4. Breaking It Down

Day : Tuesday, November 11, 2014


For the past few weeks, we have been working with the 12 vendors of the month from the Big Issue. From our interactions with them, we concluded that it would be beneficial to work with a smaller group. This group would help us explain the project to the larger group, help us come up with ideas of how to best implement the project, and essentially become our set of co-researchers. We chose this smaller group based on their expressed interest in the project, and our ability to communicate with them. The three vendors we chose for this group are Xolani, Themba, and Lavista. All three vendors speak English well. Xolani is very enthusiastic about our project and very vocal. He will be an excellent asset to our team, as we will be able to communicate well to others. Themba has also shown significant interest in the project. He is a lot less vocal than Xolani, but he absolutely loves the video and photo documentation of the project and has become quite good with a video camera. He understands the idea of interviewing and talking to people, and we think he will be able to pass that along to other vendors. Lavista is young and he can help engage the younger vendors in this project. Today, we wanted to interact with these three vendors and start working closely with them to advance the project.

Cast of Characters

  • Nicky – Big Issue Social Worker
  • Themba – Big Issue vendor & Co-researcher
  • Xolani – Big Issue vendor & Co-researcher
  • Lavista – Big Issue vendor & Co-researcher
  • Chelsea Clark-James – American volunteer with background in street papers, film, and production


The Big Issue South Africa Offices


Today was a very exciting day for the team. It was our first meeting with our co-researcher group. Rather than just providing content for the Big Issue as we had been doing, we wanted to start a more vendor run program in which content is generated by the vendors. We wanted to gain input from these three vendors as well as have them pilot this program. To get started, we wanted to have some sort of tangible “product” to work on. Because the Big Issue’s website platform is not up and running, it has been difficult to gain input from the vendors. Trying to brainstorm ideas for a theoretical online platform with the vendors has been difficult. The language barrier and the lack of technical knowledge increased the difficulties. An idea we had was to create a temporary blog where the vendors would have personal pages with short biographies, and create blogs posts. The blog posts draw a parallel to the weekly vendor updates that the Big Issue hopes to implement for their online platform.



Ari Introduces Xolani to the Blog

We were very excited to have the opportunity to start working on this blog. Xolani, as usual, was the first to show up for our meeting. He was excited as always and dove into creating his page. Lavista and Themba had not shown up yet, so because Xolani was already there, we decided to get started with him. Ari sat down to work with Xolani one-on-one. They brainstormed together what his biography page should say. As Xolani provided input, Ari typed it and translated it into a short paragraph. Xolani read the finished product and suggested some revisions. Once he was happy with his page, we moved on to his “weekly update” blog post. We asked for input of how he wanted to do this, either through text or through an audio recording. He was extremely excited about being able to record something. We decided to try photovoice, because Xolani brought in a picture of himself. He spoke passionately about his dreams for about 7 minutes. We played it back for him and it was gratifying to see the excitement on his face as he listened to his own words. We asked him if he seemed interested in adding another post, and he was.


Nicky “Cracks Down” and encourages Lavista to continue to learn to type

Just as Xolani was finishing up his photovoice blog and leaving, Lavista joined the meeting. We went through the same process with him as we did with Xolani. Lavista worked with Gianna to create his profile page. He was extra excited to take the computer and read what was written very often. He loved reading the content, in fact, we even encouraged him to try and type his thoughts by himself. Nicky, the social worker, had been sitting in the meeting at the time and was extremely enthusiastic about the idea of Lavista typing. Nicky “cracked down” as Lavista tried to resist. She came over to him and pushed his chair closer to the computer. He sat down for 15 minutes and typed the following paragraph. Words in brackets were added for clarification, but no other revisions were made:

My name is Lavista. My favorite soccr team Realmadrid [Real Madrid] and Orlando pirates.  Iwas born in 1985 on 30 of may in capetown. My dream is Iwant to be a tour Guide. [I’d like] thepeople support to by [buy] my magazine because iwant to change my life and im steel [still] young but the bigissue is very goodthing bicouse [because] is helping me to survive.    


Lavista Practices Typing with Gianna

He seemed very happy with his work and we hope he will want to continue learning to type. Afterwards, he created a PhotoVoice piece. He spoke about his friend who encouraged him to join the Big Issue. He wanted to include his name in the PhotoVoice piece because he is excited to share the blog with his friend to show him how much he has helped him in this process. Just as Lavista was finishing up, Themba walked in. Themba had an appointment at the hospital, which was why he was late. He will be going every day for the next few months, which is something we will be sensitive to as we continue to plan meetings for the next few weeks. Themba worked closely with Nadjia to create his profile page and his PhotoVoice piece.

Today was a very successful meeting and we were excited to continue working with this co-researcher group.


Nadjia and Themba Co-Write Themba’s Profile


Ari: During this meeting I worked with Xolani to get his profile up on the page. He was the first to come to the meeting and was eager to start working. We refined his page and got all his dreams out for the world to see. It was really nice to work with him and get his thoughts out on the page. After we wrote his brief biography on his page I helped him set up an audio recording and had him talk about his past week and what he wants out of the website. I told him to talk for 1-2 min and he ended up talking for 6 min. That was fine, it was good to have him be able to share his thoughts with the blog and with us. After that we put it up online and had him begin to brainstorm some future posts. Then with nothing more to really add to the page at the given time Xolani was told he could leave if he wanted. He thanked up for helping him and for doing the website for him. He wanted us to all know that he was so grateful that we were trying to improve the vendors lives. It was really touching and helped me to understand exactly what we were doing with the vendors. After I worked with Xolani I helped to get the other vendors started but didn’t work directly with them so that other members of the group could have turns. We all interacted with the vendors but there was a main helper who was bouncing ideas with them and working with them. Gianna came up with a great plan and had Lavista type his own page and it was remarkable the improvement he made from the first minute to when he was completed. In the future I plan to use this with the other vendors so that it becomes theirs.

Gianna: I think we made great progress today! It was awesome that we got to work closely with a smaller group of vendors on a tangible product. I think that this will be an excellent way to pilot the website platform while giving the vendors the skills to do so. I was a little bit frustrated that the vendors were not all there together, because I think it would have been more impactful. I understand now, however, why this is difficult especially with Themba going to the hospital every morning. I think that we definitely made the best of this situation and it ended up going well. I see this blog being beneficial because it is so similar to what the Big Issue wants to do that once the official platform is up, the learning curve for the vendor mentor group will not be as big. They will be able to help provide the content and help other vendors understand what is happening. I loved working with Lavista. He continues to be resistant, but I think once he warms up to the activity he ends up having fun. He is young, so I am not surprised his attention span is not as long as Xolani or Themba’s. I hope he continues with us because he will be able to relate with the young vendors. He also learns quickly which helps the process along. I see a lot more input from this group the next time we meet and I see us being able to build this blog together rather than us coming in and telling them what to write. Now that they see what we are proposing, I think they are more excited to provide their input.

Jordon: Today was the first day we were meeting with our small vendor mentor group to work on the makeshift blog idea. I was extremely excited going into this meeting because I knew the group of vendors that we would be working with were going to be extremely enthusiastic. Once again, our scheduling and desire to have them work together was thwarted by the vendors showing up at different times once again. Luckily we learned that Themba must go to the hospital every day for a TB treatment and therefore can’t make mornings. That being said, we managed to meet individually with Xolani, Lavista, and Themba and get them each to record a “weekly update” on the computer and type up their short bio that can ultimately be used for the website. The learning that we got to see today was awe-inspiring. Although Lavista, up until now has been only somewhat motivated, we allowed him to type something for his biography which we believe may have been his first time typing. Watching him slowly learning, step by step, how to use a keyboard was really amazing and it really helped add context to what we’re doing here. I think that after today, we helped each of these vendors understand even further what we hope to do in the coming weeks and what The Big Issue hopes to do in the future. Next week will only be better!

Nadjia: Going into this meeting I was really comfortable because we would be working with a small group of vendors that we have gotten really close with. I was ready to get them excited about this blog idea and teach them about being mentors for the program. Xolani came in right on time and he was really excited to see us. Unfortunately he was the only one who was on time so Ari started working with him. I decided to take out the cameras and start documenting what was happening. Lavista came about an hour later and worked with Gianna. Then Themba came in around 12, which was the end time of the meeting, but I worked with him. We found out from Nicky though that Themba has TB and has to go to the hospital every morning. It was crazy that he had never mentioned this to us, because we would have considered this more when making meeting times. Working with Themba was a bit challenging this day because he was not his usual energetic self. He did not want to add much to the blog because he had been interviewed the day before so he said that we could just use that information. I worked with him on explaining that this blog would be his words only and everything he wanted to say and that made him talk a bit more. He then did a voice recording and it was interesting to learn about his son that is in grade 12 and will be going to the bush once he is done with that. Themba was really proud of that and it was a great moment. We let him listen back to it to see if there was anything he wanted to change and he smiled wide when he heard his voice. It was a great thing to see and it showed me that when people take a little time to show interest in someone they really do open up. I believe that this small group will work out well and be extremely beneficial for both us, The Big Issue, and the vendors themselves.

Continue to Scene 5: Becoming a Family