camera (video and stills), tripods, GoProsⓇ and so on for filming and otherwise documenting the adventure. During my rendezvous with Charley, we compared notes about various filming techniques and ideas – including using Spot Tracker GPS or similar on the trip, so that people can follow our journey as it unfolds on the ground in India.

It’s always a trade-off between taking enough gear to properly cover the event and not getting bogged down with stacks of fancy kit. I’ll be stowing it all in the back of an old Ambassador, which isn’t renowned for its huge luggage space, so I’ll need to be clever about what I end up taking.

Setting up for a shot of Team UNICEF tackling a steep ridge in Morocco (as my trusty porter Mohamed looks on!)

Plus, there are particular challenges on this trip that didn’t come up when I filmed our last UNICEF adventure in the Sahara Desert. On that trip, with everyone trekking on foot within a relatively short distance, it wasn’t too tricky to film – I could see the entire group and catch up with particular individuals and happenings at any given moment. This time, we’ll be a convoy of cars and motorbikes potentially strung out over a fair distance (albeit contained by a leader vehicle, sweepers, support crew etc) – and, of course, moving vehicles always require particular tricks and techniques when it comes to filming. I just need to make sure I’ve got a plan of action and the kit to cover it all, so I don’t miss all the good stuff!

So, lots to plan – but it’s all good. Half the fun of any adventure is the preparation, eh? 🙂

London Calling

Union Jacks flying over Covent Garden Market – London’s awash with them right now!

Well it’s been an exciting week here in London! With just seven days in the UK capital, it’s been a whirlwind visit combining catching up with old friends, soaking up some of the pre-Jubilee vibe, and having meetings to kick off plans for my upcoming India Adventure with Charley Boorman and UNICEF – which I’ve already dubbed Long Way Across India!

It was great to meet Alyrene and Francesca at the UNICEF UK HQ in Farringdon this week. I’m liaising with them on how I’ll cover the India trip, and we got very excited talking about possibilities for filming, photographing, blogging and Tweeting at various stages of the adventure. As I heard more about what the trip would involve – the challenging terrain across Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, details about how the Royal Enfield bikes and Ambassador cars will handle on the road, and the wide variety of people who will make up the team – I felt myself getting that familiar buzz: the buzz of a new adventure just beginning!

That buzz grew still more when I met up with the lovely Charley Boorman at his SW London home. At the kitchen table, over a nice cup of tea and biscuits (thank you Ollie!), we started hatching plans for filming the adventure. We agreed that we really want to capture everything that happens as fully as we possibly can, not just for those taking part but for everyone who’s sponsoring and supporting our trip and will be keen to see how it unfolds. Although it’s still six months away, there’s a lot to think about in terms of logistics and equipment and it was great to get Charley’s input at this early stage and feel his enthusiasm about the trip itself.

As my London stint comes to an end, I’ve just been over to Stanfords Travel Bookshop in Long Acre and stocked up on a little light reading for my long plane journey back to Melbourne – road maps and books about South India that I know will render my excitement complete.

The trip may still be six months away, but preparation is half the fun of it and there’s lots to do. So stay tuned for more very soon about our preps and other news about the adventure.

Adventures For Good

At the start of my hike – before the weather turned!

Since announcing my new UNICEF adventure with Charley Boorman, lots of people have been asking me how they can combine their own travels with “giving something back”.

Undertaking a big trip like India is a huge commitment in terms of fundraising and planning for the event itself. But you don’t need to embark on large-scale ventures to raise money for a good cause. Even a “mini adventure” can make a difference.

Today, for instance, I’m just back from a day-long 40km hike along the Great Ocean Road. I love walking and on a whim, I decided to set myself a specific challenge with the little time I have this weekend, to raise much-needed funds for my UNICEF pot. The day before, I rallied round friends, colleagues and even my building manager (!), asking them to sponsor my walk with any spare change.

London Bridge, Great Ocean Road

The hike itself turned into a bit of an epic. As I set off at sunrise, the coastal elements decided to throw everything at me – gale-force winds, hail, and a rockfall across the walking track which resulted in a messy scramble up a cliff (it wasn’t pretty – there weren’t any style points for that particular manoeuvre, I can tell you!). But I gritted my teeth and pressed on, spurred by the thought of the $250 I was raising for my cause.

And hey, you don’t have to support a big charity. Why not think about a local charity or cause that raises money for animal welfare, health concerns, or maybe a community project of some sort? Whatever gets you passionate. Then find an adventure, great or small, get excited about it – and then get others excited about it! Not everyone will want to sponsor you, of course, but many will – some people love living vicariously through others’ adventures, so a bit of cash is a small price to pay, as they see it!

I’m already planning my next mini fundraiser. I’m not really the bake sale type so I’m sure it will end up being another outdoorsy sort of challenge. I hope this post has inspired you to start thinking up your own ideas – good luck and here’s to adventures for good!

Thanks!