Mohammed Hammie is not your typical reporter. In 2019, the young Tanzanian swapped from being a regular journalist to media for community empowerment. He has since specialised in telling stories about the human right to access clean drinking water, particularly in rural areas. In an interview with the EAST site’s Chrispin Mwakideu during the EAST storytelling festival, he opened up on his journey and future plans, in this inspiring story.
What led you to focus on reporting stories about the right to clean water and sanitation?
Having worked for ten years as a journalist, I found there was a lack of reporting on water and sanitation issues, especially for the rural community. I saw it as a forgotten community, and it was only through amplifying their voices that I could help them. So I started travelling to rural areas to identify those challenges and then produce radio programs that community radios broadcasted in Tanzania.
When did you begin working as a community empowerment journalist?
I did not realise the power of journalism until I transformed from a regular journalist to a reporter dedicated to community development and transformational change.
My movement began in 2019 after establishing my radio program Sauti Yangu, which means ‘My Voice’ in Swahili. https://www.endwaterpoverty.org/blog/airing-concerns-how-radio-raises-community-voices-tanzania.
Sauti Yangu is a 30 minute unique and powerful show that aims to engage citizens, amplify their voices and pressure the government to resolve the water crisis in rural areas. To produce the programs that reflect people’s experience, I meet community members who often have to travel long distances to fetch water from wells, ponds, or springs. In addition, I conduct interviews with them to explore the reality of their lives.
For balance, I talk to village elders (often the village chairperson or village executive officer) to understand what actions are currently being taken at the village level to resolve the water crisis and what they will do to prevent a future problem.
What impact has your radio show achieved at the community and national level?
Since Sauti Yangu started in 2019, I have successfully aired two programs on the community radio stations, Planet FM in the Morogoro region and Voice of Africa in the Tanga region. Both programs made an impact after the government initiated major water projects to solve citizens’ water problems.
My radio program produced at Mswaha village led the Tanzania government to pledge $500 million to address the rural water crisis after airing villagers’ concerns. https://www.endwaterpoverty.org/tanzania-government-pledges-500-million-to-address-rural-water-crisis-media-for-community-empowerment.
Another radio program produced at Lukobe village led the government of Tanzania to initiate a major water project at Mkundi. The project has cost the Tanzanian government 620 million Tanzanian shillings and will benefit 45,000 households. Other villages that benefited from the project are Mkundi, Mguru wa Ndege, Lukobe, Makunganya, and Kihonda Kaskazini. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puMNgiCAiLo&t=13s.
In 2020 I joined forces with End Water Poverty (EWP), a global civil society coalition, campaigning to end the water and sanitation crisis through their #ClaimYourWaterRights campaign. This global mobilisation campaign aims to spur people to claim their human rights to safe water and sanitation.
Can you give a practical example of how your show changed a community?
Seven months after airing a radio show at Kikwawila village in Ifakara, Tanzania, the local government managed to drill water for their citizens. The village chairperson said they had successfully dug a well after allocating village government funds, following a discussion at the village assembly. Three days after the radio show aired, he said that village residents started bothering him by asking when the local government would dig a well. They realised that water is their human right after listening to the radio broadcast. The program aired on Pambazuko FM, Morogoro. https://www.endwaterpoverty.org/realising/-rural-community-water-rights-Tanzania
What are some of the challenging experiences you have encountered in your work?
The biggest challenge in my work is reaching the people who face water challenges. In urban areas, one can buy bottled water, but people depend on water from wells in rural areas. To reach these people, I have to get to where they live, so I have to travel on rough roads, pass through forests, and ride motorcycles from one village to another as there is no reliable transport there.
Another challenge is the authorities doubting the authenticity of the water story I produce from the people living in the villages. The model of my radio program is to show the water challenges. I believe that the solution to the water challenge is for citizens to get water and not receive their leaders’ promises.
What do people think of your journalism specialisation?
The important thing is not just acquiring journalism skills but also how you use the skills and how the skills help your community.
I get a lot of compliments for the way I use my profession to help the community. People see me as a hero. They see me as a bridge to pass their voices to their leaders.
I am very grateful to the Tanzanian government for being responsive. When I go to every village and introduce myself, I am well received. The Village Chairman and the Village Executive Officers are happy to take me to areas with water challenges. They introduce me to their citizens for a discussion and then find a sustainable solution.
Also, the various organisations helping the community get water give me support in making my work successful. There is the cost of travelling to rural areas, staying there for more than a week, producing programs and also the cost of airing such programs on community radios. Alone I could not do it.
What are your future plans?
I want to establish a radio station and call it Water FM. The station will be feature stories about water challenges, water success, the use of water, impacts from wastewater use, water resources management, water policy, government and UN strategies on water, global goals on water, economic and social development from water, climate change and the environment.
Also, this year, 2021, I will release my book called Mandiga’s well. An educational and inspirational story that gives women the knowledge and confidence to claim their rights on water.
My knowledge and experiences on water provided me with a need to write a book on water challenges in Tanzania so that women and citizens can know their water rights.
My journey has just started! I aim to reach all of Tanzania. Every region, every district, every ward, and every village.
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