In the native Malawian language of Chichewa, part of the Bantu language family widely spoken in south-central Africa, Tsogolo La Thanzi means Healthy Futures. We got an email from a researcher in the town of Balaka that read as follows:
"This is a research project that involves following young people over a period of 3 years and interviewing them a few times a year about their sexual behavior, plans for marriage & childbearing, and their concerns about HIV. It's a pretty massive undertaking. We've set up a research center and are asking young women (ages 15-24) to come in for their interviews. Some of them will get tested for HIV. And we're also asking them to send the men they have romantic relationships with to the center so we can learn about couples - instead of just women. Basically, we want to know how worries about HIV are shaping the decisions people make when they want to start having children - when they aren't going to be abstinent or be using condoms. You can probably guess where this is going. We need a logo.
The project is called Tsogolo La Thanzi - Chichewa for "Healthy Futures." We're using TLT as an abbreviation.
We want something that we can paint on the side of the building of the research center - to print on appointment cards and letterhead. And slap up on our website. Something basic. Something inviting. We don't want it to conjure up worries about AIDS. Or any family-planning horror stories (pregnant teens dropping out of school). We want people to come into the research center and sit with our interviewers for an hour or 2 answering questions about the most intimate aspects of their lives. Then come back 3 months later for follow-up interviews. The whole thing needs to be positive, enjoyable, & inviting to make sure the women (and ther partners) continue to participate."
Our take on it? Africa has always been big on masks, in almost every segment of the many cultures that dominate the continent. Of course Malawi is no exception. Here the masks are comprised of the very letterforms for the organization - TLT, - with the mouth a bonus "C" for both Centre and for the Chichewa language, to make this as region-specific as possible. On top of that, the national flag of Malawi is red, green and black. To keep costs low we went with just red and green, which combine to make brown - the color of the local folks. At a glance the brown looks to be black, and all concerned understand.
Our client's reaction? "I love, love, love it. I also met with the other staff of the project and they loved it as well. Consensus was 'this is totally crazy - and in a good way!'." That works for us. We love, love. love projects like this and the people that make them happen. Can't wait to see how they have painted it on signs and walls.