Saturday, January 27, 2024

My University of the World, a memoir by Neill McKee


Neill McKee takes us on an entertaining journey through the developing world from 1970 to 2012. The story starts when he becomes a “one-man film crew,” documenting the lives of Canadian CUSO volunteers working in Asia and Africa as teachers, medical doctors, nurses, engineers, agriculturalists, foresters, and a biologist. He learns the craft of filmmaking and meets and marries Elizabeth “on the hoof.” The story is enlivened throughout by their challenges and adventures together, and Elizabeth’s growing artistic talent and creations. Throughout the short chapters and in a brief epilogue, McKee reflects on the long-term impact of the projects he documented and of his media creations. His memoir is filled with compelling dialog, humorous and poignant incidents, thoughts on world development, vivid descriptions of people and places he visited, and many images, all of which bring readers into his “University of the World.”

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My University of the World


This memoir takes the reader on a many-faceted ride through my long career. In the opening chapter in 1970, in India, the reader joins me as a young cinematographer, learning my new craft “on the hoof.” I traveled alone on a shoestring budget on rickety old trains and buses while documenting the lives of Canadian volunteers. That job lasted two years and, to boot, I married Elizabeth, an American woman I met in Japan, in a humorous ceremony in Lusaka, Zambia, after our honeymoon at Victoria Falls. The adventures continued when we settled down in Ottawa, Canada, to have children. There, I was hired by the International Development Research Centre to roam the developing world and make about 30 films on their many projects in education, rural development, agriculture, post-harvest technology, fisheries and aquaculture, health care, water and sanitation—the list goes on. Some of my creations won awards.


After 15 years of traveling, editing, and producing, I was granted a sabbatical to do a Master of Science in Communication at Florida State University (FSU). These new credentials led me and my family to Bangladesh, in 1990, where I became the leader of a communication team for UNICEF—the United Nations Children’s Fund. (Lucky for me, Elizabeth is an artist with a portable career, and her growing talent is featured in my memoir.) In Bangladesh, I applied all I had learned in my earlier years and at FSU. The highlight of the job came when I forged a regional team of researchers, artists, and program officers to create an entertaining TV/video and comic book series on Meena, an empowered animated girl cartoon figure, who cleverly negotiates with her peers, family, and community for gender equality in education, health care, and many other child rights. By then, I knew that stories, rather than simple messages, would be discussed in families and communities—a better chance to change behavior and social norms.


The success in Bangladesh led me to become the regional communication officer for UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa, where I led the agency’s early attempts to contain the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic and launched Sara, the adolescent girl—entertaining animated film and comic book stories of young girls fighting for their rights. In 2001, I joined Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore, USA, to do similar work, frequently traveling to Asia, and after three years I was asked to lead a JHU project in Moscow, Russia, at the time Putin was tightening reins on society. Except for a brief epilogue, my memoir ends with my final post in Washington, D.C. (2009-2012) as director of a large global communication project with millions of dollars to program and 140 staff members to manage—a great challenge, employing all I had learned throughout my career.


Although I started as a “one-man film crew,” as described in my book, I was influenced and mentored by many of the multi-national people I met and worked with through the years. These experiences led me to become a leader of creative teams; an author and co-author of books, articles, and manuals on development communication; a facilitator and trainer of hundreds of people; and a mentor of others. I learned how to negotiate around roadblocks and apply principles such as gender and racial equity, and skills such as emotional intelligence. My career entailed so many changes and chances to grow and learn that I decided to title this memoir “My University of the World.”      


About the Author

Neill McKee is a creative nonfiction writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My University of the World: Memoir of an International Film & Media Maker is a stand-alone sequel to his first travel memoir, Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah, which has won three awards. McKee holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Calgary and a master’s degree in communication from Florida State University. He worked internationally for 45 years, becoming an expert in the field of communication for behavior and social change. He directed and produced a number of award-winning documentary films/videos, popular multimedia initiatives, and has written numerous articles and three books in the field of development communication. During his international career, McKee was employed by Canadian University Service Overseas (now CUSO International); the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada; UNICEF in Asia and Africa; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; the Academy for Educational Development and FHI 360, Washington, D.C. He worked and lived in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, and Russia for a total of 18 years and traveled to over 80 countries on short-term assignments. In 2015, he settled in New Mexico, where he uses his varied experiences, memories, and imagination in creative writing.

Find Neill online:

Author’s website:

Author's digital library: (These are most of the film and media projects covered in the memoir – produced by the author from 1970 to 2012.)



1 comment:

Purav Jha said...

As I write in my book, I began as a "one-man film crew," but many of the international people I met and collaborated with over the years impacted and mentored me. Thanks to these experiences, I've been able to lead creative teams, write books, articles, and manuals on development communication, train hundreds of people, facilitate training sessions, and serve as a mentor to others. I acquired new skills like emotional intelligence and learned how to work around obstacles while applying ideas like racial and gender equity. I chose the title "My University of the World" for my memoir because my career has been full of opportunities for growth and learning.