Using animated storytelling for societal change

Padili James, script writer at Tai Tanzania, explains the concept of the animation ‘Chapa Korona’ to students at Mongola Secondary School in Morogoro. PHOTO | COURTESY.

What you need to know:

  • As government, Institutions and individuals keep devising new public information tools, two colleagues -Ian Tarimo and Gwamaka Mwabuka have been influencing change in society through animated storytelling

Storytelling is one of the ways in which people can motivate, change and inspire societies, as stories convey cultures and values. Also, they are a true reflection of everything happening in society.

This is one of the reasons that prompted Ian Tarimo and Gwamaka Mwabuka to establish “Tai Tanzania,” a non-governmental organisation spearheading impactful storytelling.

Before coming up with Tai Tanzania, the two colleagues were more focused on making positive change in society even though they were yet to figure out the best strategy to do so.

“In 2009, when we were both pursuing degrees at The Institute of Finance Management in Dar es Salaam - where Ian was studying Information Technology and I, Computer Science, - we wanted to do something outside our lines of study. We wanted to do something related to leadership and community work,” says Gwamaka.

Getting rejected

They sent applications to different organisations involved in community work that brings change in particular societies. But none of the organisations they sent applications to accepted them.

“We were not given the opportunity to volunteer or work as interns because we were studying technology-related faculties which made us think out of the box,” Gwamaka recalls.

Later on, both Ian and Gwamaka joined AIESEC, a global platform for youth willing to explore leadership potentials. This gave them a chance to see the community differently in the absence of science and technology.

The idea to start an organisation came up after Gwamaka and Ian graduated in 2011. Their experience with the global platform gave them the experience and inspiration to start something impactful through establishment of social projects.

Gwamaka says after graduating, they both believed they could make an impact by sharing their knowledge about soft and leadership skills by establishing an organisation whose wheels would be driven by young people to bring change to Tanzanian societies.

A year later - in 2012 - Tai Tanzania was officially launched, and the team of two grew by adding 12 more people to make a team of 14. Their first project, Mimi (Mikono Ming’avu) explored the importance of washing hands.

This involved different pre, primary and secondary schools in Dar es Salaam. The project was executed in 2014 in schools in Kijichi, Tandale and Manzese areas.

“We went from one school to another for three months teaching students how to properly wash their hands. We embarked on the project after we came across a research by Unicef that showed that 45 percent of diseases affecting children globally resulted from improper and poor handwashing. We wanted to kick off with a simple project, whose resources were easily accessible and that would still bear fruit at the end of the day,” recalls Ian.”

Ian and Gwamaka, alongside with their team, afterward sought feedback from the schoos that took part in their first project. Basing on the responses from the schools, the project was a big success. Children adopted the handwashing habit.

The first project’s success led to more projects surrounding the welfare of children in primary and secondary schools. The projects centred around personal hygiene. In the process of ideation of the projects that were societal related, the partners met one woman, Lorna Fernandes, who challenged them or rather opened their eyes to one of the most disturbing problems in the society.

Back to the drawing board

“She advised us to include menstrual hygiene management in our projects, saying it would test our strength of our desire to take part in community work due to the intensity of the problem. It was due to that impressive challenge that we started sharing information concerning menstrual hygiene as well as giving out sanitary pads to students,” shares Ian.

He further says that, “In 2015, this project grew to the extent that organisations and individuals reached out to assist in the collection of sanitary pads. One day we received a phone call from a pharmaceutical organisation that gave us about 12,000 sanitary pads, which were taken directly to the school that we were working with at the time. It was during feedback time that we realised that all the sanitary pads donated had exactly one month to expiry date.”

The team started facing other challenges that made them take a step back to rethink their core goals. They started receiving requests from different schools for assistance. Some wanted to be helped with construction of toilets, others were in need of water access, and some schools requested Tai to build them kitchens. Some teachers went as far as demanding payment for their participation in the projects conducted at the schools.

“After a lot of thinking, we understood that only a different approach would assist in achieving our core goal of raising people’s awareness of important issues in society as well as influencing society to make informed choices. It was at this moment that the idea to tell stories through animations came up. The rest is history,” Ian pontificates.

Tai started creating animations that carried the messages that they wanted to communicate to the society in its totality. These animations are end goals of field work done prior to their creations.

The organisation has so far created about 17 animations, whose stories have been expanded to comics and radio plays so as to simplify the dissemination of the messages carried in the particular animations.

“Since we took a u-turn from conducting projects to a blend of animations and projects in 2017, we have produced 17 animations that address different issues in the society including Malaria, early marriage, corona pandemic, menstrual hygiene management and disability,” explains Ian.

All the messages communicated in the animations are usually researched upon before creating the animation because as Ian puts it; “We want to avoid making up stories but instead, we reflect on the actual problems in the society,” Ian says.

Animations made by Tai target young people like secondary school students because according to Ian and Gwamaka, these are at the age where it is easy to grasp messages and understand different issues even through animations. They can also practice the particular messages into their adulthood, making the society even better.

They animations are usually uploaded on Youtube and some are showcased in schools alongside comics. The radio play versions of these animations are usually created in longer forms to assist listeners to visually see the animations.

“As much as animations created are entertaining, it is encouraging to see how informative they are because there has even been a change in the feedback from the schools where we show the animations as well as from the audience in general.

Storytelling surely influences change,” Gwamaka concludes.