In our earlier blog we highlighted our recent work on the international stage. In part two of our global reflections, we delve into the archives of the 1990s when we were taking part in trade trips to main land Europe, China and further afield.
Being part of a trade delegation was always interesting, not least you were often afforded great access to areas off limits to normal tourists. But it is the more challenging projects which stay in the memory.
There are none more so that when we worked for an American minerals corporation in 1992 who wanted a communication project delivered to communities in Sierra Leonne. Hugely controversial, villagers were being resettled as large swathes of the bush were being flooded to dredge rutile, more commonly known as titanium ore. Our project lasted two years and involved working with the World Health Organisation, the UN and other NGOs.
Distributing information by air
The deliverables included distributing newsletters and information sheets by airdrop into remote areas and producing a brochure for the minerals corporation for presentation to the International Monetary Fund to secure funding. We worked on location for a month on a photo shoot and learned about the benefits mining brought to the indigenous population – not simply in monetary terms but in boosting standards in education and health.
For instance, the life expectancy of an adult male near the mine was 63 (low by western standards I admit) but in Freetown, the capital, some 600 miles away, men were dying on average in their early forties. The difference in large part was more nutritious food and better immunisation against disease.
Deep into the bush
The job was not without its amusing aspects. I remember travelling for three hours by Land Rover to meet a Paramount Chief, the equivalent of a regional mayor in the UK, who lived deep in the bush. There he was in his formal regalia, sitting on his verandah enjoying a cup of tea listening to an England v Australia Test Match courtesy of the BBC World Service. He regaled us with a full report and update on the scores. The contrast couldn’t have been greater and was not lost on this friendly, wise old gentleman.
Today I have no doubt he’d have a Facebook page and thousands of followers on Twitter.
Into the EU we go
In the late 1990s we won a contract from the European Commission to deliver an anti-corruption public information campaign in Latvia aimed at paving the way for the Baltic State to join the EU. Over a three-year period this entailed me spending one week in four in the capital Riga as the communications unit delivered hard hitting campaigns across all mediums including Sunday evening peak time infomercials on national television.
It was a fascinating insight into the austere world of the Eastern Bloc and how rules and customs we inevitably took for granted in the west, were looked upon with grave suspicion. It wasn’t without its scary moments either.
Caught in the crossfire
Within four weeks of my arrival on a winters day at my office in the Old Quarter the normal hubbub of the city was pierced by the mechanical buzz of distant machine gun fire as a group of Bolsheviks, terrorists in the Baltic States, commandeered the 123m high spire of St Peters Church. A shoot out and capture by the military followed. It took some days for my nerves to settle but then it was back to the day job. The anti-corruption campaign was again hugely controversial as it set to discredit years of bribery and corruption but nevertheless it played its part Latvia’s accession to the European Union, much to Russia’s annoyance, and subsequent protection from NATO.
Today, almost 20 years later, Latvia’s enthusiasm for the EU remains undimmed as it represents a passport to prosperity and freedom. It strikes me as ironic then, that here in the UK, the Brexiteers use almost the opposite argument to justify us going alone. As ever in life, things are often a case of perspective.