A Fresh Start

Another week was upon as and to start off, we thought more about the branding behind the channel we would be using to upload our online training video series. Initially a few ideas were floating around. We thought hard about a suitable name, but it was tough. Either the names were somewhat lacklustre, were too ambiguous or were already taken. Eventually, we all came to an agreement with a suitable name…and a logo and theme to go with it. We opted for “Enabling Science” which would be represented with a spinning globe icon. This name and logo helped to infer that the show was more created and will target audiences from low- and middle-income countries. This is exactly what we were after. There are few channels and videos reaching this audience-base and so it made perfect sense to help deliver engaging and useful educational content made by people from the target countries themselves.

We were very lucky to have two enthusiastic and talented people who volunteered to help present our pilot episodes. We had Mwihaki and Bernice who would present a soft-skills for scientists and a bioinformatics pilot episode respectively.

Initial filming started with Mwihaki. The pilot episode was all about predatory conferences, a common problem in science. Mwihaki described what they are and how best to spot them. We thought she did a really fantastic job; her personality really came across well on camera.

After scouting around the research institute site, we managed to find a room which had the best acoustics and sound-proofing available. It was by no means perfect however and so we had to adapt on the fly when it came to recording. The room had windows located all around the top border and so some ambient noise could disrupt a take. People chatting directly outside and aeroplanes were the big issue as these could clearly be heard on the audio track. We never let this ruined a filming session however. We either waited for the noise to pass or we let people know politely that we were filming and the issue was quickly alleviated. The luxury of a fully sound-proof professional recording studio is one which many people do not have access to, especially so here in Kenya, and so it suited the project better that we had the filming location that we did. It will allow others to more easily continue the project with minimal or no budget and it can also help serve as a ‘proof-of-concept’ that such a project is a viable undertaking for other such research institutes and organisations.

This is important as video production and science communication can often be seen as having a high barrier to entry due to cost limitations. Using freeware software, low spec laptops and standard meeting rooms on campus, I hope that we will go to show that it can be done. The biggest barrier that exists, at least for us, is acquisition of hardware. This can be expensive and hard to buy in certain areas. This is where collaborations and partnerships with other research organisations and universities who do have access to such equipment is so important. Our project simply wouldn’t have been possible without the generous donation of hardware from the “ACACIA” initiative.

Science communication is a necessary element of science and research. Without this step, science is held back, and its effects are felt less so in wider society. Fostering international and national partnerships between organisations and institutes to promote science communication really can make a difference and as such, I think it would be brilliant to see more of this. 

Alongside the video filming, we also got chatting and did a few test shoots with a few people who would be interested out in helping present and produce the final video series. It was great to see such enthusiasm for continuing the video series for once we had left and it was rewarding to help those interested in presenting and science communication get an opportunity to demonstrate and grow their skills and experience. There are many talented and passionate science communicators and researchers here in Kenya. It has been a pleasure to work with some of them during our time here.

In a couple of weeks, once our time in Nairobi will have ended, it would be off to the Kenyan coast for us. This was to help organise and run the AfriPlantSci Summer School at Pwani University – a training workshop teaching early-career scientists and PhD students from Africa all about cutting-edge plant and agriculture science. Arrangements for the coast were made, we would be heading over on the relatively new ‘SGR’ train.

After another busy week, it was time to see more of what Nairobi had to offer on the weekend.

We jumped on one of the matatu buses and headed towards the National Museum of Kenya. We were hoping to learn more about Kenya itself in the museum but unfortunately, to our surprise, it was closed for renovation. We weren’t going to make this a wasted trip however; we took the time to walk and enjoy the adjacent botanical gardens. Hans and I both really enjoyed this surprise walk through the flora and nature. Not only did it provide a good bit of shade from the strong Nairobi sun, but it was also nice to experience a bit of tranquillity in the busy city.

Following this, we took a leisurely stroll through the city streets to the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC). Here we went to see the city from the top. You can pay a small entrance fee to travel to the helipad at the top of the KICC tower where you are gifted with incredible 360 degrees panoramic views of the city.  

First however, we stopped off at City Market. A re-purposed aircraft hanger that is now a market that sells a wide variety of things. We unfortunately went in the wrong entrance and ended up in the meat market section. Hans is a vegetarian and so this probably wasn’t the best way to head in!

The main hanger hall was quite impressive once we were through. Small vendors and stalls sat underneath a tall roof where they were selling their wares.

Once we left City Market and arrived at KICC, we paid our entrance fee, signed in and went through a security check. From here, I was expecting a long climb up the stairs but thankfully they had a lift that took us right up to the top in a few seconds. We walked out to the lower level, then promptly climbed a small staircase to the upper helipad level. The view was stunning. You could feel the life of the city. People were working and exploring down below with Nairobi national park and Karura forest in the distance. New skyscrapers and construction projects were being built in between. It was really something, you could see the city growing before your eyes.

The KICC helipad would be one of my strongest recommendations for newcomers into the city of Nairobi, I absolutely loved it. I could have spent all day up there.

After pulling ourselves away from the incredible scenic views, we headed to a restaurant called CJs for dinner. I had a craving for a good hamburger and CJs didn’t disappoint. This was washed down with a ‘blue lagoon’ lemonade, a bright blue freshly-made lemonade that I quite happily could have drunk several litres of. Following our feast, it was on to tonight’s entertainment. We headed to a classical music concert where one of our friends was playing. Over the course of my time in Nairobi, we certainly hadn’t been deprived of live music, all of which was excellent.

On Sunday, we embarked on a mutatu bus extravaganza to get to Oloolua forest. We took three different matatus to the forest, but we made it all in one piece. Once we had arrived, we were greeted with acres of forest to explore…and curious monkeys! We weaved in and out of trees, up and down hillsides, back and forth along trails. It was surprising to see so many different environment types and habitats in such a relatively small area in relation to the size of Kenya. This helps to explain the wide diversity of flora and fauna which we were lucky enough to see in the forest.

To reward ourselves after a day of busy adventuring, we visited Stedmak, a floating restaurant located in the neighbourhood of Karen. We were served yet more tasty food complete with plenty of chapati. A perfect end to the week I’d say.

Danny Ward

[“This work was supported by the Norwich Research Park Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP), by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom (BBSRC) through the BBSRC-STARS grant with reference BB/R020272/1 awarded for the ABCF Bioinformatics Community of Practice, and by the BecA-ILRI Hub through the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) program. The ABCF program is funded by the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) through the BecA-CSIRO partnership; the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA); the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF); the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and; the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)”

Key personnel/contributors linked to this project:

BecA-ILRI hub (Nairobi) – Dr. Jean-Baka Domelevo Entfellner ¦ Dr. Peter Emmrich ¦ Dr. Wellington Ekaya

John Innes Centre/UEA – JIC Graduate School Office ¦ UEA Internships and Placements team ¦ Hans Pfalzgraf ¦ Danny Ward    

We would like to extend our gratitude to all those listed, along with all others, who contributed and supported towards this project in various capacities – this wouldn’t have been possible without your help]

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