Why we do what we do: rights media in Northern Ghana.

“Always leave your office door open, because you never know who will walk in,” a kernel of wisdom from my father that has always stuck with me. So when I arrived at the International Institute for Journalism (IIJ) in Tamale, the first thing I did was prop my door open with a blue plastic chair and wait to see who would walk through.

The power of an open door.

The power of an open door.

2012 marks the first year that jhr has partnered with the IIJ on a rights media program. The IIJ is the first journalism college of its kind in the Northern Region of Ghana. A campus of two rooms, 12 staff and 40 students, their aim is to educate students on professional journalism with a focus on issues specific and often underrepresented in Northern Ghana. While still the younger brother to schools such as the African University College of Communication in Accra, the number of students enrolling is growing steadily at the fledgling school in Tamale.

Mohammed is a first year student at the IIJ and was also the first student to walk through my door. He had come by to pay his fees and check his class schedule and was eager to have a chat when he knocked on my door. A former secondary school teacher and development worker, Mohammed enrolled in the IIJ to add a practical component to his passion for spreading awareness in his community.

“My goal is to give a voice to the voiceless and journalism with a purpose is my best effort to do that,” he informed me.

Only a few months earlier, a small group of IIJ students established a jhr chapter looking to bolster its presence on campus and the role of rights media in the Tamale community. I explained the concept of rights media and that there was a place for him in the jhr chapter if he wanted to join.

Mohammed grinned and placed his glasses on the table. “I knew there was a reason I came into your office today.”

He expressed a great interest in coming to our meetings and the skill set he could contribute to getting the chapter off the ground. Having only met one student so far, I was thrilled to meet such an enthusiastic student eager to get involved with rights media. We shook hands, parted ways and I went back to my desk, buzzing with anticipation for the next five months.

Later that afternoon, there was another knock on the door. Mohammed was back and he had a group of other students in tow. Their professor hadn’t shown up for lecture. Not wanting to waste time, Mohammed rallied the group and brought them to my office, asking me to lead workshop on human rights to give them a head start.

After spending my first few weeks in Tamale while the students were on holidays, I was taken aback by his initiative on his first day. Despite only just arriving on campus, he explained that he was very interested in what jhr was in Ghana to do and was just as keen to get other first year students involved in rights media on campus. I jumped at the opportunity to introduce them to jhr’s rights media pillar PANEL and discuss how we could make the most of this semester. After wrapping up our workshop, they all expressed that they would attend our jhr introductory meeting next week. Mohammed turned and thanked me for taking the time to come and talk to him and I insisted that the pleasure was all mine.

“Same time tomorrow, ok?” he said.

I nodded, trying to hide the ridiculous grin on my face. The work we are doing is meaningless without people like Mohammed  who believe in the cause of rights media. Building rapport and strengthening rights media education is a process, one that is made much more meaningful and enjoyable with students like those at the IIJ.

The success was not leaving the door open, but being inspired by who walked through it.  To see students taking initiative and seeking out knowledge, eager to see what jhr can do for them, that is where we are building success together.

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About Robin McGeough

Robin recently returned from Japan, where he spent a year working as an English teacher and also worked as a reporter for an English language program. He earned a degree in Global Development Studies and Geography from Queen’s University where he devoted much of his time to QTV, Queen’s visual media outlet. Robin has worked with a variety of community-based organizations developing social programs in Canada, Peru, Tanzania and Vietnam and he wishes to use his knowledge of development and journalism to empower marginalized individuals while in Ghana. Robin will be working as an Education Officer in Tamale, Ghana.

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