New Station, New Inspiration in South Sudan

By: Grant McDonald from Juba South Sudan

How often do you find yourself seeking out inspiration? We often scroll through our Facebook page for a link, Reddit for its memes and Buzzfeed for its lists. We rely on pillows and coffee mugs that tell us to laugh and live, we place pictures of cats “hanging in there” on our cubicle walls.

But what if we’re looking in all the wrong places? What if that co-worker we awkwardly pass by several times a day with the obligatory “how’s it going?” holds a story of personal redemption and triumph, what if that barista who spells your name wrong everyday on your to-go cup is someone’s personal hero. Chances are, inspiration is all around us waiting to be found.

A wonderful quality of inspiration is that it comes in many forms. This past week I have found inspiration in the form of equality.

Since being in South Sudan with Journalists for Human Rights, I consistently attempt to increase the number of female journalists attending my Rights Media workshops…but it’s challenging. The number of male journalists in the profession far outweigh the number of women. Some media houses prefer to send male journalists to the workshops because they are more senior and other media houses simply do not employ a single female journalist.

However, there is something stirring in South Sudan. Something which could signal a palpable movement in media equality and diversity. A newly formed media house called Equator Broadcast Corporation (EBC).

Management team of EBC touring new studios.

Management team of EBC touring new studios.

The station has yet to launch, but it has hired a team of driven, intelligent and brave journalists, editors, camera operators, producers, graphic designers of whom I found myself standing in front of this week soaking in the inspiration they seemed to exude. I also – for the first time – found myself hosting a workshop for 41 participants, 50 per cent of them being female.

What was wonderful about this team, was that regardless of tribe, creed or gender, they worked in symbiotic motion. Speaking with management of EBC I expressed my excitement with their decision to hire with such equality. Their response was simple and eloquent, “it makes us a stronger unit.”

Speaking to a room full of inspiring journalists. For the first time, the workshop had a 50% turnout of female journalists.

Speaking to a room full of inspiring journalists. For the first time, the workshop had a 50% turnout of female journalists.

I was left speechless at the end of the workshop when I was presented with a gift from the station, a sculpture of a circle of friends representing an unbreakable bond and a continuous source of inspiration.

The station – as well as media as a whole here — has a long road ahead of it. Reporters Without Borders latest report on media freedom around the world places South Sudan 125th on a list of 180 countries.

Journalists form smaller working groups as part of JHR workshop.

Journalists form smaller working groups as part of JHR workshop.

However, against great odds, these young women and men will continue to push their nation forward all the while creating a by-product of inspiration for me.

So close the laptop, lose the lists and mum the memes. Find inspiration in your co-workers, ask the barista to tell you her story. I guarantee, it will supersede an image of a cat “hanging in there.”

“They’ll tell you it’s too early, until it’s too late.”

By: Grant McDonald

I’ve never read an obituary or heard a eulogy reminiscing of one’s monetary power, the size of the building they used to call home or the thread count of the sheets they once owned. I have however, read and heard of their passions, their character and most importantly, their impact on others.

As individuals, we are constantly seeking ways to find fulfilment and leave behind meaningful change. I have been lucky by finding outlets for this throughout my life. Journalists for Human Rights is one of the most inspiring ways that I have come across. Does this fall under reciprocal altruism? To a certain degree, yes.

Reciprocally altruistic is one of the various (almost comical) accusations I’ve welcomed from perfect strangers regarding my outlook on my work with JHR, as well as being: too positive, too optimistic, too hopeful, or just plain naïve.

As each of us push toward our own unique goals however, we cannot be fazed by this. At the same time, we must also ensure we have the evidence to back up our seemingly theoretical optimism. We owe that much to whatever we’re fighting for.

Anyang John Kur holds his published story regarding childhood marriage

Anyang John Kur holds his published story regarding childhood marriage

Since my time in South Sudan I have worked with every media house in Juba and Yei in some capacity, I have trained 85 journalists – many of whom have published powerful human rights stories – I’ve helped launch an SMS-based website to create a network for journalists and written journalism curriculum for the university while also teaching there. These are the hard facts, by the numbers.

Head of Communications at Juba University Dr. Williams and I solidifying JHR's partnership

Head of Communications at Juba University Dr. Williams and I solidifying JHR’s partnership

I will never forget the powerful impact Emmanuel Monychol Akop had on me. Emmanuel is the Editor of The Juba Telegraph. We were discussing the work of JHR and I felt myself losing grip of my own confidence and optimism as I described to him what we were hoping to achieve. I felt myself shying away from my convictions as I let the outside doubt seep into my psyche.

I mumbled something along the lines that while I understood he might consider it to be too early or too risky to start publishing articles focused on human rights violations…and that’s when he cut me off with a short sentence which re-energized me.

“They’ll tell you it’s too early, until it’s too late.”

In any project within the NGO world, there are – with good reason — hard numbers which need to be accounted for, the hard facts you need to back up your argument.

However, I have yet to find a way to chart courage, I can’t fit progress into a pie chart and I certainly can’t represent the hope of a nation through a non-linear graph.

So, dear reader, if you truly believe in a cause, be it media development — or something completely different – and it appears to sit impossibly out of reach or naïve to others, think of the words of the late Nelson Mandela:

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

We can choose to be pulled down by cynicism and accept indifference as our creed, or we can pull others up through our example and enthusiasm. In the end, that’s what they’ll talk about at your eulogy.

 

Yei, South Sudan: Our journey along the Dusty Road

By: Grant McDonald

As we passed small villages seemingly frozen in time, the vehicle weaves from one side of the road to the other in an attempt to find the “smoothest” path forward. I couldn’t help allowing my mind to wander to the land of metaphors (one of my favourite places). We can all relate to this within our own lives, we all understand that the road ahead is quite bumpy, it’s difficult to see what’s coming and we fully realize we will eventually need to refuel, but we all hold onto hope that we will find a way to continue moving forward, navigating new territory in search of our goals.

A small village along the road to Yei

A small village along the road to Yei

I was quickly brought back to reality as the Land Cruiser hit what can only be described as a crater in the road leading to some uneasy sounds coming from under the vehicle. Pulling over to assess the damage we found a few “loose parts.” Nothing a wrench couldn’t handle in the interim, until we found a roadside garage to offer a more permanent fix. (We would later fall victim to the road once again on the drive home with a flat tire).

Repairing some "loose parts."

Repairing some “loose parts.”

My goal, in the literal sense was getting to Yei (pronounced yay!) to hold Journalists for Human Rights’ first workshop outside of the capital city of Juba, South Sudan. We had hit the road much later than we had planned and now the driver (great guy) was trying to make up lost time.

Yei is located approximately 160 kilometres southwest of Juba. In terms of distance, it doesn’t sound too far if you’re thinking in terms of highway driving at 120km/h. This is different. The drive took us about six hours, six hours of dust, heat and did I mention bumps?

Even with the windows up, dust still finds its way into the vehicle, your eyes, your lungs, I suppose it’s all consuming. We had the windows down, as one does when AC is not available. Mix that with sweat (it’s about 40°C here) and by the time we arrived to our lodging area in Yei, a good shower was in order!

Workshop Begins

The next morning, the first journalist arrives around 8:45 a.m. followed soon after by others from various media houses in the area and some civil society groups. The room is soon full of life, 26 participants, some chatting amongst themselves while others flip through the provided handouts on Human Rights reporting.

Discussing elements within a Rights-Based story.

Discussing elements within a Rights-Based story.

Over the next couple days, I will have the privilege of sharing new ideas with this group of young, hopeful journalists who are fighting a battle I can’t even pretend to fully understand. A fight to ensure freedom of speech, a fight against injustice and a fight to ensure those without a voice can find one through the media.

We speak of balanced reporting, their ideas of needed elements within a story and mitigating risk. The Union of Journalists, one of JHR partners on the ground in South Sudan deliver a guest lecture on the importance of unity. As the workshop comes to a close, a moment of silence is held for our fallen colleagues. Five journalists had been gunned down in a vicious ambush earlier that week in Western Bahr al Ghazal state, a stern reminder of the risk journalists take here.

Humbled 

I use the word “humbled” too often when describing the feeling which permeates my being after most encounters with my journalism colleagues here in South Sudan. This time was different, I was hit with anger, frustration and a feeling of helplessness as the moment of silence ended. Until one journalist spoke, “We will carry on their work, for a better South Sudan.”

Moment of silence for the five journalists killed in Western Bahr al Ghazal state

Moment of silence for the five journalists killed in Western Bahr al Ghazal state

I realized, each of these journalists were on their own individual journey, weaving along a bumpy road, full of craters and obstacles. They are strong, stronger than me, as they unite in a singular voice against human rights violations. Their forward gaze remains unbroken, refusing to settle for the status quo as they push toward their future goals at the end of their own dusty road.

When Randomness Approaches, just say Yes

By: Grant McDonald from Juba, South Sudan

Regret is a word I rarely use, I rarely use it, because I am lucky. From a young age I have been shown that new challenges offer new experiences. Deciding to move to South Sudan last year was one of those moments. A moment in which I had to decide if I would leap at the opportunity, thrust into the unknown, or to simply say no and more than likely regret that decision. I rejected the latter and have not looked back.

The work with Journalists for Human Rights is making a difference here, I know this to be true because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in the young Journalist Parach Mach who chose to fight for his contentious story on child prostitution to be published. I’ve seen it in the work ethic of JHR local trainer Onen Walter Solomon and I’ve seen it in each journalist I have had the pleasure of working with as I am humbled by the raw determination in their eyes.

Within my current work, randomness finds its way to seep through. To say I was “approached” would be the wrong term, I was rather “informed” last year that I was the newest professor at The University of Juba and I would be teaching a fifth year course in the Mass Communications program.

For some context, JHR is in partnership with the university with a goal of creating and implementing a Human Rights Journalism course.

The entrance to room HS16, which has seen better days

The entrance to room HS16, which has seen better days

I had the choice to explain that teaching a course in “International Communications” was not really what I was here to do, or, simply accept the beautiful randomness of life and take it as my next challenge. I chose the latter.

The students are inspiring. They are determined and constantly seeking out new information. They participate in a way that shows the knowledge being passed on is worthwhile to them. Today, I finished marking their first assignment: writing a press release. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised with the ability in each student.

Looking back on my decision, a variety of excuses masquerading as reasons came to mind as to why I couldn’t do this. I was busy, I wasn’t supposed to be doing this kind of work with the university and lastly, questioning how effective it would be for the students and the overall program.

This was my first day at the university. I have a class of six students who are always seeking new knowledge.

This was my first day at the university. I have a class of six students who are always seeking new knowledge.

I suppose however, I needed to take the advice I often offer to others which is to never underestimate the power of your own example. For the students, I believe it is beneficial. For myself, I already feel as though I have gained wisdom from this opportunity, an opportunity I would have regretted letting pass.

So if you are reading this and considering doing something outside of your comfort zone, or debating whether or not it’s worth the risk. Choose adventure, say yes. The worst outcome is failure, which is a spectacular character builder.

I fail more than I succeed, yet I rarely use the word regret.

 

Rhyming for Rights in Ottawa

JHR’s university chapters are an important part of our mission to make everyone aware of their rights. At Carleton University in Ottawa, a dedicated group of students keep human rights in headlines by hosting great events for students and community members alike.

Emily Fearon takes the stage at JHR Carleton's Rhyme for Rights event. (Photo credit Charissa Feres)

Emily Fearon takes the stage at JHR Carleton’s Rhyme for Rights event. (Photo credit Charissa Feres)

Until last recently, I was a spoken word poetry virgin. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Spoken word and I had hung-out a bit before, and it was fun, but nothing serious. However, on October 15th, the beginning of a beautiful and hopefully long term relationship blossomed between us.

Journalists for Human Rights Carleton Student Chapter put on their second annual Rhymes for Rights spoken word event. The spoken word night was a fundraiser for JHR’s journalism training in South Sudan. The goal is to help strengthen media in South Sudan so they can report on local and national news. This is just one of many projects JHR runs, and student chapters, like the one at Carleton, support.

The talent on display came from Carleton students and local poets, each exhibiting an awe-inspiring presentation. Many of the poems were centred on love. There were frank conversations about sex, marriage, broken relationships, unrequited love, and even a love poem written about winter. These balanced nicely with the equally passionate poems about human rights issues. Some of the presenters decried racism, poverty, and apathy, and others called for social justice, a renewed interest in women’s rights, and self-confidence. You were hard pressed to find someone in attendance that night who wasn’t moved by at least one poet’s words.

Poet Brandon Wint performs at Rhymes for Rights. (Photo credit Charissa Feres)

Poet Brandon Wint performs at Rhymes for Rights. (Photo credit Charissa Feres)

The overarching message of the night came from both Kathryn Sheppard and Brandon Wint, the featured speakers. Kathryn had worked at the JHR Head Office in Toronto and on JHR projects overseas. Though she no longer works for JHR, she still spoke proudly of the journalists she met and worked with during her time with the organization. Kathryn believes vehemently in responsible journalism, which entails journalists reporting responsibly, but also extends to journalists holding those in power accountable. The story Kathryn shared was of a foreign government who declared that the stories written by JHR-trained journalists made them work harder. The journalists put pressure on the government and saw their work make a difference in their country. Seeing results like this encourage us and remind us why we do what we do.

Brandon Wint is an acclaimed Ottawa poet who has travelled across the country with his spoken word, teaches poetry writing, and loves cookies. He shared some of his work at Rhymes for Rights, and the audience loved it. Though not a journalist, Brandon declared that the best journalism is motivated by love. Indeed, he shared his life perspective that everything is for and about love. And there’s something to that.

We need to keep storytelling alive, be it through poetry or through journalism or through our love stories.

-By Emily Fearon for JHR Carleton

From refugee camp to radio studio: Onen Walter’s path to human rights media.

Onen Walter and Grant Macdonald, JHR's team in South Sudan

Onen Walter and Grant Macdonald, JHR’s team in South Sudan

Onen Walter was not interested in journalism when he was younger. Living in a refugee camp for a decade can make it difficult to plan for the future – let alone a successful one.

Onen was born in 1980 in Pajok, a community in the east corner of South Sudan near the border of Uganda. When he was just three-years-old, the country spiraled into a brutal civil war with the Sudanese government fighting the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, and Onen’s happy life changed forever.

As the fighting spread across the country, Onen and his family left their town to find safety. Sometimes they crossed the border to Uganda – four days walk from their home. Life was difficult and dangerous.

Onen had learned to be very independent, but when he was fourteen had to grow up even faster. Trapped in a rebel stronghold and unable to escape, Onen was separated from his family.  Isolated and alone, he had to fend for himself as he tried to find his younger brother. After two years on his own, doing his best to avoid the fighting, Onen found safety at a refugee camp in Uganda. To his great joy, he found his younger brother living safely in the camp. The small family was reunited.

Over the next ten years, Onen did whatever kind of work he could to survive, “life wasn’t easy,” he explained. Many days he would spend hours making charcoal and selling it to support himself and his brother.

A change

Onen Walter prepares for a JHR training workshop.

Onen Walter prepares for a JHR training workshop.

In 2005, after more than twenty years of fighting, a peace deal was signed in Sudan. In 2011, South Sudan became an independent country.  The next year, Onen returned home, determined to make a new life in his country.

Onen’s first goal was to get educated. He joined the Free International University of Moldova in 2008, majoring in Ecological Studies. But his studies were cut short when the State Government expelled the university from the country.

Angry at the closure, and with no answers from the government, Onen, and some of his friends decided they needed to do something about it – to become a voice for the voiceless.

Onen’s first introduction to journalism was a course at the Multi-Media Training Center in South Sudan’s captial city  Juba. He learned the basics of radio production from veteran journalists at Juba Radio and he was a natural. Onen had found his calling.

After his training, Onen started working at South Sudan Radio as an Announcer. He also reported for South Sudan TV.  Four years later, Onen became Acting News Editor for 88.4 City FM and eventually became an International Correspondent with Radio France International (RFI) in South Sudan. Onen considers his move to journalism “a blessing.”

Onen is now 34 years-old and a seasoned journalism professional. He is the newest member of JHR’s team and he is using his expertise give back to the media community by to training his South Sudanese journalism colleagues in strong human rights reporting. Onen’s work represents the beginning of the larger ripple effect of JHR training. His training today will reverberate throughout his country for years to come in the form of strong, balanced journalism and upholding human rights.

A Ripple which thought it was a Tsunami

Grant McDonald leads a JHR training workshop for journalists in Juba.

Small impacts have always been my favourite kind. Those moments which seem insignificant, unimportant or even hopeless.

What I like best about that first initial impact, is what follows. Once that small positive action – a ripple, if you will — is initiated by an individual – the residual effects are no longer governed by its creator. The impact is in fact, indifferent to outside expectations, or, lack thereof.

This is how I view the work I do in South Sudan with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR). I am consistently humbled by the idea that big change, comes from small actions.

The launch of JHR in South Sudan comes at a time of civil unrest, uncertainty and suspicion between citizens and government. I truly believe that a strong, fair, balanced and objective media can begin to shine a light on important issues holding this beautiful country from fully realizing its own potential.

What must be made clear, is that while I see my work as a very needed and important piece to the puzzle, it’s not about me. It’s something much larger than myself, something larger than JHR. Change will come to this country because of the intelligent, dedicated and passionate South Sudanese journalists who carry on the work we have started; who decide to make a stand against injustice and become a voice for the voiceless and a ray of hope for the hopeless. How? By spreading information through their community, knowledge of something I hold close to my heart: Universal Human Rights.

I am constantly searching for words to describe how inspiring I have found the journalists I have had the honour of working with here. One example I can give is that of Julius Gale, a young journalist working for both the Citizen Newspaper and Citizen Television (CTV). While much of my work here is based on leading workshops, it is the follow-up one on one I enjoy most.

Grant McDonald and South Sudanese journalists Julius Gale work together on Human Rights story regarding accessibility.

Grant McDonald and South Sudanese journalists Julius Gale work together on a Human Rights story regarding accessibility.

Julius told me on the first day we sat down together of his drive to ensure education is a top priority in his country, for everyone. He began visiting schools around the capital city of Juba, interested in how accessible schools are for those physically challenged. His research and interviews thus far have discovered that while some new structures have been designed to incorporate accessibility for those in wheelchairs, older buildings (which make up the majority of schools) simply do not. His curiosity has been noticed and after speaking with government officials, he was told new legislation and standards for schools had been set aside, but more public knowledge of the issue — created through his coverage — would ensure the public began seriously demanding these changes. This small moment, his small impact – in my mind – stands as a catalyst for something much larger down the road.

To you, dear reader: the above actions may leave you asking, so what? Where are the drastic changes? It may seem insignificant. I assure you, it is not. What Julius represents is an individual who has seen an injustice and decided to do something about it by casting a seemingly small and insignificant pebble into an oversized pond. But with time, what you will see is that initial impact may inspire someone else to stand next to him. From there maybe a few more, a small village and then maybe a city, a state and if that first pebble is cast just right, it can inspire a nation. Millions of individuals standing shoulder to shoulder casting their own small pebbles into the same pond over the same issue does not just create ripples, those ripples transform into a unified wave which cannot be ignored, and change does happen. That’s what Journalists for Human Rights is doing in South Sudan.

Reflections from JHR’s first year in Tanzania

Members of the Mwanza, Tanzania JHR Student Chapter set up a film shot.

Members of the Mwanza, Tanzania JHR Student Chapter set up a film shot.

In February 2013, we launched JHR’s first program in Tanzania. A year later, JHR Trainer Rosella Chibambo reflects on the impact for students at Saint Augustine University.

This is JHR’s first year at Saint Augustine University of Tanzania, and the university’s journalism program is widely regarded as one of the country’s best.
Located in Tanzania’s Lake Zone region, a hot spot for human rights abuses in the country, SAUT offers students the opportunity to study journalism in a place in regular need of quality human rights reporting.
JHR’s work at SAUT began with a series of human rights reporting workshops attended by male and female students in almost equal numbers. The students were particularly interested in women and children’s rights, as well as press freedom issues.
In collaboration with the journalism department, local NGOs and media organizations, fellow JHR trainer Roohi Sahajpal, and I are planning a media forum on violence against women. We hope this event will encourage students and local media to look more critically at the impact their reporting has on Tanzanian women and their families.
With the help of SAUT’s Legal and Human Rights centre, I have been further developing human rights curriculum begun by my predecessor, Ashley Koen. The journalism department is currently working to implement a new human rights reporting certificate program at SAUT. Even though it will take well over a year to bring this project to life, staff and students have expressed a sincere desire to strengthen SAUT’s reputation for producing quality human rights reporters. One of my most devoted students, Kamilo Albira, has been working tirelessly over the last few months, to develop an English language human rights radio program to be broadcast on the campus station. This will be the only English program broadcast by the station and will appeal to students coming from outside Tanzania, as well as local students. JHR’s program in Tanzania is generously supported by  DFATD_colour_en (3)

A story on every corner

My first full-time gig as a reporter was a wonderful summer in a small city in eastern Canada. Fredericton is the capital of New Brunswick. It’s home to the provincial legislative assembly and two universities. The problem for news-gatherers is that those three institutions are effectively in hibernation for the summer months. Between May and September, there isn’t much in the way of sensational news in Fredericton. I remember a day where the cameraman and I drove around looking for news. After a few hours of searching, we did a story about a small rise in the number of visitors to a provincial park.

The JHR team and bike drivers on the way to Yeliboya Island

The JHR team and bike drivers on the way to Yeliboya Island

Developed countries like Canada can be referred to as “developed”, because not much happens. Citizens are safe, healthy, secure and, for the most part, have their human rights respected. Here in Sierra Leone that is not the case. Before I came here, a former JHR trainer told me that “there is a story on every corner.” I think of that phrase almost every day.

Kambia town is just a few kilometres from the Guinean border

Kambia town is just a few kilometres from the Guinean border

For the last reporting trip of my time in Sierra Leone, we decided to head north to Kambia District to see what sort of stories we could find. I mentored two journalists from Africa Young Voices Radio, with help from JHR Local Trainer Kevin Lamdo and Kambia journalist Gibril Gottor (recently-crowned Male Media Professional of the Year). Our plan was to do two stories.

Gibril Gottor. Sierra Leone's Male Media Professional of the Year. The border police don't like him much.

Gibril Gottor. Sierra Leone’s Male Media Professional of the Year. The border police don’t like him much.

We started with a story on unsafe abortion. Abortion is illegal in almost all cases in Sierra Leone. The current legislation dates back to 1861. A recent report showed that, in 2011, 1,622 women went to hospital as a result of the effects of illegal abortions. It estimates that almost 2% of abortions resulted in the mother’s death. We spoke to a community doctor, nurses, a pastor, and after some searching we finally a woman who said she had had an abortion, performed illegally in a local hospital. Story #1.

kambia3

The next day we went to a remote village believed to be a source of the 2012 cholera outbreak that killed around 400 people in Sierra Leone and Guinea. We took various modes of transport, including a one-hour boat trip to reach Yeliboya Island. We met the village chief, a nurse who treated those who were ill and dying from cholera, and a woman whose four-year-old step-daughter died from cholera. We saw how the water situation had been improved by the digging of wells on a nearby island, and how the sanitation situation remained unsafe. Waste from hanging toilets fell directly into the river, and children continued to use beaches as a toilet. Story #2.

Hanging toilets on Yeliboya Island drop waste straight into the river

Hanging toilets on Yeliboya Island drop waste straight into the river

On the way to Yeliboya, we had stopped at the village of Kychom to hire our boat. While waiting, we noticed hundreds of empty water packets sitting in the sun. These ubiquitous 500ml bags of water are the cheapest way to get purified drinking water. The packets litter the streets and clog-up drains across the country, contributing to sewers flooding the streets in rainy season. AYV reporter Princetta Williams asked about the packets. A woman told her she was drying them to send them north to Guinea for recycling. Recycling programmes are almost unknown in Sierra Leone. Story #3.

Water packets drying in the sun at Kychom, Kambia District

Water packets drying in the sun at Kychom, Kambia District

When we got back to Kambia town we noticed new sets of clean water taps around the town. They were all installed with the help of the Japanese government in February. But they had all been turned off for the past month. It turned out that very few local home-owners were paying the monthly fee of Le15,000 ($3.50). The local water company engineer said that all he needed was $50 of fuel per day, to pump the water and restore supply. He also said the Ministry of Water was supposed to inject $17,500 into the project in February. The money came two months late, and was only $9,300 – enough to pay-off some of the fuel debts. In the past month, locals have been going to old water sources that are no longer chlorinated. Story #4.

Africa Young Voices Journalist Diana Coker checks the closed taps in Kambia

Africa Young Voices Journalist Diana Coker checks the closed taps in Kambia

On our second evening in Kambia, we decided to head north to the Guinean border. After a colourful exchange with border police (Gibril said they don’t like him very much), we were allowed to walk into Guinea. The border is protected by four rope barriers. But just off to the side is a modern border complex, with barriers, offices and an inspection zone. It was closed. We wandered across. A sign highlighted the grand opening of the Joint Customs Border Post on June 2nd – just days away, I thought. I read it again, June 2nd… 2012. The project was funded by the National Revenue Agency and has sat empty for a year. Story #5.

The one-year-old Joint Customs Border Post has not yet been used

The one-year-old Joint Customs Border Post has not yet been used

Nothing seems to surprise Sierra Leonean journalists. Almost everything still surprises me here. When I leave Sierra Leone this month, I will miss it desperately. I fear that life will be too boring back in the developed world. The thing is, so many Sierra Leoneans long for the day when life here is as quite, as healthy and as uneventful as places like Fredericton.

A modern day Mother Teresa: Tanzania’s Sister Martha

Martha Mganga

By Adam Bemma

ARUSHA, Tanzania – Meet Martha Mganga. She’s a 50-year-old Tanzanian woman with albinism.

She’s not afraid to use the term “albino” when referring to herself and others living with this condition. Albinism is defined as a rare, non-contagious, genetically-inherited condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity, in all countries of the world.

As the first born out of three albino children (seven children in total, four being non-albino) Mganga’s father abused her psychologically. She recounts in vivid detail how residents in her village blamed her for everything that went wrong, from bad harvests to seasonal weather changes, believing she was a curse upon them.

This lead her to contemplate suicide, as Mganga couldn’t bear the mental anguish anymore.

“When I was a teenager I tried killing myself several times,” she said. “I threw myself into a river because I didn’t want to be a burden on my family. But God had another plan for me and I washed up on the shore, alive.”

For almost 30 years, Mganga has worked with albino children to educate and empower. She teaches these kids, and family members, about the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.

People with albinism lack pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to sun exposure and bright light. Almost all albinos are visually impaired. They may also have a shortened life span due to lung disease or life-threatening skin cancers, states the UN.

Mganga, single-handedly, runs a non-profit organization called Albino Peacemakers. She works alongside established non-governmental organizations; Under the Same Sun and Tanzania Albino Society, to help provide sunscreen, sunglasses and hats to albinos across the country.

According to the UN, in Tanzania, and throughout East Africa, albinism is prevalent, with estimates of one in 2,000 people being affected by the condition.

So far this year, attacks against albinos have increased dramatically in Tanzania. In 2008, BBC Swahili bureau chief Vicky Ntetema exposed to the world how albinos were murdered and graves robbed for body parts, to be used for witchcraft purposes.

Ntetema’s investigative stories caused an international outcry, one which continues to this day.

Mganga says Ntetema’s journalism gave her reason to branch out and begin work as a peacemaker in regions of the country where albinos are seriously threatened, like the area around Tanzania’s second largest city: Mwanza.

“I often visit Mwanza and villages close to Lake Victoria to give talks to Tanzanians about how albinos are ordinary people just like you and me,” she said. “There’s still a stigma associated with being albino. One that leads ignorant and uneducated people to carry out horrendous acts.”

Martha on phone

A recent upsurge in violence against albinos made the UN condemn the violence, with four attacks in a period of sixteen days, three of those being albino children. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay is urging the Tanzanian government to bring those responsible to justice.

“I strongly condemn these vicious killings and attacks which are committed in particularly horrifying circumstances which have involved dismembering people, including children while they are still alive,” Pillay said.

The UN human rights chief states that successful prosecutions are extremely rare in Tanzania. Out of the 72 murders of people with albinism documented since 2000, only five cases are reported to have resulted in successful prosecutions.

“Apart from physically protecting people with albinism, the government needs to take a much stronger and more pro-active approach to education and awareness-raising campaigns to combat the stigma attached to albinism,” Pillay said.

Mganga just returned to Arusha, her home since leaving the village she grew up in, after spending National Albinism Day in Tanzania raising awareness and trying to battle the discrimination faced by albinos in the country.

Close friends of Mganga refer to her candidly as “Sister Martha” and liken her work to that of Mother Teresa, due to her religious devotion and dedication to society’s less fortunate.