An Interview with MoJo Velo: Mobile Journalists on a Green Mission
By Chrissy Beluk
Livingstone was just a small stop within a much larger adventure for three participants at this year’s Festival of Action.
Russell Galt, Hamish Galt and Steven Bland are 3 mobile journalists by the name of MoJo Velo and when they pulled into the Greenpop camp they had already been travelling for 3 months as part of their journey from Cape Town to Addis Ababa. They had been connecting with communities, and using smart phones to cover stories of sustainability. Oh, and we should probably mention they’d been and are going to be cycling the entire 15,000kms. Yeah, talk about sustainable road trip goals. Before they left Livingstone to continue their journey, Zoe (ZG) and myself (CB) sat down with Hamish (HG) and Russell (RG) (who happen to be brothers!) to learn more about their insanely epic project.
Steven, Russell & Hamish
Photograph by Lee-Ann Olwage
RG: My name is Russell Galt, I’m 32 years old, and I’ve been working for 8 years in the conservation sector.
HG: I’m Hamish Galt, I’m 19 years old. I’ve just left school, I’m on a gap year and I’m starting university in September. There is also Steven; Steven Bland is 29 or 30? He’s been working in the environmental sector for 5 years and we’re MoJo Velo.
ZG: So, how did your journey begin?
RG: Steven and I quit our jobs, both of us were a little frustrated with the slow pace in which change is affected in governments and we were working primarily with governments. So we thought, let’s try something different and let’s try to get ourselves inspired again. Sometimes when you’re going to an office from 9 to 5 everyday you can loose touch with the cause that you’re meant to be working for. I think it’s important to reconnect with that cause of sustainability and to do so we figured we could take our bicycles and cycle across Africa and document the positive and inspiring stories we find along the way. And there are many. In our previous jobs we had to travel a bit around Africa, and it always struck us that the continent is booming with human ingenuity. You see it on the streets, in the second economy (or Africa’s informal economy) and it’s amazing how resourceful ordinary people are to meet their daily needs. There is a lot we can learn as relatively privileged Westerners in how we can change our lives to be more sustainable based on how Africans are doing it. We don’t want to romanticise poverty, but we understand the average African has a much smaller ecological footprint per capita than Westerns do. That’s not to say there is something glamorous about poverty or we should aspire to be poor, but we should aspire to waste little and repair damaged goods and products instead of throwing them away.
HG: Reassessing our misconceptions on Africa. There is a lot we can learn.
“Sometimes when you’re going to an office from 9 to 5 everyday you can loose touch with the cause that you’re meant to be working for.”
ZG: Amazing. What are some of the projects you have encountered so far?
RG: The way we organised this trip was by sending out a handful of emails in search of inspiring stories. Many we already knew about, like Greenpop, but there are many others we were alerted to.
HG: So far we’ve gone through Namibia and we’ve been filming these really inspiring young entrepreneurs who are repurposing waste, up-cycling. We’ve also been to look at this project PAY that looks at the power of bicycles, and how they’re a sustainable means of transport. We totally believe in the power of bicycles.
RG: Yes, this particular project, PAY, it’s called Physically Active Youth and it’s based in Namibia and they cycling not just because bicycles increase social mobility but also because it keeps kids focused. There were some children who went through that scheme and went on to win races. I think there was one lady who was going to the Commonwealth Games. There is a lot happening and too many stories for us to capture. Some stories we’ve focused on are issue-based like water scarcity in Namibia. And then there are other films we are making which are profiles, untold stories of unsung heroes. What motivates them? Was there a seminal moment in their past that urged them to get involved in an environmental cause? Or what message would they have for the youth of today? These are the kinds of questions we seek to answer by profiling particular people.
CB: Wonderful. Would you like to talk a bit more about mobile journalism?
RG: Yes! Let’s talk about mobile journalism! Our project is MoJo Velo. Velo, is French for bicycle and MoJo is mobile + journalism – nothing to do with sex appeal. [Debatable. Both Hamish and Russell were rockin’ some pretty hunky tight tops and their biker leggings may or may not have had mesh slits… They totally did.] Mobile Journalism, let’s say it’s a worldwide movement, where ordinary citizens with a smartphone with a decent camera can shoot, edit and produce their own short films. We figure YouTube is now the second most popular search engine in the world, Africa is the mobile continent, and we can all be a part of this movement which is democratising filmmaking and democratising journalism. There is enormous power in the hands of ordinary people to tell stories that have been often overlooked. We’ve gotten fed up when we’ve heard continuously negative stories about Africa. And even planning for this trip, many of our closest friends discouraged us from embarking on it. They suggested we were mad and that we would get killed in various forms. I think one of our aims is to challenge the negative preconceptions many Westerners have about Africa and to celebrate and promote the positive and beautiful stories, because there is so much going on on this continent that we can learn from and should celebrate.
CB: How has the Greenpop Festival fit into your project? Have there been any takeaways or highlights from being here this week?
HG: I think this was a really valuable time, primarily personally but also for the project. I think it’s given us a little bit of a break but also to just be in a mishmash of the most interesting, switched on, environmentally conscious, supportive people. We’ve been filming David Nikisi saying these really passionate poems out by the Baobab, and speaking to Alex who is collaborating with local musicians making these conservation songs. I love the idea of like-minded people coming together and achieving a lot. I think Greenpop really does that well. One of my highlights was going to the community food forest and arriving and just seeing barren grass but by the time we left, there were 30 trees, an amazing water drainage system and all these great things. It’s been good.
RG: One thing I think Greenpop does exceptionally well, and I don’t know any other organization that does it so well, is make conservation fun.
ZG: It’s in the name; making greening popular, Greenpop!
HG & RG: * Minds Blown *
RG: I’ve worked in a number of different environmental organizations, and it can be dreary and depressing and people switch off when they’re bombarded with negativity. When you come to Greenpop, you’re surrounded by happy and inclusive people who are willing to learn, willing to listen, and willing to share. Now that is a very very powerful space to affect change. And I think Greenpop is communicating itself in a really savvy way. I love the positive messages which I think are much more impactful than the doom and gloom scare stories we hear. Yes, we have an extinction crisis. Yes, climate change is rearing it’s ugly head. But let’s not shake with fear under our blankets, let’s go out there and do something and come together and have fun in the process. It’s the defining challenge of our time.
ZG: Absolutely! Is there anything else you’d like to add about your trip or your journey from here on?
HG: It’s from Cape Town, South Africa to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I’m not joining the whole way but the trip will cover around 15,000km and go through 13 different countries.
RG: We’re very keen to plant the seed and see what grows. We will cycle to Addis Ababa, Hamish is actually going to University but Steven and I will definitely go to Addis, and we hope MoJo Velo takes a new form. I’d love to cycle all the way to Scotland and I probably will continue making short films under the banner of MoJo Velo. Perhaps at the end of our trip, we might be acquainted to the concept of mobile journalism, and perhaps teach others. All these Africans who have smart phones. We pass through sometimes the most rural areas where there isn’t even running water but people have fancy smart phones. To train those people to shoot, edit and produce their own stories, I think that could be a great next chapter of MoJo Velo. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with BEN, Bicycle Empowerment Network, but they take second hand European bicycles and they train people in Africa to become bike mechanics and then to sell those bicycles, and bicycles change lives as we discussed earlier. We were thinking, maybe we can take second hand smart phones from Europe and somehow train Africans to shoot edit and produce films on important stories. Our preference is of course sustainability but also perhaps other issues as well. If they cycled while doing it, they could call themselves MoJo Velo! Gosh we are rambling…
“Yes, we have an extinction crisis. Yes, climate change is rearing it’s ugly head. But let’s not shake with fear under our blankets, let’s go out there and do something and come together and have fun in the process.”
CB: Do you have one pro tip for someone who is going on a cycling journey like this?
HG: The bicycling touring world is MASSIVE. There are people we meet who have been doing this for three years and we’ve been going for three months.
RG: I think a Pro Tip would be to not get too bogged down in the planning, but get out there and learn by doing. You can find spare parts along the way. You learn by fixing your own bikes in times of necessity, not by going on mechanics courses. I think you learn much more efficiently just by doing it.
ZG: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
HG: For me, being direct and not trying to hide your real feelings. My whole life I’ve tried pretending not to have a stance when people wanted an opinion, saying, “I’m easy either way.” But, you always have a slight tendency to one side and it’s been really important for us, with just simple things, to say how you feel about them. As a team we have to be working together. If one of us is despondent, as I’ve been many times, it really affects the dynamics. It’s important we’re all on the same page and saying how we feel, being direct and not bottling up frustration and then letting it out…
RG: … in spectacular style, wailing at the side of the road… If I may just add a lesson, it’s a total cliché, but it’s you get what you give. If you go to a place with a negative mindset, as we have done, people treat you with hostility. If you go with a very open positive mind into certain villages, people are perceptive to that and are far more welcoming and warm. I’m not sure if there is some sixth sense that I’m not aware of. If we are fearful or uncomfortable, thinking ‘oh maybe they’re going to rob us’, they will act differently. But if we are totally relaxed and we are speaking to them with genuine interest and listening intently they behave very differently. And I think that applies to everything. You get what you give.
Follow MoJo Velo as they continue cycling up to Ethiopia by checking out their adventure on YouTube!
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